Tuesday, 28 August 2018

'He is stubborn and unco-operative!'

Guest blogpost by Karen Horner:
Stubborn and un co-operative! Oh how many times have I heard that working in mainstream schools. We have come along way in the last 15 years to understand autism yet some schools still continue to use words like stubborn, unco-operative, own agenda, daydream ........need I go on?

Funding has been cut so much that children who need the help and support in schools are either not getting it or are given 1-1 support with teaching assistants who are not trained or experienced in autism. I could tell so many stories but one that really got to me happened a few years ago. I observed a child in a mainstream school and was pleased to see at carpet time that the teacher was ok with the child looking out of the window as she was talking.
When carpet time ended she asked the child what she had been talking about and he duly answered word for word. She then asked him what she had requested him to do and again he answered positively. Going back to his seat he picked up his pen and continued to sit for a while. The T.A approached him and reminded him he needed to put the date on and the learning objective showing him where to put that. He complied and proceeded to also write the title. Then he sat and sat, the teacher reminded him what he needed to do and continued sitting with the higher group. The child got up and began walking round the classroom where by the teacher calmly asked him to sit down and get on with his literacy.
One again he just sat and looked perplexed. He then got up and went into the reading corner where by he began to tidy the books, once again the teacher now with an edge to her voice asked him to sit down reiterating that he had work to be getting on with and she hadn’t asked him to tidy the books. I observed the expression on the child’s face as he continued to tidy them. The teacher then becoming more agitated approached him with an edge to her voice again telling him to leave the books and go and do his work. The child’s arm shot out striking the teacher whereby he was then excluded from school for being stubborn, unco-operative and aggressive. So what really happened here? I spoke to the child in his home with his Mum present and it did take a long time to work through what happened but for here in a nut shell, he got back to his seat and didn’t know how or where to start his literacy so he wandered around the classroom looking at the work of others to try and work out how to do it. He knew what he had to do but not how. As he was then not allowed to do this it struck him that his teacher liked the book corner tidy and as it wasn’t he decided she might be pleased with him if he tidied it. When she asked him to leave it he felt he couldn’t as he hadn’t finished it so he continued with the aim of finishing then going back to his seat. He put his hand out as the teacher approached because she was coming (in his eyes) at such a speed it made him apprehensive so he wanted to stop her.
In this one scenario any teacher or T.A experienced would understand why all this had occurred moreover how to deal with it. To me, this was classic difficulties with theory of mind, executive function and visual difficulties. You could also add central cohesion into that mix as he was unable to see the bigger picture of what would happen if he didn’t comply. This exclusion could have been avoided if trained and experienced staff were on hand to help him. So many times I hear negative things such as, 'He is lazy so don’t intervene', 'He knows it he just wont do it' etc. It does make my blood boil. These children are tomorrow's adults and the system is failing them right, left and centre.

Karen Horner

Karen runs Gateshead Autsm Support, which supports families and children living with ASD, click here for the Facebook page. She also runs Relax Kids in the North East

Gateshead Autism Support

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

A New Way Parents Can Support Their Child’s Development

Guest blog post by Oisin Hurley

As a new parent it is normal to be anxious. There are many stresses involved such as; is my child crying too much? Are they eating too little? Will I bond with them or will they bond with me? What if I forget my child while shopping in Aldi and only realize when I get home! All of these are genuine concerns new parents have voiced.

There are external pressures to manage such as what school should her or she go to? Where is best to live in order to provide for a family? All of this along with keeping yourself and a little one alive and well. There are many things that are beyond our control, keeping germs away, teething, nappy rash, tumbles and injuries are part and parcel of growing up. Many parents say they often wonder what their child will become, what kind of personality will they have, will they have enough friends in school, will they be happy, will they be successful in what they set out to achieve?

Education is a huge area of concern for parents, particularly in relation to their own. Often times when a problem arises for a child around the area of Speech and Language development it takes a long time to see a therapist to diagnose a problem. For example, figures from 2015 report showed 15,000 people were waiting for a speech and language therapy assessment. Thankfully these numbers are moving in the right direction over the past few years. Yet it still remains much too high for a service of such critical importance.

