Student speech pathologists helping at Pied Piper Preschool

HELPING KIDS: Rita Slewa, Christina Shenouda, Maddie Dardengo, Luke Touhill and Rachel Willis. Picture: CIARA BASTOW
HELPING KIDS: Rita Slewa, Christina Shenouda, Maddie Dardengo, Luke Touhill and Rachel Willis. Picture: CIARA BASTOW

Pied Piper Preschool has three speech pathology students from Macquarie University working with the young children to determine if any of the students have communication issues. 

The students who are staying in Lithgow for four weeks together are in their second year of their masters degree and fifth year of University. 

The preschool, which takes 39 students a day and 90 a week, is benefiting from the students being in the classroom with the kids. 

Preschool director Luke Touhill said that the need for speech pathologists in the area was at an all time high. 

“If you want to see a speech pathologist in the public sector you could be put on a 12 to 18 month waiting list,” he said. 

With no private specialists in the area many children were not receiving the help they may need. 

This is the first time the preschool has done something like this and after receiving some funding from the Lithgow Workmen’s Club and putting in their own funding towards the project, staff are hoping that this becomes an annual occurance. 

“We are hoping to get more funding in the future so that we can do this each year and possibly expand to other preschools,” he said. 

Mr Touhill said that he hopes that by doing this it would help more than just his preschool and would free up some space at local GPs and hospitals.  

“So far it’s working well, the children are getting extra attention so they are loving it,” he said. 

Pied Piper Preschool offers a short introduction day for two-year-olds which offers the speech pathology students an opportunity to test the younger children because a two-year-old’s speech would be different to that of a five-year-old. 

“Having the students around will help our teachers learn new strategies that they can put in place and teach them what they can do,” Mr Touhill said. 

Mr Touhill pointed out that it was harder to discover if a child had a speech issue when they were at primary school because there were more kids who needed attention. 

Having the students available to test each child was a blessing for Mr Touhill because some children go undetected if they are not an obvious case. 

I suspect there is another group needing help, which we miss because we focus on the high needs group, when we could get tips for everyone,

Luke Touhill

Under the supervision of Rachel Willis a speech pathologist from Orange Speech Therapy the students will get the practical experience that the city can’t offer. 

The students are currently undertaking assessments with the kids and have had no trouble getting them to cooperate. 

“They want to play, so it’s been wonderful,” student speech pathologist Maddie Dardengo said. 

This was the students first exposure in this type of setting and found that it was a completely different set compared to an on school campus clinic. 

“Normally there aren’t as many children and it’s one on one with parents in the room as well,” student Rita Slewa said. 

SPEECH PATHOLOGISTS: Rita Slewa, Christina Shenouda, Maddie Dardengo and Rachel Willis. Picture: CIARA BASTOW

SPEECH PATHOLOGISTS: Rita Slewa, Christina Shenouda, Maddie Dardengo and Rachel Willis. Picture: CIARA BASTOW

The women all volunteered to come to Lithgow after Mr Touhill travelled to Macquarie University and gave a lecture about the need for speech pathology in the area. 

“This opportunity gives the students wider exposure to experience a wide range of communication,” Mr Touhill said. 

Speech pathologist Rachel Willis said that this was a good opportunity for the girls to experience a rural placement, because the city can be quite specialised in one area whereas it would be a whole different environment in a preschool. 

“You don’t always get the greatest picture of how they’re interacting when they are in a new place with strange people and weird toys whereas watching them interact in their natural environment always provides a better picture," she said. 

The students are at the preschool all day, every day of the week so that they can spend adequate time with each child. 

“You just start playing with the kids and get them to trust you and open up,” student speech pathologist Christina Shenouda said. 

Screening the children included games and talking with the children, and so far “none of the children have refused”. 

By the end of the four weeks the students will start putting together reports on each of the kids, creating small therapy groups and providing the preschool with tips to up skill the teachers. 

The preschool will then continue on with the therapy for the children who need it the most, while other children may be referred to speech pathologists. 

“Not everyone here can help but with training we will be able to work on certain areas,” Mr Touhill said. 

Rachel Willis outlined the main attributes that the speech pathologists are looking for are: 

  1. Overall communication development 
  2. Understanding and use of language 
  3. Social skills: How are they acting around peers? 
  4. Speech and sounds being made 
  5. Are they making eye contact? 

Ms Willis said that if parents have a concern with their child then they should phone a speech pathologist rather then wait and see what happens because it is better in the long run to be proactive. 

“Don’t wait to long, the sooner the better. Go and chat to your childs preschool teachers or your GP to point you in the right direction,” she said. 

You don’t need a referral to see a speech pathologist so if you are concerned about your child then give them a call.