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What is Speech and Language Therapy and why should I care?


By Leigh Andrews, Speech and Language Therapist, Change Communication


Communication. We take it for granted, but when it goes wrong it’s easier to appreciate this amazing, complex and essential skill. The right of expression is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 19. Think about how you learn, get on in work, build relationships and solve problems…all these activities need communication skills and abilities to be effective.


My name is Leigh Andrews and I’m a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) with Change Communication. I help people and organisations talk, think and listen. As far as I know I am the only SLT specifically working in the field of homelessness.

What does an SLT do? Well, we are experts in human communication. We know what it is, how it develops, how it can change over time, and what things may help if communication goes wrong. In the UK our training covers every life stage from premature babies to people receiving end of life care. Something that may surprise you is that we are also the clinical experts in how your swallowing ability works. Being able to communicate and safely eat and drink is essential to your whole life!

What does this have to do with homelessness? My research with Prof. Botting at City, University of London, shows that people who have slept on the streets in London are approximately twice as likely to have communication needs as the general population. In homelessness we ask lots of questions when people try to find a hostel, get health treatment or sort out their money. We ask people to explain their story and talk about emotional issues. We invite people to imagine a future and ask them to read and sign lots of documents with legal terms. The communication demands we make are pretty high, and sometimes people struggle if we don’t provide help and support.


Here are 10 things you can do straightaway to help:


  • Use everyday words.
  • Keep sentences short.
  • Give information in small chunks.
  • Make a short list of the things to be discussed and leave it in sight. Tick off the items as you go.
  • You can use pictures to help someone understand and remember things.
  • Leave space for silence so the other person has a bit of thinking time.
  • Don’t assume people can read and write, check and offer support.
  • Ask people who they communicate well with and what that person does which makes it work.
  • There are good resources to help with communication on the Mencap, National Autistic Society and Stroke Association websites.
  • Check out your local NHS Speech and Language Therapy Service, do they deliver training? What is the referral criteria?



I hope this has sparked an interest in communication in your work!

You can find out more about Change Communication here www.chgcomm.org and @ChgCommCIC

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