Wednesday 29 June 2011

Are young offenders really 'born bad'?

A new report by the Children’s Commissioner this week called ‘I think I must have been born bad’, highlights that mental health care for young offenders is ‘lacking’ and called for more to be done to help address and support young people with mental health and behavioural problems.  It hi-lights that 60% of the young people in custody were found to have speech, language and communication difficulties. This is an awful chicken and egg situation and one that has upset me for years. I know some children with ASD and behaviour problems who are now in the justice system because they are quite simply, misunderstood. Now before you jump down my throat with accusations of 'do-gooder' and 'stupid softy', let me explain some of the reasons why some children with communication difficulties may become 'juvenile delinquents':

It is a fact that there is a very close link between behaviour difficulties and an inability to communicate.  Think about:

Speech/expressive difficulties: Imagine you couldn't talk clearly; people wouldn't take you as seriously as the next person, maybe you couldn't get your wants, needs and ideas across. How frustrated would you be? How tolerant could you remain? Can you guarantee you wouldn't lash out?
Receptive language problems: what if it was like being in a  foreign country most of the time so you didn't understand what was going, couldn't follow even simple instructions or tell what people were saying to you? Would it make you stressed & angry with a  short temper threshold?
Social communication difficulties: Any communication problem makes the person isolated. If someone is an outsider they might want to please or to belong so even if they know something was wrong, they might still do it in an effort to 'belong'. That's an inherent human trait. Also with social communication difficulties they may mis-read the subtle signs or have difficulty knowing right from wrong.

Add to the mix such associated behaviour as 'diversion tactics' i.e. I'm going to distract them from asking me questions by doing something which will put them off (this could be kicking the table to kicking others) and a sieve-like learning so they forge what has been said or forbidden!

Also associated with poor communication, is a poor level of self esteem which is always a bad thing!

The best example I saw last year was a 15 year old boy in a residential special school for emotional and behavioural difficulties. He was on the young offenders register but not in custody as his special school was fairly restrictive. He might have had a speech & language therapy assessment when pre-school but there was no record of any input in the last ten years. He needed a SLT assessment for a statement review but the local authority couldn't do it. I was called in.

He had a terrible record of assaulting staff (they didn't tell me beforehand and left me alone with him but hey, I'm a big girl!) and was a persistent liar. When I assessed him I realised the extent of his receptive language difficulty: he had an auditory memory of just 2 items so most of what was being asked of him, just went straight over his head. This must have been very stressful for him so as a way of getting out of situations or making outcomes predictable, he assaulted staff. This meant he could escape the stressful situation and have a safe predictable  knowledge of exactly what would happen next. Being led off into isolation was, to him, preferable as he knew the drill so well it was comfortable even though it wasn't a pleasurable experience.

He had no verbal reasoning skills so couldn't follow the concept of 'if x happens y will follow'. This meant the strictest of instructions were not followed as he just couldn't get the idea of consequences.

The other tactic he had learned to compensate was a fanciful imagination. He had memorised parts of films and told them in a realistic, very believable way as he if was the main player. This also got him into trouble in a big way but was actually a coping strategy.

If you meet him he appears to be very confident but this is just a front; he is a actually a scared boy with little idea of what is going on around him with extremely poor self esteem. He also had an horrendous home life with alcoholic parents who didn't want him. Are you any closer to understand my point now?

This is just one example and I know this is replicated thousands of times over. We need better assessment, better understanding...... earlier so we can prevent this happening. It's almost too late for the young offenders of today but we can help if we can sort the problems pre-school.

For today's young offenders, we need to stop throwing money at vocational, educational training or even anger management classes unless we assess their levels of understanding. There's no point offerring such courses IF they don't have the language levels to access them.

