Understanding the steps to take when embarking on your speech pathology journey can be daunting. Perhaps you have noticed that your child isn’t speaking as clearly as their peers. Maybe your child has just been diagnosed with a language delay, and you start to question “what is my next step?” Luckily, with the right support, advice and information; navigating this tricky time can become simpler.
Within this article, I will break down the steps to help you understand your child’s development needs, find the right speech pathologist for your family, assess your funding options, and ensure a successful path when it comes to the growth of your child.
Step 1. When Should You Seek Help
We all know that children develop at different rates, but there are some milestones that can guide a child’s development and help us understand when they need additional support. Speech Pathology Australia has developed several resources and guides relating to communication skills across the early years of childhood. These guides, including the Communication Milestones Poster, provides specific skills that your child may achieve at certain ages ranging from 12 months to five years.
In addition to understanding the specific milestones relating to communication skills, you may also consider seeking a speech pathologist if:
- you or other people are having difficulty understanding your child
- people think your child is younger than they are because of the way he speaks
- your child is being teased or showing frustration because of the way he talks
- your child is using fewer words than other children his age
- your child stutters
- your child’s interactions or play seems unusual or inappropriate
- your child is struggling with reading or writing
- there is a diagnosis that could affect speech or language such as hearing loss, auditory processing disorder, autism spectrum disorder or developmental delay
Communication and language challenges can have a widespread impact on a child’s life. It can affect their academic performance, be socially isolating, and impact their choices in adulthood. It is because of this that early intervention by a speech pathologist is not only recommended but can have a significantly positive impact on their daily life – now and in the future.
Step 2. How to Choose a Speech Pathologist
Choosing a speech pathologist is perhaps one of the most important steps when it comes to securing the right support and pathway for your child. Sure, you can jump online and see what Google brings up. But while independent research is advised, it can often present an overwhelming number of choices, making this step that much harder. So, the question remains, how do you know which speech pathologist is right for your family, and will offer the right services to help your child grow? To find the answer you need to ask the right questions:
Are you certified?
It is important to find out if the speech pathologist you are looking to see is, in fact, certified. In Australia, speech pathology is a self-regulated profession. However, Speech Pathology Australia has established a certified membership program that sees professionals within the industry undergo rigorous training and professional development to sustain the title of Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP). What does this mean for you? Basically, this certification ensures that you and your child are working with a speech pathologist who will practice within an ethical and evidence-based framework, and is an eligible provider for services under Medicare (for Chronic Disease Management and other eligible allied health items), private health funds, and other schemes including Helping Children With Autism (HCWA), Better Start for Children with Disability, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Are you child-friendly?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but knowing if a speech pathologist works well with children is something that will help you to feel at ease. While many speech pathologists claim to “work with children”, observing how they actually do this will give you the best insight into their services and methods. Is the therapists on the floor with your child? Are they trying to understand your child’s interests? Is your child having fun? Does your child seem willing to interact with the therapist? If you can answer yes to these questions, then chances are you’ve chosen the right speech pathologist who will help your child grow.
Are you experienced and do you understand my child’s challenges?
A good therapist should know what kind of treatment is best for your child. In addition, this treatment should be based on research. The bottom line is that the therapist should appear to know what he/she is talking about. Finally, you should feel comfortable with the amount of experience this therapist has with children like yours. Some additional questions that may help you decide if the therapist is experienced and knowledgeable in early language intervention are:
- How much of your caseload is made up of children like mine?
- Can I talk to some other parents who you have worked with?
- What treatment do you recommend and why?
- What’s the evidence that supports these recommendations?
- Where can I learn more about this kind of treatment?
Do you work with the family and educators to ensure the best results?
The best speech pathologists are those who will work with you, as well as your child, to develop the right therapy, activities and resources to support growth in a variety of contexts (at home, school etc). They understand that the time spent with your child is limited, and because you are an incredibly important part of your child’s life, you need to be involved in the intervention and play a major role. The right speech pathologist will be able to work with you to develop your skills so you feel confident delivering ‘treatment’ throughout your child’s day.
When it comes down to it, you want a speech pathologist who is respectful of both your child’s needs and of yours. According to Speech Pathology Australia, they should be someone who:
- Observes: takes the time to discover what is important to the parent
- Waits: gives the parent time to talk about what is important to her/him
- Listens: responds to what the parent says to show he/she has been heard
Step 3. Understanding Your Funding Options (including NDIS)
Now that you have chosen your speech pathologist, the next step is to get your head around what you can do to pay for the number of therapy sessions and assessments that have been recommended. Your speech pathologist will be able to provide information on the various options, but it is always a good idea to have a basic understanding of what is available.
The main programs available for funding speech pathology services are as follows:
Medicare – Chronic Disease Management Program (CDM)
Speech pathologists can work with your GP to provide therapy under a CDM plan. The Chronic Disease Management scheme is initiated by your GP, and is available to children and adults with Chronic Care needs. People with Autism are automatically eligible for the CDM because an Autism Spectrum Disorder is considered a chronic condition. The Medicare rebate is available for five sessions of Allied Health therapy, including Speech Pathology, per calendar year.
Please note that CDM plans can only be used for Individual therapy sessions. The CDM Plan does not provide funding for group therapy sessions. Find more information here.
National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
If you choose to see a speech pathologist that is a registered NDIS provider, you could access individual and group therapy services under a specific plan implemented for your child. There is an eligibility criteria that you would need to assess, and if your child meets the criteria you can ask to become a participant by completing an Access Request Form.
If your child is aged between 0 and 6 years of age, there is a specific service called Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) available. The ECEI approach supports families to help children develop the skills they need to take part in daily activities and achieve the best possible outcomes throughout their life.
To find out more about the NDIS you can call their helpline 1800 800 110 or visit the website: www.ndis.gov.au
Private Health Fund
Rebates for speech pathology services may be available through your private health fund. You will need to determine the rebates with your health fund provider prior to commencing the service. You will also need to check with your speech pathologist that they are an eligible provider for your health fund.
Please note that you cannot claim a Medicare rebate and a private health insurance rebate for the same service. You must choose which rebate they are going to claim for a service.
Step 4. Defining Your Role in the Speech Therapy Process
The final step in your family’s speech pathology journey is understanding the role that you will take. Parent involvement in the speech therapy process is extremely important when it comes to achieving the best outcomes. For most children, seeing a speech pathologist once a week isn’t enough time to develop language skills. But if you work together with your child’s speech pathologist, you can play an active role in your child’s intervention by:
- helping set goals for your child
- describing daily activities and routines
- learning strategies that you can use at home that will build your child’s communication skills
- reporting changes and progress you see in your child
- determining next steps with the speech pathologist
By working together with your child’s speech pathologist, you become the primary person delivering the therapy, and the speech pathologist functions as your coach and consultant, ensuring the best results possible.
As the name suggests, A Growing Understanding offers services that are centred around growing the understanding of not only children, but for those who care for and support them – you. As your child grows and develops during their speech pathology journey, we will support you and help you develop the right skills to assist them at home and during your daily routine. We will also provide information and advice that can be passed onto educators and other family members, and ensure that growth occurs across a variety of contexts.