Thursday, 28 July 2011

Do you want to do what's best for your child?

Did you hear the Communication Tsar Jean Gross talking about children' s low levels of speech, language and communication on Radio 4 today? This area is the most important area of a child's development and underpins most of the others.  We have children who have a specific difficulty through no-one's fault (1.2 million) but many, many more who have deprived language so they may not even know their own name or that they even have a name by the time they come to nursery. Addressing this issue is 'the Holy Grail of breaking the problems today,' asserts Neil Wilson, Head Teacher from Manchester.This is so true and one of the reasons why I started the Smart Talkers pre-School Communication Groups

All parents want what's best for their children but the problem is, they don't know enough about the development of communication and their essential role in that process. We need desperately to address this, which is exactly what the Hello Campaign is attempting to do. Unfortunately it's a massive task and one which needs to be regular, consistent and ongoing. Smart Talkers have several strategies in our support of this aim:
  •  Baby Talk to discuss the important relevant issues with parents or parents-to-be e.g. how old should the baby be before we need to talk to them?, TV, forwards facing pushchairs, nursery ryhmes etc. The Smart Talkers representative leads the discussion with all the up to date information, she doesn't tell them what to think but by the end they have all the ideas to make their own minds up
  • Teeny Talkers which are groups for 2 - 3 year olds
  • Small Talkers which are groups to help prepare 3-4 year olds for school
  • Other signing groups, story-times, demonstration training all designed to work on speech, language and communication
While we do offer more formal training to parents, carers and staff, I feel that the groups of parents who really need this information are not likely to sit down to learn in these traditional ways. I find that informal, low-key demonstration is much more valuable. We're not telling them what to do, as again that can be detrimental, we're showing  and suggesting. In any event, they are not threatened by a woman sitting on the floor singing with her hand in a puppet, so they are more relaxed and open to suggestion! The first session I did at a Children's Centre was a great example: the parents had been told to come along by their social workers. They knew that it was to be a  speech therapist running the groups and that their children all had delayed language. They came along full of resentment; the hostility almost palpable!! At the end of the first session, the folded arms had relaxed a little and they agreed somewhat reluctantly to attend the following week of their own accord. By week 3, I still had the originals apart from one family and some parents who were trying the activities, by week 6 they were all doing the activities and singing the songs at home!! 

In case you missed it:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

End of an era: Small Talkers on their way!

It was with some sadness but a real feeling of satisfaction, that we said goodbye to our Small Talkers from the Smart Talkers Pre-School Communication groups. These are the children who have been attending our classes and are now on their way to school. It's been fantastic to work with these children and we have had some real successes. I thought I might share a small selection of some of the children's stories with you:

P came from another nursery which he had been asked to leave because of his poor behaviour. He came to the group with very poor attention and listening skills. He had no idea of turn-taking and talked over both staff and children. Consequently his receptive language was poor as he could not listen. He had developed diversion tactics to hide this. Now he is able to sit and attend in the group for the entire session. He knows exactly when it is his turn and is able to carry out all the activities. He can carry out tasks with 3 information carrying words so still has a little way to go (need 4 in correct sequence for school) but is doing very well. He enjoys the praise that comes with success and seeks this now rather than the attention associated with his poor behaviour. He needs work on verbal reasoning as he is very literal and narrative.

E had very little self confidence so that her performance at nursery was affected. Her understanding and expressive skills were poor because of this. We have worked on her confidence and have built this up; she can now put up her hand to answer most questions. We still need to make sure she has the correct set up i.e. she hates to go first and will then often clam up.

A had a marked processing delay which affected all his communication i.e. if you asked him a question, he would take a few seconds to take in what you had asked him before answering. He was also very easily disturbed so that he would withdraw and not give anything. It was often not apparent what was bothering him. He has made great progress so that he can answer most concrete her and now questions. He still has immature speech sounds.

W’s parents and older sister were babying her so that she got everything she wanted without the need to talk. We’ve looked at reasons, means and opportunities and demonstrated in the group how to simply implement these. She was just using eye-pointing as a means of communication whereas now she is talking in sentences now and is very vocal!

P had no expressive language. He used a system of grunts to get what he wanted. At first it looked as if it was just a lack of parental technique bur as he has made progress it is becoming apparent that there is probably more to the problem. If we hadn’t had the group this would not have been evident for much longer. We were able to alert the multi-disciplinary team. He has now seen the paediatrician and will have some assessment sessions.

We've had some great feedback from the parents and carers.... and we've had great fun!

