Gideon could not pronounce words beginning with an “s” sound. So the speech therapist gave Cheng a few pieces of paper with pictures and words beginning with “s”, and taught her how to practise the pronunciation with Gideon in the week before he was due to have his next treatment. Cheng spent around 20 minutes a day practising with her son and after constant practice, she felt a sense of achievement when she saw his gradual improvement.
“[Speech therapists] offered great help. They helped me understand his problem, taught me how to practise with him… although the method is quite simple, I would not know it [unless the speech therapist told me],” Cheng says.
Three months on, Gideon’s school teacher told Cheng there was an obvious improvement.
Both Wong and Cheng have found speech therapy very helpful in alleviating their children’s speech problems and rebuilding their confidence. They are impressed by how much speech therapy has changed their children.
But there are simply not enough speech therapists in Hong Kong to meet the needs of the children and hospital patients who need their help. According to the Hong Kong Association of Speech Therapists (HKAST), there are around 600 speech therapists in the city.
At the moment the University of Hong Kong (HKU) is the only institution that offers a degree in speech and hearing sciences. The programme produces around 40 graduates a year but vacancies in non-profit organisations, schools and private clinics are never filled up. The number of vacancies in the Hospital Authority and other organisations rose from 78 in 2010 to 89 in 2011.
The profession may get an injection of fresh blood in the future though, as the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) is launching a master’s degree in speech therapy in September.
Professor Leung Man-tak, the programme leader says the bachelor’s degree offered by HKU does not produce enough graduates to meet the demand. “We need some mature people to be speech therapists. It is difficult for them to gain trust from clients if they are too young,” Leung says.
Having taught in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences at HKU for 18 years, Leung sees the new programme at PolyU as an “extension of territories” for speech therapy education in Hong Kong.