Saturday 26 February 2011

Hear hear!!

I was very concerned about the poor listening skills of children in primary schools so I decided to seek the views of colleagues in education. This was to reveiw an earlier study in the 1990s which I had been done with a colleague at the time, Sue Gowers. This is a brief report on the findings:

The Problem?
        189 Early Years Departments including Head Teachers, class Teaches, early years co-ordinators and special needs co-ordinators contributed their feelings. The 94% return rate for a questionnaire probably speaks for itself about the level of concern as typically, a response of around 32.5%
All of the schools were extremely worried: children generally have shorter attention span and most have difficulty listening. The problem is getting worse with children entering school ill-prepared for the demands of the classroom.
Many respondents blamed the constant blare of 24 hour TV with increased background noise causing children to switch off. Others felt that children’s senses were being over loaded with non-auditory stimulation. Most expressed a concern about the time children spend watching television & DVDs or playing computer type games. All felt that too much screen time including TV was partly to blame because children could just watch the pictures and didn’t need to listen.
On the whole respondents blamed parents for children’s poor attention and listening skills. Perhaps it’s the pressure of today’s busy lifestyle that necessitates leaving them in front of the TV as surrogate babysitter with little time set aside for conversation. 75% felt there were no social status differences.  Could it be that all families experience pressure but for different reasons? ‘Middle class’ parents are busy working to pay the mortgage, cars and holidays so they don’t have time to interact with their children, while others don’t realise they ought to?

As a result of poor attention and listening skills the class teacher has to begin by teaching them to listen. Unfortunately, it is assumed that children are equipped with the necessary abilities to learn but most school staff found that a great deal of time is taken up directing and re-focussing. In the 1970s it was felt that by the time a child arrived at school they had almost fully developed attention so that they could be drawing whilst listening to and understanding a completely separate instruction (Cooper, Moodley & Reynell 1978). These days the Teacher would have to ask them to put down their pencils, turn to the teacher, give the instruction and then tell them to continue the task.
As listening is a learned skill, children with learning difficulties will take longer than their peers to acquire it. Often extra work is needed for this group within the mainstream classroom. 
Probably as a result of poor auditory skills, there are many more speech and language problems in mainstream schools. Estimates vary but it is generally accepted that 7% of any class is likely to experience specific difficulty. Jean Gross Government Communication Tsar identified 1 in 6 3 year olds with identified difficulties but ‘many, many more’  with delays which hadn’t been picked up. Delays are almost becoming the norm. Bercow (2008) found up to 50% had communication difficulties which would impact on the children’s learning in school.

The Solution?
Ideally, one of the solutions is parental guidance when the children are younger which is why I set up Smart Talkers pre-school groups. One of the main aims is to show parents how to use ‘active listening’. We tend to think of listening as a passive skill but it actually an active learning task involving several aspects: good sitting, good looking, good waiting and good thinking. These were identified by Maggie Johnson who has done a great deal of work on this area including with children who have ADHD. Each part needs to be worked on in order. Realistically, however, the task of sorting the problem falls to the class teacher.
When working with children with short attention spans, learning activities have to be restructured so that only short periods of concentration are required with many different activities designed to retain interest and attention. Maggie has written ‘How to get them to hang on to your every word’ which has some great class room techniques for all ages. However, the following general strategies will be useful:

General Strategies

·        Ensure you have full attention and eye contact
·        Keep the instructions short & simple so that the key words are kept to a minimum
·        Speak as slowly, clearly and naturally as possible
·        Give the child time to understand/process the information/instruction. It may be necessary to repeat even simple instructions several times in order for the child to process the information
·        Check they have understood what is expected of them ‘Comprehension monitoring’
·        Try to develop the child overall confidence by praising him for things he is good at. Also try to make communication as pleasurable an experience as possible. When a child is nervous or anxious the ability to understand may be adversely affected
·        Keep external distractions to a minimum whist giving instructions
·        Use gesture and other non-verbal cues whenever possible e.g. facial expression pointing etc
·        Use visual clues and cues e.g. pictures of the tasks, picture timetable


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Tuesday 22 February 2011

10 ways to develop your child's language skills

Guest blog by the Talking Matters Team, an excellent  group of speech pathologists from Australia

