Communicating with confidence

Speech is one of those weird things that we all take for granted.

It's one of the things that connects us to one another and (really) makes us human. So when we have young children with conditions like cleft lip and palate that affect their speech, we know it’s our job to do everything we can to fix it.

Communication is everything – it’s our way of expressing who we are. As all parents know, when children play together, they talk together – they are always communicating with each other.

Whether it’s talking about their latest toy or gadget, describing their favourite car, deciding who is ‘in’ for a game in the school playground, or simply sharing news in the classroom, children rely on their ability to speak clearly and when that ability is impacted, it can change their whole childhood.

A mother recently told me that her son would have so much more to say, so many stories to tell and so many questions to ask, but the speech difficulties associated with his repaired cleft palate still made it extremely hard for other children to understand him.

With the right interventions though, we can help change this.

In speech therapy, we work with local Speech Pathologists, the children and their families to overcome the significant struggles and challenges these children face through fun and engaging intervention targeting the correct placement and production of their speech sounds.

It’s not a quick fix by any means – it normally requires regular appointments over a number of months and even years, and it always involves a lot of home practice in between. But with time, consistency and dedication, most of these patients make improvements that still continue to blow me away.

Through speech therapy, we have the ability to empower our kids so that when they go to school they can join in with conversations with their friends, speak at assembly and ask questions with confidence!

This makes an enormous difference not only to their speech but to their wellbeing and quality of life. This is still, to this day, one of my favourite parts about my job.

Australian singer, Delta Goodrem, recently shared her own personal journey with speech therapy after she lost her ability to speak clearly during surgery to remove her salivary gland. Her experience is not too dissimilar from many of our patients and has helped to showcase the life-changing impact speech therapy can have.

Her story really highlights the commitment, resilience and perseverance often displayed by the children and families who come into our care with severe speech problems, as well as the dedication and collaboration between health professionals.

We’re exceptionally fortunate to have teams of highly trained, dedicated healthcare professionals in our Cleft Palate and Craniofacial clinics across the Network working hard to improve the quality of life for all of the children we see, and helping them to grow into happy and healthy children and young adults.

Our clinics are supported by plastic surgeons, ear nose and throat surgeons, orthodontists, audiologists, nurses and other team members all working together to improve various aspects of a child’s development and wellbeing.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that normal speech doesn’t come easily for many children, especially those who’ve had a cleft palate or other craniofacial condition. It’s only through our combined care and effort – including that of the child and their family – that speech improvement can be made and kids have the opportunity to tell their stories, interact with their friends and enjoy doing all the things that children do.

David Fitzsimons
Cleft Lip and Palate Speech Pathologist 

This week, 23-29 August, is Speech Pathology Week. The theme for 2020 is COMMUNICATING WITH CONFIDENCE, focusing on the 1.2 million Australians living with communication disability and the importance of helping them to communicate more confidently in the hope of maximising their educational, health and social outcomes.