31 March 2021
I think we can all agree the past year has been one in which everyone’s ability to cope with challenges has been sorely tested. We have all been touched in some way by the impact of COVID-19 and we will be assessing the impact of the pandemic for many years to come. Across the world of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) we have seen huge challenges for professionals, families and of course for children and young people themselves.
In the early days of the pandemic, we saw speech and language therapists redeployed across the country to support the NHS in its first response and in subsequent waves they have been in action again in support of NHS services. Their resilience in the face of the challenges they faced has been extraordinary. But they haven’t been the only group of professionals working with children and young people with SLCN who have been faced with challenges. Teachers and therapists in schools, including in I CAN’s Dawn House and Meath, showed their resilience in facing the twin challenges of moving to online delivery of support and education as well as keeping schools open to those children who most needed it. As I have worked with early years settings on a number of I CAN projects over the last year, I have been amazed and humbled by the resilience and perseverance they have shown and by their dedication in continuing to engage in our projects whilst at the same time battling to keep their settings open.
The ability to deal with challenges and to maintain a positive outlook is something we all want to foster and support in children and young people. So what might that look like for children and young people with SLCN? In 2015, Sue Roulstone and Rena Lyons conducted a study where they asked children aged 9–12 years old with speech, language and communication needs about their experiences. Amongst the findings were factors which have a bearing on how resilient the children were. The risk factors included negative feelings about their diagnosis, difficulty with friends, worry about academic achievement and feeling their independence was restricted. Protective strategies included having a positive self identity, positive relationships and feelings of having agency. The study highlights how important it is to listen to children and what a significant role their social networks and relationships play in developing and supporting resilience.
One of the key things we can do to support children and young people is counter-intuitively to try and support them less. If we jump in and solve children’s problems for them and especially when we try and fix things so that children aren’t even aware there is a problem we are doing them a dis-service. Experiencing challenge, feeling uncomfortable and working our way through these is a necessary part of learning resilience. Supporting children to develop coping skills, asking questions to help them think through a problem and teaching problem solving skills such as lists of pros and cons are all helpful strategies.
Children and young people with SLCN may have difficulty thinking through their options and developing strategies, breaking these down and visualising them will help with this. They may also need support to identify and label the emotions they and other children may be feeling. Finally, the people who work with them may take an overprotective stance and need to reflect on how to take a step back and support children to think through strategies for themselves.
 Lyons, R. and Roulstone, S. (2016). Labels, identity and narratives in children with primary speech and language impairments. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 1-16
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