As a Speech and Language Therapist and mother of a child with significant speech and language difficulties, this is an area that I’m passionate about. At the moment I feel that adopted children’s communication needs are not really recognised or prioritised.
As the majority of children entering the care system have been neglected to some degree, it is likely that they will also have delayed speech and language skills. Babies and young children learn language from the adults around them. If nobody speaks to them, they will not learn language as they should. They might not be used to listening and this impacts on their ability to follow instructions and understand what they hear. It also impacts on their ability to work out what sound patterns are in words. If this information about the meanings of words and what sentences sound like and what sounds are at the start and end of words isn’t going into children’s brains, age appropriate sentences and clear speech will not be coming out of their mouths.
I think it is now fairly widely acknowledged that adopting a child is not easy. This process is much harder if the child you adopt can’t listen to you, doesn’t understand what you are saying, can’t express their own thoughts and feelings and what they do say is not clear. A communication barrier is not conducive to bonding.
Thankfully I have been able to fall back on my professional knowledge and have known what strategies to use to improve things for Little Bear. Most adoptive parents would not have that luxury and I think their child’s speech and language difficulties would compound their stress at becoming new parents.
Unfortunately (despite having being an NHS therapist myself until very recently) our experience of getting the speech and language therapy input Little Bear needs has not been positive and I hope it is not representative of what other parents are experiencing. He was referred 8 months ago and although we have been offered 4 appointments, they have so far all been cancelled by them.
I would love to see Specialist Speech and Language Therapy Services available to adopted (and fostered) children which would be able to respond when they are needed (not several months too late) and would take an holistic view of a child and family, taking into account the impact of the child’s communication difficulties on behaviour, behaviour management and attachment. I would also like to see Speech and Language Therapy training being available to prospective and new adopters, as well as foster carers.
We are trying to make this vision happen in our little corner of the country but I’m not sure it is on everybody’s agendas yet.