Wednesday 28 September 2011

Did your school take part in no pens day today?

George being excited!
It was officially a day when schools should not use pens, rather the children talk and listen to mark the September theme for the Hello campaign. Unfortunately, as with everything the take up for this was not brilliant. In fact of the 10 schools to whom I mentioned it, only one took up the idea. St Peters C E School in Hixon bravely decided to go pen-less! My son was really excited at the prospect and was actually looking forwards to going to school (he's not the most keen under normal circumstances, which is nothing to do with the excellent school he attends, I might add!)

On the way home we had a great chat about what it must be like to be unable to speak or to have difficulty understanding what is said to you. Although he is well aware that as a speech and language therapist, I work with children with problems he had not really thought about the implications for the individuals concerned. If today has made just a few more children think about how dreadful it must be then it has been a success in my book. After all 1 in every 7 has a specific difficulty while 'many, many more' (Gross 2010) will be experiencing a delay which will hinder written language learning.

Join in with the activities of the Hello campaign at

Saturday 24 September 2011

Should I leave my baby to cry? Is controlled crying good?

For those of us who long ago decided to ignore the advice of Gina Ford or mother-in-laws who stated that babies should be left to cry, there is  scientific evidence which not only supports our gut instinct but also shows that leaving a baby to cry can have long term, damaging emotional effects. I was reminded about the study by 'The Mother' magazine  

The study carried out at used brain scans to show that long term harm can be caused. 'If you ignore a crying child, tell them to shut up or put them in a room on their own, you can cause serious damage to their brains on a level that can result in severe neurosis and emotional disorders later in life,' said Professor Margot Sunderland, a leading expert in the development of children's brains and a British Medical Association award-winning author.

We need to be  confident enough to listen to our instincts and reject the  theories of so-called baby experts such as Gina Ford and Channel 4's Supernanny, Jo Frost, who preach strict discipline, routine and controlled crying.

Crying to me, as  a speech and language therapist, is communication. It's too easy to see the crying as a behaviour on its own. It's a symptom of an underlying issue. The baby is trying to tell us something. If we can sort out the problem, we can stop the crying. Leaving a baby to cry is teaching him that his attempts to communicate are not important and so he will learn that this is not a worthwhile activity. It doesn't however take away the reason why he was crying. He will still be hungry, thirsty, anxious, etc
My first baby cried almost all the time but I never left him to cry. I picked him up and cuddled him and he stopped. I much later found out he had serious glue ear and so it hurt him to lie down. When I picked him up it made him feel better.  How awful would I have felt if I had listened to the advice everyone freely gave me to let him cry? Incidently, why is it when you have a new born everyone thinks you cant make decisions for yourself and gives advice about anything and everything when they wouldnt normally dream of doing so?

I  hear about so called 'good babies' but what is it that makes them good? Is it because they aren't communicating? A baby who just lies there may be easy to have around but I much prefer one who wants to interact. Most will want to, given the opportunity. Jayne, excellent nursery teacher I know told me about a visit to a friend and her baby. The baby lay in his carrycot in the same room while the adults chatted. Jayne went over to the baby and interacted with him. When she stopped, he cried. The parent was probably not very pleased but the baby had really enjoyed Jayne's attention and interaction and wanted more. He was unhappy when she moved away and protested in the only way he could. Babies are pre-wired to enjoy and benefit from interaction. We need to remember that communication is about listening too. We must be better listeners.

For adults to have good mental health, they need to feel appreciated, loved and secure. This study shows that babies do too. How appreciated, loved and secure do they feel if they are left to cry?

You can read more by Margot Sunderland in her excellent book, available from Amazon 


Wednesday 21 September 2011

Is Sponge Bob Square Pants bad for my child?

The Daily Mail reported on an interesting story last week about a link between cartoons and impaired short term memory. In case you missed it:

Watching fast-paced cartoons harms toddlers’ ability to concentrate and solve logic-based puzzles, as well as undermining their short-term memory, according to research. 

Four-year-olds shown clips of animations with rapid scene changes, such as the popular SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon, performed significantly worse in problem-solving and attention tests than those shown slower sequences.
Psychologists who led the research believe that watching animations with constant changes of setting can over-tax young children’s brains, especially the part that controls ‘executive function’ – including goal-directed behaviour, working memory and delay of gratification.

Dr Angeline Lillard, of the University of Virginia in the U.S., said that while her experiments only showed children performed worse immediately after viewing the cartoons, the findings backed up other studies that found longer-term effects.

