Tuesday 29 June 2010

It takes two....

'My speech problem, Your listening problem, and our frustration': 

An Australian study published this month by McCormack JMcLeod SMcAllister LHarrison LJ. from the Charles Sturt University, reveals that a child's speech problem is just as much a listener problem:
They looked at the experience of 34 children and their family members to get a thorough understanding of the problems faced by both sides. 

There were three conclusions 1. The family were frustrated by the child's difficulties 2. The child was frustrated with their listening partner and 3. Mutual frustration caused by the speaking and listening problems. The authors looked at the solutions participants used to overcome the problems. These included: a) strategies to improve the child's speech sound accuracy (e.g., therapy, opportunity to practise), and b) strategies to improve the listener's understanding (e.g., using gestures, repetition, visual clues). 

They concluded, as we already knew, was that successful communication is dependant on the skills of speakers and listeners not just the child. 'Intervention with children who experience speech impairment needs to reflect this reciprocity by supporting both the speaker and the listener, and by addressing the frustration they experience'. The Therapists at Small Talk Speech and Language Therapy have always been mindful of this and work closely with families of children with speech difficulties.

What are your experiences of this? Are you as frustrated as your child? Does your child get fed-up of repeating himself?

Cure for Autism? .......not yet, I'm afraid

We are constantly being advised of the latest so-called 'cure' for autism and for many parents, who are desperate to have a 'normal' son or daughter, this must lead to a roundabout of reading, research and possibly expensive interventions, which inevitably will lead to further heart ache. 

This problem is now compounded by researchers who release snippets from their studies without waiting for the final conclusions. They are often aided by PR Departments at their educational establishments who seek to sensationalise... after all any publicity is good publicity in their eyes. They are failing to appreciate the terrible impact this may have on parents or maybe they just don't care.... 15 minutes of fame and all that!

Previously no-one would draw conclusions or seek to publicise incomplete work. It would have been frowned upon by peers and university elders. The New Scientist today advises caution and proper controlled research practices BEFORE coming to what may be  'false conclusions'. They begin with the success story of a little boy who was diagnosed with ASD at 2 and was subsequently 'cured' by a miracle diet. Further analysis showed this couldn't be true. It may have been a false diagnosis in the first place (another of my soap box topics!). 

I read a quote the other day 'When you've met one person with autism....... You've met one person with autism!' Therapy approaches or other treatments that work for one may not work for another. I'm looking forwards to more quality research  from recognised and expert establishments because 'the tantalising possibility remains that something, somewhere out there, really does work, but ... trials so far have lacked the sophistication to separate effective treatments from the duds'.(Clare Lajinchere, 2010)  

Saturday 26 June 2010

How many words do you know?

Did you see the reported controversial claim from the Communication Tsar Jean Gross, that teenagers use a vocabulary of only 800 words? David Crystal, the Britsh linguistics expert refutes these claims and explains why it so hard to estimate how many words we have in our vocabuary store (lexicon).

He says, 'People know and use far more words than they (or communications czars) think they do. They forget about the whole year - about all the words to do with holidays, shopping, cars, animals, birthdays, Christmas... It's totally fallacious to think that the words you elicit from someone on a particular day or from a particular sample is an accurate index of all the words they know or use'.

He also points out that the world of a teenager is foreign to most of us so there are probably words they use of which we are not even aware. As my older son approaches his teens, his vocabulary differs to mine; I thought 'sick' was a bad thing but apparently it means 'super cool'........ so what do I know? 

How many words do you know? 


Friday 25 June 2010

All the way from America!!

Our Language Land training has been reported in an American on-line news channel newsfromus.com http://www.newsfrom.us/2010/04/22/getting-ready-for-school/ I'm not sure how or why they picked up the story but its good publicity!

Language Land was designed to be used by speech and language therapists as a training package for teachers and nursery staff. It provides a complete programme of demonstration training to help speech and language skills of all children in primary and nursery education, not just those with identified problems. The programme was trialled extensively and successfully in primary schools in Newcastle, Staffordshire, by its author, Angela Wright and her team, but I could find no evidence that anyone had used the nursery component of the programme so I piloted its use in local nurseries. The results were fantastic and we have plans to do more in other settings.

