The Words First journey started in Secondary. Our Director, Amanda, has always been interested in adolescent language and literacy and the significant impact these difficulties can have on teenagers’ social and academic success. Amanda noticed that the progression of difficulties over time went from a language / communication delay in early years to literacy difficulties in the primary years and then behavior difficulties in the Secondary years. It was heartbreaking to assess a student in Year 10 to find that his phonological system had never been in tact and all literacy tasks that had been placed on top of it over the years, had been on shaky foundation – no wonder he was frustrated and angry (also confused and unsure about why he experienced the difficulties in class). It was particularly heartbreaking when this difficulty could have been identified as early as 5 years of age and appropriate intervention put in place to PREVENT these later problems. It became the life mission of Amanda and Words First to prevent this situation ever happening.

From our work with parents of children under 3, to our early years identification approaches, our Year 1 screening and primary school interventions – we hope that when students get to Secondary, their difficulties have been identified and appropriate support and strategies put in place. However, children do slip through the net and we therefore pick students up at different points in their lives. When students are referred to Words First during their Secondary years, we use our unique assessment battery to identify the point of breakdown in their Reading and Language Circuit™ and then we match their difficulties with appropriate intervention. Therefore, students receive intervention ONLY for the specific areas of weakness ensuring it is fully tailored to their profile. We appreciate that success in therapy does not always translate to success in class and therefore we view a large part of our role as a bridge between the students and staff – to ensure staff understand their needs and have appropriate strategies in place but also ensuring the students have increased awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses.

The Words First Approach™ (as it has become known) and the Reading and Langauge Circuit™ model are now the subject of Amanda’s PhD and are being researched with the support of Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement and the University of Cape Town (where Amanda is from). Please read more about our work in Secondary schools under How it Works and more about our research here.