Wednesday 29 December 2010

Speech Therapists applaud the Kings Speech

Colin Firth’s performance as the dysfluent prince who ascended to England’s throne in 1936 has generated Academy Awards talk for “The King’s Speech.” The film which portrays King George VI’s relationship with his Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), has also generated unprecedented awareness of stammering/stuttering and the therapists who treat the problem. 
“This movie has done in one fell swoop what we’ve been working on for 64 years,” says Jane Fraser, president of The US Stuttering Foundation, founded by her father in 1947.
The movie depicts Prince Albert’s debilitating stammer and how he overcame it to address the British people on live radio during World War II.
Speech therapists are thrilled with the accuracy of Firth’s portrayal of the condition. He reportedly spent hours getting the dysfluency right as well as imagining the ‘inconsolable despair that those who stutter feel’.
Bertie, as Prince Albert was known before he became King George VI, had to face his fears about talking when his older brother abdicated the throne to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. 
Early intervention is certainly the key so let’s hope that the film will help with awareness and referrals across the globe. 

Monday 27 December 2010

ASD: siblings may have subtler problems

Children with autism tend to have brothers and sisters with language delays and other, less obvious characteristics of the disorder.
A teacher and a girl with autism.
Siblings of children diagnosed with autism may benefit for a checkup for related symptoms.
That's the conclusion of a study of more than 1,200 families in theInteractive Autism Network, a national online research registry.
The finding suggests that the genes behind autism in one child may contribute to less serious problems in that child's siblings, says Dr. John N. Constantino, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, lead author of the study, which appears in theAmerican Journal of Psychiatry.

The study found that in 11 percent of families with a child with autism, a second child had also been diagnosed with the disorder. That's similar to what other studies have found.
But the new study also found that 20 percent of siblings who did not have autism had been diagnosed with language delay or speech problems early in life. And about half of those sibling had speech qualities associated with the autism.
Those qualities may include a lack of intonation, a failure to emphasize important words, or a staccato delivery of sentences, says Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.
The new study is important because it shows how not only autism, but autistic traits can run in families, Landa says.
"If you have one child with autism, it's important to monitor any other children from infancy," Landa says. And if there appears to be a problem, the child should get a professional evaluation.
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Friday 24 December 2010

Scientific study shows the voice of mothers activate a baby's brain and learning

By Ruben Dagda as seen on
Scientists from the University of Montreal and Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center in Canada attached electrodes to a group of 16 24 hour  old babies to monitor brain activity. After performing the study, the researchers found the following  remarkable result: the voice of  a mother but not of a nurse, doctor or a stranger robustly activate the language processing centers of the brain in the newborn.   In other words, this is the first study of its kind that shows that the voice of mothers is unique and babies inherently recognize their mother's voice possibly even inside the womb. More importantly, theelectroencephalography and MRI studies show high resolution scans that pinpoint the activation of the Wernicke's area of the left hemisphere of the brain, the brain area that is specialized in language development and recognition in human beings.
  The scientists used a couple of controls in their studies to help with the interpretation of their results.  The researchers also involved a nurse who is herself a mother in their studies and also ruled out the "novelty" aspect by having the mother talk to a nurse at regular intervals before birth. Amazingly, their results still held water and proved that a mother's voice is only recognized by babies as the brain scans only showed selective activations of the language areas of the brain.
     It has been well documented that newborn babies do have some innate language capacities. Moreover, infants may not only learn to specifically recognize their mother's voice but also show adult-like responses in the brain to human voice at 7 but not 4 months of age. However,  scientists are only just beginning to understand what the cognitive capacities of newborn babies are and the mechanisms by which babies learn and vocalize language. Nevertheless, what these studies do not currently show is whether the mother's voice is also important for brain development and learning in the child.   Hence, future studies are imperative to determine whether there are any deficiencies seen in babies in which mothers spend less than the average or ideal time talking to their newborn babies.  Moreover, studies like this have never been performed in such young participants which stresses the fact that many exciting and useful scientific discoveries with regards to the developing infant brain can be discovered with such a low number of participants (16) and can help us understand the pathological basis for speech language deficiencies and autism. 
 Moreover, the implications of these clinical findings are broad and other leading hospitals in the nation that perform pediatric research should conduct future studies as to whether a speech-language deficiencies in the infant could partly be a result of low mother to infant contact and interaction, even at such an early age.
 At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children's Hospital, there are a variety of speech language pathology programs that  perform cutting edge research which also involve clinical trials. Right now, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh is conducting a long term child neurology research registry. This is a large scale research initiative to store and track medical records of infants of all ages for statistical purposes. Moreover, this local clinical research initiative will help to elucidate the  etiology and root causes of many neurological diseases including infant speech language deficiencies.
Did you find this article interesting? Will you like to receive more medical technology related news? Then subscribe to my newsletter by clicking on the subscribe button found on the top right hand side of my homepage or follow me on Twitter.
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Wednesday 22 December 2010

