School age children with language and literacy problems are better off with intense daily therapy rather than extended therapy, according to a recent study.
The study, led by Professor Ron Gillam, the 2009 recipient of Curtin University of Technology’s prestigious Haydn Williams Fellowship, is based on children 6 to 9 years old with primary language disorders but no problems in cognition or hearing.
“The group of kids in the study had 100 minutes of therapy each day, over a period of six weeks. We followed their progress for six months,” Professor Gillam said.
“Our results proved six times more successful than a different study in which children received therapy twice a week for 20 minutes each day, over a two-year period.”
Professor Gillam reviewed studies in which speech-language pathologists worked with teachers in a classroom setting.
“When I conducted a systematic review of existing research, classroom based instruction on vocabulary where speech pathologists were working with regular teachers, yielded very successful results,” he said.
The systematic review also showed that when children know what they are working on, and goals are explicit, they tend to make more improvement.
“Using simple demonstrations, picture cues or graphic organisers, summarisation techniques, allowing multiple opportunities to respond and repeat, and asking questions at various levels of complexity, are techniques that have proven to be most effective in improving language skills,” he said.
“Most importantly, if you are doing this on an intense daily schedule with the help of a speech pathologist in a classroom setting, you will see a great improvement in the child’s literacy skills.”
He said children with language impairment were at risk of social and academic problems and, later in life, vocational problems.
“This is not just a problem in the United States, a systematic review done by a researcher in the UK showed that worldwide the prevalence of language impairment is about six per cent,” he said.
“Australia seems to be somewhat unusual in this regard. An epidemiological study done in Sydney in 1994 showed that 20.1 per cent of school aged children showed evidence of language impairment.
“I understand that the Language Development Centres in WA work collaboratively with speech-language pathologists and teachers in a classroom setting and this is a wonderful place for providing children with language therapy.
“My concern is what’s happening to children in Year 2 and beyond who still have language difficulties and are returned to mainstream schools with sparse services available to them.
“In terms of public policy, I would be looking towards what the research has shown. More needs to be done to help those children that are still experiencing language and literacy problems after age 7, when the school curriculum becomes more complex.”
Professor Gillam is from the Department of Communication Disorders and Deaf Education at Utah State University. As part of his Fellowship, Professor Gillam is being hosted in WA by Curtin’s School of Psychology for a 6 week period. In 2009 he received the Robins Award for Utah State University Researcher of the Year.
The Haydn Williams Fellowship was established to perpetuate the name and work of Haydn Williams (Director of the Western Australian Institute of Technology 1967–1979) in education and the community.
Editor's Note: Original news release not available online at time of writing.