If you are waiting for an assessment or therapy to begin, or if you just want to help your child’s development every day, here are some simple things you can do that make a real difference to your child’s language skills.
1. Talk together every day. Talk to your child whenever you can, as you go about daily activities like cooking, bathing, dressing, eating, travelling to kindy or school, getting ready for bed. 
2. Get down to your child’s level. Ensure your child can see your face when you are talking to them. This helps them focus, lets them see and hear your words better and encourages them to copy you. 
3. Follow your child’s lead when you talk. Take some time to see what holds your child’s interests. Watch what they look at, touch, hear and reach for and talk with them about these things. 
4. Talk about what you are doing and ‘think out loud’. Talk in simple words about what you are doing as you do your daily activities to develop your child’s vocabulary. “I am cutting carrots into circles”. 
5. Be positive. Use lots of encouragement and tell your child what they have done well. Use specific words. “I like the way you used your words to ask for that”. “The red colour in that picture looks great”. 
6. Model new words. Tell your child the names of things they have not seen before. Teach them new action words when you do things together. Teach them describing words by talking about what they see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Include words about size, shape, colour and feel.
7. Recast your child’s errors. If your child makes a mistake when talking, repeat the sentence, fixing the mistake to show them the right way. Use a positive tone and repeat it a few times but keep it natural. E.g. Child “I runned”. Adult “Yes you ran, you ran very fast, you ran right to mummy”. Try repeating this same word a few more times later on, so your child gets lots of chances to hear it the right way.
8. Use lots of repetition. Young children learn though repetition. Repeat new ideas, words and concepts over and over. Repeat stories and songs too. Repeat new words and ideas in different places, times and situations to help your child learn the full meaning and understand different ways the word can be used.
9. Read lots of books together. Reading to your child is one of the best things you can do to help them learn. Make it a part of your day every day. Read new books but also old repeat old favourites. Choose books which suit your child’s age, language level and interests. Talk about what you read and ask your child questions.
10. Embrace new experiences. Try new places, games, songs, books and activities with your child. Do something special and different every chance you can as this opens up new words, ideas and concepts to talk about.  
For more details on these ideas go to our website at log into plus then go to language difficulties to download more information for free.
Talking Matters TeamDaily activities can develop language skills

Saturday 19 February 2011

Autism diagnosis helped by speech screen

 device may be able to automatically screen young children for autism based on how they talk, U.S. researchers say. The small recorder fits into a child's pocket and analyzes the words the child says during the day, and a software program evaluates how the child makes certain sounds.

A team of researchers led by Kimbrough Oller of the University of Memphis analyzed more than 3 million syllabic utterances, collected from almost 1,500 all-day recordings from 232 children aged 10 months to 4 years.
The program correctly identified an existing autism diagnosis 86 percent of the time. The analysis also predicted the age of a typically developing child, said the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Although clinicians have been saying for many years that they think that autistic kids sound strange when they talk, there's been no practical way to use vocalization as a part of the diagnostic or screening procedure in working with autism," said Oller, professor of audiology and speech-language pathology.
Oller identified the speech patterns the device analyzes and helped develop the screening method.
The tests were conducted in English, but Oller said the technique may apply to other languages. "It hasn't actually been tried yet, but there's every reason to think it should," he said.
Doctors now diagnose autism by testing children for a range of behavioral and speech issues including how much they talk by a certain age and whether they make eye contact with other people.
"Autism is a multi-factoral disorder and it has many behavioral dimensions to consider. And vocalization is clearly an important one," said Oller. "But I certainly don't think it should be used exclusively."
Oller, who studies language learning and language evolution, has identified how the formation of different syllables changes during a child's first four years.
Instead of saying "ba" as part of a longer word, for instance, a young child might at first say "ba-a," with "sort of a staccato or tremor kind of pattern," said Oller. The speech development of autistic children does not follow those typical patterns, the analysis shows.
The software distinguishes among speakers and processes sounds made only by the child being studied. The day-length recordings enable the researchers to examine a child's natural speech.
Parents send the recorder back to the company after the child has worn it for a day and the company analyzes the recording for language development progress and autism.
Infoture Inc developed the device and the software. The company dissolved in February 2009 and was reconstituted as the LENA Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, which continues to fund the research. The foundation sells the device along with clothing with a pocket to hold the recorder.
Oller received consultation fees from Infoture before it dissolved and several of the other researchers are employees of the LENA Foundation.

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Wednesday 16 February 2011

The Year of Communication or the Year of cuts for speech therapy?

