Waiting to speak

Language pathology list 21 months long

Shawn Hayward shawn.hayward@thepacket.ca
Published on June 6, 2013
Treshana Gosse at her office on Manitoba Drive in Clarenville. Gosse says her two-year-old daughter shouldn't have to wait 21 months to see a speech language pathologist. 
Shawn Hayward

A woman in Clarenville fears for the future of her two-year-old daughter because she won't get the help of a therapist for nearly two years.

The ability of Treshana Gosse's daughter to speak is behind that of an average child her age, and she will need professional help to catch up. However, with a 21-month waiting list for speech language pathology in Clarenville, Gosse is worried her ability to talk will be damaged for the rest of her life.

"There's a massive gap for speech language pathology in Clarenville, and something needs to be done about it quickly," she says.

A month ago Gosse's daughter took the Receptive Expressive Emergent Language Test III and scored in the 23rd percentile in receptive category (meaning the ability to hear), putting the two-year-old at the same level as an average 19-month-old child.

In the expressive category, which is her ability to speak, the test found she had the same level as an average 10-month-old child.

The professional's conclusion was that her daughter "presents with severely delayed disordered expressive language."

Gosse says her daughter can use single words but has difficulty making complete sentences.

"She could not communicate that she's hungry," says Gosse. "She could name a piece of food, but she can't say 'I want an apple.' She's not meeting the milestones. It's very sad."

Gosse had to pay for the evaluation herself and now she gets training in speech pathology that costs $70 a month so she can try to help her daughter while she waits for professional treatment. Hiring a private speech pathologist is not an option, Gosse says, because they're extremely expensive.

As of May 1 there were 107 children on the waitlist for a speech language pathologist at Dr. G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital, according to Eastern Health. Gosse says she's aware of two Eastern Health language pathologists based in Clarenville right now but the health authority needs to hire more.

"If you had a stroke tomorrow and lost your speech, and you could understand what people are saying to you but couldn't communicate your basic wants and needs, isn't that a basic right?" she asked.

"If someone explained to you they're going to make you wait two years because you can't afford private services ... totally inappropriate."

Gosse says she's spoken to many other parents who are worried about their child's future because of the nearly two-year waiting list for a pathologist.

"Early intervention is key for anyone with an exceptionality," she says. "If your speech is behind, you need to get access to speech services as soon as possible. Families have a choice: they can go with private services and spend a lot, or wait 21 months."

A shortage of speech language pathologists isn't unique to the Clarenville area. Parents were waiting up to two years for professional help in Alberta in 2009, according to a CBC report.

While other places have experienced shortages, Gosse says she's heard Clarenville has the longest waitlist for speech language pathologists in the province. Eastern Health couldn't confirm whether or not that was true.

No matter where Clarenville ranks compared to other towns, Gosse says Eastern Health needs to put more resources into speech language pathology, to reduce a waitlist she says has parents fearing for the future development of their children.

Children going to school in September are prioritized to see a speech pathologist that summer, according to an email from Eastern Health. Gosse says that's too late for her child, who won't be attending school for another two years.

"The earlier you can get speech services, the better," she says. "If you get it fast enough, you can get the child caught up quickly, but the longer you wait, the harder it is. What happens is a child will probably always be behind, if they don't avail of the services as fast as possible."