What if I were to tell you that there is a simple action that can be taken that requires very little time and effort that can help your child’s ability to learn and develop? While there is no silver bullet, you can start by spending a small portion of your day (30 minutes) exposing your child to more language by reading, singing, and playing with them.
Research shows that the more words your child hears in the first 3 years, the more likely they will be to succeed in school. Spending this time engaging with your child not only increases there vocabulary but it strengthens the bond between the two of you. What’s more is that 1 in 10 children are now at risk of experiencing early learning difficulties, which has shown to be reduced by exposure to increased language in the home environment.

To combat these striking statistics Talk2MeMore have developed a new app that is effectively a Fitbit for words. The app monitors the amount of words your child is exposed to each day delivering feedback on what a child has just heard. It also offers practical suggestions of how to enrich your child’s environment such as what books could be read in order to expose them to more. It is a tool to allow the parent to know what their child is experiencing with incentives to improve their language environment. This revolves around quality and quantity. This can help relieve anxiety and set your child up for when they are ready for school. Reduced anxiety in this department can lead to a better relationship between you and your child. This researched app is showing early signs of attributing positively into developing a more language rich environment for children.
Talk2MeMore are offering a 7-day free trial of this exciting new app. To find out more visit their website to get started today.

Oisin Hurley

photo sources: Shutterstock

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Independent speech and language therapists do tribunal work too

The Association of Speech and Language therapists in independent practise (ASLTIP) has a website where you can seek out Speech and language therapists who carry out medico-legal work. This is based upon their guidance. They may cover the following situations:
  • SENDIST (special educational needs and disability tribunal) – cases where a child’s education is affected by a communication problem and extra specialist assistance is being sought.
  • Medical negligence (such as birth injury affecting a child’s development), or trauma (such as a road traffic accident resulting in head injury and communication problems) – cases where the aim is to determine costs for therapy when seeking compensation.
  • Occasionally an assessment is necessary to assess whether or not a problem exists.
Recognised characteristics of medico-legal work:
  • We will review medical notes and other important documents.
  • Assess  the client’s speech and language skills to determine whether a problem exists and, if it does, how severe it is.
  • Writing a detailed report of findings, diagnosis, prognosis and recommendations for further therapy. In SENDIST cases there is a need for very specific recommendations quantifying the amount of ongoing therapy considered necessary.
  • Appearance at Tribunal/Court as an expert witness if applicable.
Some points you may wish to discuss with any therapist you contact:
  • The therapist’s specialist credentials and experience in the area of medico-legal work e.g. writing expert witness reports and giving evidence at SENDIST/Court.
  • As a detailed communication assessment must be made, the therapist needs a background of experience with the relevant population (i.e. adults or children), and with any specific conditions in the case (e.g. autism in children).
  • The timescale for when the report is needed and the reports/information the therapist will need prior to the assessment; how liaison with other professionals (e.g. a solicitor if one is involved) can be maintained; who else can provide qualitative information about how the client functions in everyday communication situations.
  • How much experience the therapist has with similar medico-legal work.
  • Where the therapist will see the client for assessment. Sometimes the therapist will wish to see the client in more than one situation.
  • How much the therapist charges. The therapist may have a fixed charge for the assessment and subsequent report. However, it may be that the therapist charges an hourly rate and guidance on average overall charges can be requested. Because each case will be different, it is important to discuss specific details which are relevant, so you are aware what the therapist will provide and what the likely fee will be.
We do medico-legal work at Small Talk and are prepared to travel so please let us know if we can help or look on ASLTIP's website www.helpwithtalking.com

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Therapy is about Engagement, not Compliance!

I’ve been using the Attention Autism programme (Gina Davies) pretty much every day for the past two years and I can honestly say I don’t know how I did speech and language therapy without it. The basic principles of Attention Autism such as; the activities needing to be motivating, visual, appealing etc are our bread and butter skills as therapists but ensuring that everything I deliver is an irresistible invitation to learning is a completely new challenge.

Attention and listening are pre-requisite skills to language development and the time and effort we need to invest in supporting children both with and without Autism with this cannot be underestimated. After all, we need to ensure that our activities are indeed worth communicating about!