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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Testing Time for Toddlers

Toddlers in England will be assessed to find out whether they can use basic words, respond to familiar sounds, communicate their needs and play with friends.
A Government overhaul of pre-school education  announced recently will propose giving all parents a written summary of their children’s abilities in key areas between the age of two and three. Ministers claim the test will identify early developmental problems and diagnose special needs at a young age. It comes amid fears that too many children are currently starting school at the age of four or five without the skills needed to make a success of compulsory education. Almost half lack basic social and language skills, figures show.
But Richard House, senior lecturer in psychotherapy at Roehampton University, said the move risked branding children as "failures" at a young age.
"Children are so diverse that to even begin constructing some generalised view of how they should be developing at a certain age is fraught with danger," he said.
A review of Labour’s compulsory “nappy curriculum” published earlier this year found that the existing system of pre-school education in England promoted a tick-box culture that stifled children’s early development.
Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the charity Action for Children, said the so-called Early Years Foundation Stage – introduced in 2008 – was “cumbersome, repetitive and unnecessarily bureucractic”.
She recommended dramatically cutting back in the number of targets youngsters are supposed to meet by their fifth birthday and making a clearer identification of problems at a much earlier stage.
Outlining a revised early years strategy today, the Government is set to accept many of her key recommendations.
The updated framework, which is being put out to consultation, will slash the number of targets all children are supposed to hit by the age of five – from the existing 69 to just 17.
It will also set out plans for a compulsory assessment of all children aged between two and three covering personal, social and emotional development, physical development and communication and language.
Ministers insist the exact nature of the checks should be down to individual nurseries and childminders.
But a draft framework suggests that assessments should focus on whether children are beginning to independently care for themselves, including “pulling off their socks or shoes or getting a tissue when necessary”.
Children should understand “'who', 'what' [and] 'where' in simple questions”, listen with interest when adults read stories and be aware that some actions can hurt or harm others, it says.
Staff should also check that children can play nicely with friends and be aware that “some actions can hurt or harm others”.
Ministers will say that the development checks should sit alongside health visitor checks which are carried out at the age of two.
Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat Children’s Minister, said: "The importance of the early years – as a foundation for life and for future attainment and success – cannot be over estimated. That’s why it’s vital we have the right framework to support high quality early years education.”

The Teeny Talker and Small Talker sessions by Smart Talkers Pre-school Communication Groups are designed especially to help develop children's language and communication skills. they work on everything the child needs using games, puppets, stories and songs. the groups were especially designed to help address the current needs of children. I welcome the introduction of earlier identification because we have shown that early help can mean that children start school with adequate language levels and the ability to attend and listen.
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Saturday, 16 July 2011

Baby Signing Expert

We are delighted to be associated with a brand new site all about signing. Read my thoughts about its positive contribution to the parent-child interaction .

Baby Signing Expert is a not-for-profit site providing free resources and information about baby signing for parents, professionals and care settings in the UK.

Baby signing is an increasingly popular activity that you can do with your baby. Its not hard to see why – the proven benefits of being able to communicate with your baby as their speech develops range from better bonding to accelerated language acquisition.

Baby Signing Expert is a collaboration between Speech and Language Therapists, British Sign Language and Makaton qualified signing teachers, ICAN trained professionals as well as input from Early Years BSL author Cath Smith. 
Supporting your child’s communication development, we’ve got the experience and professional knowledge to gently guide you to success.

Our Goals
1. To provide clear guidelines to enable parents to choose a quality baby signing class
2. To promote best practice, consistency and high standards within the baby signing industry
3. To point carers to classes that can offer an inclusive service, if they or their children are Deaf/ hard of hearing or have delay in speech/ language/communication
4. To provide an accurate, informative and ethical point of reference for parents, child care settings and children’s services.
5. To promote British Sign Language and Deaf Awareness

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Monday, 11 July 2011

Lost for Words: Lost for Life Conference highlights persistent gaps in services for young people with speech, language and communication difficulties

Delegates attending a recent conference, expressed their concern at persistent gaps in services for teenagers and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties and stressed that the proposed NHS reforms could exacerbate the situation. 400 delegates from across the country and overseas met at City University London for the three-day Lost for Words: Lost for Life conference, which was timed to coincide with the National Year of Communication. The event was arranged and hosted by City University London in conjunction with UK charities, I CAN and Afasic, and was opened by the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons. 

The conference was unique in bringing together teachers, teaching support staff, speech and language therapists, psychologists, academic researchers, youth workers and Primary Care Trust managers and Commissioners. It also featured talks from young people who have used speech and language services and their families. Dr. Victoria Joffe, Reader in Developmental Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties, City University London, said that despite the 2008 Bercow review highlighting the gap in speech and language services for secondary aged students, delegates were united in their concern about a continued lack of facilities for this group, as well as for young people with speech, language and communication difficulties in further education and into adulthood. “While some improvements have been made and awareness has been raised in some areas, the reality is that particularly for secondary aged students there are still big inconsistencies in terms of local speech and language resources. It really is a postcode lottery with no uniformity across areas and in most cases significant gaps in services.  “Furthermore, there are also virtually no services available for young adults after they have left school. “Research suggests that speech and language problems in secondary school aged children and young adults are more likely to be complex and are associated with other difficulties including memory, attention, behaviour and social and emotional functioning.  “There is also clear evidence that without the right services, young people who don’t have the right access to speech and language services are vulnerable to being left behind and disadvantaged in life, so this is clearly a big issue.” “Research shows that students in secondary schools, who have not been picked up previously in primary school, are showing significant speech, language and communication difficulties which impact on educational attainment and general well being. These students need to be identified as quickly and early as possible in secondary school and a range of appropriate and effective support structures need to be put in place.” Delegates and speakers also expressed their concern that the proposed NHS reforms could worsen the situation, particularly if it results in the further fragmentation of health, education and social services.