‘Our results are consistent with other research showing long-term negative associations between entertainment television and attention,’ explained Dr Lillard, whose study is published last week in the journal Pediatrics.

Previous studies suggest many children of pre-school age watch more than 90 minutes of television per day. A growing body of psychological research has linked healthy executive function to sociability and academic success.

‘Connecting fast-paced television viewing to deficits in executive function, regardless of whether they are transient, has profound implications for children’s cognitive and social development,’ said Dr Dimitri Christakis, of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, University of Washington, Seattle, US. 

‘Put simply, television is both good and bad. The quantity of media, such as television, has been an unduly emphasised part of the story. It is not that quantity is unimportant, but the effects of media are more down to what is watched than how much is watched.’

Read more:

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Saturday 17 September 2011

Have you heard of No Pens Wednesday?

This September the Hello theme is 'Back to school'. They're calling on every school to take part in a landmark event, No Pens Day Wednesday on Wednesday 28th September.

Schools will spend one day putting down their pens and focusing on speaking and listening. No Pens Day Wednesday is backed by Jean Gross, the Government's Communication Champion for Children, and other curriculum experts including Sir Jim Rose, Andrew Pollard, Mick Waters and Robin Alexander.

If the 28th September doesn't work for you, pick another day that suits. Sign up now to take part and you could win up to £1,500 of resources for your school.

How to run your No Pens Day Wednesday
Please click here to download the activity pack, which gives you guidance on how to run the day and other important information.

The activity pack refers to a number of additional downloads, which are available here:
Primary schools assembly template
Secondary schools assembly template
Sample staff meeting content
Ways of recording
Letter to parents
Press release
Photo call notice
Information on English as an additional language
Bring the Noise
Primary lesson plans and activity templates
For primary schools, we've developed a number of lesson plans and activity templates for you to use and adapt. Follow the links below to download:
Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5
Year 6
Activity templates
Secondary activity templates and plans
For secondary schools's we've developed a number of activity templates and lesson plans for you to use and adapt. Follow the links below to download:

Activity templates

Sign up now and you could win £1,500 of resources
Schools that take part in No Pens Day Wednesday could win up to £1,500 of resources. The Communication Trust will work with the winning schools to create prize packages that best meet their needs.

You've got to be in it to win it - so if you haven't already registerd for No Pens Day Wednesday, complete this form to register your interest. More information about the categories for the competition are in the activity pack.
Please click here to read the full terms and conditions.
Think about getting involved but need more information?By clicking here you can download a presentation to give you more information about No Pens Day Wednesday.
Please help the campaign by telling others about No Pens Day Wednesday
Pass this information onto your colleagues and friends or click here to download text that you can use for newsletters, website etc.
Or you can order copies of the No Pens Day Wednesday flyer here to share with your colleagues, friends and family.

We want to work with you to shout about your involvement in No Pens Day Wednesday to your local media. Press release and photo-call templates are available and a toolkit Bring the Noise advises you on how to make your story stand out from the crowd.

To discuss local media opportunities in detail, contact Laura Smith, Media and Campaign Manager on 020 7843 2519 or

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Parents, has your child got Specific Language Impairment?

Parents and families of children and young people with Specific Language Impairment (SLI)
now have access to the first comprehensive guide on SLI, officially launched today by
I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and Afasic.
Commissioned by The Communication Trust, as part of the Hello campaign, the SLI
Handbook aims to provide a clear and concise guide on SLI, to help identify and support
children with this ‘invisible’ difficulty. Endorsed by Jean Gross, the Government’s
Communication Champion, this handbook will help both parents and practitioners to better
understand the issue, find practical ways to support children and young people with SLI and
signpost to further support.
About 7% of all children and young people have SLI, and are often as intelligent, able and
healthy as other children, except they have enormous difficulty talking and understanding
language. SLI is not caused by any known neurological, sensory, intellectual or emotional
difficulty, so many children and young people across the UK have needs that may be missed
or misdiagnosed. SLI is a very broad term, with some children having mild problems that are
short-lived, with others having severe and persistent difficulties with both understanding and
The SLI Handbook uses clear language and illustrations to ensure it is accessible to parents
and professionals who will encounter children with these needs. This will include: teachers,
TAs, SENCOs, Educational Psychologists, SLTs, Paediatricians and Occupational
Mandy Grist, I CAN Communication Advisor and SLI Handbook author, said, “Parents and
practitioners often tell us there isn’t one place to find comprehensive information about SLI.
The Bercow Review of Services for Children and Young People with Speech, Language and
Communication Needs (SLCN) in 2008 found that 77% of parents did not get the information
and support that they needed when they needed it. SLI is often misunderstood and ‘invisible’ as children try to hide their difficulties by imitating others or their frustrations come out
through negative behaviour. Finally, families and practitioners can use this handbook to help
identify, understand and support these children and young people so they can live life to the
full and achieve their potential.”
Linda Lascelles, Afasic Chief Executive, said, “At the heart of the Hello campaign is
supporting children and families affected by speech, language and communication
difficulties, including SLI.  7% of all children struggle in school and throughout their lives with
this ‘invisible’ difficulty. The SLI Handbook is an essential resource to empower parents and
families by providing them with easy to understand information on SLI. The SLI Handbook
was written by I CAN and Afasic with parents specifically in mind, and will give them
accessible information and useful guidance from the first instance when their child’s needs
are identified, through to accessing the right services and how to support children throughout
their education.”
A parent of child with SLI, said, “The handbook explains SLI clearly and in an easy to
understand way.  We found it very difficult to get any information when our child was
diagnosed, especially a clear explanation of SLI. This is a really helpful booklet and will
definitely be very useful and informative to other parents.”

