In Hong Kong, speech therapy is mainly provided by the public authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private practitioners. Children need to be first referred to Child Assessment Centres before they can receive government treatments. If it is determined that speech therapy is needed, the child will then be put on the Central Waiting List. However, they normally need to wait for at least a year before they get an appointment. Once they have made it through that lengthy process, they have to wait for a month before their next session.
The reason for the long wait is a lack of resources. Patients with acute needs such as swallowing problems following stroke are given priority treatment.
“We first deal with these patients in hospital so resources for children are reduced. This is why the queue for public hospital treatments is long,” says Joshua, a speech therapist at Tuen Mun Hospital who is not disclosing his full name to avoid self-promotion.
Depending on the seriousness of their language problems, children may also apply for services provided by NGOs, including the Early Education and Training Centres, Integrated Programme in Child Care Centres for mild or moderate cases and Special Child Care Centres for severe cases.
As language problems can have an impact on a child’s overall learning and social development, some parents resort to private services despite the high costs. Wing Wong has a six-year-old son who was diagnosed with language delay when he was two. He is receiving both public and private treatment at the same time because Wong thinks the government service alone is not enough.
Wong is pleased with her son’s progress since he started speech therapy. She says he used to be unable to pronounce many words but is now able to express himself using sentences. His temperament has improved as a result.
Apart from speech therapists, it is also important that caretakers or parents also assist the child’s training. “We encourage parents to attend the treatment sessions. Firstly [we] hope parents can have a better understanding of the child’s situation. Secondly, [we] hope parents can pick up something from the session and teach their children at home,” says Tony Leung Chi-ho, speech therapist supervisor at Heep Hong Society.
As the mother of a child with speech problems, Cheng Yim-ha understands this well. Eleven years ago, Cheng was told that her three-year-old son Gideon had an articulation problem at a regular health check.