The Attention Autism programme consists of four stages:

-          Stage 1: ‘the Bucket’ – Focus

-          Stage 2: ‘the Attention Builder’ – Sustain

-          Stage 3: ‘the Interactive Game’ – Shift

-          Stage 4: ‘the Table activity’ – Transition

“I’ve got something in my bucket, in my bucket, in my bucket, I’ve got something in my bucket whatever can it be?”

Stage 1 is all about ‘the Bucket’! A bucket filled with simple, motivating and appealing toys that will capture the child’s attention. The main aim at this stage is to teach the child to independently focus on the adult-led agenda and to take the risk of trying something new.
As a ‘speech’ therapist the trickiest thing I found when I started was to try and not talk. Many children with speech and language difficulties find too much verbal information overloading which can result in ‘tuning out’. When delivering Attention Autism, I am now more confident to rely on the activities to bring the child’s engagement, not the language.

Now of course at the beginning, things went terribly wrong. Children kept getting up from their seats, others found it hard to transition to the activity and however prepared you are, you need to trust that it is ok for mistakes to happen. We cannot take the child’s cooperation, for, however short a time, for granted. The supporting adults need to resist trying to herd the children back to their chair as Attention Autism is about working on engagement not compliance. Remember: ‘if it’s Fun, they’ll come!’. Make your targets realistic, at Stage 1 aim for your children to attend for 1 minute initially and then build up slowly each day. If you deliver a fun and appealing session the children will learn to naturally and spontaneously self-regulate to the adult-led learning.

If we are expecting the child to tune in and attend straight away, then we need to ensure we are ‘selling the bucket heart and soul’.

Fun doesn’t mean Unstructured. Follow the rules.

1.       ‘It’s Tish’s bucket, it’s Tish’s toys’.

It may seem mean but only the leading adult is allowed to touch the toys. Many children have single challenged attention (Cooper, Moodley and Reynell 1997), so if they are playing with the toys, they are not focusing on you. Keep your distance so little hands don’t feel tempted to pick up the toys.

2.      Show first, add words later.

If you’re like me this part may be tricky to begin with. We may instinctively want to start adding in language, but it is important to stay quiet and allow for thinking time. Then gradually increase the language.

      3.      Everyone one is joining in – no exceptions!

Supporting adults need to keep modelling expected behaviours. If we begin talking amongst ourselves or getting up to ‘do a job’ we are only modelling to the children that it is acceptable to get up and leave the activity if you feel like it. Our children attend to the most dominate stimulus in the room – make sure it’s ‘the Bucket’.

     4.      Keep Calm it’s only a bucket.

However prepared you are, you’ll never be prepared enough for the unpredictability of working with children, which I tend to love about this job. Don’t get distracted by louder children, you’re the adult you dictate the start and finish of the session. Don’t let children getting up and wondering off fluster you, trust your supporting adults to bring them back silently. Rushing adds anxiety, so keep calm and enjoy the shared experience.

5.      Focusing leads to sustaining.

Aim to carry out the session 4/5 times a week, start at 1 minute and build up slowly. When 80% of your group can attend for 5 minutes, you’re ready for Stage 2 and remember

“if it’s fun, they’ll come!”




Saturday, 11 August 2018

assessing a demand avoidant child...... yes you may look stupid but who cares?

I've just handed over a new case to one of my colleagues and as I was telling her about him, I also discussed that I'd had a new student with me when I met him. Having someone else observing made me reflect on how we interact with  children who are harder to engage but there's not much written about it as a guide for school aged, especially, if they are demand avoidant. I saw myself through her eyes and realised I definitely did look stupid and it probably wasn't how she was expecting a 50-something professional to behave! However, it was exactly what the situation demanded. If I can use the dog, it really helps but on this occasion, he was scared of dogs so Ralph wasn't there.

