Leeds School of Social Sciences

Engaging service users in the LBU speech and language therapy course

Naomi De Graff talks about how Speech and Language Therapy students at Leeds Beckett work with real service users to learn and develop their clinical skills.

Screen showing Speech and Language Therapy online conversation session

The LBU speech and language therapy programme is proud to be a clinically applied course, supporting students to develop into proficient speech and language therapists who will be an asset to the profession. Being able to work competently and confidently with people with communication difficulties is a key skill for our students to develop and is supported by placements in clinical practice. However, we have also developed ways to engage service users with communication difficulties to be part of the whole course, from interviewing applicants, to supporting teaching sessions, and taking part in workshops. This enables our students to regularly work alongside service users and learn from them and their first-hand experiences of living with a communication impairment. Their contributions are invaluable, and they strengthen the clinical focus of the course. The service users who work with us have shared how much it means to them too, providing them with a new purpose and role.

For the last 10 years, service users have been played an important role in training our first-year students. All first-year students engage in conversation partner training which involves working with a person with a post stroke communication impairment, known as aphasia. Students engage in training, led by a University tutor, and supported by people with aphasia. The students then go on to work with a person with aphasia for a series of sessions, allowing them to start to develop their skills working with people with aphasia.

Karen McDonagh shares her experience of developing aphasia:
"I was an Assistant Headteacher at a local High School responsible for GCSE grades for the schools output. Everything seemed to be going well! On Saturday I had quite a headache, went to bed forgot about it. On Monday I went to work my headteacher said I should go home and go see my doctor, I went on Tuesday. He told me to go to hospital and they should be able to sort it out! That’s when it all started “brain aneurysm“ it all happened in the space of 12 hours.

Two years later they discovered the second aneurysm, it had to be taken out. Having a second operation was bad but waking up with a haemorrhagic stroke affecting your right side and the lack of ability to talk seemed a lot harder."

Having aphasia can impair a person’s ability to take part in conversations so the students’ aim for the placement is to act as a conversation partner, having ‘supported conversations’. The students adapt their communication to facilitate the person with aphasia and to support them be able to take part in meaningful conversations. The value of these interactions can lead to decreased social isolation and improved wellbeing of the person with aphasia. Working with people with aphasia can also improve the students’ understanding of the condition, help them develop supported communication skills, and increase their confidence.

Jo Milan has aphasia and takes part in the placement. She says:
“It helps my speech getting better and the students see who has lost the ability to speak properly”.

Hannah Yardley, SLT student:
"I have gained confidence in using strategies and techniques to assist clients with expressive language."

Luke Bryan SLT student:
"Having conversation partners is fantastic for practicing communication skills for people with speech disorders."

Megan Davidson, SLT student:
"Conversation partners is such a useful placement for utilising skills learnt on the course in a fun and practical way. It supports the knowledge learnt and the use of key skills to take forward as we become SLTs."

This year, due to Covid-19, the conversation partner placement has taken place online. The feedback from people with aphasia has continued to be positive, showing the benefits of this scheme and the impact being created by our students.

Eleanor Harnott, stroke survivor, describes her experience:
"Students asked a number of questions, if I couldn’t remember the word, the students would realise this and suggested I try and use another word, to write/laptop or use gestures. I had a stroke which affected my speech, I prefer to use another word and write it. The students learn to listen and hear what I’m trying to say. The students were in LBU and see each other and but last year was the virus so students would to be on their own in their home. I think that using the online conversation was a success, for me and them."

The students have also reflected on the online format of the placement and its success.

Ellie Mortimer, Umaimah Pandor, Elzbieta Niczyperowicz. SLT students:
"Despite the changes due to COVID-19, the online conversation partner placement remained a positive and enjoyable experience from both the perspective of students and our conversation partner. We were given the opportunity to speak with a person with aphasia and learned first-hand how aphasia can affect a person’s communication but also other aspects of their life. We developed our communication skills with our partner by asking simple questions and using prompts such as pictures to help with word finding difficulties. We valued his outlook on life and he valued the opportunity he had to tell his story and couldn’t say enough how much it had helped him."

The LBU speech and language therapy course will continue to strive to include service users in all aspects of our course. Staff and students alike, appreciate and value the benefits of the working with our service users and we thank them for their continued support.

If you would like to find out more, please contact Naomi de Graff, Senior Lecturer and Placement Coordinator, N.de-Graff@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

Screen showing Speech and Language Therapy online conversation session

Online Conversation Partners. From top left: Hannah Yardley, Luke Bryan, Eleanor Harnott (stroke survivor), Megan Davidson.

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