Small Talk Speech & Language Therapy in 2010

We've had a great year this year and I can't believe it has gone by so fast. I thought I'd re-cap some of our achievements this year. We:

  • launched the groups as a franchise opportunity
  • recruited franchisees both nationally and internationally
  • have written a comprehensive training course for franchisees to be delivered in person or long distance
  • taken part in a buddying scheme with staff and parents from a nursery and neighbouring pre-school
  • developed the signing in nurseries and pre-schools to two 6 weeks courses
  • Introduced stories with Jack
  • extended the groups to include school age children
  • have done lots of training with teachers, TAs, parents and carers
  • launched an independent ASD assessment service
  • started a blog as part of a social media marketing campaign which has a good monthly readership
  • set up a local group for independent SLTs for ASTLIP
  • were nominated for several awards & short-listed for a couple plus the groups were nominated for the What's on 4 Little ones awards
  • were extremely busy on the independent speech therapy side with consistent No 1 google rankings
  • developed and pilotted Teeny Talkers Training package
  • worked with lots of NHS therapists
  • started to put together an international bulletin for SLT/SLPs to be launched in January
  • appeared on the radio several times
  • had good local and regional press coverage
There's more that I cant recall right now and still things we didn't do that we wanted to but I'm proud of our achievements and I'm looking forwards to developing and extending next year. So here's to a fabulous 2011 for us all!!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Libby, Franky, Helen, Nicky, Sumathi, Dee, Amy, Vanessa, Jennie and of course, Jack!! xx

0844 704 5888

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Language learning starts in the womb!

I found this on  and I thought it was worth sharing: Find them on Facebook!
A new study published on the November 5th online edition ofCurrent Biology reveals that newborns' cries already carry the mark of their parents language. The study has found that babies start to develop language elements in the womb, long before they first start to coo and babble.
The findings not only disclose that newborn human babies can produce different sounding cry sounds. They also reveal that neonates prefer to make the sound patterns that were typical to them when in the womb during their third trimester of gestation, explained Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany. Unlike previously believed, the data in this study supports how important a baby'a crying is for seeding the development of language, added Wermke.
In the last trimester of pregnancy human fetuses can memorize external sounds, particularlymelody contours in music and language. Newborns prefer their mother's voice above other voices and can perceive emotion through intonation contours in maternal speech, also known as 'motherese' or baby talk. Babies' ability to differentiate between languages and changes in pitch is based on melody patterns.
The study's research team, led by Wermke, recorded and analyzed 60 healthy three to five day old newborn's cries, half of which were born to French-speaking families and the other half to German-speaking families. Clear differences were noted in the tone of the babies' cries, based on their maternal tongue.
French newborns had a cry with a rising melody contour, while the German babies had a falling melody contour cry. These melody patterns are consistent with the two languages, stated Wermke.
The data from this study show a very early native language impact, said the researchers. Infants can't match vowel sounds made to them by adult speakers until 12 weeks after being born, that skill depends on vocal control. However, they can imitate the tone of their mother's spoken language.
The fact that they can imitate melody contour, is probably due to their motivation to mimic their mother's voice to establish a bond. Since melody contour is probably the only characteristic of their mother's speech they can imitate, it could explain why it is found so early in a newborn's life.
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Saturday 18 December 2010

A limited offer for Facebook friends, Twitter followers or Blog Contacts

Do you have questions about communication?  Do you have a small group of people who might like the opportunity to ask questions about speech, language and learning?  Perhaps family members, colleagues or neighbours, individuals from a play-group, discussion or hobby group, sports team, parents or teachers from your school, or even co-workers? 

