WDHB marks Speech Language Therapy Awareness Week September 17 - 21

WDHB Speech therapists Claire-Ellen Roberts and Kristi Exley
WDHB Speech therapists Claire-Ellen Roberts and Kristi Exley
13 September 2012
Whanganui District Health Board speech language therapists are highlighting the stories of two of their patients to mark Speech Language Therapy Awareness Week from 17 – 21 September.
Claire-Ellen Roberts and Kristi Exley say while their area of expertise lies in helping people with speaking and swallowing, it’s seeing people’s lives change for the better that really makes their jobs worthwhile.
Ms Exley says she’s been particularly moved by one of her voice therapy patients whose rare, hereditary disease can lead to uncoordinated movements and muscle weakness in the arms and legs of those affected.
“In the case of my patient, his family had great difficulty understanding what he was saying due to the extreme quietness of his voice and slurred speech caused by nerve weakness in his facial muscles,” Ms Exley says.
“Using voice therapy, I asked my patient to set time aside each day to make the “ah” sound in a loud voice, to repeat sentences at the same level of loudness and to make a low note to a high note in one breath.
“Happy that his voice was growing noticeably louder, the man persevered until five weeks into his treatment, his family had no trouble understanding what he was saying. The fact they could sit in normal environments such as noisy cafes and have a conversation meant a great deal to them all. Previously, any background noise caused by people talking had drowned out my patient’s voice.”
At the other end of the age spectrum, Ms Roberts has been working with a seven-year-old girl whose feeding difficulties have seen her fed through a stomach tube for most of her life.
“Her sensory aversion to food and multiple health conditions made it impossible for her to eat normally,” Ms Roberts says. “A number of health professionals had told her parents that her inability to even recognise the feeling of being hungry would mean she would always need to be tube fed.
“When I began working with this young girl she wouldn’t look at, let alone, eat a number of foods until I introduced a simple chart which offered small rewards each time she tasted, and in time, swallowed solid food.”
Ms Roberts says with the girl slowly eating a little food through her mouth, she and her parents were able to reduce her tube feeds by one a day and that’s been a big milestone for them.
The two women say New Zealand’s 1000-plus Speech Language Therapists are confident that the growing understanding of the work they do is having a positive outcome for their patients.  
“For those who know someone who has difficulty swallowing, eating or communicating with others, it’s important to be understanding and patient with them,” Ms Exley says.