Many of the pre-school Hanen tips still work well:

1. Observe, wait, listen: ask parents what they're interested in and watch and listen closely. He used sound bites and little scripts acting out situations, as the main part of his expressive language. These included zombies, teleporting and fighting. We hadn't finished what I needed to cover when he'd thrown me out of the play room as he hated me and 'couldnt stand' me any more, I crept out out of a second door and burst in telling him I'd teleported. He forgot he was cross with me and asked me to 'Do it again!'. Of course, I  can only do it once a day, so maybe next time.  A little while later, he ran outside and wouldn't come back when we asked, so I pretended to be a horse, crying 'Jump on I'll save you from the zombies!' He did and we piggy-backed back into the playroom.

2. Get down on their level: you can see their facial expressions so much better if you're on the floor with them but they're level, so you are seen as more equal. This is far less stressful for them and you're more likely to get them talking if they feel equal. Sitting at a desk would have been impossible anyway! We did an expressive language sample while we were both colouring our pictures in.

3. Follow their lead, follow their interests: I didn't direct him very much really, I used books, toys and games he wanted to use. I asked him to choose each time. I had the Dewart and Summers pragmatic checklist his mother had completed and was able to interview her at length so it didn't matter that I couldn't do anything formal. I got a really good measure of his abilities and what he needs help with

4. Use a low-arousal approach. This Approach emphasises a range of 'strategies that focus on the reduction of stress, fear and frustration and seeks to prevent aggression and crisis situations'. The low arousal approach seeks to understand the role of the ‘situation’ by identifying triggers and using low intensity strategies and solutions to avoid punitive consequences. I keep calm whatever the situation throws at me (physically and verbally). His mother uses humour as part of this approach, brilliantly to deflect, move him on and get him on-side.

5. Never take things personally. Demand avoidant children may call you names (I know I'm 'old, fat and ugly' so nothing new there), may try to shock you verbally or physically or threaten you. We need to see it for what it is, an attempt to get out of a stressful situation.

6. Have the confidence not to mind what other people think: just as with pre-school ones you can burst into song, do unexpected silly things, pretend not to know.... As long as you can justify it....do it if the situation demands! Fortunately the student turned out to be brilliant and she didn't see me as some crazy old woman. She understands we have to do what it takes!

I was able to report on his attention, listening, understanding, vocabulary, expressive language and social thinking skills. The real hard SLT work will be done by my colleague as she sees him for therapy. The real hero? His mother.
Hanen www.hanen.org
Low arousal http://www.lowarousal.com/

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

PROMPT is an acronym for Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets. The technique is a tactile-kinesthetic approach that uses touch cues to a patient’s articulators (jaw, tongue, lips) to manually guide them through a targeted word, phrase or sentence. The technique develops motor control and the development of proper oral muscular movements, while eliminating unnecessary muscle movements, such as jaw sliding and inadequate lip rounding. See more at https://www.promptinstitute.com

Therapists begin by helping patients produce certain phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest increment of sound in speech. For example, the “d” sound in the word dog is one phoneme, the “o” is another and the “g” is yet another. Each phoneme requires different muscle contractions/retractions and placement/movement of the jaw, lips, tongue, neck and chest to produce. All of these things have to happen with the proper timing and sequence to produce one phoneme correctly.  The therapist attempts to “teach” the patient’s muscles to produce a phoneme correctly by stimulating all of these through touch. With the timing and movement of more than 100 muscles involved, you can see why the training needs to be very thorough.
PROMPT therapy is appropriate for a wide range of patients with communication disorders. The most common patients have motor speech disorders, articulation problems or are non-verbal children. Many patients with aphasia, apraxia/dyspraxia, dysarthria, pervasive development disorders, cerebral palsy, acquired brain injuries and autism spectrum disorders have benefitted from PROMPT therapy. An evaluation by a PROMPT-trained speech therapist is the only way to find out if a patient is appropriate for the therapy. 
We are delighted that Sophie Harding, speech and language therapist has completed her 3 day training. This means she  has been trained how to make the “touch cues” to the articulators to help patient’s produce a phoneme. She can also properly evaluate a patient (from a motor perspective) to identify if PROMPT therapy will be beneficial.
If you feel that our child needs an assessment please get in touch office@smalltalk-ltd.co.uk

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Welcome Alison to the Small Talk team

We are delighted to have a new addition to our team: welcome Alison Phipps, speech and language therapist. She has recently qualified from Birmingham City University with a first class degree. However, we have known Alison for many years as she used to work part-time as a speech and language assistant for us running groups in the Tamworth area. She was actually a graphic designer but wanted a change!