For more information, interviews and pictures, please contact Emma Selim (Press and PR Officer) or 0207 843 254

Friday 9 September 2011

Are speaking and understanding skills located in the same part of the brain?

Thank you to Mediplacements for allowing us to use this:

A new study claims to lay to rest the debate as to whether speaking and understanding are located in the same part of the brain.

According to the research, published in journal Psychological Science, speaking and understanding are located in the same area of the brain.

Scientists at the Donders Institute at the Radboud University Nijmegen developed technology which allowed an insight into a moving brain - required to study the brains of those who are talking.

Functional MRI technology was used to measure brain activity in those who were either listening to sentences or speaking sentences.

In order to prompt the participants to say the right kind of sentences, authors designed a picture of an action with one person coloured green and the other red so their order in the sentence was clear.

Researchers were then able to work out where in the brain three different speech tasks were occurring.

Computing meaning, coming up with the words and building a grammatical sentence were all seen to take place in the same area.

Researcher Laura Menenti, of the University of Glasgow, explained that although it sometimes appears that those with comprehension issues may be able to speak well, and vice versa, this is not always true.

"Our data suggest that these problems would be expected to always at least partly coincide. On the other, our data confirm the idea that many different processes in the language system, such as understanding meaning or grammar, can at least partly, be damaged independently of each other," she said.

This follows a paper published in journal Nature Neuroscience which suggested protein harmonin, known to play a part in sensing sound in the inner ear, could also be involved in sending information to the brain.

If this is the case, it would explain why the mutation of the protein in Usher syndrome, is associated with the most severe form of the disease.

