Tuesday 31 March 2015

Helping children with SEND to communicate better? Use your tablet computer to help their learning and development.

Guest blog from Insane Logic

There’s a wealth of mobile software, apps and technology devices that make our everyday lives that little bit easier.

The past few years have seen phenomenal growth in the tablet computer industry: last year alone sales of PCs dropped by a staggering 98% due to the popularity of laptops and tablet computers, according to the Marketing Tech Blog.

It is estimated that 41% of people in the UK now regularly use a tablet. Additionally, 57% of adults with children use the tablet for educational purposes (Rideout, 2014).

The intuitive and interactive nature of these technologies is particularly exciting for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), says Zoe Peden, co-founder of social enterprise Insane Logic.

This innovative company believes everyone should have the right to communicate and has set about harnessing new technology to change the way we help children and young people to communicate.

It’s estimated that over one million children in the UK – that’s around one in ten – have SLCN. The stakes are high: 50-90% of children with persistent speech, language and communication difficulties go on to have reading difficulties and two thirds of 7-14 year olds with serious behaviour problems have language impairments.

The good news is that the advent of tablets and software are giving us tools we’ve never had access to before. Insane Logic has harnessed this technology in partnership with resident Speech and Language Therapists through the development of MyChoicePad – a language development platform for tablets that uses symbols and signs from Makaton.

Top tips on using table devices

·         Things have moved on since the days when the main people using technology in Speech and Language Therapy were AAC practitioners. There are numerous platforms around which can aid and enhance your work supporting children, young people and adults with SLCN.

·         Some of the best pieces of software allow you to measure and track progress. When setting up user profiles, create character names for the people you support - which also helps safeguard privacy!

·         Exploit the camera and video functions of tablet devices – put children firmly in control. This is such a motivating way to practice developing steady hands, a careful eye and a sense of timing.

·         As a value for money resource, one mobile device loaded up with a range of useful apps can bring a little sparkle into your work across a huge caseload.

·         Engage staff that you work with by scheduling a regular ‘app chat’ slot in team meetings. Map out how individual apps could enhance learning. What language and guidance could the adult provide to support learning and scaffold language development?

·         Buy an inexpensive cable adaptor to allow children and young people to project directly from the tablet onto your large display screen. It’s a wonderful way to build confidence in speaking to groups, and can make an exciting addition to a lesson or assembly!

·         Keep business and pleasure safely separated by designating tablet devices as wholly therapeutic resources - keeping documents, mail and admin out of your sessions.

Mencap, the UK’s leading charity for people with learning disabilities, collaborated with Insane Logic to enhance their ‘Bags of Ability’ sensory storytelling programme for children aged 2-7 and their carers.

Sensory storytelling allows children with learning difficulties to make sense of who they are and what is happening in their lives. MyChoicePad helped the storytelling teams to build on the communication work they were already doing and supported the vocabulary that the children had learnt in their storybooks.

For the first time ever, Mencap was able to measure children’s learning week-on-week, making it far easier to track their progress.

 “You’re able to gauge whether [the child] has understood or learnt [the word], it’s not just your guess or hoping that they got it,” says Angela Bower, a member of the storytelling team. “Using traditional storytelling, we wouldn’t really know how much that child understood.”

She added: “It was nice to encourage parents and teachers to see how you can use technology in a really positive way. If your child has communication difficulties, then having the tablet as an interface between you and the child really, really helps.”

MyChoicePad is affordable, fun and easy to use. It reinforces language and develops understanding. It is now used by a variety of people with differing needs – from pre-school, mainstream and special schools, to adults with learning disabilities in supported living environments.

Research with our MyChoicePad users has found that 98% see an improvement in pre-school children’s vocabulary, while 94% report an increase in school-age children’s independence.

At Insane Logic, we know that new technology is more than just fun for children with SEND - using language development platforms like MyChoicePad can provide the key to a more independent and fulfilled life.

For more information on Insane Logic, visit www.insanelogic.co.uk. Find them on Twitter @InsaneLogicUK, and on Facebook at facebook.com/mychoicepadapp.

Friday 20 March 2015

How do I know if my 2 year old's language is developing normally?

I've just had a very familiar conversation with a parent of a two year old. They don't know any other children of that age and don't come into contact with any. They do socialise but with older or younger ones. Their little boy is saying 3 words 'mama', 'dada' and 'car'. should they be worried.

This simple guide to normal early language development:

13 months of age: first words emerge (e.g. "here", "mama", "bye bye", "kitty")

17 months of age: fifty word vocabulary

18 months of age: First two-word combinations (e.g. "more juice", "here kitty", "cup floor")

24 months (2 years) of age: Average length of sentence is now two words with "-ing" emerging (e.g. "playing", "hiding", "running")

30 months of age: Average length of sentence is now 3.1 words with "is" emerging (e.g. "My car's gone!")

36 months (3 years) of age: Average length of sentence is 4.1 words with indirect requests emerging (e.g. "Can I have some cookies?")