(Languageland is available from Black Sheep Press www.blacksheeppress.co.uk)

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Signing in Nurseries

We're delighted to be doing some signing more work with the excellent Horn End nurseries. We start this week with Stafford and next week at Rugeley and Hixon.

We can do signing sessions for all age groups and training on functional signing for staff and parents.

We call our signing 'Smart Sign' which is based on Makaton with some supplementary BSL. We've had some amazing results recently at other places too such as Midway Academy in Uttoxeter and in the kindergarten at Vernon Lodge Preparatory School in Stretton, near Penkridge, where the children picked up the signs so easily.

We're looking forwards to introducing Smart Sign for babies and toddlers at Hixon Children's centre too this week. I'll keep you posted with progress, and of course, photos of the little ones!  

For more about our signing sessions www.smarttalkers.org.uk or for other nursery-based programmes

Summer holidays affects language development?

The American Association of Speech and Language Pathologists have released a very controversial statement which asserts that children from poorer backgrounds are detrimentally affected by the 6 weeks summer holiday (or vacation to use their term). They feel that without the quality interaction experienced at school or nursery, children's language skills suffer. As a result they have published a list of activities and suggestions for parents to follow

Smart Talkers Video

Being interviewed by Andy Deveraux from Devmac about the groups. Thank you to Horn End Rugeley for letting us video there.

The video was done before the collective name change to Smart Talkers as it looked as if we couldn't trademark Small Talkers.... in fact we could, and we did!

It's a good insight into why I started the groups.

For more infornation about the groups www.smarttalkers.org.uk

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Reading is important too:

I was asked recently by Milton Bayer (Creative PR & Marketing Specialists) to pull together the research into the importance of reading for their staff who had been asked to enter a bid for the re-brand and re-launch of Book Start.

I think books are a great way of interacting with children, hence my interest in the topic so following my in-put, they had the bears looking at each other while holding the book. Unfortunately they were pipped at the post by someone else (I hope it wasn't my ideas that did it!) but the findings are interesting so I thought Id share them:


There have been many, many research studies on the influence reading to children has on their educational growth, and in almost all of the studies done, reading to children as early as six months of age has been ‘proven not only as a good parent-child bonding, but as giving the child a good educational start in life’ (Maria-Helen Goyetche, owner of Early Childhood Education, 2009). The following is a summary of the available research & results of interviews with several early years’ practitioners:

General points:
1. Babies: There’s no such thing as too early. It’s good to start showing babies pictures and talking about them as soon as they focus her eyes on the pattern on a jumper or the change-mat. It’s part of parent –child interaction. Sue Gerhardt, discusses the major adverse implications on the developing brain if not there is not this type of quality interaction, (‘Why love matters’, 2004) *

2. Toddlers: discovering new words, learning to "read" pictures to find the meanings of words or the answers to questions hiding behind those thrilling pull-tabs: where's the kitten gone?

3. Pre-schoolers: a realisation that pictures on the page are the introduction to print; being read to helps the child toward written language at this age just as it helps towards spoken language two years previously.

4. School-Aged: Once children are used to being read to, they will never be bored if somebody will read, and since there are bound to be times when nobody will read and they are bored, they'll have the best possible reason to learn to read themselves.

All the research agrees that reading to themselves isn't a signal to stop reading to them though, even when the child starts to read stories to himself for pleasure.

1. Bonding
Maybe the most important benefit a parent and child have from reading together is a bond which naturally develops as they spend time together. They are connecting with the baby while the baby is doing the things she likes best; being with you and hearing your voice speaking to her. ‘The book isn’t as important as the moment and........ it could even be a comic,’ Lesley Smith, Early Years Practitioner.

2. Attention/listening:
Attention skills are extremely important and need to be learnt to be successful in school. Attention and listening are the main skills in decline in the 21st century. A recent survey of 100 primary schools hi-lighted this (Libby Hill, 2010). By sharing a story book early on, it is helping to develop both attention span and listening.

