Speak­ing up for Bryce

Whitbourne mom wants speech ther­apy ser­vices im­proved

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY MELISSA JENK­INS

For Stephanie Phillips, the last two years have been a dif­fi­cult road, emo­tion­ally and men­tally.

Her four-year-old son Bryce has dif­fi­culty with speech.

But the mother of four from Whitbourne was ini­tially told there was no is­sue.

When Phillips brought him to the pub­lic health clinic for a full as­sess­ment when he was two, she ques­tioned how his speech was de­vel­op­ing.

“I was told, ‘He’s just a boy,’ and ‘ Boys de­velop slower than girls,’” Phillips re­cently told The Com­pass.

Chil­dren usu­ally get as­sessed, get their vac­ci­na­tions, weighed and mea­sured be­fore they be­gin Kin­der-Start by a pub­lic health nurse, usu­ally when they are four years old. It was that as­sess­ment this past Septem­ber that brought Phillip’s fears to life.

Af­ter he was as­sessed and told he did not have the ver­bal strength of other chil­dren his age, the pub­lic health of­fice told her there would be a two year wait for speech ther­apy when re­ferred by East­ern Health.

“He will al­ready be in Grade 1 by then,” she ex­claimed. Not alone It’s a song she’s heard from sev­eral par­ents — their child’s ver­bal skills are not where they should be, but they can’t see a spe­cial­ist for two years.

The par­ents she has spo­ken to have boys that are af­fected by speech is­sues.

Phillips isn’t sure whether the child’s gen­der is a fac­tor, but be­lieves if it’s a trend then East­ern Health and other health in­sti­tu­tions need to start eval­u­at­ing th­ese chil­dren sooner.

A spokesper­son for East­ern Health con­firmed there is a four­month wait time for an as­sess­ment and a nine-month wait time for chil­dren in the St. John’s area. In Har­bour Grace, the as­sess­ment time is the same, but there is an 18-month wait time for treat­ment. Clarenville sees an 18-month to­tal wait time for as­sess­ment and treat­ment, while Marys­town has a to­tal of five to six months for as­sess­ment and treat­ment.

Speech lan­guage pathol­o­gists com­plete the as­sess­ments of all chil­dren dur­ing the sum­mer prior to the start of kinder­garten, com­mu­ni­ca­tion spe­cial­ist Robyn Pike told The Com­pass.

“This al­lows the child to start school with a speech as­sess­ment and some treat­ment,” she said.

But Phillips be­lieves that is too late. By the time they are as­sessed, they could be too far be­hind. With Bryce, she said, he had been say­ing things in­cor­rectly for two years. He’ll of­ten say some of his words with a ‘ d’ in­stead of an­other let­ter — ‘ sun’ would be pro­nounced ‘dun,’ for ex­am­ple.

“If some­one doesn’t un­der­stand what he is say­ing, Bryce some­times gets frus­trated,” his mom ex­plained. “No child should be frus­trated over their speech.”

Re­fer­rals

Af­ter the last as­sess­ment of Bryce last Septem­ber, the staff mem­ber at the pub­lic health of­fice con­firmed Phillips could self-re­fer him to pri­vate speech ther­apy.

“If they had told me two years ago, maybe he wouldn’t be be­hind now,” she said. “Some­thing has to change.”

It was a frus­trat­ing for Phillips af­ter hear­ing she could self-re­fer. She was sad, up­set and happy at the same time.

“As a mom, you feel like you let your child down,” she ex­plained.

Bryce now sees a speech ther­a­pist once a week and his two older sis­ters play games with him for an hour a day to work on his pro­nun­ci­a­tion.

“Speech ther­apy re­ally does work,” Phillips pro­claimed.

East­ern Health uses treat­ment blocks — eight-week in­ter­vals — for speech ther­apy, to al­low ro­ta­tion of chil­dren be­ing treated. Robyn Pike con­firmed East­ern Health is tak­ing steps to im­prove the wait times for speech ther­apy. School en­vi­ron­ment Speech lan­guage pathol­o­gists (SLPs) are em­ployed through the New­found­land and Labrador English School District as well.

There are 45 em­ployed, with 15 lo­cated in the St. John’s area and five in the Trin­ity-Con­cep­tion-Avon­dale re­gion.

In a state­ment from the school district, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ken Mor­ris­sey said an SLP’s help is pri­or­i­tized based on need.

“The school district SLP will de­ter­mine the ap­pro­pri­ate pro­gram­ming and ser­vice to best meet the stu­dent’s needs,” he said.

For Phillips, her con­cern is that Bryce has a pri­vate ther­a­pist, and not one em­ployed by the health care sys­tem. But if he doesn’t get ap­proved for school­based speech ther­apy, she’ll con­tinue spend­ing hun­dreds of dol­lars a month out of pocket for his treat­ments. She knows other fam­i­lies might not have that op­tion. Speak­ing up is how she hopes things will change, and as­sess­ments can be done sooner with shorter wait times.

Un­til then, she will keep fight­ing for her son.

“I will be the mom that doesn’t let up un­til Bryce gets the help he needs,” she stated.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Stephanie Phillips (right) is fight­ing for her son Bryce to re­ceive school-aged speech ther­apy.

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