10:59am Monday 30 March 2020

Better prescription for speech and language aids

NEW clinical techniques to better prescribe vital symbol-based communication aids to improve the quality of life of children with limited natural speech are being developed at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Findings from the speech and language research project will influence current practice to improve the consistency and quality of clinical decision-making when providing symbol communication aids in the NHS.

Children with little or no natural speech often communicate through symbolic communication aids to convey their thoughts, feelings, requests and to hold conversations. Evidence has shown positive impacts on children’s wellbeing, sense of belonging and educational attainment.

Symbol aids are typically handheld devices or computer-based software that speak pre-stored words or phrases through the use of images, thereby providing independent communication.

Quality of life

Chief investigator Dr Janice Murray, Reader in Community Rehabilitation at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “The impact symbol communication aids have on children with little or no intelligible speech cannot be underestimated with implications on everything from wellbeing through friendships to educational achievement.

“However, decisions about communication aid provision are complex and children who use symbolic systems present the greatest challenge in identifying appropriate aids. We want to further enhance the quality of life for these children but need to ensure that the current process is as effectual as it could be by determining how to optimise clinicians’ decisions when assigning the correct symbol communication aids.”

Typically, developing children start producing words between 12 and 18 months, developing fully expressive speech around four years. Children with conditions like cerebral palsy may struggle to develop intelligible speech.

Specialist communication aid services are commissioned by NHS England, delivering high-cost services to one in 2,000 people, including 8,627 children and young people under 25 years, as potential beneficiaries.

Clinical input

The £800,000 three-year project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s Health Services and begins in January 2016. The project will be overseen by relevant academics, PPI, clinical and NHS England commissioning members. Research will involve focus groups and observations with clinicians, in-depth interviews with participants and a systematic review of current research.

Co-Investigators for the project are: Professor Juliet Goldbart (Manchester Met), Simon Judge (Barnsley Assistive Technology Service), David Meads & Professor Stephane Hess (University of Leeds). Core members of the Manchester Met team include co-researchers Stuart Meredith and Liz Moulam, both with personal experience of the process of symbol communication aid recommendation.

Manchester Metropolitan University is a leading university for the professions and a powerful driver of the North West economy.

The University educates and trains large numbers of the region’s legal and business professionals, scientists, engineers, teachers, health workers and creative professionals. It enjoys an excellent reputation for teaching and applied research and is a recognised innovator in partnership working with its local communities. The University is currently investing almost £300 million in its estate and facilities.

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