3. Social interaction
Perhaps the most important benefit is the time the adult spends reading with the child. ‘The book is the vehicle for the interaction, which is the most important thing,’ Deborah Falshaw, Teacher & Early Years Practitioner.

4. Communication
Many of the components of communication are developed whilst sharing a book: turn-taking, listening, shared attention and speaker/listener roles are identified

5. Language
Hearing the adult use different intonation patterns and the full range of phonology of the language they’re speaking helps develop the child’s own speech and language.

a) Vocabulary: linking the names of words to the pictures helps vocabulary development. It’s often easier to find pictures than real objects to show the child. In any event, the pictures supplement the child’s semantic links to aid the acquisition of new vocabulary.

b) Reasoning: Following a character's actions in a story helps develop problem solving skills. Children are just learning about the world they live in. They are beginning to learn that their actions have consequences. Story book characters can help test these sometimes confusing issues without the pain of going through it themselves. The next time a child is confronted by a situation he has encountered in a story that has been read to him, he will know he has options.

6. Intelligence/Imagination
Getting children absorbed in books helps stimulate imagination which has been proved to advance their thinking power. They learn to pretend and put themselves in the story which often promotes a higher level of thinking. Children who are read to at an early age find it easier to express themselves and their feelings, making them more confident as they grow up (Professor James Law, City University, own conference notes 2009).

7. Emotional development
Children’s emotions can be validated through story reading. Sharing stories about characters who have the same emotions, especially negative ones, lets the child know that the feelings are normal. Children can learn from the reactions of the characters in the story (Susan Anderson, ‘The invaluable importance of reading to your child’).

8. Good habits
Children will pass on the love of reading to their children if they have been read to. Children live what they learn. They will be more likely to share reading with their own children.

9. Introducing difficult topics
Sharing stores about controversial topics is a good way to introduce discussion. Topics from sex education to drug issues can be difficult to discuss without a book as springboard.

10. Helping to handle stress
Life can be tough for a child in the 21st century. Books provide escapism as well as a source of comfort.


Maryann Wolf Director/professor of the Centre for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, USA "Children who begin kindergarten having heard and used thousands of words, whose meanings are already understood, classified, and stored away in their young brains, have the advantage on the playing field of education. Children who never have a story read to them, who never hear words that rhyme, who never imagine fighting with dragons or marrying a prince, have the odds overwhelmingly against them."

Penelope Leach, child development guru: ‘When parents read aloud to their children, everyone wins. It's fun for the adult and great for the kids. Easy for you and good for them. You don't even have to ration it because, unlike TV or ice cream, there's no such thing as too much’.

* Crap title but great book.

Monday 21 June 2010

Independent in partnership

I've been asked by a local C & LP co-ordinator and Children's Centre Services Manager to prepare a bid to help develop the service available to pre-schoolers, We're looking at several projects which will really supplement and extend what's already available via the local NHS Speech Therapy Dept.
It will build upon last years IDP and will help hi-light training needs so we can then put together tailored packages. I cant say too much or it might jeapordise it but its a very exciting development.

We already work with several SLT departments with individual clients who have been referred to us by their parents. There is a protocol to follow so that we can work together most effectively. The standards are set by The Royal college of SLT and the Association of SLTs in Independent practise. It means that a child can have both an NHS Therapist and an independent one. For more on the speech therapy www.private-speech-therapy.co.uk

Here goes....

I'm new to blogging but I think its another important step in helping to publicise the decline in children's speech, language and communication and what we can do about it. So many children today have identified difficulties:1 in 3 3 year olds and 'many, many more' have delays according to Jean Gross the Govt's Communication Tsar.
I set up Smart Talkers Pre-school groups to help address this problem. Initially we had just the Small Talkers group which was specifically to prepare children for school. These days they find it hard to attend and listen so when they start school they have to be taught to do this before they can really learn anything else. This makes it hard for the teacher and is a big shock to the child. We work on attention, listening, phonological awareness, vocabulary, receptive language, expressive language and social interaction using songs, games and puppets.
I'll let you know more about each of these areas soon as well as the other things we do at Smart Talkers and Small Talk Speech and language therapy.