Dance, Drama and Performance and Speech Difficulties
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Some students will have difficulties communicating through speech. A person may have problems articulating their thoughts in a spoken way (dysphasia), or injury or medical conditions such as a stroke or cerebral palsy, can lead to a lack of control of the muscles involved in producing speech. Fluency difficulties such as stuttering and stammering may also occur. Those born profoundly deaf will have difficulty communicating through speaking, as this is learnt primarily by hearing speech. An inability to express themselves adequately may result in a person with a speech impairment being perceived as less able or intelligent than they actually are.
Speech-impaired students will most likely be used to managing their difficulties in a variety of situations before they reach university and will have developed their own strategies for communication.
People with severe speech impairments may use assistive technology such as electronic or computerised voice synthesisers to communicate. Note pads and communication boards can also be used, or a student may communicate with an assistant acting as a communicator, or by signing to an interpreter. Language is primarily learnt by hearing and speaking it so, as with hearing impaired students, students with a speech difficulty may experience difficulty and may find extra language tuition helpful.
The key point for staff to remember is to value the student’s own insight into his or her needs. Communicate with the speech-impaired student well in advance, using the student’s preferred means of communication, and discuss how the student has coped in similar situations. These methods may then be adapted to allow the student to contribute effectively in tutorial or group-work situations.
In some cases, the student may simply need reassurance. For example, he or she may feel self-conscious about slow speech. You may be able to assure the student that slow speech will enable other students in a tutorial situation to think about what is being said. You may also make the point that other students tend to be understanding and helpful in group situations.
There are a number of instructional practices that can be used to help all computing students with speech difficulties, and these can be summarised as follows:
- Speech difficulties can be affected by a person’s emotional state. Speech is often clearer when a person is feeling confident and relaxed, and this is one of the most important factors to consider when communicating with people who have speech difficulties. Make tutorials, etc. as relaxed and informal as possible.
- It may prove useful to have a meeting at the beginning of the semester to discuss any concerns and requirements that the student may have. The student should already have developed their own coping strategies and should be able to advise you on what support they are likely to find beneficial.
- Students with communication difficulties may take longer to express themselves than other students, requiring patience and understanding from staff. Try to talk in a relaxed setting with no time pressures. Some people may find it especially hard to maintain fluent speech in stressful situations such as during oral examinations or when making a presentation to the rest of the group. Where such tasks are time limited in nature, consider if it is appropriate to offer the person a few minutes extra to complete the task so they can get their message across.
- For dance and drama students, it may be worth considering whether the student can perform a piece of work using another student or a trained interpreter to provide a voice-over.
- Be tactful and sensitive. Students may have previously had a negative educational experience which has resulted in poor self confidence.
- Students with communication difficulties may find group work and tutorials challenging, and may need time to gain confidence before joining in. It may be helpful to meet with the student beforehand and discuss what they feel comfortable with, for example if it is acceptable for you to ask them to read out loud.
- People with speech difficulties are likely to find telephone communication difficult and stressful. Email may be a more appropriate method of communication.
- Do not correct or speak for a person with a speech impairment. Wait while the person talks and do not finish their sentences or interrupt. If you are in a tutorial situation, make sure that other students allow the person to finish speaking and do not interrupt them.
- If you don’t understand what is being said, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask the person to repeat it, maybe several times. People are usually used to repeating what they say.
- Be sure you understand fully what the student means. It may help to say what you have understood and ask them to repeat the rest.
- Break down questions into individual points, and ask questions requiring a short answer if appropriate.
- Oral examinations may need to be modified to allow the student to demonstrate their skills fully. Any alternative arrangements made will need to be co-ordinated by the Examinations Officer.
- Remember that if a student has difficulties with their speech, this does not automatically mean that they have problems with their hearing or their comprehension – speak to students naturally.