Alison is working across the staffordshire area. She has a particular passion for working with children and families with ASD and has already been on the Attention Autism course and is confident with SCERTS, Intensive Interaction, PECS and using visual support. She helped to run Hanen's More Than Words and Elklan's verbal children with ASD.   

She will be contributing to the blog soon!

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Is it just delayed talking or is it more?

As speech and language therapists we need to look at a toddler who isn't talking to determine whether we think it is delayed or disordered language or whether we need to refer on for further assessment. Remember, it doesn't have to be ASD, as there are so many more children with speech, language and communication difficulties than children with ASD. 

What are the red flags we are concerned about?......
  • Eye Contact and Eye Gaze – difficulty paying attention to faces and following your point after 12 months
  • Responding to their Name – inconsistent responding to own name most of the time by 12 months
  • Pointing to or Showing Objects of Interest – does not point or show objects to others by 15 months
  • Pretend Play – does not demonstrate how familiar objects are used by 15 months and doesn’t show true “pretending” in play such as feeding a baby doll or using one object to represent another object by 24 months
  • Imitation – does not watch other people to copy their actions and body movements such as waving; does not imitate sounds and words by 16 to 18 months
  • Nonverbal Communication – does not understand and use a variety gestures by 16 months; displays “flat” affect or limited facial expressions or body language
  • Language Development – exhibits delays and differences in both language comprehension and expression as compared to same age peers; may talk but not communicate with others. Expressive skills may be at a higher developmental level 
  • than receptive skills in autism. 
If you are concerned about your child, please see a speech and language therapist, as early intervention is really important!

www.private-speech-therapy.co.uk     To book an appointment at our clinic click here

Monday, 30 July 2018


I had a lovely afternoon at this year's awards. If you'd like to nominate someone for next year's awards please read on.......

Pearson and The Communication Trust have once again joined forces to launch the seventh Shine a Light Awards. Entries for this year open in September with the awards ceremony taking place on Thursday 21st March 2019. Britain’s Got Talent winner, Lee Ridley, also known as the Lost Voice Guy will be performing at the event alongside a soon-to-be-announced celebrity host. 

The awards not only celebrate the hard work and determination of children and young people with SLCN but also seek to recognise the incredible contributions of teams, schools, settings, young people and individuals across England who champion innovative work and excellence in supporting children and young people's communication development. 
The award categories available for teams, settings and individuals to enter will include:

·      The Katie Rough Memorial Award for innovative or excellent practice when working with children and young people affected by Selective Mutism 
·      Early Years Setting of the Year Award
·      Primary School of the Year Award
·      Secondary School or College of the Year Award
·      SEN School or Group of the Year Award 
·      Child / Young Person of the Year Award
·      Youth Justice of the Year Award
·      SLCN Innovation of the Year Award
·      Communication Champion of the Year Award
··      Outstanding Achievement Award

The Shine a Light Awards website will be open to receive applications soon. Bookmark the website at www.shinealightawards.co.uk or follow the hashtag #awards_SAL

Monday, 9 July 2018

Welcome Smart Talkers Botswana

We are delighted that Smart Talkers groups were introduced for the first time in Africa, in May 2018, Melanie Fricker and Farah Abdulla (Mother and Daughter team) have introduced them in Botswana! 

'We are extremely excited for the journey ahead and the benefits that SmartTalkers will bring to our beautiful country and continent,' reported Melanie.

Melanie and Farah are trained Preschool teachers running the family Nursery School in Botswana Africa. With its rich 41year legacy, Playmates Nursery School is owned and managed by three generations of passionate teachers. They are now honoured to call Botswana their home.

'Botswana is culturally diverse, with many nationalities living together in harmony. We are the jewel of Africa and we are politically stable. With English as our Official language, we are thrilled for the opportunity to launch SmartTalkers here'.


