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Nursery World, interviews Speech Club's Claire Whittaker


Claire explains how she feels she is leading the way in a revolutionary form of speech therapy, for which there is a huge demand in our post-pandemic world.

I am a speech and language therapist. I have been working with children for more than 25 years and my passion has been to help children to talk, to be able to communicate, to be able to speak clearly, to follow verbal instruction and to be able to express themselves so that they can be heard.

In 2020 Claire Heslop and I (another speech therapist with over 25 years paediatric experience) decided to launch Speech Club when we realised how many children were needing speech therapy and not able to get access to a speech therapist.

Speech therapists are a rare breed of people. I’ve never met an unpleasant one or an impatient or dictatorial one. We have chosen this career because we want to help people, and our job satisfaction is based on the difference we can make rather than the salary we can earn.

It has always amazed me how much people in other professions can earn. People working ‘in the city’ can take home thousands every month, and yet speech therapists can give all their care and effort but earn a pitiful salary.

What is also strange about this phenomenon is that there is a severe national shortage of speech therapists; people are crying out for them, waiting lists are ridiculously long and yet still it is very difficult to make any money when this is your profession. In any other sector, a role that is so specialised and with such a great demand would command a grand salary, but not in the world of speech therapy.

Since the start of Covid the world has changed in many ways, and it has been widely documented how detrimental lockdowns have been for our children and their learning and development.

For speech therapists the effects have been truly alarming. The children who were aged 12 months when we were first in lockdown have had a very different early years’ experience from the previous generation. Those toddlers could not go to nursery or to soft play centres, to swimming lessons, music lessons, friends’ houses, or family gatherings and as a result they did not get the social interaction that fuels language development.

When eventually the rules were lifted, we all wore masks so that even then the children could not watch the lip patterns needed for speech or learn about the importance of facial expression or interpretation of facial features. We are now seeing a generation of children who are arriving at preschool unable to form basic sentences or share toys and are also showing attachment difficulties.

However, since lockdown, the one habit they have formed is that they can attend to any information that is displayed on a screen, or on a phone.

So, for me the solution looked simple: hundreds of children needing help plus a new understanding and ability to follow online lessons equals pre-recorded speech and language therapy lessons targeted towards these preschool children that can be accessed by all, immediately, and in their homes.

But encouraging children simply to stare at a screen felt wrong. There needed to be explanations of why, fun games, manuals, illustrations, guidebooks, certificates, progress charts – in other words a complete speech and language therapy package that families and or carers could access.

Claire and I had worked with thousands of children, surely we could create the content we needed.

Claire and I wrote lesson plans, found resources and started to get lessons filmed.

We knew we wanted personal contact with these families so that we could answer their individual concerns and support them as much as possible.

We set up a Facebook Group and began to do monthly Q&As where we could listen and provide suggestions and answers. Our community began to grow and families began to join. We started to get some wonderful feedback – I say wonderful because the feedback was so thrilling and satisfying to read.

For example, this is an extract from one of our very first emails: ‘On a side note, we have just put him to bed and have always said night night to him as we walk down the stairs. Tonight a little voice replied “night night” for the first ever time. We are beyond proud and a little emotional. What a superstar.’

In the past I have always felt like a ‘follower’, but if you walk in the opposite direction, you quietly realise that you are in fact leading. I feel I am leading the way in a revolutionary form of speech therapy.

Find out more about Speech Club


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