Interview - Professor Sue Roulstone

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University of the West of England and Bristol Speech and Language Research Unit.

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Tell us about the Child Talk - What Works programme.

We're focusing on speech and language difficulties in the early years, which from an international perspective we've set as between two years and five years and 11 months.

We're interested in children who have a primary speech and language impairment - children whose impairment is not associated with any other problem, such as cleft palate, autism or learning difficulties.

What are the programme's aims?

This National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)-funded programme will develop an evidence-based framework of speech and language therapy interventions. We know that children who have a language impairment are at high risk of developing problems - with literacy and social isolation, for example.

We looked at previous research and found that there are speech and language therapist (SLT)-led interventions but they are not very well described and it's hard to distinguish interventions from each other. We wanted to be able to describe them in more detail.

What did the research involve?

We visited six different sites around the country and ran focus groups to find out what SLTs do and how they work with early years practitioners and parents. We also ran some mock therapy sessions in children's centres in Bristol. We wanted to try to understand what therapy is like from the child's perspective so we observed their body language, vocalisations and attention during the sessions to see how they were responding.

Some of the children wore 'kiddycams' - these were tiny cameras mounted on headbands that the children could opt to wear. This allowed us to see what they were looking at and understand what the world looks like from their height.

What are the next steps?

Our overall aim is to improve services for children. We've identified different evidence-based interventions around nine themes that are currently being used by speech and language therapists and we're developing a framework, which will be available at www.speech-therapy.org.uk.

We want a searchable database so that users can click on different aspects, for example 'comprehension', and find out how you would assess this and the intervention you could use. For example, in Foundation Skills, visual timetables are used by SLTs to help children focus on different activities at different times.

This article describes independent research funded by the NIHR under its Programme Grant for Applied Research Programme. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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