Campaigner who spent 13 years learning to talk calls for better access to speech language therapy

Rosie Dowsing hears from teachers and campaigners who say more needs to be done to provide rising numbers of children with Speech and Language Therapy.

A campaigner from Solihull with a speech condition called Apraxia says he wants to help other children find their voice as waiting lists for Speech and Language Therapy grow longer.

There are currently around 3,888 children and young people in Birmingham and Solihull on the waiting list for support, according to NHS England.

Across the country, 73,635 children and young people were waiting for SLT support in January 2024, compared to 67,774 the year before.

After being diagnosed with apraxia at two years old, Mikey Akers had 13 years of Speech and Language Therapy (SLT), just to be able to communicate with others.

The 23-year-old's latest petition, calling for on the Government for more investment in SLT, reached over 12,000 signatures in just a matter of weeks, prompting a response.

The campaigner set up 'Mikey's Wish' to raise awareness of Apraxia - a form of verbal dyspraxia that is a neurological condition that affects speech.

Mikey said: “I was under speech and language services for 13 years, finally being discharged at 15 years old when my speech was, ‘as good as it’s going to get’.

“Not being able to speak has a huge impact on daily life. It affects our time in school, it’s harder to get involved with classroom discussion and can make job interviews even more daunting if we can’t communicate confidently.

“Making friends is hard due to the communication barrier too. Even with a strong support network, the loneliness you feel from not being able to talk is so hard. It affects your confidence and self-esteem.”

Mikey set up the petition to address the lack of access to SLT: “I have had so many parents message to tell me that their children cannot access speech and language services here in the UK," he said.

“Then there are those who are lucky enough to be seen by a speech and language therapist have a six session block and then are back on the bottom of the waiting list waiting for their next block of sessions. This is not good enough!”

Mikey now gives talks to Speech and Language Therapy students at Birmingham City University. Credit: ITV News Central

'It's nice that people can understand me now'

Before speech and language therapy sessions, Toby Rosie from Guardian Angels Primary School was often misunderstood due to his speech sound disorder.

He had a block of six SLT sessions with the NHS after an extensive wait time in October 2021, but that wasn't enough.

Now in Year 4, he has weekly sessions with West Midlands Speech and Language Therapy, and daily support from the teaching assistant in his class.

His teachers say regular therapy has approved his self-esteem, confidence and academic ability.

Regular SLT support comes at a cost, and funding for schools is tight while demand grows.

Laura Potter, SENco for Guardian Angels Primary School said: “We have invested heavily into speech and language but we cannot maintain this.

"All school budgets are crippling at the moment. For us to maintain this level of support for Toby and the majority of children who do need this consistent support, we need more investment in schools.”

Toby's teachers say regular speech therapy has increased his confidence. Credit: ITV News Central

'Expert by experience'

Mikey Akers is now an Expert by Experience at Birmingham City University, which means he gives talks to students on the Speech and Language Therapy course about his story.

BCU have backed Mikey's petition calling on the Government for more investment in SLT.

The Government responded to Mikey’s petition, stating: “This government has increased investment in the NHS since 2019 in real terms. Systems are developing plans to reduce waits and we are committed to growing the Speech and Language Therapy workforce.

“We recognise the impact that long waits to access speech and language therapy can have on the individual, their families and carers.

“Addressing waiting times for community health services, including Speech and Language Therapy, is a priority for the NHS and this Government.”

Mikey said he was disappointed in the response: “We launched a similar petition three years ago asking for more funding for SLT but nothing has changed. If anything, it’s getting worse," he said.

“The Government has acknowledged that tens of thousands of children are still on a waiting list, but we’re seeing no action to tackle this and there’s been no changes in numbers since 2021.”

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