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'She’ll develop at her own rate’ - Is anyone listening?

Anna’s mother says: ‘Anna was a difficult baby always crying and difficult to settle. She was my first baby and I didn’t always know if I was doing everything right. By 18 months I felt there was something wrong but I didn’t know what. She had a few words – that seemed OK. 

But, she didn’t seem to play well, tended to break her toys and never spent any time on any one thing. I thought I might be doing something wrong. I plucked up courage to ask the health visitor. She fobbed me off saying that she couldn’t see anything wrong.’

When Anna started at a pre-school playgroup, her mother noticed that Anna’s interaction with other children was poor, but pre-school staff insisted everything was fine and that Anna would ‘develop at her own rate.’ Anna’s mother was not really convinced, she felt that the staff had very low expectations of Anna. Anna then started at school. The teacher was not happy with Anna’s behaviour and upset her mother by suggesting poor parenting. Anna’s mother began to notice that her daughter mixed up words and misunderstood some things, but she did not know what to do. When she spoke to the school staff about her concerns she was told that Anna was ‘developing at her own rate’.

The school called in the Behaviour Support Team who noted that Anna did not always understand what was said to her, but they did not suggest a language assessment. They also stated that Anna did not have a behavioural problem. Nevertheless, the school could barely cope with her behaviour and insisted that she spent lunchtimes at home with her mother.

Anna began to stammer and her mother’s friend, who happened to be a health visitor, suggested a self referral to the Speech and Language Therapy Service. At the age of 5 Anna was assessed and was diagnosed with a specific language impairment. At the suggestion of the therapist, Anna’s mother contacted Afasic and benefitted greatly from the information and publications she received but was disappointed that there was not a local support group.

Anna’s SLCN were so severe that she was given a statement of special educational needs and received teaching assistant time in school. The teaching assistant had experience in specific language impairment and this was really helpful.

Anna has improved confidence and self-esteem, and her mainstream school has become more understanding. Although Anna has made progress, she is now 9 years old and still has significant SLCN. Her mother is concerned about the transfer to secondary school.

Some final comments from Anna’s mother: 

‘There is so much ignorance about specific language impairment. I had not heard of this condition and was horrified to discover that my friend (a health visitor), my own health visitor, and the staff at Anna’s pre-school and mainstream school did not know about specific language impairment either. 

All general children’s professionals should know about specific learning impairment. The local Speech and Language Therapy Service sent leaflets to the pre-school, but they need to visit. Knowing a face and name would make it easier for people to seek advice if unsure.’
Health visitor screening should be improved. Anna’s poor response to speech meant that a hearing problem was suspected and tested for more than once, but when no problem was found, no further investigations for speech and language difficulties were carried out.’
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