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Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the company in 2015.
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New home-based speech and language therapy ‘a lifeline’ for rural children

A revolutionary accessible service initiative for speech and language therapy for children is set to be a lifeline for rural-based children.

The brand-new accessible home-based service for children with speech difficulties comes at a time when waiting lists for speech and language therapists hit an all-time high.

The advent of COVID-19 has put immense pressure on an already over-stretched system, resulting in an estimated 45,000 children now on waiting lists for speech and language therapy.

Optima Speech Therapy

Wicklow woman, Kate Beckett, has established Optima Speech Therapy to offer rural parents a progressive way of accessing speech and language therapy.

Utilising tailored programmes, targeted activities and exercises are completed at home by parents and their children.

Beckett said this is “vital” in parts of rural Ireland not served by adequate public transport.

Like so many other professionals, COVID was the lightning rod that spurred her to establish this business.

She was determined to offer parents an easy, interactive, and cost-effective way of accessing speech and language therapy for children.

Also, she was acutely aware that the pandemic served to exacerbate an already high demand for speech therapy.

“The pandemic has changed the way we live. Many medical services have had to adapt to provide remote service delivery.”

“I felt an alternative approach for delivering speech and language therapy needed to be available too.”

“Many people do not realise there is an optimal window to address the needs of children requiring speech therapy, referred to as early intervention.”

As a mother herself, she was determined to address this with new and creative programmes, which were:

  • Easy to fit into busy lives;
  • Cost-effective;
  • Engaging.

“While conventional face-to-face therapy is the gold standard, is not always available or necessary.”

“Getting help to address the areas of concern as soon as possible is, in many cases, the determining factor for the successful outcome of any therapy. Early intervention is crucial. That’s what prompted me to start Optima Speech Therapy.”

“I am passionate about helping children. I feel it makes sense to use my skills to help make therapy more accessible, available, and at a reasonable cost.”

Timing of therapy

As a speech and language therapist, she said one of her main concerns is around the timing of therapy. Methods and techniques may vary slightly between therapists, but she said all agree that early intervention is key.

“The earlier a speech and language difficulty is addressed, the less long-term impact it should have on a child. By impact, I am referring to academic and social skills acquisition.”

She highlighted that literacy development is hugely dependant on both speech and language skills for learning how letters represent speech sounds.

In fact, it now appears that some children are showing signs of regression due to reduced social contact and little interaction with friends as a direct impact of COVID.

“With this goal in mind, I was inspired to establish a new service. It is revolutionary in that it is immediately available for parents, with my constant professional guidance and support.”

“Specifically focusing on children with mild-moderate difficulties, I was inspired to establish a new web accessed service.”

“It is revolutionary in that I can rapidly review assessments as they are uploaded,” she added.

She then created a tailor-made programme, which provides an interactive solution for children, with parents’ assistance, all of which she regularly monitors.

“Feedback and reviews from clients indicate that positive results can be noticeable in a short period.”

Accessibility

“The beauty of my new service is its accessibility and the ease with which speech therapy can be started. It’s ideal for so many people as it is so convenient, which is important for busy parents. I was determined to develop a highly flexible programme so parents can fit it into their routine.”

There is no special equipment required, and payment for assessment and the programme is split. The children themselves don’t have to miss out on school travelling to clinic appointments. The child is also in his or her home, and this familiarity gives an added layer of confidence.”

“Children benefit from ‘little and often’. My programmes are only fifteen minutes a day which really suits the shorter attention span of children.”

The service teaches parents to help their children at home under Kate’s support and professional guidance. She has developed easy to follow, simple, targeted programmes, which include games played daily so the child will learn without even realising it.

“It is a simple, child-friendly service, and this is so important. The assessment process is easy – parents film their child having a go at the tasks I set out and send me the videos using the secure file transfer system that I provide.”

Ziggy

“I have created a little character called Ziggy who helps the children do the tasks and makes it fun. Using these results, I individually create a programme for each child depending on their unique needs.”

“They use games and activities to teach the child the skills we are targeting in a fun way, so they don’t even realise they are learning.”

“Parents work through the programme step-by-step with full support from me. There is a mini-assessment every two weeks so I can monitor progress and help guide the programme.”

“These are the same skills parents are taught during face-to-face sessions. Although programmes are home-based, I offer ongoing support every step of the way. I strongly believe the results are much better if parents understand how to help their child, and that is what my programmes offer.”

“I offer individualised programmes that meet each child’s particular needs. My service is really unique in that I work remotely with parents providing programmes made up of fifteen-minute exercises that are done daily at a time that works for the family.”

“My experience has shown that it can be incredibly stressful for parents to work around set clinic times. Children might have to miss school or activities; parents are juggling work or other family commitments.”

“The end result can be that they are starting their session already stressed, and as you can imagine, this doesn’t bode well for good results.”

“I also check in with parents regularly to ensure the programme is working well for all and to help them with any issues they may have.”

“I know that starting off, it can be quite overwhelming for parents as well as children. Therefore, it’s vital they know I’m here to help.”

Response

Kate is heartened by the response her new service is receiving from parents, particularly those in rural Ireland.

“The response from parents has been incredible. They have been waiting for a service like this and are embracing the new format.”

“When it comes to enthusiasm, who could be more motivated to help their child than a parent?”

Indeed, she added that any speech clinic will follow the same steps to educate parents about their child’s difficulty and give ‘homework’ for parents to do at home following the therapy session.

“ My approach offers this in a formalised structure providing a dedicated education pack. I have designed this to provide the same benefits to all the children so badly in need of help”. 

YouTube channel

In addition, she has a growing YouTube channel, Optima Speech Therapy, which offers free tutorials for parents doing speech therapy at home, including exercises to help children that are late talkers have a speech delay or a language disorder.

“To date, the production of paediatric Irish speech therapy resources has been little explored,” she remarked.

To address this, she has created speech sound videos with an Irish child model on her channel so that children have an accurate accent to learn from.

Additionally, her channel also includes DARA in both an Irish and British accent. DARA (Digitised Automated Realistic Articulator) is a child avatar she developed that shows children how to make the consonant speech sounds we need to speak in English.

“DARA helps children to understand how their tongue moves to make the different speech sounds,” she added.

“Lastly, I have also set up a support group for parents on Facebook, SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPY SUPPORT IN IRELAND. This is free and a platform for parents to support each other with tips and advice too,” she concluded.

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