Small Talk Speech and Language Therapy are offering a limited number of one-hour long, no-obligation, FREE question and answer forums. We are happy to extend this offer to any of your Face Book contacts (please forward) and will travel within a 20 mile radius of Hednesford or we can welcome your group to come to our Head Office at Centrix House. 

To take advantage of this limited offer 
please ring 0844 704 5888 or e-mail


Sunday 12 December 2010

Auditory Memory

There are several different types of memory including long term and short term. Children may have a good long term memory but have difficulties with their auditory memory.
Auditory memory is the ability to process information presented orally, analyse it mentally and store it to be recalled later.  
Auditory memory is one of the most important learning skills. Children with weak auditory skills often have difficulty understanding what words mean, and can show a delayed grasp of language. This is because children need to  remember word sounds and piece them together to form words. Furthermore, since many children learn to read by being read to, those with problems with auditory learning will likely take longer to learn to read, and these delays may be reflected later in life with poor reading and writing skills.

We work on strategies to help auditory memory skills in small Talkers and Teeny Talkers from Smart Talkers Pre-School Communication Groups

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Sad but true!

I cant help but feel sad that the level of apathy in some sections of society is so bad that its debilitating. The Sure Start children's centres aim to provide quality pre-school activities to both entertain and support parents and children. They do prioritise families with needs such as sole parents, children with disabilities, travelling families, fathers or those known to social services  but everyone is welcomed.

The sessions they provide are mostly free in Staffordshire. They are sourced from the leading pre-school activity providers in the area and strive for excellent service. There's choices of messy play, yoga, Debutots drama, music with mummy, cookery club and of course our own Smart Talkers Pre-School Communication groups to name but a few. It sounds great doesn't it and in most of the centres it works really well. However, because of the level of apathy in some of the areas or in the sections of society they most want to attract, the numbers attending are limited. In one Centre I couldn't get anyone at all and after 3 weeks of twiddling my thumbs, we had to give up. I'd tried everything possible including posters in local shops and  newsagents, a newspaper article, adverts, netmums etc and contacted all the health professionals, local nurseries, pre-schools and other groups.

At these centres, I see mothers with pyjamas under their coats dropping youngsters off at the adjacent school claiming they're going back to bed, others chatting aimlessly smoking with their mates at the school gate. They usually have a pre-schooler or two in tow (complete with the essential badge..... sorry dummy). They would be welcome at the groups but they'd prefer to do nothing except press the button on the remote control for little Keesha or KayD.

Unfortunately, many of these little ones suffer from a lack of appropriate stimulation and as a result are likely to have an increased risk of delayed speech, language and communication. This will then mean that they will have problems with written language as spoken language skills are the building blocks for written language.    

Unfortunately, research shows that the gap at aged 7 years is likely to persist into adulthood. This has in turn been linked to lower expected socio-economic status in later adult by such eminent scholars as Professor James Law from City University. Another US study showed that language deprivation and teen pregnancy can be linked.It is estimated here in the UK that 75% of young offenders have speech, language and communication difficulties of some type or other.

These problems could be transient difficulties i.e. they'd develop appropriate skills with stimulation or intervention, but will be real and intrusive.  These cases are not to be confused with speech, language and communication disorders which are unavoidable and will need speech and language therapy input, these are children who are language deprived.

We're not entirely sure what is happening to the children's centres after April 1st 2011 but one thing is for certain.... we cant stop trying to engage with these families by breaking through the apathy. There's too much at stake to stop!

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Saturday 4 December 2010

Giving Voice

Part 2 of the video viral. Please share

Friday 3 December 2010

Language link to 'bubble blowing'

I was looking at some old archive news on language acquisition and I thought 
this was worth sharing from 2006. It's from the BBC news website

Infants who can blow bubbles and lick their lips are more likely to pick
 up language quickly, research suggests.

