Sunday, 28 April 2013

Listen as you walk

Ever been listening to the radio for the weather forecast and missed it because you were washing up?

That's because we as adults, have learned to filter out background noise. Our children have sometimes learned to block out all of the sounds before they know which are the important ones.

Listen, don't just hear
To help our children to listen to the sounds around them and not just hear them, we need to let them know they are important and point out that they have meaning.

When you're walking down the road, or in the park, or just pottering at home getting all the jobs done (ha! Yea right!) you can listen to all the noises and point them out to your little one. Some are loud - Hoover, shower, lawnmower, tractor, aeroplane, lorry etc. some are quiet - birds cheeping, boiling kettle, tap dripping, clock ticking, bicycle, etc.

Have fun with listening

Remember Stop Look Listen?  My previous post was about pausing before speaking, and similar principles apply now: "oh," you gasp! "What was THAT noise? ... Listen... ..." Then, kneel down to be at the same level as your little one, and just point. 

By doing that and not constantly commenting on everything you can hear, helps littlies focus on those important noises and automatically makes it a game. 

Switch it off!

None of this will be easy if you have the telly or radio on, even quietly.  So sorry if you're addicted to the Radio in the morning, or Reality TV during the day, but you're going to have to turn it off. Not down, but off!

What to expect

Recently, I've suggested this type of activity to a few families whose children aren't speaking. After focusing on this pre-speech activity for 6-8 weeks, the children are now much more vocal in nursery, they are using a wider range of sounds at home, and are attaching meaning to those sounds (i.e. pointing and making a noise). The children are involving the adults much more, and have developed shared attention - they want to involve others in their world and activities. Once children are tuning in and have a level of shared attention, they may be ready to start to listen to sounds for speech...

What other listening games do you play?  Leave me a comment below to let me know!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Hey Baby - Pre-verbal and pre-intentional skills

When my eldest child was just a few weeks old, I had a call from a good speechy friend from uni who had also just had a baby. "What do I do with her?" We both asked. "How do you talk to a six week old baby?"

There was no social smile, no reciprocal interaction and no response to singing - yet.


After lots of lullabies, cuddling, imitation of her coos and squeaks, there was suddenly a smile! Not wind - but a real social smile, showing she'd recognised her mummy!  Many of the families I work with are still looking for their equivalent of that social smile - 18 months on, or more.

How will I understand her?

Being a baby is stressful! They need to learn your touch, your voice, your breath, your smell. All of this is reassuring, and helps them learn.

As parents we also need to learn our baby's communication. Was that a hungry cry, a tired whimper, a strop (yes - I believe that my daughter had her first tantrum at around 12 weeks because she didn't want her nap!), or an 'I want to be left alone' cry?!

We need to be consistent.  If you think a sound or movement means something, trust your instinct.  Teach your child what he or she has just said by repeating the song or cuddles you were giving.  

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Children learn through repetition and reinforcement. They make a sound or cry, and as we respond to them, they learn they can have an impact on their environment. And so they do it again. And there you have your first communication! Ta dah!

Children with complex neurological conditions may not 'cry' in the same way.  They may respond to their environment more by stiffening or making a movement, or an involuntary noise.  Any of these reactions may become meaningful, if we can keep a log of what the child does to indicate likes and dislikes, and then try to repeat and reinforce their response to us.  This is also true for children with little or no language such as severe developmental and communication disorders.  

Don't give up

With normally developing babies, we see progress sometimes within a few days or less. With children with severe complex needs, these changes may take months. However, I believe that by tuning in to your child and understanding what each of their sounds or movements means, you can help them to become more interactive and transform those accidental interactions or noises into purposeful communications. All children have potential, if we can adjust our expectations, and set very tiny, but achievable aims.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Stop, look, listen

Working with children at various stages of early development, I have sometimes heard the following from parents:

"I talk to him like he's an adult... I want him to have a good vocabulary..."

As parents we all want to teach our children as much as we can and give them the best start. However, when they have difficulties in learning language, and/or additional learning needs, we need to adapt what we are doing by slowing things down and by giving them a reason to communicate.


First; stop what you are doing, then; stop yourself responding to your child straight away. Count to 3, or 5! This bit is actually really hard, I've tried it myself. Especially when you've got other little ones running about and interrupting...

Spending time with your littlies makes you finely tuned to their every need and desire, often before they even realise it! So next time you are about to give little Johnny the car that's out of reach, just stop for a few seconds...


