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West Berkshire therapists' online Speech Club is gettting toddlers talking again after Covid lockdown



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Two speech therapists have launched the world’s first online speech therapy club in a bid to tackle a growing crisis of toddlers with delayed speech.

With more than 50 years of experience in their field between them, independent paediatric speech and language therapists Claire Whittaker and Claire Heslop, who both live in West Berkshire, said they were spurred into finding a way to help when they were being contacted by more and more parents of pre-school children worried about their child’s development during the coronavirus lockdown.

"After the first lockdown my work phone did not stop ringing with parents distressed and frustrated that they couldn't get the help they needed,” explained Mrs Whittaker. “It’s awful to hear from tearful mums. Their children were not learning to talk as they were not able to interact with others and this, coupled with mask wearing, meant that their communication skills were so limited.

Claire Heslop (left) and Claire Whittaker
Claire Heslop (left) and Claire Whittaker
Claire Heslop (left) and Claire Whittaker in one of the online lessons
Claire Heslop (left) and Claire Whittaker in one of the online lessons

“We are getting an insight into a real crisis that’s going to happen.”

The women, both mums themselves, came up with the idea of Speech Club - making screen time not just acceptable but beneficial.

According to children’s communication charity ICAN, there are now an estimated 1.5 million children across the UK whose speech development has been negatively affected by lockdown and demand for speech therapists is at an all-time high.

Many worried parents are waiting for more than a year for an initial speech and language assessment and cannot afford private help.

Claire Heslop in one of the online lessons
Claire Heslop in one of the online lessons
Claire Whittaker in one of the online lessons
Claire Whittaker in one of the online lessons

Speech Club aims to provide an affordable solution. It is an online service which allows families to access immediate speech and language therapy in their homes, via online pre-recorded lessons.

Parents can download manuals, handouts and illustrations to help them help their child's speech and language.

Members of the club also become part of an online community where they can share support and advice with each other. The therapists also hold live monthly Q & A sessions.

And Speech Club is already receiving huge amounts of positive testimonials.

Claire Whittaker (left) and Claire Heslop
Claire Whittaker (left) and Claire Heslop

Felicity, a mother and member of Speech Club added: "The course is simple to access, easy to follow, and provides all of the activities, resources and videos for you to work on together.

“We feel empowered in the knowledge that we are using professional standard tools to help our son and after only three weeks we (and others) have noticed a difference.

“His verbal communication has improved, he is making new sounds and he is showing more confidence in using words with meaning and purpose."

“We are getting a lot of feedback and it seems to be working,” added Mrs Heslop. “We are empowering parents.

Speech Club materials can be downloaded by parents and printed off to use with their children
Speech Club materials can be downloaded by parents and printed off to use with their children
Speech Club materials can be downloaded by parents and printed off to use with their children
Speech Club materials can be downloaded by parents and printed off to use with their children

“It’s about communication every day; the key is repetition. The parents don’t have to prepare anything; it’s all there for them.”

There are a number of different payment options available, with all “cheaper than a cup of tea a day” as the women wanted to make sure everyone can afford it. They do recognise, however, that Speech Club won’t be for everyone and many people will still need to see a therapist face to face, but they hope that the new initiative can help immediately while people are on waiting lists.

You can find out more about Speech Club by visiting www.speechclub.com.

They are now getting interest in the course from local authorities, trusts, charities and nurseries, as well as organisations and therapists in countries as far afield New Zealand, Australia, America and ex-pats in countries such as France.

“I am really proud of it,” Mrs Whittaker added. “It’s something that has taken an awful lot of work and the whole journey has been challenging but fun.

“We really feel that we are making a difference, which is lovely.”



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