Tarryn Dee and Renee Townson

Tarryn Dee and Renee Townson

Speech Pathologists and Occupational Therapists work across a broad range of areas and with people right across the lifespan from infancy through to the elderly. One area of speciality that some therapists choose to focus on is Early Intervention. These therapists support preschool-aged children and their families.

What is Speech Pathology (SP)?

Speech Pathology (or Speech Therapy as it is commonly known) is a very broad area of practice. The name can sometimes be misleading, as parents can be led to believe that Speech Pathologists just work on speech. It’s true that we do of course work in this area (e.g. helping children to pronounce sounds and words), however there is a lot more to being a speech pathologist than just speech! Speech Pathologists are the experts in communication and swallowing. We support children in areas including developing and understanding language, learning social skills, speaking fluently if they are stuttering and reading and writing skills. We work with children at home, kinder and childcare. We work closely with families and other professionals particularly when working with younger children so that we can support a child’s communication development across environments.

What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?

Paediatric Occupational therapists work on supporting children and adolescents to achieve independence in their activities of daily living. We often associate occupation with adults and working life, however for occupational therapists an occupation is any role that a person does throughout their day to be more independent. When it comes to OT for children and adolescents we look at self-care skills such as independence with waiting, getting dressed, feeding themselves, and staying regulated, as well as productivity skills for learning at school, holding a pencil the right way, having appropriate attention and concentration for learning, gross motor skills, and finally social and play skills.

Our goal is to focus on these key areas to help children develop their confidence, self-esteem, social skills and general well being in being able to be as independent as possible.

What age is best to start Early Intervention?

If you have any concerns about your child’s development, we strongly encourage you to seek support from a professional early on. As a parent you know your child best, so if something is worrying you it’s best to follow up on your concerns as soon as you can. Early Intervention makes such a big difference for children’s outcomes and also for the well-being of families, and the earlier it starts, the better the outcomes we typically see.

Speech Pathologists support children from birth throughout childhood and beyond. In my clinical practice we would encourage parents to bring their toddlers in from 12 months if they had any concerns at all about their speech and language development. Some therapists may see kids from 18 months; depending on their experience. Other therapists may even see children before 12 months. The point is, it’s never too early to start if there are concerns.

I think my child might benefit from seeing a therapist. Where do I start?

There are several pathways you can follow in order to access OT or SP for your child. Many families start by visiting their GP to discuss their concerns and to get a referral. In most cases a GP is able to discuss your concerns and refer you on to a suitable specialist either through the public or private sector.

We feel it is important to mention that unfortunately in our experience this is not always as smooth a process as we may like for families. From time to time we do see instances where they may be given conflicting advice such as “let’s wait and see”, or “he’s a boy they develop slower”. The family may then come to our clinic 1 or 2 years down the track. We can of course still support the child and work with them through therapy, however if we had our way we would have liked to have seen them when the parent first identified their concerns. Again, early intervention leads to better outcomes. It can also mean that an issue is resolved more quickly if it is addressed earlier.

If you have an experience like this, please keep in mind that you can always seek out a second opinion. This might mean seeing another GP for their advice, or perhaps going to see a SP or OT directly. If you are accessing services privately you do not require a referral from a GP; you can phone the clinic and make an appointment yourself.

For more information or any questions, please visit us at www.mydiffability.com.au