Derry mum an inspiration

Debra McNeill.  (1501JB07)
Debra McNeill. (1501JB07)

When Debra McNeil saw the benefits that speech therapy was having on her young son, Joseph she decided to set-up her own support group in Derry, for children with similar difficulties.

Debra, (41), is a Research and Development manager at the Seagate plant on Buncrana Road but every Tuesday evening she takes Joseph to St. Anne’s Primary School in Rosemount where, along with several other children, he receives help and support from a fully qualified speech and language therapist.

Debra McNeil named as Communication Champion at the Shine a Light Awards 2012

Debra McNeil named as Communication Champion at the Shine a Light Awards 2012

Debra, who is from Clarence Avenue, set-up the Afasic support group a year and-a-half ago but recently she was nominated for a ‘Shine a Light’ award by the Western Health and Social Care Trust’s Speech and Language Therapist, Jill Borland.

Grabbing headlines and giving interviews is not something Debra is at all comfortable with but when she went on to win the award she was left with no choice.

Unfortunately, Debra was unable to attend the awards ceremony in London but Jill Borland and Danielle Grant (Voluntary Speech Therapist) accepted the award on her behalf.

Mum of four Debra said whilst she was delighted to win the award she wanted to use the opportunity to let other parents who have children with speech and language difficulties know that there is help and support out there.

Pic 2 Shine a Light Awards 2012

Pic 2 Shine a Light Awards 2012

“Joseph was eight years-old when he he was discharged from his speech and language therapy but it was still recognised that he had ongoing issues.

“One of the things that Joseph enjoyed most about his therapy was meeting up on a weekly basis with children the same age as him who had issues with language and communication. He looked forward to it every week and was always talking about the children he met in the class.

“So, myself and Jill Borland, who has been Joseph’s language therapist since he was three talked about setting up a language group. We wanted to set-up a group that would bring children with language and communication issues together on a weekly basis.”

All of Debra’s four children attend St. Anne’s P.S. and after talking with school principal, Jacinta Bradley it was agreed that the group could make use of one the classrooms every Tuesday night free of charge.

“St. Anne’s P.S. have been so supportive since we set the group up. After we got the green light from the school we contacted a few speech therapists who had just graduated and who were willing to volunteer and host the group on a weekly basis.

“Throughout the first year, a few of our speech therapists secured employment so in September when we started up again we were able to bring new therapists but the five children who have been there from the start remained.

“I want parents to know that this service is available to them free of charge. It’s really beneficial and when the children are receiving their therapy, we, the parents are able to sit have a cup of tea or coffee and talk about how our children are getting on and exchange tips and advice.

“It’s important for the group that we maintain and grow our numbers because the whole service is based on interaction between children.”

When Debra heard that she had been nominated to become UK Communication Champion at the ‘Shine a Light’ awards ceremony she said she never thought she had no chance of winning.

“I never thought I would get very far but after Jill nominated me I was short listed for the final stage which meant we were guaranteed an invitation to the awards ceremony but unfortunately I was unable to go.”

Debra contacted the ‘Shine a Light’ awards team to tell them she was unable to attend but they replied by telling her that she had won and asked if she would record an acceptance speech which they played at the event in London.

“I couldn’t make it because of work commitments but Jill and one of our former speech therapists, Danielle Grant, accepted it on my behalf.

“It was nice that Jill and Danielle were able to accept the award because the group are so indebted to them - without the determination of selflessness of our therapists the group would not be where it is today.

“It’s always nice receiving recognition but as far as I am concerned the award is recognition for the hard work of the group because the group has been fantastic to me and to Joseph.”

The Afasic support group meet every Tuesday evening in St. Anne’s P.S. at 7pm. For more information contact Debra on 07766527453 or email