Watch what he does when you don't just pass that car to him. Does he look puzzled that his car hasn't magically appeared in his hand? Does he make a teenage-like grunt and point to what he wants? Does he actually change his mind and decide he'd like the crayons that are next to the car instead?

By watching, we can see exactly what the child is interested in and then we can...


Little Johnny may have had the ability to try to say "car" for a while, but not had the opportunity to practice. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. So, if the first time he says "uh" the next time he might say "ar" and the next time "tar", until he finds a word that you can consistently recognise as "car".

Once you can give your child the time and opportunities to talk, and they realise there is a benefit to talking (I.e. things will happen for them much faster), there should be no stopping them... In my experience, this is the breakthrough moment for children with any number of abilities or disabilities, and can be quite amazing to see the difference in a child who can suddenly make their needs known!



Well done! For being patient, and not jumping in, and giving him the opportunity to try! It's really hard to do, especially if he has other siblings (I'm talking from experience! ) but it's not impossible, and it certainly is very rewarding to watch your child's confidence in communication developing.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Let's pretend

Hands up who remembers running around the playground with just one toggle of your duffle coat done up, pretending to be a superhero?

Now, who wishes they still could get away with it?!

I, for one, would love to and I do! Granted, I do have my own two small children to give me an excuse, but it is so very liberating (not to mention I've probably burned loads of calories running round in the freezing cold this Easter so feel fine to have another one of those Easter eggs!!).


So much of speech and language is learned through play. Obvious, once you think of it, isn't it? Little minds are programmed to learn through experience. When we're at the park, or even when we're at home, we might see or hear an aeroplane and then race around trying to catch each other. Add in vocabulary like "plane", "fast", "zoom", "sky", "high", "look" (I could go on...) and you can see how many new words your little one can learn in a quick 5 mins of excitement.


Your little one won't mind if you haven't found the picture cards which match the topic. They won't notice if you make a mistake, and you won't notice if they get the answer or the pronunciation a bit muddled. Just use one or two words for everything you want to tell/ teach them and you've got it. I am talking about those children whose language is at the two word level or below, or those who are developing at around the 18month stage.


Of course, you don't have to be outdoors and running around to introduce language through play. You could just as easily be lying on the floor with your child who perhaps doesn't walk. Or, have them on you lap helping by holding their arms to make the actions and model the sounds required within the game.

Some favourite games in our house are pretending to be animals and nibbling at imaginary bones; making cups of tea with or without utensils; rescuing each other onto the sofa boats from crocodiles living in the rug swamp!


Remember to include some exciting phrases such as "uh-oh" and "where are you?" Which have great sing-song intonation. Some children who find it hard to learn language, might find the tuneful pattern easier to copy rather than the specifics involved in pronouncing the words correctly. These phrases are also very exciting and motivating.


This post is my first on play, I am planning on covering more ideas for playing with children who have a range of impairments such as hearing, visual, and physical. If you would like to hear about those, leave me a comment below!


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Dear Zoo

We all have our favourite children's books, ones we remember being read to us, and the ones we could read for ourselves. Among my favourites were 'the Tiger Who Came to Tea' and 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'! 

One I have grown to love as an adult and read frequently to my own children is 'Dear Zoo'.  I love the repetition and predictability, and for this reason it is also a great therapy tool! 

The flaps make it perfect for anticipation as well as encouraging child participation.  Also, who hasn't made all the animal sounds? By the way, what is the sound a camel makes?!

So, how can we make it accessible to those children with communication difficulties?


I have used picture matching along with a book, or a lesson in one of the severe learning difficulty special schools I worked in, it really helped to keep the child (who had severe autism) focused to the teacher, even where he had severely impaired auditory processing skills.  

With the children I work with, I would start with teaching the animal vocabulary and give them a choice of pictures to match up with the animal under the flap.  Start with showing two, and asking "where's the ...[animal]?" 

As you can see, I found some similar pictures from a Noah's ark story book I had at home to use for picture matching, and didn't need to use pre-prepared symbols or photos. 


Repetitive stories are great for children who use AAC devices, particularly when first introducing them.  Big mack switches are very simple to record with a single message e.g. "So they sent me a..."  

Other devices with more switches or buttons, or some of the iPad apps can be recorded with other phrases from the book so that you and your child can take it in turns to read together.  What a lovely way to be able to share a bedtime story with your 'non-verbal' child?!

What other books would you like to use, or do you use in therapy?  How else would you use my choice of book?  I would love to hear your thoughts below!