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Evidence-based intervention for preschool children with primary speech and language impairments: Child Talk – an exploratory mixed-methods study

Roulstone, SE and Marshall, JE and Powell, GG and Goldbart, J and Wren, YE and Coad, J and Daykin, N and Powell, JE and Lascelles, L and Hollingworth, W and Emond, A and Peters, TJ and Pollock, JI and Fernandes, C and Moultrie, J and Harding, SA and Morgan, L and Hambly, HF and Parker, NK and Coad, RA (2015) Evidence-based intervention for preschool children with primary speech and language impairments: Child Talk – an exploratory mixed-methods study. Programme Grants for Applied Research, 3 (5). pp. 1-408. ISSN 2050-4322

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Abstract

Background: The Child Talk study aimed to develop an evidence-based framework to support the decision-making of speech and language therapists (SLTs) as they design and plan interventions appropriate to the needs of individual children with primary speech and language impairments and their families. The need for early identification and effective intervention for these children continues to be a government policy priority because of the link between children’s early speech and language skills and their broader well-being and outcomes in later life. The first phase of Child Talk sought to map and describe current SLT practice for these children; identify and summarise the existing research evidence relating to practice; and investigate the perspectives of parents, early years practitioners, preschool children and ‘underserved’ communities on speech and language therapy. The second phase of Child Talk focused on the development of a toolkit – assessment tools, outcome measures and a data set – to support future service and economic evaluations of the framework. Methods: Child Talk adopted a mixed-methods design. Quantitative methods included surveys and investigated the prevalence and patterns of intervention usage; qualitative data collection methods included focus groups, interviews and reflection to investigate participants’ perspectives and understandings of interventions. Data analysis methods included descriptive and inferential statistics, thematic and content analysis and framework analysis. Participants were recruited nationally through six NHS sites, professional bodies, parent groups and advertising. Participants included SLTs (n = 677), parents (n = 84), preschool children (n = 24), early years practitioners (n = 31) and ‘underserved’ communities (n = 52). Key findings: Speech and language therapy interventions were characterised in terms of nine themes, viewed as comprehensive and inclusive by practitioners. Relevant assessments, interventions and outcome domains were identified for the nine themes. Areas of tacit knowledge and underspecified processes contributed to variability in the detail of the framework. Systematic reviews identified 58 relevant and robust studies (from 55,271 papers retrieved from the initial literature search). The number of studies relevant to each theme varied from 1 to 33. Observational data on preschool children’s perspectives on speech and language therapy interventions revealed the dynamic nature of their interaction with different activities and people within therapy sessions. Parents’ experiences of speech and language therapy were generally positive although some reported that the rationale for therapy was not always clear. Parental perspectives in underserved communities suggested that, although parents were confident about how to support children’s language development, they were less informed about the nature of language impairments and the function of speech and language therapy. The availability of information regarding resources directed towards speech and language therapy services was poor. In particular, services lacked both a culture of collecting outcome data routinely and measures of professional input and costs associated with their activities. Conclusion: A descriptive framework of SLT practice has been developed to support the discussions between therapists and families when making decisions regarding the selection of interventions and outcome measures. Further research is needed to address gaps in the intervention framework and evaluate its effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in improving outcomes for preschool children with primary speech and language impairments.

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