SEND parents/carers want for their children the same that any other average parent want: they want their children to grow to be independent, to realise their potential. To help them to achieve this, SEND children will need support throughout their childhood. And this support is what we called “therapy”
What therapies the NHS currently provides to help SEND children?
Most SEND children need some type of therapy for many different reasons. They may help them to learn a practical skill to help them in their daily live or maybe they have to put in practice some therapeutically technique to help them to control anxiety. But for many of SEND children there are three therapies provided by the NHS that have been proved crucial in helping developing the necessary skills to help them to be independent when turning into adults: Occupational Therapy (OT), Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) and Physiotherapy (PT).
Occupational Therapy (OT)
Most of SEND children issues start from one the most basic and important biological system: the Central Nervous System (CNS). To explaining simply, this system helps to coordinate sensations and reactions in our bodies. The CNS controls how all your senses work (vision, smell, hearing, touch, taste) it also controls the vestibular system (sense of balance) and the proprioception system that controls our body awareness (how we feel our bodies and the space around them) and the way we move. So the CNS helps us to experience the world we live in, and it’s an important part of communication as it helps focusing and global development in general. And when a person’s Central Nervous System process things differently, then we will call this Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
Occupational therapy helps SEND children to deal with SPD through many different and practical ways. One of the aims of this therapy is to help children to improve and control their CNS more efficiently. Plus this therapy it’s usually the most fun to do! And one that parents can easily do at home (following the therapist instructions).
Pic 1: Sensory Circuit
This therapy mostly consists in a combined physical and mind exercises. For example, one of the most common OT “tool” is sensory motor circuit which is a circuit that can be made out of a combination of various things such as sensory stepping stones, tunnels, obstacles, trampolines, barrels and other gym and sensory items; but they also incorporate puzzles or tasks that the child has to do within the circuit (see pic.1). OT helps with balance, fine and gross motor skills. Plus they also highlight the importance of deep pressure massage and joint compressions to help with the child awareness and stress management (see pic.2)
Pic 2: Deep Pressure Massage with Gym Ball
Occupational therapy is so important because it helps children to be balanced and to coordinate body and mind (like hand-eye coordination but in a “mayor scale”)
Speech and Language Therapy (SALT)
We take communication for granted not realising how important this is in our daily lives. The many SEND children have some short of communication problem. For some children it may be really hard for them to try to express themselves (they can’t use the words properly), other may have speech delay (where children may start to speak late), while others might not speak or see meaning in communication at all. Each SEND child is different and they face different challenges in their lives. Speech and Language therapy can help these children to have the basic right of being able to communicate and be heard.
Speech and language therapy greatly varies depending of the need of the person and it needs to be tailored, specifically for those that have more deeply challenged communication issues. SALT stimulates children to teach them how to focus and stay concentrate in a certain task, how to improve eye contact (necessary for imitation skills that lead to communication), and how to communicate meaningfully amongst many others. This intervention can take the form of a group of children with one or two therapists showing them toys that have been previously hidden in a box and play games incorporating strategies for the children to engage in cues, turn taking and expand their vocabulary. But for those more deeply challenged, it is necessary two people applying this therapy on one child to establish a meaningful therapy (at least in the first SALT early stages), as some children might need hand-over-hand guidance (also called “physical prompting”) to avoid confusion regarding what is the real purpose of the activity.
Speech and Language therapy also helps to apply different communication methods. It is generally believed that some SEND children are “visual thinkers” which means they can understand better visual concepts such as pictures and drawings than verbal communication. That is why SALT emphasises the use of Picture Exchange Communication or PECs (see top pic) and Makaton which is a type of basic sign language that supports verbal communication (pic.3)
Pic.3 Cbeebies’ Mister Tumble uses Makaton in his program “Something Special”
We would like to apologise as, unfortunately, we don’t have much data about Physiotherapy. We will be researching about PT, at the moment we are not sure about the services available for this therapy. We will be updating this article to include this third NHS provided therapy.