+267 77166013 to contact Melanie or Farah for more information

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Communication Commitment Quality Mark Survey for schools

Over the next few months, The Communication Trust is looking in to whether there is an appetite for schools to achieve an accredited Communication Quality Mark.  This can build on work that schools have already done around the Communication Commitment (though schools are not required to have any previous knowledge or experience of the Commitment) and will provide a quality stamp which proves that your school is committed to and implementing a whole school approach to communication, and supporting pupils with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

Since the Communication Commitment was developed, they have had numerous requests from schools and settings about an accreditation or quality mark process, providing a more robust process to recognise the work they are doing.The Commitment Quality Mark would sit alongside the free Communication Commitment, and would not replace it.

The aim of the Quality Mark is to acknowledge the work done by schools, evidenced to support the speech, language and communication of their pupils. The aim is to capture best practice from a range of sources; for example, it may be local training and support with speech and language therapists or other specialists, national qualifications or excellent implementation of evidenced interventions, achieving positive outcomes for pupils.

The Quality Mark would involve two steps;
1, gathering evidence around a set of actions (based on actions from The Communication Commitment),
2, followed by a visit from a trained assessor, who will assess the evidence and allow you to achieve your award.   

Assessors will be recruited from the national network of Local Champions and Language Leaders, who will have received training in the Quality Mark assessment and hold a certificate of accreditation from The Communication Trust.

There will be three levels to the Quality Mark; bronze, silver and gold. Your school’s Quality Mark would be valid for three years, but if you achieve a bronze or a silver accreditation, you can be reassessed and are eligible to an upgrade to a further level of accreditation.  There must be a full renewal assessment at the end of each three year period of accreditation.
They would appreciate you taking the time to answer the following questions about the proposal for a Communication Quality Mark.

Please click here to complete our Quality Mark survey. We would appreciate any responses before Monday 2nd July. The survey should take around 5 minutes to complete.

Thank you for your help. If you have any further questions, please contact Jack Williams on jwilliams@thecommunicationtrust.org.uk

Monday, 16 April 2018

Parental distraction is hindering child development

They do say, ' once a speech therapist always a speech therapist' so its difficult to 'switch off when I'm not working. It's very difficult to walk on by when see example of things going worng but I do force myself as I know they'd probably  ask me what business it is of mine. They're right of course but I know they'd want the best for their children, they just might not know what that is.

I was in the queue at Pets at Home the other day with my therapy dog. He dislikes any form of raised voice and actually gets upset even if they're not shouting at him. We heard a woman's voice loudly saying 'Sit', 'Sit down', 'Sit there now', 'I've told you SIT down'. Ralph was getting a bit anxious so I peeked around the corner expecting to see an unruly puppy........instead it was  3 year old who had come to see the animal petting!!

Yesterday, I went out for lunch and directly opposite me so I couldn't look away, there was a young mother with her parents and daughter aged approx 2.5 years. Not one of the adults engaged the delightful little girl, in fact, her mother was much more interested in her phone, taking calls and almost constantly texting. She even managed to pick up her daughter to take her to the toilet while texting at the same time (some feat!). The only time she interacted with her child was to wipe her nose (without mentioning what she was doing before the tissue was launched across the poor child's face) and when she wiped chocolate off her top. A dummy was firmly fixed in the girl's mouth.

I, as the parent whose children grew up in the blink of an eye, wanted  to tell her that she was missing so much joy, so much special time while the SLT in me wanted to explain what was going wrong and how easily it could be remedied. Instead, I was just glad when they finished before us and left.

But is not just me being old, miserable and doom mongering, read this:

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

'She refused to talk': I'll embrace any chance to hi-light Selective Mutism!

I was delighted to have been awarded the Kate Rough award because we need a many ways as possible to hi-light Selective Mutism. Again last week, I met a girl who had 3 clinical psychology reports since she was little, 2 educational psychology reports and one from a paediatrician who all mention she 'refused to talk' or 'was reluctant to speak'. She has selective mutism. If they didn't know that, how can the rest of society have a chance of understanding what can be a very debilitating condition.

