Meet one of our Speech Pathologists – Lisa Furlong

Meet Lisa, our new Speech Pathologist, who joined our clinic in June.

Tell us about yourself and your background. I studied speech and language therapy in New Zealand at the University of Canterbury and moved to Melbourne about eight years ago.

I completed my PhD at La Trobe University. My PhD focused on technology-based speech therapy, particularly mobile apps, and how they can be used to improve access to services for children with speech sound disorders.

I have always worked with children in private practice, once owned my own private clinic, and have also worked in various research roles as well as a Clinical Educator at the Australian Catholic University. I find it very rewarding to help children improve their literacy through speech therapy.

Can you explain the relationship between speech and literacy?
People often aren’t aware of the very significant relationship between oral language competence and learning to read.

Our ability to learn to speak is a biologically primary skill, meaning most humans are prewired to learn oral language. But reading is different. Reading is a biologically secondary skill and has to be explicitly taught, yet it piggybacks off oral language skills.

If you have good oral language skills, you are more likely to have a successful experience when learning to read and spell. Children who have difficulty with their speech sound production, have poor oral language skills or have poor phonological awareness skills, are more likely to struggle.

How can a parent identify if their child has or might have a problem with literacy?

There are some common traits parents might observe. Often children will make slow progress with their literacy compared to classmates or siblings. They might make lots of mistakes and seem reluctant to read, or they aren’t able to correspond letters and sounds, and struggle with skills such as rhyming, blending sounds in words or clapping out syllables.

Some children, like those with dyslexia, often forget words that they could read the day before and will need more exposure to commit those words into their long-term memory.

These are all indications a child could be struggling with literacy and benefit from speech therapy.

Who benefits most from speech therapy?
Anybody who is having difficulties with reading and spelling can benefit from speech therapy, whether they have a learning disability like dyslexia, a learning difficulty or haven’t received good quality instruction at school.

It’s never too late to learn, but it can be harder the older a person is. It can also be quite tricky for older kids who haven’t been able to ’crack the code’ in their early school years. They can get left behind and may feel reluctant to try in their later school years, so early intervention is always best.

What might happen during a speech therapy session aimed at improving literacy?
Each session is different depending on the goals for the child, but it is always lots of fun, and we incorporate the work and practice into games when possible.

We might practice breaking up the sounds in words or work on letter-sound combinations. Some children might need help with morphology to understand prefixes, suffixes and root words.

There are always lots of opportunities for practice, visual support and repetition to help commit new knowledge to memory.

What can parents do at home to help improve literacy?
Parents should ensure their child is in a language-rich environment. Provide plenty of opportunities for them to engage in conversation and literacy experiences. Read books together and ask the child questions about the text. Play games together focused on fundamental literacy skills such as rhyming, counting syllables, sorting words by their first sound, learning about letters and sounds, and word-play.
There are also great resources on the Five from Five website, focused on developing the five essential skills your child will need to learn from the age of five to become a skilled reader.

When should parents seek professional support?
Early intervention is always best for your child and their educational experience. If you are observing any of the speech or literacy issues I’ve mentioned, a Speech Therapist should be part of your child’s treatment plan.
To make an appointment, phone 03 9899 5494 today.

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