A Lancaster University study of 120 toddlers found the ability to perform 
complex mouth movements was strongly linked with language development. 
They also found children who were good at 'pretending' an object was 
something else had better language skills.
The findings could help experts identify children who may struggle with language skills at an early stage. At 21 months - the age of the toddlers in the study  - children are learning new words at a faster rate than any other time 
in their lives.

Children pick up language skills at different speeds - some children will be late 
to start talking - but this doesn't mean they will always have poorer language 
skills than other children.
In a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Dr Katie Alcock, lecturer in psychology at Lancaster University, carried out a series of tests to identify skills that might predict a child's ability to develop language. She looked at the infants' ability to perform hand gestures and mouth movements and to carry out tasks involving puzzles and pretend play.
The children's language ability was also assessed through a parental 
questionnaire, word games with simple images, and monitoring during normal play. 
As well as oral motor skills, she found that hand gestures such as waving 
or making shapes were associated with better language development but 
other movements such as walking and running were not.

The researchers said they expected to find that children who had better cognitive development, such as being able to do a puzzle or match pictures and colours, would have better language skills. But in fact, only the ability to pretend that one object was another object - such as pretending a wooden block is a car or hairbrush - was associated with better language skills. Dr Alcock said: "Until children are about two they are very poor at licking things off their lips or giving someone a proper kiss. "If they don't have those skills it's going to be a big stumbling block in learning to form sounds. "Children who have speech and language problems before they go to school do tend to have problems with learning to read and write. "It's important we give children who need it extra help as early as we can."
Dr Alcock added that children learn to speak at different times and most children who start late will catch up. "The best thing parents can do to help is talk to their kids," she added.
The team are planning to follow the children at three, four and five years to see how the skills that were found to be linked to language impact on later development.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Giving Voice Campaign

Speech and language therapists have  quietly gone about their business of helping clients with all sorts of speech, language and communication difficulty for many, many years. It's time now to celebrate this. The RCSLT giving Voice Campaign is launched!!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Smart Talkers Training for franchisees

    I've just finished writing the distance learning course for Smart Talkers Pre-School groups. This means that franchisees can train at their own pace. It will be easier to come to Centrix House for a week but there are some who would prefer not to spend a week away from loved ones. It is actually for the international franchisees who start very soon. The training comprises:

  •    Normal speech, language & communication development
  •   The importance & development of play
  •         Vital components: attention, listening, information-carrying words,vocabulary, sentence structure, social interaction etc.
  •        What happens when things go wrong?
  •         Ways to encourage speech, language & communication development
  •         Basic functional signing 
  •         Group running
  •    Introduction to programmes
  •         Working with parents
  •    Legal necessities
  •         Book keeping & accounts
  •         Marketing & advertising
  •         Web site development
  •         Search engine optimisation
  •         Business planning
  •         Business development                  