The full report can be found here


Sunday 26 June 2011

Attention & Listening

I spend hours each day working on attention and listening. I cannot stress how important these skills are to learning and to language development. One of the nurseries I visit weekly (I wont say where!) really don't apprecitae this for example, one of the worst listeners in the group keeps wandering off or walking aawy mid-sentence. They keep saying how intelligent he is and cant see whats wrong with him being allowed to do this, but what is the point of being really bright if you cannot attend to a task? The Talking Point Website is excellent and has many resources I can use to help get the message across to them. This one is good:

Wednesday 22 June 2011

BT launch communication triathlon

Openreach logo
BT's Openreach division has fired the starting gun on the UK's first national Communication Triathlon for schools - with support from children's charity I CAN.
The Communication Triathlon is a series of active and fun-filled events for primary schools - intended to boost speaking and listening skills - which can be undertaken by a class, a year group or a whole school over the course of a week or even a day.
The programme encourages children to take part in three London 2012-themed speaking and listening activities around thinking, talking and teamwork, and is split across 4-7 and 7-11-year-olds.
The Communication Triathlon is part of the communication, collaboration and citizenship strand of Get Set - the official London 2012 education programme - and one of three education programmes BT is running as a London 2012 sustainability partner.
Liz Johnson, 100m breaststroke gold medal winner at the 2008 Paralympic Games, helped launch the Communications Triathlon. She said: "Sport has been a big part of my life so it was an honour to help kick-start a programme that uses sport to help children with their communication skills."

Tuesday 21 June 2011

A happy baby begins with you:it's all about communication... as always!

I've always been  against more harsh forms of parenting and believe that parents should listen to and respond to their little ones. This is a post from Sara Bingham of Wee Hands.

In an effort to provide WeeHands Instructors with opportunities for professional growth and to allow our Instructors to provide value added services to support their work with thie class participants, WeeHands has developed a cross marketing relationship with The Happiest Baby on the Block, Inc.

As many may know, Dr. Harvey Karp created his program to teach parents how to calm and soothe their crying baby in minutes. This revolutionary approach has been endorsed by some of the most influential organizations in the country, such as Prevent Child Abuse America. Dr. Karp's book is the only book endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a must have for new parents.

In 2005, Dr. Karp introduced a program to certify educators to teach his program in their local communities. Since that time, the program has expanded worldwide and has over 4800 individuals involved, 2800 of them have finished certification. Educators are in hospital settings, military installations, pregnancy programs, state and county health departments and independent educators.

WeeHands has developed a collaborative cross marketing relationship that would allow our licensed and certified WeeHands Instructor to also become a Certified Happiest Baby Educator, at a discounted rate. This will allow the WeeHands members the opportunity to expand their educational expertise and bring more information to the parents you touch each and everyday. This as an excellent opportunity to provide an additional option for teaching and marketing avenue through The Happiest Baby.

In return, WeeHands will be inviting Certified Happiest Baby Educators the opportunity to join our association and expand their educational opportunities as well. This is a win win situation that will benefit both organizations with continue education.

We would like to encourage all of our Instructors to take the time to visit The Happiest Baby website, for more information on the certification program. The regular cost of the program is $225.00; however WeeHands has negotiated a discount for our Instructors to bring the price to $180.00 plus S/H. If you would like to take advantage of this excellent opportunity, please contact the Happiest Baby Education Department at 888-980-8062. They will be happy and available to answer any questions you may have about the program.
Sara Bingham is the founder of WeeHands and the author of The Baby Signing Book. WeeHands is the world's leading children's sign language and language development program for babies, toddlers and preschool children.
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Monday 20 June 2011

How to prevent cleft lip and palate

When I worked in Aylesbury in the 1980s, there was a fantastic surgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital with a highly skilled team, who operated on new-born babies with cleft lips, usually within 48 hours. Mr Desai felt that there were bonding issues and a need to have the baby looking better before the arrival of the grandparents, which were worth the associated risk. I watched several operations one morning with awe and admiration. He had the cricket on the radio and a tremendous air of respect for the fragile head cradled in his left hand. He operated on their palate at 3 months. This wasn't the case elsewhere in the country who left it  to a much later, safer time. 

I read with interest, therefore, about the recent findings of some American specialists who have decided that early surgery, pre-natal diagnosis and well-coordinated care by a team of specialists is 'vital'.  
Cleft lip and/or palate -- which occur in the first trimester of pregnancy when the roof of the mouth fails to fuse properly -- affects more than 7,000 babies born in the United States each year and is the second most common birth defect. The figures here in the UK are around in 1 in 700 babies.

