I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Charlotte Wood, a Surrey Based Speech and Language Therapist . Charlotte asked me to take some photographs for her business, Communicate With Me, and I'm excited to share her story (and photographs from our shoot together) with you today as part of my brand story series.
I always spend quite a bit of time on the phone with business owners before our shoot - it helps us both get clear on the vision for the shoot, and make sure that they walk away with photos that communicate exactly the right message. What struck me every time I spoke to Charlotte, and during the shoot is her passion, professionalism and energy for doing a great job for the children she works with. During our shoot Charlotte did real therapy activities with the children and you can see her in action in the photographs below. I hope you enjoy hearing her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family life
My husband and I are parents to our much loved son Thomas and our doggy Milo. My husband and I seem to be on an endless journey of renovating our house in Worcester Park. We moved to the area about 4 years ago and now feel pretty settled here. We are close by to some lovely parks, Milo loves being able to roam around off lead and Thomas delights in watching him get up to mischief.
One of my big passions or even obsessions in life is food. I try to cook most days and weeks, and am guilty of filling my Instagram with mostly pictures of food (and pics of my son). We love spending time together as a family. Both my husband and I love being parents and in the future we would really like to expand our brood.
I’d love to know more about your business. What do you do?
I'm a children's speech and language therapist. I find a lot of people don't know much about speech and language therapy, and our jobs are really so varied depending on the client group.
I have to admit that I didn't know much about speech and language therapy either until we started working together on your shoot. How did you specialise in working with children?
Over the last 10 years I have was lucky enough to have worked in spilt posts where I practiced in different settings e.g. a couple of days in schools, half a week in a clinic or a couple of days visiting children in their homes. Throughout my whole career though, I have always worked in primary and secondary schools with school age children who have Special Educational Needs. Many of these children have learning difficulties, and often have diagnoses such as global developmental delay, general learning difficulties, dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and speech delay, speech disorder, language delay and language disorder. Dyslexia and dyspraxia are disabilities that are close to my heart and I understand well as I also have these specific learning difficulties myself.
What does your work involve?
The most common disabilities in childhood are speech, language and social communication difficulties and they represent the most prevalent type of special educational needs. My job is to work directly with the children improving all aspects of their communication and learning skills including attention skills, vocabulary, speech articulation and conversation skills. Having a good rapport with the children is absolutely essential. When children are motivated and captivated their potential for learning is immense. I strive to create fun, engaging therapy activities and programmes that children delight in. The best time to teach a child new knowledge and skills is when they are happy, interested and intrigued.
My job also includes assessing these children and writing reports and recommendations about therapy and educational provision. This is a very important part of my job that I am also passionate about, as it's a way of ensuring that the children I work with are given every chance that they deserve at succeeding in school and making friends. A huge part of my work involves working directly with parents and teachers advising, training and demonstrating how to support their children at home and in school. I am qualified tutor and have really enjoyed training and accrediting adult learners such as teachers and nursery staff with GCSE and A-level equivalent qualifications in speech, language and communication difficulties.
As we worked together, I also learned that you work with children before they reach school age, and I saw you in action at our shoot! When would you work with young children like this?
Throughout my career I have also worked with much younger children, pre-schoolers and toddlers, who present with similar but also very different needs. It's common for children to have speech or language delay in their early years. Almost anyone you meet knows someone or may themselves have been late talkers, had speech sound difficulties or stammered. Although speech and language difficulties are common, the importance of these skills shouldn't be underestimated. Communication skills are the most sought after qualities needed in today's workforce. Reading, writing and listening carefully are some of most fundamental skills needed to develop working relationships and friendships. The time before a child starts school is critical for their visual, language and emotional development. There is a small window of opportunity in identifying speech, language and social communication difficulties early, intervening with appropriate support, and preventing speech, language, social communication, and literacy difficulties from persisting into later childhood and adult life.
I work with parents, child minders and nursery staff in identifying children whose speech, language or social skills may be delayed. Sometimes all that parents need is reassurance their children are developing age appropriately. Other times they need some advice or a few sessions where I can give more detailed recommendations and demonstrations on how to structure everyday experiences so that there are opportunities not barriers to language development. In other cases where a child may have speech sound delay or disorder, or language difficulties e.g with vocabulary or grammar it is important that I provide more direct and intensive speech & language therapy with the child and their parent, and this often takes the form of a block of weekly or fortnightly therapy sessions.
What inspired you to start your own private practice?
Working in senior therapist roles in the NHS was rewarding but also demanding. There were many aspects of my job that detracted from being able to give face to face time to the children. It was frustrating when I couldn't work with certain children in their schools because they lived in the wrong postcode! I also found it heartbreaking when I had to discontinue therapy or transfer children to a different team because they had started or changed school.
I really value the importance of developing lasting relationships with children and their families. I have been fortunate enough to have been employed directly by the same school for six years. I have personally seen the huge benefits to both myself in terms of my professional development and to the children and their families in having continuity of the same therapist.
I had grown a passion for and gained experience in working with 3- 16 yr olds, and had found a particular niche with special educational needs. I had also gained experience in training other speech and language therapy students, managing other speech and language therapists, and leading on service development projects. After years of specialising I felt it was the right time to set up my own speech and language therapy service for children and young people in my local community.
How have you found the experience of setting your practice up whilst balancing work and looking after your son? What advice would you have for other mums wanting to do something similar?
I have found the experience both exciting and nerve wracking. I am so fortunate to have supportive friends and family around me. I have a really amazing husband, we work as a great team and have supported each others careers at different stages in our life. The best recommendation I can give is to meet and network with other parents who are self employed too, it's useful to network with similar professionals in your own field, but also different business types as it encourages you to 'think outside the box'.
What made you decide to have professional photos taken for your business?
I have always been wary of the medical model that was associated with my profession when I was employed by the NHS. From my own gut feeling and talking to other parent friends I felt that this could sometimes put parents off, maybe they'd had bad experiences with a particular NHS trust, they felt that they were going to a doctors appointment, or they felt like their child was being tested or their parenting skills judged. I wanted my Speech and Language Therapy services to represent me and my holistic therapy philosophy rather than a clinic or a hospital.
How do you plan to use the photos from our session?
I will be using the photos for my website and Facebook page, and social media accounts. I will also use the head shot photos of myself for Linkedin, and on the listings page on the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice (ASLTIP) website.
Thank you Charlotte for sharing your story today. Where can readers find you if they want to know more?