Our story started in 2002 with a naïve assumption. After completing her BSc (Hons) in Speech and Language Therapy, Amanda (Founder and Director of Words First) worked at a school for children with cerebral palsy and learning difficulties. She was fortunate to work alongside a multi-disciplinary team that supported all aspects of the pupils’ physical, social, communication and sensory needs. The school had a wonderful team of teachers who differentiated the curriculum to meet the needs of each pupil. However, there was limited intervention for literacy. Amanda, being ever willing, assumed that as she was able to read and spell she would be able to teach the children to do the same. She failed, realising the hard way that learning to read is one of the most complicated and complex skills we have to learn as human beings! Amanda will never forget those children whom she tried to help on their literacy journey, dedicating the rest of her career to making sure she never failed in that way again!
Fast forward a few years and two Master’s degrees (one in Speech and Language and one in Dyslexia) that led her to meet inspirational people such as Professor Maryanne Wolf and Dr Shelley O’Carroll, Amanda was finally armed with skills and knowledge to support children with language-based literacy difficulties.
She did not anticipate the struggle to combine literacy and language in educational settings and was told, repeatedly, to apply for a literacy specialist role or be content with her current Speech and Language role. The two could not meet, or rather there were no roles that married the two disciplines. She was constantly floored by the fact that children would walk out of her Speech and Language session and go straight to the literacy specialist’s office for more intervention (without the two professionals talking to each other)! Her belief was (and is) that reading IS language and the two cannot be separated.
Fast forward again and in 2009, Amanda decided to take the big leap to set up a private practice on her own – to see if anyone else shared her vision but also an opportunity to do Speech and Language Therapy differently. She created the Reading and Language Circuit Model that is still used (when needed and alongside traditional Speech and Language Therapy) in all our schools to identify and support children with language-based literacy difficulties or those who fall into the 30-million word gap.
She has created 6 evidence-based intervention prorgammes that match the assessment cycle, and employs 41 amazing Speech and Language Therapists to work across 100 schools in the UK. Amanda’s own struggle with reading fluency and comprehension means that she has a very personal connection to language and literacy and has a unique insight into how to support children with these difficulties.
Over the years, Words First has grown to be a highly sought-after practice that aims to lead the field of Speech and Language Therapy in schools. Words First now includes highly-skilled Speech and Language Therapists who specialise in the areas of social communication and Autism, socio-emotional and mental health, feeding and dysphagia, Developmental Language Disorder, Complex Needs and AAC, Stammering and much more, extending our reach to Alternative Provisions and Specialist Settings. In 2021, Words First welcomed our first Occupational Therapists into the team.
Amanda remains directly involved in the running of Words First in each school. She takes time to get to know each and every member of the Words First team, ensuring that no one ever feels undervalued, boxed-in or taken for granted. Amanda’s role has changed drastically over the years but her biggest reward in running Words First is supporting and watching other Speech and Language Therapists flourish in the company she worked so hard to build.
When I started Words First, I did so to make a positive difference to children experiencing spoken AND written language difficulties in mainstream and special schools around where I lived in South London. I worked extremely hard in the first schools that trusted me to provide their SLCN support, hoping that my vision for how language and literacy should be integrated would indeed have an impact. I had no idea that 12 years later, Words First would be made up of 41 Speech and Language Therapists (all trained in the Words First Approach to linking literacy and language) and 2 Occupational Therapists supporting schools across London and throughout the UK. My hope is that Words First continues to reach the children and young adults who need us. I am proud to work alongside outstanding Speech and Language Therapists and Occupational Therapists who make up this incredibly special team.
Amanda Davis – Director of Words First Ltd