Dr. Richard Redett, the author, a pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon and co-director of the Cleft & Craniofacial Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children's Center offers some tips to help prevent cleft lip/palate:
  • Women planning to become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day.
  • Pregnant women should not smoke and should avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Pregnant women also need to tell their doctors about any prescription or over-the-counter medications they are taking or planning to take, since certain medicines can cause or increase the risk of birth defects.
  • Patients with a family history of cleft palate should talk with their GP about a genetic link.
Parents in the UK are advised to consult the Cleft Lip And Palate Association website 

Monday 13 June 2011

Make up a word

Ever chillax in a nifty gaff?

Tell Afasic your favourite made up word and support the Afasic 'My Word' challenge
Children's communication charity Afasic is asking thousands of schools to support their 'My Word' challenge. Pupils can choose a word that they use on a regular basis that's made up or not currently in the dictionary, write it on the 'My Word' postcard and explain what it means to them. The aim is to have fun, start a conversation and increase children's understanding of communication.
Postcards are then sent back to Afasic who will produce a booklet from all the postcards they receive to share during the national year of communication. All pupils can take part in the fundraising activity and all participating schools will receive a certificate from Afasic's President and Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP.
To download your postcard please click here or contact Afasic on 0207 490 9410 or for further information.
Closing date for entries is Monday 4 July.
To find out more about Afasic's work and the Handbook they have recently produced with I CAN about specific language impairment, please clickhere.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Shine a light! Nominate someone you know who is making a difference to children's lives

The Hello campaign; national year of communication is inviting you to take part in the ‘Shine a Light’ 2011 Hello campaign awards for developing children and young people’s communication, launched today by The Communication Trust and Pearson Assessment.
Set to become the flagship event of the Hello campaign, these awards ( will ‘shine a light’ on the excellent work and achievement by the children’s workforce in developing the communication skills of the children and young people they work with from birth to teenagers. These best practice exemplars will be shared with practitioners across the country to incentivise improved practice in 2011 and beyond.  

Wendy Lee, Professional Director for The Communication Trust, says; “The Shine a Light 2011 Hello campaign awards are unique; they are the first and only national awards scheme to focus on children and young people’s communication. At the heart of the Hello campaign is the fantastic work that takes place day to day by individuals, team and settings across the UK and these awards epitomise just this.  “By shining a light on the inspiring work that is taking place to support all children’s communication and those communication difficulties, we can ensure individuals and teams get deservedly recognised. We also hope to enthuse and spur on others who through the national year of communication are starting to tackle this subject head on in a range of ways – from small grassroots projects through to larger area‐wide initiatives. If you know a person or setting who has gone the extra mile to support communication development, then this may be their time to shine.

Twelve awards are available including three ‘Communication Friendly’ awards, three ‘Team of the Year’ awards, an award for ‘Communication Strategy’ and ‘Commissioning’ as well as the ‘Hello Young Person of the Year Award’. The winners will be celebrated at the ‘Shine a Light’ 2011 Hello campaign awards ceremony taking place at Pearson’s Head Office in London from 3‐6pm on Wednesday 23 November.Simone Gilson, Health and Education Marketing Specialist for Pearson Assessment, says; “Pearson Assessment are delighted to be sponsoring the ‘Shine a Light’ 2011 Hello campaign awards as well as the wider campaign to make children and young people’s communication development a national priority.  "Recognition of excellent and inspiring work is crucial. By celebrating it, we can share the
learning’s with others, use the best practice to shape our future assessments so that they truly meet the needs of those with SLCN, and most importantly build upon this as part of the legacy of the national year of communication. We encourage you to apply no matter what size and scale you are working at. If you think your work is special and making a tangible difference that you can evidence, we want to hear from you.”

Applications are encouraged from a wide range of settings, professionals and individuals – those who work with children and young people, those responsible for planning children’s services as well as parents and young people.  Log onto where you can easily complete an application form and tell us how your work meets the ‘qualities’ we have identified. Applications will be considered by a judging panel including communication Champion, Jean Gross.