SPEECH therapy has been taken from the clinics to the classroom for children in the Liverpool Plains and Nundle areas, thanks to a program using videoconferencing to bridge distance.
Rural children’s health service Royal Far West visited schools at Nundle, Quirindi, Willow Tree, Werris Creek, Spring Ridge, Wallabadah and Blackville in the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile this week, reviewing the progress of 14 kids who have received teletherapy under the Come N’ See program.
Under the program, the children receive fortnightly, half-hour sessions of speech pathology via videoconferencing, delivered by speech pathologists based in Manly.
Speech pathology team leader Craig Fairweather said the teletherapy aimed to provide these services to children while minimising disruption to their lives, by removing the need for them to travel every six months for a week of intensive therapy.
The children in this region began undergoing teletherapy in February and most have received 12 sessions in that time.
Mr Fairweather said he was “very pleased” with the progress of the students so far.
He said the seven towns in this region became involved in the program because of their efforts raising funds for Royal Far West through the community’s annual sulky drive.
The Care Mobile followed the sulky drive last year to assess the children for the program.
The Care Mobile is a purpose-built, 12-metre-long truck with two consulting rooms that allows specialists to provide health services to children in rural areas.
Following this week’s assessments, the Royal Far West staff will supply reports to families on their children’s progress.
Parents, school facilitators and principals will also provide feedback, which will be taken into account for when the program resumes in the fourth school term.
Royal Far West last week launched a similar program to develop children’s fine motor skills called Grab It! and is developing another program to be delivered by clinical psychologists to help kids in rural areas deal with anxiety problems.
The visit of Royal Far West to the region comes ahead of Speech Pathology Week, which starts on Sunday.
The week aims to raise awareness for those who experience difficulties communicating or swallowing.
According to Speech Pathology Australia, 20 per cent of four-year-olds have difficulty understanding or using language, and 14 per cent of 15-year-olds have only basic literacy skills.
People with communication or swallowing difficulties are over-represented in the youth justice system, have poorer health, educational and vocational outcomes, are more prone to mental health problems, and are more likely to experience an adverse event in hospital.