Siena proves DLD is no barrier to graduating high school

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It’s a pivotal moment for 17-year-old Queensland NDIS participant, Siena Drake, who after dealing with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), an invisible disability, she’s about to graduate high school.

Attending The Glenleighden School, the West End resident has been taught in a small and structured environment by a specialised team of teachers and allied health professionals dedicated to supporting children with alternative learning needs.

A teenage girl smiles at the camera.

Siena’s mum, Shahieda said applying effective speech, language, numeracy and music strategies has enabled Siena to learn and develop in a safe and accepting environment and she has been supported to reach her milestones and work alongside her peers.

“The results have been incredible. I can’t thank Glenleighden and the NDIS enough,” she said.

“Siena also attends All Abilities, a special needs dance school, two days a week, and with a passion for dance she’s excited about the prospect of doing work experience there.

“We’re also working towards her doing a Certificate in Early Childhood Education and care so she can work in the field or with children in After School Care. Siena’s also keen to babysit her nieces and nephews. It’s all part of her NDIS goals.”

For Shahieda and Siena’s dad, Philip, it’s been an unexpected journey. “Siena presents quite well initially, but once you understand her intricacies and witness her processing information, you can identify her challenges,” Shahieda said.

Formerly known as Specific Language Impairment (SLI), Shahieda said it’s a long-term condition, which affects Siena’s ability to understand and use language.

“It’s a neurobiological difference. DLD has no outward signs, no obvious physical indicators that’s why it’s described as a ‘hidden disability’, but research shows it’s more common than autism, as common as dyslexia, and it affects one in 14 children,” she said.

“Children with DLD are able and healthy just like their peers, but there’s one exception, they have difficulty thinking about language, understanding it, and using it.

“At Glenleighden they understand DLD. When Siena first started there, at six, she had one-on-one teaching. She also began music therapy and dance lessons.

“Incorporating musicality into Siena’s sessions, her teacher would work with her to clap out rhythms and break down songs.

“Numeracy was also involved, so the teacher would count the beats etc., and then within nine months, Siena’s literacy and numeracy levels dramatically improved to the point we were all marvelling about it.”

Shahieda said Siena also had difficulty walking due to challenges with her hips, knees, ankles and poor muscle tone.

“Phillip and I said, ‘Okay. We can treat this’ so it’s taken consent osteopathy, occupational and physio therapies to get her walking, and we’ve had to incorporate daily exercises into her routine, since she was five, to get her to start walking.”

Both working full-time, it’s been tough for the devoted couple to manage their daughter’s challenges, emotionally and financially, but they are now grateful Siena’s NDIS funding covers all the therapies she needs to maintain her best life.

“I’m a specialist teacher aide, and I’m really passionate about DLD, so Siena’s NDIS supports have allowed me time to go back to Uni to study my Masters of Teaching.

“I reached out to The DLD Project, who have been absolutely fantastic. I wanted expert knowledge of DLD because I wanted more extensive research and professional development to assist me with my Uni course.

“As luck would have it, The DLD Project is very much focused on the goal of improving teacher awareness, knowledge and training in DLD, and this has been an enormous help to me in my study and my work in the classroom right now.

“The ultimate goal here is to improve the life chances for kids with DLD. It’s happened for us, and we want to help others where we can,” she said.