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Health Unit offers help for preschoolers with speech/hearing problems (Haldimand)

SIMCOE, ON, MAY 17, 2007 – The wait time for a preschooler to see a speech-language pathologist in Haldimand and Norfolk counties has been slashed dramatically over the past decade to about half the provincial average. That’s one of the “biggest achievements” cited by the Haldimand-Norfolk Preschool Speech and Language Program as it celebrates Speech and Hearing Month in May.

“One of the biggest achievements of the program has been our short wait time,” said Lori Holstein, Senior Speech-Language Pathologist with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit. “Families are seen for their initial assessment within six to eight weeks of referral. The provincial average is 13 weeks.” Prior to 1996, when the Ontario provincial government announced funding for the Health Unit program, children needing regular weekly service often waited a year. Some children were discharged to Senior Kindergarten without receiving any help.

The program, which now includes 3.7 Speech-Language Pathologists, has sites in Simcoe, Caledonia, Dunnville, Delhi and Langton, and provides a variety of services to help preschoolers up to Junior Kindergarten with speech or hearing difficulties.

“We also visit homes and other sites across the two counties, including child care program locations, home daycares and Ontario Early Years Centres,” noted Speech-Language Pathologist Karen Gibson, “We offer a full range of intervention services, such as parent training, home programs, monitoring, and weekly or twice weekly intervention in group or individual sessions.” Workshops are also offered at community sites to educate the public about normal development of speech, stuttering, language and literacy. All services are free and a doctor’s referral is not necessary.

“It’s important to recognize the early warning signs of a speech or hearing problem,” Holstein pointed out. “It’s normal for a pre-schooler to say ‘wed’ instead of ‘red,’ but an 18-month-old child should have 20 words in his or her vocabulary. Recent research has shown that about half of 18-month-olds who are delayed will catch up by the age of 30 months, but the other half does not. These ‘late talkers’ risk running into academic and social problems when they reach school age.”

Gibson says parents need to ask themselves certain questions to help determine if their children are having problems.
“Does your child ask you to say things again? Does your child seem to have trouble understanding you? Is your child using fewer words or sentences than you expect? Ten percent of children have speech-language or hearing difficulties and these need to be detected early for professional intervention.”

Bobbi-Jo and Dave Biggley are Haldimand County parents who have benefited from the program. “Before learning about speech classes for children and their families, we were having difficulty communicating with our son, Evan,” Dave said, “so we decided to take some speech classes in Jarvis.”

In the “It takes two to talk” classes, program staff showed the couple how to interact with Evan and work on his speech-language skills. “We learned different strategies on how to talk and listen to children,” Bobbi-Jo noted. “Parents like us, with children with delayed speech, have to be very patient and listen to them to guide them.”

Evan has taken sound play classes and word play classes and is currently involved in weekly individual sessions focusing on his sound development. “There has been a big difference in Evan’s communication skills and understanding,” Dave said. “He is learning every day.”

The speech and language program uses a variety of techniques to treat children, including structured play focusing on target sounds, games, art activities, interactive stories and a “sound blast program,” which is a weekly group session with other children and their guardians.

The program maintains a close connection with the home and often provides small activities and worksheets parents can use at home with the child.

To obtain information about the Haldimand-Norfolk Preschool Speech and Language Program, call the Parent Info Line at 1-866-463-2759 or check the Health Unit Website at, click the “families” tab and then “preschool speech.”
Children who are school-age (Senior Kindergarten and older) can access school-based services by contacting their child’s teacher or principal.

Media contacts:

Lori Holstein
Senior Speech-Language Pathologist
Haldimand-Norfolk Preschool Speech and Language Program
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519-426-6170 Ext. 3244


Karen Gibson
Speech-Language Pathologist
Haldimand-Norfolk Preschool Speech and Language Program
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
905-774-3333 Ext. 215