Over the years Freddie has had speech therapy, occupational therapy, portage (early years therapy), sound therapy and physiotherapy, with varying degrees of success. We've found some therapies make a dramatic difference and have given him a greatly improved quality of life and some have been less so. The most important for him is speech therapy. Children with Downs Syndrome often have speech problems and delayed speech development. In addition to the usual issues, Freddie has hearing loss, is dyspraxic and has very delayed speech.
Getting adequate speech therapy in mainstream school has been very difficult. To indicate how Alice in Wonderland it can be, at one stage our authority suggested that Freddie's complex speech therapy needs could be met in three visits a year! It seems to me like suggesting that a child can learn to play a musical instrument in three visits a year. After a long tedious battle, we've finally got a speech therapist coming into school once a month to supervise a program for Freddie. It's still not enough, but better than nothing.
To get at bit more speech therapy input, we also take him once a fortnight to a speech therapy group run by a charity, the Bristol Downs Syndrome Trust. The session is run during the school day so he misses the afternoon lessons, but we feel that this opportunity to practice speech in a small group is very important.
We went to the group today. I picked him up early from school at 1:30 which he always thinks is very exciting! I asked him what he's been doing at school and get the usual shrug (I'm not sure if that's a "downs syndrome" response or a 10 year old boy response!) It takes about half an hour to get to the community centre where the sessions are held and as Freddie's not in a chatty mood in the car we listen to a CD. When we arrive, Freddie goes off to see one of his friends and play with some cars which have been put out. Most children come with a parent, but there are also child minders and support assistants from school. While the children play, we have a coffee and a chat; the social contact for the parents is almost as important as the therapy for the children.
There are 5 children in the group and most of them have been in the same group for 3 or 4 years and know each other well. The children sit in a semi-circle facing the therapist with the parents sitting behind. Each child has to find their name, stick it on the board, introduce themselves and say hello. Freddie did his in a whisper. They then had a story with various animals they had to name. Freddie had a "stripy zebra". After 10 minutes or so, we all moved to a carpet for another exercise, then, when they've all had a couple of turns, they move to a table where they do a posting exercise. Moving around a bit keeps them on their toes!
These sessions give parents and carers a great opportunity to learn new techniques to help our children's speech at home.
After the session we all go back to the playroom for a cup of coffee and a chat before we clear away. Freddie plays happily with a couple of his friends. Although he was very quiet today, he enjoys the group and we're very lucky to have one locally.