Speaking up for Bryce
Whitbourne mom wants speech therapy services improved
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.”
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.
Stephanie Phillips (right) is fighting for her son Bryce to receive school-aged speech therapy.