That is a huge question.

Many would argue that any non-verbal child (or adult) should be accessing speech therapy as a basic human right. Surely that is what speech therapists do after all isn't it: teach people to speak?

That was what I used to think too.

That is until I had two children with autism and I entered the world of NHS therapies and all the politics and complexities that go with that.

As a trained teacher I was fairly sure I knew what speech therapists did. They helped people learn to speak. They assisted and supported those with communication difficulties and speech impediments, and worked 'magic' to somehow cure them. Maybe, just maybe, I had them confused with miracle workers, but I guarantee the general public had much the same idea as me.

So when my 22 month old son was referred to speech therapy by our community paediatrician because he has no recognisable words and was not copying or pointing, I was excited. After all, I was convinced my son was a 'late bloomer' and a few visits to the magic speech therapy clinic would have him conversing, pointing, singing and waving within days. Of course you already know from the title that I was living in pipedream land! 

Can you actually believe the first thing they suggested was a parenting course? Talk about insulting when his twin sister was chatting away beautifully. 

That, my friends, is what speech therapy is at times: a parenting course! 

If this is the case, should I still be going on them when my 8 year old is non-verbal? 

Fast forward a few years and finally by nursery age my son began having some formal therapy in nursery. I was not included in this and received a report at the end of a session at most. Hardly helpful for consistency and co-operation, but apparently this is what happens. Maybe they were afraid I would copyright their magic potion and go on and 'cure' other children? In reality, it was simply a case of the therapist doing what all good nursery staff already do, and what I was already doing at home. It made little difference then, and would probably make little difference now. The problem is, children with autism struggle to generalise and transition skills from one place to another, so even IF progress was made working one to one with the therapist in nursery, it was unlikely my son would do the same in the home environment. This became the single most used reasoning why my son would be denied therapy for many years to come. 

If speech therapy is direct work with my child in a fabricated setting and my son is unable to transfer skills over should he be getting therapy as a non-verbal 8 year old who has never said a word in therapy or at home?

My son is now in a school for children with complex needs. The way speech therapy was delivered at his school changed two years ago. Rather than working direct with the children, the therapists would instead be teaching and working with the teaching staff and parents. Actually, that sounded grand to begin with… except in reality it just means we get nothing. Last year his teacher was trained… then she left. They trained the next teacher... and she went on maternity leave… now he has a supply teacher who is awaiting her training. Meanwhile, we have had nothing. They blamed funding. I complained. 

So they sent me on a sign language course. My son cannot sign and with vision impairment he does not see or understand sign language either.

If this is speech therapy, should my non-verbal 8 year old be getting speech therapy? 

I want that cure still. I would give anything to be able to hear him speak. I wish speech therapists were the miracle workers I thought they were many years ago. 

The reality is they are not. They are under staffed, over worked and under pressure. They have limited resources yet an ever growing demand for their service. They do far more than just helping with poor pronunciation and in fact their remit covers everything from swallowing difficulties and memory difficulties, to picture communication, social stories and many more besides.

My 8 year old can eat. He has a great memory (when it suits him). Any social stories he needs I can make myself using photographs and language he is familiar with. He communicates with me and I understand him. Despite the fact he is non-verbal at 8 he is not considered a priority for speech therapy. 

That may shock people. I know it still shocks me. 

If speech therapy could be on-going, responsive to his complex needs, delivered in conjunction with us as parents, adaptable, consistent and motivating for my son then I would say yes he should have it. 

Right now there is nothing the NHS can offer him, or us.

Should my non-verbal 8 year old be getting speech therapy? Yes he should.

So I am doing it myself. 

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