“Inconsistency in commissioning, local austerity measures, coupled with the probability that the proposed NHS reforms may result in less integration between health, education and welfare services, means that we are facing a situation where things could get even worse,” said Dr Joffe. Mary Hartshorne, Head of Quality and Outcomes at I CAN, said that the event highlighted the need to move beyond merely identifying the service gaps. 

“Raising awareness of the issues of language and communication in young people at secondary school is not enough. We have to also ensure that there is support in place to ensure these needs are met. Delegates at the conference indicated that more training and support is needed in secondary schools; schools need to have access to programmes and interventions that work for this group. Presenters shared some good examples of the positive impact of this in schools.
“We have come a long way since the last major survey of services to support young people with speech, language and communication needs in 2000. But it is important not to lose this momentum. We know that the relationship between language, literacy skills and learning continues to be important during the secondary years, so a continued focus on supporting young people’s language skills in secondary school is very important, despite increasing pressure on local services.” Linda Lascelles, Afasic Chief Executive, said: “For young people with communication needs, secondary school can be a difficult place. The conference was an opportunity to hear from young people with communication difficulties directly. Young people can have very different perspectives than their teachers or parents on what it is like to be at school and what support they need. Therefore it is imperative that we listen to them. This conference helped to raise these young people’s concerns with a range of practitioners, who will take their messages
back to local schools and service providers.”

The three day conference included a host of keynote talks, symposiums, presentations, workshops and posters which address issues around speech, language and communication, educational attainment, social and emotional functioning, employment and well-being of older children and young people with speech, language and communication needs.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Help! Im worried about my child's school report

Many of our children will be receiving their school reports this week or next, so I have included this blog post from the great team at Talking Matters. As they report, there are many reasons why it might not be good including language and communication causes. Read the post and see if it rings any bells:

School reports are coming out at this time of year and sometimes the results are not what parents or children hoped they would be.  Here are some things that might help if you are concerned about your child’s results:
If your child is having difficulties with learning checking your child’s vision and hearing is a good place to start. Make sure your child is assessed by a professional experienced with testing children. Your GP or child health nurse may be able to recommend a good audiologist and optician in your area. For more information about hearing tests log into and look under “hearing and listening”. Children with a history of ear infections are at a higher risk of learning difficulties. Even a slight hearing loss in one ear can have a significant effect on your child’s learning. Often these can be treated easily so it is important to have these checked.     
Whether your child has a problem with vision or sight or not the next step would be to look at the way your child learns. Even if your child has new glasses or their hearing problem treated they would benefit from further assessment.  There may be other difficulties effecting their learning, they may have developed gaps in their skills and knowledge because of the difficulties they have had and they may need help to catch up.  A child who is one year behind in their school work will have to learn twice as much as other children to catch up by the end of the next year. This is more likely to happen if a child has specialised help targeted directly at the skills they need to develop.
Reading, reading comprehension, spelling and written language are all language based tasks.  A language assessment from a speech pathologist will tell about your child’s ability to understand and use words, sentences, grammar and concepts to communicate; as well as their ability to understand how sounds and letters work when reading and writing.  They can let you know how your child compares to others of the same age; what areas your child needs help in; and how they can get this extra help. Speech pathologists can also help with social skillssuch as understanding and expressing feelings, making friends and communicating with others in social settings.    
If your child has difficulties with handwriting tasks such as forming letter shapes, writing on the lines, writing quickly or neatly without getting tired; an occupational therapy assessment may be useful. OT’s can also help children who have trouble sitting still, keeping on task and concentrating.
If your child is struggling across all areas of learning an intellectual assessment from an educational psychologist can be a good place to start to pin point areas of difficulty and recommend strategies for home and school. Educational psychologists usually do an assessment and make recommendations but don’t usually provide regular ongoing support for a child’s learning; so do ask them to recommend a suitable professional who can do some regular sessions with your child to develop their skills.
If your child is having difficulties with behaviour a child psychologist can be of help to work with you and your child to manage these difficulties and can also provide strategies for school. They will also let you know if further assessment is needed in relation to underlying causes for behavioural issues.  
For more information on learning, literacy and language check our website  You can also download articles, information and activities at on a range of topics about children.