Classrooms at Wallerawang’s Pied Piper Preschool are playing host to an exciting health-based initiative aimed at early identification of speech and language problems in children.


As part of Macquarie University’s Clinical Placement Program, a speech and language clinic has been established at the preschool, with the hope that it will be an ongoing program.


Conducting sessions in the familiar environment means children are more relaxed and allows the students to engage with the children when they are more comfortable.


“As part of the clinic, we’ve been conducting screening assessments which cover the different range of practice areas that we work with as speech pathologists, including speech, language, voice, fluency and social interaction skills,” explains fifth-year speech pathology student Amanda Godbee.


To encourage participation, activities centre around games the children can engage with, giving the clinicians the opportunity to complete a range of tests.


Working with children in this age group can certainly present unique challenges however the formative years are a crucial time to identify any issues with speech which may hinder a child’s education as they move through their years of schooling.


Early intervention is key to addressing speech issues before they have a detrimental effect on learning.


“It’s important to be screening children at preschool age, as a lot of them will be entering school in the next couple of years and it’s really important to identify speech and language problems now, so we can target them and help them to get to a place where they’ll be ready to start school,” explains Amanda.


The program has been warmly embraced by the Pied Piper Preschool community, with educators focussed on their primary goal of giving the children the best start to life. Without an opportunity like this, children may be placed on long waiting lists to be able to receive a screening assessment.


Pied Piper Preschool’s director, Anita van den Berg, agrees on the importance of early intervention.


“Waiting lists (to see a see a speech pathologist) can be really long, 12 months or more. So, it’s just getting these children identified quickly, so that the limited services we have are being accessed as quick as possible,” says Anita. 


As an educator, Anita understands the crucial role that speech has in a child’s development.


“Language is communication, and we have to communicate to build relationships. We’ve got to communicate to talk about our emotions and deal with them,” she explains


“We have to communicate to make friends, and communicate to learn. So it really is the core of everything.”


Undergoing practical work in a more regional setting has given the students a broader perspective and understanding of the different health challenges that exist in different communities.


“Working at Pied Piper Preschool has really taught me to consider the clients holistically, and understand that a lot of the time there may be other things going on at home, or other things in the child’s life, that can be affecting their speech and language,” says Amanda.


The impact of the program has not only been beneficial for children, but also the Pied Piper team and Anita is pleased with the knowledge and skills that staff have gained as a result of the program.


“It just gives them (the staff) a heads up as to the children that they need to watch, and some really great strategies to work with them here as well, to build their language and their speech,” she says.


“It’s all round been fabulous.”