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Tuesday 30 November 2010

Kindergarten Program Boosts Students' Vocabulary in 1st Grade

by Sarah Sparkes

A new randomized control trial in Mississippi has found that a good kindergarten literacy program can boost disadvantaged students' vocabulary in kindergarten by as much as an extra month of school.
Early childhood programs like Mississippi's have focused heavily on early vocabulary for decades, with growing urgency since a seminal 1995 University of Kansas study showed children of parents on welfare enter school knowing about 525 words, less than half of the 1,100-word vocabulary of children of parents in professional jobs.
The Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast, housed at the SERVE Center of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, evaluated the Kindergarten PAVEd for Success program, which trains teachers to supplement their normal literacy instruction. Pam Finney, the research management leader for the study, said the program was purposely "not a very complicated intervention," and it helps teachers engage in the same complex conversations that the Kansas study showed professional parents have with their children, "introducing 50 cent words as opposed to 25 cent words," as Ms. Finney put it.
Each teacher gets a list of thematically related and complex words; for example, "temperature," "exhaust," "steam," and "boil," or "pineapple," "banana," and "kiwi." The teacher reads stories that incorporate the words with the students and opens conversations with the students.
"One of the strategies is building bridges, having conversations with students whatever they want to talk about," Ms. Finney explained. "The teacher learns how to have these conversations. Take 'apple,' 'banana' and 'Kiwi.' Students in the Delta may never have heard of a kiwi or seen the fruit. So the teacher shows them and they talk about it."
Researchers tracked nearly 1,300 kindergarteners at 30 Mississippi Delta school districts, in which 128 kindergarten classes were randomly assigned to either use the program or teach literacy as they normally would. Teachers in the program received training but were allowed flexibility to implement it. All of the schools had to have at least 40 percent of their students in poverty, and both groups of children were similar demographically.
The researchers found children who participated in K-PAVE had an expressed vocabulary one month ahead in vocabulary development and academic knowledge at the end of kindergarten compared with students in the control group, as measured by a normed test. The students showed no significant difference in listening comprehension skills.
"These students who were below the norm for vocabulary to start, they're one month closer to the norm, one month closer to those middle-class kids," said Ludy van Broekhuizen; the executive director for SERVE Center and the REL's director. "To actually get an impact on an intervention that required such a small effort on the part of the district is sort of remarkable in some ways."
Teachers trained in the program were significantly more likely than the control-group teachers to include activities focused on students' vocabulary and comprehension development, but they did not show significantly more instructional or emotional support for students.
The researchers have just submitted a follow-up study on the children's literacy skills by the end of 1st grade, but they wouldn't share those details yet. Because the students in the K-PAVE study improved in vocabulary, but not in comprehension, compared to their peers, I'd be interested to see what a follow-up study on these kids would show. Considering kindergarteners and 1st graders are just learning to read, would a one-month edge be enough to boost these students reading development, get them moved to more advanced groups, and so on? It would be interesting to find out. Moreover, since the original "vocabulary gap" study focused on parents' conversations, not teachers', I'd be interested in whether similar training could help parents improve their conversations with their children, too.
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Friday 26 November 2010

The number one skill

Talking Point is an excellent web site with lots of information and support for parents and professionals. They have a series of videos. This is the first in the series about the importance of being able to Learn to speak, listen and communicate well. Its really the most important thing that children can learn. There are great tips and information in this video.


Monday 22 November 2010

Hello to the national year of communication

Hello is the national year of communication – a campaign to increase understanding of how important it is for children and young people to develop good communication skills. The campaign is run by The Communication Trust, a coalition of over 35 leading voluntary sector organisations, in partnership with Jean Gross, the Government’s Communication Champion.
Hello aims to make communication for all children and young people a priority in homes and schools across the UK so that they can live life to the full. The campaign is backed by the Department for Education and supported by BT.

A child with a speech, language and communication need may struggle to get words out of their mouth or not understand words that are being used. They may have difficulties holding a conversation, have multiple difficulties or simply have a limited vocabulary. These barriers are often invisible to others, meaning their needs are often misrepresented, misdiagnosed or missed altogether.

Please visit for information on how you can help improve the communication skills of children and young people and to sign up for regular updates. You can also follow the campaign on Twitter :] and facebook:].

Smart Talkers are supporting the Hello campaign!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

S & L World: up-date

We've been working hard on the first edition of the on-line, global Bulletin. I've had the easier task of co-ordinating the articles, while Ray has had all the technical stuff to do for the layout and for the web-site. 

It will be quarterly with subscription payable via PayPal. It won't matter when you start the subscription as the programme always counts a year from the start date. To contribute to the magazine will require subscription after the first edition.

So far, its been a tremendously enjoyable job. I've been liaising with so many intelligent, passionate, proactive professionals in my own field. It's renewed my enthusiasm and reminded me what a fantastic job we have.

The great news is, we have all the contributions now apart from one, which is on its way. There is a high paediatric bias in the first issue but we'll make sure that this is addressed for the second one. We've got some great articles, news features, an interview with a therapist from UAE and a couple of letters already for the launch.

There are a couple of advertising spaces free so if you know a company who would like to take advantage of the extra special offers please ask them to get in touch.

We're giving away the first issue as advertising so watch this space!