Written by Megan Smith from Speech Therapy News, Mediplacements

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Wednesday 7 September 2011

What treatments are available for ASD? Positive approaches and interventions

In these days of 'I'll just google it....' we can all access a wealth of information and advice. However, as with anything you come across, the information must be viewed with a  great deal of caution. This is especially true with anything that involves children and particularly pertinent when it comes to ASD. If a parent has just received a diagnosis or maybe just suspects that their child may not be developing language or social skills as they should, the desire to search the web for information is compelling. There are two points I would like to make: 1. There is a dearth of utter rubbish about ASD and intervention and 2. The quote I really like is 'when you have met one person with autism....... you have met one person with autism'. This means that one size does not fit all in the world of ASD therapy/approaches.
With this in mind, I was delighted to read the Options Group's latest newsletter in which their expert Geoff Evans gives an overview of some of the more reliable ones. I have permission to show it here:
A quick search of the internet will produce a vast array of approaches and interventions many of them promising to almost work miracles. Deciding whether to use an approach or which will be most appropriate can be very difficult. It is important to consider the impacts on the individual with autism as it may cause high levels of anxiety and stress.
In this article I present a few thoughts for your consideration and references to more detailed information.
Inclusion of any specific approach does not mean that either I or Options Group approves of it but it is included to represent the variety of approaches available to parents and professionals.
I have placed approaches and interventions under a number of loose headings, these include:
Approaches and Intervention
Behaviour based
ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis)
This approach uses observation and measurement of behaviour to understand individual’s behaviour and how they learn. This is used to promote learning and development. Information can be found
TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children)
This provides a framework for understanding autism and enabling independence through its emphasis upon structured teaching. For further information on this approach refer to
Interaction based approaches
There are a number of approaches that are based around interaction. In general terms they include, in their aims, creating an enjoyable none threatening communication environment in which individuals learn to accept the presence of others and share personal space, pay attention, take turns in communication and begin to use and appreciate the benefits of communication. One of the key features of these approaches is that they take their lead from the individual with autism.
As an introduction the following books and articles may be of interest,
"Finding you finding me, using interaction to get in touch with people with severe disabilities combined with autistic spectrum disorders" by Phoebe Caldwell.
"A practical guide to intensive interaction" by Melanie Nind and David Hewitt
"A good introduction to the floor time which is a developmental interaction approach developed" by Stanely Greenspan, which can be found at .html
Sensory based
Whilst there are a number of approaches that are predominately about understanding and meeting sensory differences, many approaches such as TEACCH and SPELL have recognition of the importance of meeting sensory needs and integrating them within their framework.
Sensory Perception Issues in Autism by Olga Bogdashina is a great reference point which looks into the sensory and autism world.
Another informative book is "Living Sensationally" by Winni Dunn. This is not autism specific but provides good understanding of the senses.
Whilst these books do not advocate a specific approach they provide a good starting place for further research.
Communication based
Many approaches and interventions in autism are based around meeting the communication needs of individuals with autism. These include well established approaches such as PECS ( For further information on communication and autism based approaches visit
The aid of visual supports which are used to communicate is widely accepted. A great information source can be found on the NAS website in the living with autism section,
IT based
Framework Approaches
Many organisations including Options Group work to a framework approach rather than implementing a single approach. Implementing such an approach allows us to respond to uniqueness and individual needs and requirements. Furthermore utilising such an approach will assist in responding to innovation. The NAS - SPELL framework is a widely recognised approach,
Positive approaches and expectations
Low arousal
SPELL can be easily adapted to suit various provisions, for homes, schools or even residential provisions. When looking at any intervention or approach it is important to look at the values underpinning it. As a minimum I believe they should include recognising individuality, a commitment to working with the person with autism, based on honesty, integrity, equality, openness and underpinned by sound independent evaluation and research.
Final thoughts
My personal view of what contributes to successful approaches and interventions
(1) Centralise the individual with autism and actively engage them in decisions. This often means putting extra effort into understanding their perspective and wishes, particularly with those who struggle to make their own decisions. Within the SPELL approach this is addressed through the empathy component.
(2) The approach enables you to get a wider understanding of autism through various perspectives. This understanding is based upon current research whenever possible.
Structure is a key component of such approaches as TEACCH. The following website has examples of using structure to address such needs as toilet training and provides a good example of how structure is used. 
(4) Emphasis upon the individual’s preferred form of communication needs. There is a variety of communication support available to parents and professionals, for example Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) and a number of symbols based products.
As mentioned above, recently a number of IT based systems have become widely available. A good example of this is touch phones and easy downloadable apps. If considering this type of communication support it is well worth considering the different ranges of apps available. Organisations such as Autism and Computing at,htmlcan offer useful advice not only about technology and communication but also about their use in terms of structure and other benefits.
(5) Be very clear about what you want from the intervention or approach.
We would all like an approach that solved all the difficulties we are facing or provides solutions to all social, communication, interactions and learning challenges experienced by individuals with autism. However no single approach can do this therefore it is important to identify and prioritise what we want the approach or intervention to address. Simply making a list of what you want from the approach and matching this against what the approach offers can be worth the time spent.
(6) Being clear about what the approach is able to offer and if it is capable of doing what is stated.
Significant and more permanent changes and improvements are often only achieved through hard work over time. Personally, I am always sceptical about approaches that claim too much and particularly to achieve it quickly. A good source of information on intervention, treatments and therapies for autism and current research around this area can be found on the Research Autism site which is provided by an independent charity (
(7) Being clear about the downside of the intervention or approach.
Some of the common downsides of intervention and approaches can include,
  • Having to invest large amounts of time in implementing the intervention. This may not be possible with all the other demands upon you or your organisation. The same is also true of other resources such as equipment.
  • The positive impact being outweighed by the negative not for the individual with autism but for the whole family or organisation.
(8) Addresses the need for meaningful and leisure physical activity.
This is more of a personal approach, however I prefer to see individuals with autism in a holistic way and recognise the importance of engaging the whole person. For example, providing for leisure and recreation as well as addressing common areas of need such as communication etc.
In conclusion
There are a variety of interventions and approaches that will enrich the lives of individuals with autism and their families however they should be approached with a degree of healthy scepticism and acceptance. In order to be effective we are required to do the basics in terms of consistency and structure.
To subscribe to their newsletter so you can regularly read Geoff's advice and about the Options group work