Should they be worried?  We wouldn't expect everyone to understand a 2 year old so he might be saying words which are just unclear. We'd want to look at his interaction skills: does he have shared attention, make eye contact? We'd also want to know about his understanding: does he follow simple instructions or rather does he follow visual clues? There's a difference to understanding words or understanding situations. Think about if you were in the middle of Russia, you'd cope by following non-verbal cues and looking for any clues to what was meant. If you say, lets go in the car and they go to the door, if you have your car keys in your hand and your coat on, they may NOT be listening to the words.

Talking to his mother, I'm not too worried and I've given her some suggestions to try. He was premature and has been a little late with all his milestones. He's also a very passive child. We'll have a look at the suggestions next time for developing reasons, means and opportunities to communicate.


Tuesday 17 March 2015

Choose carefully where you tell your children about your divorce

Many parents feel anxious and worried about how to tell their children about their impending divorce as it is a major life change.

I always recommend choosing your time carefully. You must been in a “good place” yourself as if you are tearful, angry or overwhelmed your child will feel insecure and anxious and distressed. Never tell your children just before important events such as a birthday or a friend’s party that they have been looking forward to, or a designated special day out. The best time is early in a weekend or school holiday where you are on hand to be around and on hand to answer their questions, reassure them and give them lots of hugs and cuddles if they need them. Give them time to absorb what’s happening.

Children are very perceptive and often know more than you think. Their concerns will revolve primarily around their own needs; they want to know how the divorce will affect them. Will they have to move home? Will they still keep their pets? Will they still go to Cornwall with Granny in July? One client mentioned that the second question that her son asked her was "Will we have to return to dial-up internet?"  So be prepared to give your children information about how the divorce will affect their 'day-to-day' lives. They don't want to give up their friends or change schools because you are getting divorced and remember that the age of your child is an important factor to consider in what you say. A simple and direct summary of the situation is often a good beginning. Very young children will have a limited understanding of the meaning of 'divorce,' while older children will have more questions which guide the conversation.

Sue Atkins is an internationally recognised Parenting Expert, Broadcaster, Speaker and Author of the Amazon best selling books  "Parenting Made Easy – How To Raise Happy Children” & “Raising Happy Children for Dummies" one in the famous black and yellow series as well as author of the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She has just launched the 1st in her series of Parenting Made Easy apps for iPhones and iPads – The Secrets To Well Behaved Kids https://itunes.apple.com/app/sue-atkins-parenting-made/id439743586?mt=8

Friday 13 March 2015

Do you work with 11-16 year olds with SLCN?

Afasic is looking for trainers to work with groups of young people who have SLCN.  This free training event will take place on the weekend of 25/26 April in York.  The Saturday session will run from 10am-4pm and on Sunday from 10am-1pm.
They are looking for professionals who are working with the 11-16 age group and who on completion of the training weekend can go back to their work settings and deliver self-advocacy sessions to a group of young people who have speech, language and communication difficulties. You may be working in an educational setting or an out of school environment.
Closing date: 27 March.  Find out more below:

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Children who take your hand and pull you

Last month we talked about children with social interaction difficulties who can be described as having their own agenda. The next group of children are those Hanen describe as 'requesters' We have several children who are at this stage on our caseload.

Toni is a 3-year-old child at the Requester stage, He communicates mainly by pulling or leading others to request things he wants. When he wants to watch the TV, he takes his mum's hand and pulls her towards the TV, when he wants a biscuit he leads his Dad to the kitchen cupboard where the biscuit tin is kept. His attention span is very short and it is difficult to get him to co-operate for very long even on favourite activities. He makes high pitched noises and has some limited 'jargon' but says no words.

Louisa is 2 and a half and loves to watch cartoons, She can echo some of the common repeated phrases but has no functional expressive language. She is a happy child and entertains herself until it's time for her to end an activity or go somewhere as she doesn't understand why she should finish or where she's going. She is responding well to a 'now and next' board and photos/visuals to help her understand.Attention span is improving. She is requesting tickles, food and games. Her nursery uses makaton and she is beginning to pick up signs to use for her requests e.g. biscuit. drink, sweet.

It can be very difficult to work with a child at this level due to their attention span but it is actually a very positive stage because the child at a Requester stage is beginning to realise that they can influence their environment and especially you! By leading you or taking your hand they can get things they want or enjoy. This is extremely significant in the development of communication.

At this stage we encourage games such as Peek-a-boo, round and round the garden, ring a ring a roses etc so they can take an active part in getting you to keep playing. If we pause they can look, move or even jiggle to get you to keep going. Later  we will aim for them to verbalise. We can also use wind up toys, ready-steady-go games or 'row row the boat'.

Children at this level may:

  • interact briefly
  • use sounds to focus or calm themselves
  • echo words or phrases

These are all things we can build upon. Activities can be made to be really fun!

If you have a child at this stage, it's very worthwhile seeing a speech and language therapist to help you.