This article transcribes an individual therapist’s journey with paediatric clients in a school setting. It focuses on a particular aspect of speech therapy and does not represent the entirety of the profession.
It was one particularly bright morning. The sun was shining 🌞, the sky was a bright, beautiful blue and the birds were chirping oh so sweetly🐦🐦. It was one of those good days- if you know you know😉! I had just concluded my first therapy session and was preparing for the next one, when she said it. She had peeked into the therapy session and observed what was going on.
‘But you were just playing!’ she said.
‘You were playing with the child,’ she affirmed in a clearly shocked voice😯. Speech therapy sessions, like any other treatment sessions, are confidential. However, in the school setting, this can be easily compromised through bust-ins by overly inquisitive teachers or the peeping a thomases🙊😏 and this was the case. The client was known to us both. Her statement, which was loaded with query and somewhat accusation was interpreted like this; ‘Is that what therapy looks like?’, ‘This is what you studied in medical school?’, ‘Isn’t therapy supposed to be more medical?’ and, the greatest of them all, ‘You are paid to play!!??’ Interestingly, i was not irritated by her breach of my professional space or her curiosity, instead, I was amused. I was so amused by the fact that her statement and shock mirrored a similar experience that i had a few years back.
The memory is still so fresh💭. It was one of the first few clinical lectures that we had with this particular lecturer. The client was brought in, a child of about 4 years and each of us was instructed to assess the child under the scrutiny of the lecturer. I will not go into the hordid details of how my first assessment turned out🙅 but I will say that it was very awkward, sloppy and I knew it. At the end of the session, lecturer x pointed out one mistake that we (my classmates and i) all had committed, which was that we had not properly ‘engaged’ the child. When she later on demonstrated what she meant by ‘engage’ the child, we saw play🤷! This would later on become a source of bickering for us because we expected ‘more medical’ assessment methods and interventions as compared to mere ‘play.’ I mean, wasn’t there a better way to assess a child without having to ‘play’ with them. The whole idea of looking silly (or so i thought) infront of parents did not sound appealing at all. All this, this came from a point of ignorance, a tinge of pride and fear for what lied ahead. I had it all wrong…
Fast forward to today and guess who my favourite clients are, ‘The children!”😆😆😆.. It seemed like I was doomed to ‘play’ my whole career. BUT, i had got it all wrong the whole time. I came to this realization a little late- talk about the field being the actual teaching ground, huh🤔! It had never been just ‘play’ in the first place, instead, it had always been therapy/assessment goals and targets packaged in a beautifully wrapped present with a large bow🎁 called ‘play.’ Paediatric Speech and language therapy and play work hand in hand and this is why;
Play and language are intertwined. In the early years of life, the typically developing child is able to watch👀, listen👂, imitate👶, explore👣, develop symbolic understanding and grow vocabulary🗣 through the different forms of play in their respective stages. To say that play is important in a child’s life is an understatement, it is paramount, more so in the presence of a caretaker who will set the pace for these play sessions. This is further affirmed by the words of a certain wise man,
“Play is often talked about as if it were relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of chidhood.”- Fred Rogers
When offering speech therapy services to a child client, the average SLT finds themselves incooperating their goals/ targets in play based activities tailored to the child’s age. This means that it is not ‘mere play’ but structured speech therapy sessions involving play based activities or structured play! And guess what, it may not always be easy but most of the time, you are able to capture the attention of the child, the child /client will enjoy the activity, you are able to achieve your goal when the activity is followed through with according to plan🤦 and it is FUN!💃🕺🕺
So yes, I play.. when necessary but I do not play ‘fwaa’🙊, I play with structure, purpose, skill and evidence to back up my work. Yes, i will wear pants 90% of the time and yes, I get to enjoy the work that I do, impact the lives of beautiful souls as they do mine on MOST days…😅😅..its not all smooth.
Lastly, to the parents, engage and play with child as much as you can and if something is not right, seek help- we are here for you!
Till next time,