While most people are applauding the King's Speech as being pro-speech therapy and great for our cause, I came across a quote from Gill George, from Unite:

"This is the year of The King's Speech, with the attendant publicity forspeech and language therapy. It's also the year in which we speech therapists across England lose our jobs. Most of us don't work with royalty. We work with ordinary people – stammerers, stroke patients, small children, adults with learning disabilities. Speech therapy services are now being destroyed, through NHS cuts, and cuts in education and children's centre funding. George VI went private; our millionaire politicians presumably do the same. Most of us don't have that luxury".

What do you feel about this? Let me know.......

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Friday 11 February 2011

Half of boys aren't ready for school and they're not catching up

Statistics from the Department for Education show that 53 per cent of boys have not reached a "good level of development" by five, compared to 35 per cent of girls. Combined, the figure is 44 per cent.
Children are assessed by teachers to see if they can carry out basic skills like writing their name and reciting letters of the alphabet.
Yesterday, a leading public health adviser warned that the life-long impact of failing to reach this earliest of grades was "horrendous".
Sir Michael Marmot, professor of public health at University College London, said: "Only about 50 per cent of children are rated by their teachers as having achieved a good level of development by the age of five.
"You know what that means? Poorer level of early school development; poorer performance at every school stage; lower status; living in a poor area.
"It all starts at the beginning of life and works through the life course. This is horrendous really."
Those who failed at school also tend to live shorter lives that are blighted earlier by disability.
A year ago Sir Michael unveiled a review, called Fair Society, Healthy Lives, into how to even out the differences in people's health across geographical areas and social classes.
Giving pre-school children "the best start in life" was the highest priority recommendation, as targeting them has the biggest effect.
Sir Michael proposed increasing spending on this age group with measures such as "more parenting support programmes, a well-trained early years work force and high quality early years care".
The work we are doing at Small Talk Speech & Language Therapy and Smart Talkers pre-school groups is all aimed to address these issues.  We have a comprehensive package of programmes and activities to train staff by demonstration, help parents and above all share examples of good practise to benefit the children. For more about us and
or ring 0844 704 5888
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Thursday 10 February 2011

All good things must come to an end

We keep hearing about the demise of the Children's Centres but the truth is we don't really know what is going to happen yet. One thing is for certain, the needs that they addressed have not gone away and will still need massive input. Unfortunately, it is certain that the Community and Learning partnerships will cease to exist from the end of March. They are attempting to put action plans in place to keep the core services for another 12 months which I think it's a tall order for people who are not going to be around to see the outcome of their plans.

It was with great respect & admiration that I listened to Amanda Newbold, the C& LP co-ordinator from Lichfield on Monday afternoon. Instead of moaning about the end, regretting she couldn't do more or worrying about what she was going to do after April 1st, she has embraced the situation and wanted to celebrate the successes that they achieved. As she pointed out, they have 'had a ball', giving over a  million pounds to causes which have helped families and young children in the Lichfield area alone.

There have been great successes with the International Womens Groups, Bounce and Rhyme from the library services, a mobile skate park, young people's groups, family support.... and of course the projects that they have funded from Small Talk Speech and Language Therapy. We have done training with the child-minders, long-term Teeny Talker and Small Talker sessions, extra support for children with identified needs and signing sessions.

There was a lovely lunch and a surprise award ceremony. I was both gob smacked and delighted that we had one for 'outstanding' in the innovation category. I was going to show you a photograph of the award but as beautiful as it is, it's not a patch on this photo of the babies from my Baby Talk & Sign group!!

Aren't they gorgeous and aren't I lucky to have been able to work with lots of fantastic children and parents and then have an award as well!!!! I have really appreciated the opportunity to work in the Children's Centres and I know we have helped to make a difference.

Saturday 5 February 2011

'Parents ARE to blame for many of the speech, language and communication delays' the headlines should have said!

Unfortunately, the press took the leading paragraph from the Hello press release literally (see our last blog post) and gave the parents the impression that it is OK to let your children watch TV for hours on end and that a lack of  interaction with your children has no bearing on their communication progress. Headlines such as 'TV not to blame', 'We cant blame parents' are both mis-leading and mis-guided. They actually had a negative effect rather than positive.

What the Hello campaign was alluding to, were the long term difficulties that around 7% of children will have. These are severe delays or disorders which happen through no fault of anyone, least of all the parents.

