Helping children with speech and language difficulties find their own voice

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A unique support group at the University of Sheffield is helping young children with speech, language and communication difficulties to find their voice and transform their lives.

Sheffield Small Talk was established after mums Sarah Hooker and Genna White, who both have children with communication difficulties, highlighted the vital need for a support group for parents and their children in the Sheffield area.

The group was launched 12 months ago thanks to a successful collaboration between the Department of Human Communication Sciences (HCS) at the University of Sheffield and the Sheffield Speech and Language Therapy Children’s Services and now provides invaluable help to many children and their families.

Children who attend the weekly group have a wide range of speech and language communication needs including autism spectrum disorders, specific language impairment and learning difficulties.

The main aim of the fun and informal sessions is to encourage the children to develop their communication abilities: this can involve facilitating attention and listening skills, the use of signing, using visual communication systems and also facilitating their comprehension and spoken language skills. Speech and Language Therapy students in HCS work with the children to achieve this.

Genna White’s son Caleb, aged 5, has a condition called specific language impairment. “When he was diagnosed I had never even heard of the condition before,” said Genna, a founding member of the group.

“All of my other friends’ children were hitting all of the normal milestones so I didn’t have them to talk to about it and I felt really alone and just wanted to meet other parents that understood my worries and my own journey with my son.

“I really enjoy going to the group and meeting other parents and just having the opportunity to talk about things that matter to us and feature in our everyday lives which won’t feature in most other people’s. Things such as the worries and concerns we have about our children now and growing up and accessing different services and support.

“Even though all of our children are very different we are all on a very similar journey and it is nice to share that with people who understand.”

Deborah Richards’ daughter Nuria, two, has attended the group for the past ten months.

“She is like a different girl,” said Deborah.

“When she first came she was just using one word at a time and she had a handful of words, that’s all. Now we are up to three and nearly four words in a sentence.

“For her to be able to speak a sentence in just four months is truly amazing. She is much more confident and happy; it has been a great experience for her and for me as well watching her develop.”

The group, which was recently shortlisted for a Shine a Light award from the Communications Trust, gives children the opportunity to work with talented speech and language therapists to improve their communication skills whilst also allowing students and newly qualified therapists the chance to develop their own expertise and learn from others.

Dr Judy Clegg, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Human Communications Sciences at the University of Sheffield, said: “The group enables our speech and language therapy students to gain experience of interacting with, and working with, children who have quite severe, complex speech, language and communication needs.

“Hosting it here shows how the University has an impact on the local community.

“Since the group was launched we have all noticed an improvement in the children’s communication and this is a result of the University working with the local children’s speech and language therapy service along with our community.’

“Our next big venture is to create a Sheffield Big Talk group for children of school age and more provision for teenagers and adolescents who can benefit from more support. At the moment we are looking at ways to fund those activities and also the format and the structure of the activities for a school age group and a teenage group.”

Helen Cameron, a PhD student and Speech and Language Therapist, said: “I really enjoy working with the children who attend Small Talk and it is fantastic to get the opportunity to do some therapy alongside my research activity. I have also found that I have learnt an awful lot from the parents who attend the group in terms of understanding what they see their support needs to be and how they experience being the parents of children with complex and difficult speech, language communication difficulties.”

Members of the Sheffield Small Talk group meet every Thursday afternoon between 1pm and 3pm at the Philippa Cottam Communication Clinic, HCS, on Mushroom Lane.

The group has a Facebook page where parents share ideas and tips with one another and provide support to other parents who cannot attend the weekly sessions. Interested parties should search for the ‘Sheffield Small Talk’ group.

The Department of Human and Communication Sciences also hosts a number of other clinics and support groups including The Aphasia Communication Centre for people with communication impairments as a result of stroke which was funded by the Tavistock Trust and the NHS, and the Older Adult Clinic for adults with progressive neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease which is supported by the Sheffield Parkinson Disease Society.

The University of Sheffield is an Exempt Charity (X1089). Generous donations have been used to help the University undertake world-leading research, provide inspirational facilities for students and offer scholarship opportunities to talented young people to enable them to study. If you would like to discuss making a donation to the Philippa Cottam Communication Clinic in the Department of Human Communication Sciences, University of Sheffield, please contact Dr Judy Clegg, j.clegg@sheffield.ac.uk

For more information visit http://www.sheffieldhelpyourself.org.uk/full_search_new.asp?group=26628

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 25,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline and Siemens, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

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