“You just want your child to do well - to fit in,” local mum Karala Smith said.
As mum to Conor (3) Karala said she found herself feeling increasingly desperate about her son’s poor speech and language development - which left him feeling like an outsider at pre-school.
“Conor has really delayed speech development - what’s called unintelligible utterings. He drops the starts of his words, then the end, then the middle. He has been in speech therapy since he was 18 months old and he is coming on - but when he moved to a new pre-school and they struggled to understand him, he became very frustrated.”
Karala admits that as she watched her son struggle at school, despite the best efforts of the school staff, she started to feel isolated and low herself.
“We just wanted him to be happy. He is our one and only and we wanted him to be confident in what he was doing - but we also wanted to protect him.”
Karala and her husband Neil said they were “desperate” for help with Conor and even looked into private speech therapy sessions but found they were prohibitively expensive. It was then Karala and Neil were put in touch with Derry based charity the Lifestart Foundation who offer a ‘Let’s Talk Success’ programme aimed at helping parents with children aged between birth and four years with their speech and language skills.
The programme is delivered by family visitors, who work within the child’s home and provide simple, easy and practical tips to help parents work with their children. And as training and development officer Karen Davidson explained, your child does not have to any recognised speech and language problems to avail of the free service.
The programme was brought together in response to increase reports from local nurseries and schools that more children than ever are starting nursery with extremely limited vocabularies - and unable to understand relatively basic instructions.
“There is no definitive research which explains why this is happening,” Karen said, “but some pet theories are that life has become just so busy that parents don’t have the time to give the one on one attention to children that they need, or that children are spending an increasing amount of time in front of TVs or videogames.” Although TV exposes children to vocabulary, it does not teach your child how to converse with others or how to pick up on body language.
In some cases, as with Conor, there is an inbuilt speech and language difficulty - although this would not be the norm.
Lifestart, through ‘Let’s Talk Success’ offer help to all parents who may need it. “Helping your child can be relatively easy,” Karen explained. “For example on our first visit we take out two plastic spoons and four pairs or socks. The plastic spoons, when inserted under your palate, show how difficult it is to talk with a dummy in your mouth. The socks show just how many different conversations can be had based on one item - colour, size, who owns them, where we put them etc”.
Karala said the ‘Let’s Talk Success’ programme proved to be a turning point for Conor. “I can’t recommend the programme enough,” she said. The programme is currently on offer outside of SureStart areas. To register, before the end of this month, phone Karen or Emma on 71365363.