However, up to 50% of children in some areas do not have sufficient levels of spoken language to begin to learn written language as they start school. These difficulties can be transient so that they will improve with the right help. These families are definitely the cause of their delay. Children who are baby-sat by a screen, whether that be PC, computer or PS3. A lack of proper interaction with them means that children don't learn rules of conversation or social skills that go alongside. Studies have shown that babies do not become babbling by chance, if they are not communicated with, they wont try to practise using the sounds of language. Babies will even stop crying if no one responds when they do. A child won't learn vocabulary if they don't hear the words. The way we learn language is by being exposed to it repeatedly.

We are facing a crisis yet no-one seems to understand. I was hoping that the Hello campaign would hi-light the issues and promote good practise, yet January's theme was just that and I didn't see any headlines to that effect, did you? I can spend hours on this, my personal soap box topic, because it's something I believe is vitally important. What sort of society are we going to become if our communication skills are falling apart?


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Thursday 3 February 2011

Hello in February: Let's talk about long term speech & language difficulties

One in six parents in Britain believe that the most common cause of speech, language and communication
difficulties among children is the time they spend on computers and watching television, according to a new poll published today to mark the launch of the Hello campaign (– the national year of communication.

Over half of parents surveyed blamed speech, language and communication difficulties on parents not talking to their children enough. Nearly one in three parents said they were or had been concerned about their children’s communication skills. The OnePoll survey of 6,000 people, including 3,000 parents, was commissioned by the Hello campaign to explore perceptions about children’s speech and language development.  

The Hello campaign aims to make children and young people’s communication development a priority in homes, nurseries and schools across the country. It is run by The Communication Trust, a coalition of 40 organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication, in partnership with Communication Champion, Jean Gross. The campaign is backed by government and sponsored by BT and Pearson Assessment.

Speech, language and communication needs affect over 1 million children in the UK today: four out of five respondents underestimated the extent of these difficulties. Only one in five of the 6,000 people polled considered biological or genetic reasons to be a possible cause of speech, language and communication
needs. However, the Hello campaign says the exact cause of long term speech, language and communication needs is often unknown but can be attributed to biological as opposed to environmental factors.  

Jean Gross, England’s Communication Champion, said: “Public understanding of children’s communication difficulties remains worryingly low. The automatic response seems to be to blame parents or technology. This just isn’t right. We need to clear up the confusion and myths that exist around this subject. 10% of children – that’s two to three in every UK classroom – have some form of long term communication difficulty that can affect them early, severely and for life. Their brains don’t process language in quite the same way that other children’s brains do.  These results reinforce the need for the Hello campaign to radically improve understanding of speech, language and communication difficulties and the impact this has on children’s lives.”

The adults surveyed (48% of whom were parents of children under 5), exposed widespread lack of knowledge about children’s speech and language development. The poll found, for example, that parents and the general population know more about walking milestones than talking milestones.

8% of parents said they had been or were concerned that their children’s communication difficulties were significant, with a greater proportion of these in Northern Ireland (13%) and England (8.1%) than in Scotland (6.1%) and Wales (6%). One in seven of the general population say they wouldn’t have a clue when asked whether they would recognise a child with a speech, language and communication need. Most adults however could relate to the impact of communication difficulties. When asked how they themselves felt when they struggled to get a message across or got words muddled up, two thirds of adults felt frustrated or silly with only 9% saying it didn’t affect them.

Chris Pike, young person aged 17 with a communication difficulty, says; “The worst part of having a communication difficulty is being misunderstood; quite often the people around me don’t even realise I have these special needs. Parents and teachers clearly want to help me and others like me to develop and reach our full potential. However, the vast majority of people just don’t know the reality of struggling with a communication problem.

“It’s upsetting that many people might blame my problems on spending too much time in front of TV and computer screens. Communication difficulties come in a whole variety of different forms; sometimes they aren’t visible. I know the Hello campaign will change the way parents, teachers and young people view and understand communication problems. I really hope this will allow children and young people like myself to be recognised and understood, in the same way those with dyslexia and autism are.”

The Hello campaign will improve understanding and disseminate information on typical communication development, how to spot if children are struggling and where to go for help and support. 70% of survey respondents felt that more information on how children develop speech, language and communication
would be helpful, amongst parents this rose to 82%. Only 22% would ask parents, grandparents or friendsfor information on general communication development compared to 39% going to the internet.  The Hello campaign will also prompt tangible improvements for the 1.2 million children and young people in the UK, with some form of long‐term speech, language and communication needs. This means more support for parents and carers, earlier identification of difficulties and earlier, more appropriate, referral to specialist support such as speech & language therapy.

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