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Study finds parents are better than teachers at this one thing

“I wiggled awound the woom at west-time”, two-year-old Lara proclaimed. By this, of course, she meant she wriggled around the room at rest-time. If this speech pattern persisted, Lara might’ve been diagnosed with an articulation disorder. But, like many other two-year-olds, she grew out of it once she learnt to speak properly.

But let’s say, hypothetically, the disorder persisted, who would’ve referred her to a speech pathologist? A recent study showed parents made more accurate referrals than teachers.

Researchers from Charles Sturt University (CSU) and the University of Sydney examined correspondence from teachers, parents, and speech pathologists on 157 children aged four to five years, from childcare and preschool centres across New South Wales and Victoria. The correspondence recorded the supposed or actual incidence of children’s speech sound disorders.

The researchers found an 88 per cent correlation between parents’ concerns and diagnoses, yet only a 72 per cent correlation between these factors in relation to teachers.

This “raises concerns about whether parents should rely on their child’s teacher for advice before seeking professional advice from a speech-language pathologist”, the authors wrote.

Co-author Sharynne McLeod, professor of speech and language acquisition at CSU, wasn’t overly surprised by the results: parents spend more time with their kids. Though she also found them troubling as many parents, according to her research, rely on educators to identify potential speech pathologies in kids.

“Some parents from another study said they were only told about their child’s speech disorder once the child was at school”, she said. “They were disappointed…”

So, although McLeod believes early childhood educators do “amazing” work, she thinks their centres could benefit from in-house ‘speechies’. Ultimately, though, she thinks detecting speech pathology should be a collaborative effort between parents, early childhood educators and speech pathologists.

Many hands need to be on the speech deck, because, if left too late, speech pathologies can trigger later literacy problems. These can have lasting impact on a child’s academic success: McLeod’s investigation into the correlation between speech disorders and NAPLAN results attests to this. A child’s happiness, too, is a spur for better early detection of, for instance dyspraxia and aphasia, as these can inhibit socialisation.

Speech and language disorders are the most common communication disorders in children. They include speech sound disorders, articulation disorders, phonological disorders, and childhood apraxia of speech.

Statistics from peak professional body Speech Pathology Australia show that 20 per cent of four-year-olds have a speech pathology.

If you would like more information, Speech Pathology Australia provides fact sheets and links to local speech therapy providers.

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