Help ahead for children with speech disorders

African-American little girl with book and alphabet letters on white background. Speech therapy concept
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By Carlena Knight

Help could soon be at hand for local people with speech disorders such as stuttering thanks to an Antiguan specialist who is in the throes of setting up services via video.

US-based speech pathologist Sensemilah Peters-Lewis says the high cost of treatment and wanting to give back to her home country were the biggest reasons behind the move.

Speech therapy is the assessment and treatment of communication problems and speech disorders. Speech pathologists – or SLPs – work with people of all ages, from babies to adults, and treat many types of disorders including communication, feeding and swallowing, stuttering, speech sounds, language, social communication, and even voice.

Peters-Lewis plans to offer these services, primarily to the less fortunate, but through a live video connection over the internet – known as teletherapy.

“I am in the beginning stages of developing a company to offer teletherapy services specifically for parents and children here, and I am trying to do some research to see the socioeconomic status to see the ranges of salaries,” she said.

“Yes, I know my worth, yes, I spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to go to school, however I know where I am from and most often it’s the families from those communities who need these services but can’t get them and in the States I prefer my lower economic families because it’s more rewarding,” she explained.

“You go in, you’re working with the family so I want to do the same thing here and just figure out a way to provide the service without being so costly. I know there is a need and I know it is a deterrent for a lot of the families especially if it’s a child who would need these services over an extended period of time.”

She recommends people with a speech problem seek treatment as early as possible, as it is easier for a child to adapt than an adult.

“I wouldn’t say it’s too late but when you do start later, it’s harder. So, you do start sooner, you are better able to close that gap. It’s kind of like when you are set in your ways so it’s better to have some sort of intervention before than wait too long because then it’s just harder and you know as an older adult, they are more self-aware and would lack motivation if it doesn’t happen instantaneously which it doesn’t,” Peters-Lewis continued.

The Nova Southeastern University graduate had some advice for teachers who may encounter a child who does not speak. According to Lewis, if the child is in the lower grades it may be easier to find other creative ways rather than those in higher levels. 

“If you know a child isn’t verbalising what they need but they can communicate using pictures, we can use picture symbols. It’s a no-tech AAC [augmentative and alternative communication] device so you create pictures like a choice board and that child would communicate with you that way. They know how to get your attention.

“The older students, it’s a bit harder because then you have the language curriculum, they have to meet those standards and if they are falling behind already, it’s a fine line between speech language pathology and an ELA (English Language Arts) teacher.

“In that instance they need to work closely with an SLP or a special education teacher,” she added.

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