Have a look at the Selective Mutism Information and Research Association website for more information http://www.selectivemutism.org.uk/

Monday, 9 April 2018



The winners of the 2018 Shine a Light Awards, a national awards scheme that celebrates innovative work and excellent practise in supporting children and young people’s communication development, were revealed on 22nd March 2018 by learning company Pearson, in partnership with The Communication Trust. The awards, which took place at Pearson’s headquarters in London, were hosted by stand-up comedian, actor and TV writer, Adam Hess, who struggled with dyslexia and an immense fear of public speaking when he was younger.

 I was absolutely delighted to be awarded the Katie Rough award for my work with children and teenagers with Selective Mutism.

16 other individuals and teams across 9 other  award categories were recognised, as well as children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

Winners included: Jonathan Bryan from Chippenham – Young Person of the Year Inspirational 12-year old Jonathan has severe cerebral palsy, is quadriplegic, oxygen-dependent, and also non-verbal. He has shown sheer dedication and determination in developing his own communication skills and also raising awareness of profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). Through the support of his family, and his use of a low-tech eye gaze system (an e-tran frame), Jonathan is now in mainstream secondary school. He has personally established the Teach Us Too campaign, which urges professionals to recognise the unlocked potential of their pupils and not teach to labels. His documentary, Locked-in Boy, recently aired on CBBC, and his autobiography is being published later this year.

Pip St John from Blackburn – Communication Champion Award Pip’s impact in and around Blackburn has been outstanding: she has shown incredible dedication to enhancing the communication skills of children by training school staff and sharing advice and information, whilst overcoming a personal battle with stage 3 breast cancer. Pip has created the PreTeaching Vocabulary (PTV) programme which aims to help children needing extra language support. She has made this an entirely free resource, and it is accessible online to anyone who needs it.

Stoke Speaks Out in Stoke-on-Trent – The SLCN Innovation Award and the Pearson Outstanding Achievement Award Awarded for their innovative Early Communication Screen (ECS) to improve the school readiness of children from two to five, Stoke Speaks Out has positively impacted thousands of local children. Commissioned by the Local Authority, and written by Clinical Lead Speech/Language Therapist Janet Cooper and her team of speech and language therapists from Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust (SSOTP), the ECS is designed to be used by Early Years practitioners to identify early language delay and measure children’s progress over time. Almost 7,000 children have been screened so far, with more than 1,800 regional practitioners trained to use the programme to date.

Adam Hess, Host of the 2018 Shine a Light Awards, said: “The dedication of teams and individuals to improve the communication skills of children and young people is humbling. As a child, I struggled greatly with dyslexia and an immense fear of public speaking, if it wasn’t for the support I received when I was younger I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. It has been a complete honour to host these awards and I would like to congratulate all the winners and commended finalists. They should be very proud of what they have achieved.”

Some other amazing winners included: Children’s House Nursery in Stratford, London – Early Years Setting of the Year Located within an area of high deprivation, over 90% of children at Children’s House Nursery start with significant speech and language delays. Remarkably, by the time they move on to primary school, these same children leave with the levels of skill expected for their age. The nursery’s success is due to a combination of numerous initiatives including special ‘Stay, Play and Learn’ sessions conducted before children even start at the nursery, as well as commitment to ongoing staff training, and dedicating time to developing strong parent/carer relationships.

Pendle Primary Academy in Nelson, Lancashire – Primary School of the Year Pendle Primary has invested in its own speech and language therapist (SLT), who works closely with parents, staff and NHS specialists to discuss children due to start in reception. This approach ensures that pupils receive the correct support in the crucial first years of their journey through full-time education. The academy prides itself on its whole-school approach, which includes using signs and symbols alongside visual timetables and special indoors ‘Communication Spaces’.

Isaac Newton Academy in Ilford, London – Secondary School of the Year Given that 62% of students at Isaac Newton Academy use English as an additional language (EAL), their successes in thisfield to date are impressive: last year saw them placed in the top 1% for Year 11 progress! The school partners with a speech and language specialist as well as a school counsellor. This isin addition to having their own team of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) staff who monitor the development of beginner EAL students.

Sharon Hague, Senior Vice President, Schools, Pearson, said: “Our warmest congratulations to the winners, highly-commended, and commended finalists of the 2018 Shine a Light Awards. Through our innovative clinical assessments, Pearson is committed to supporting those working to help people overcome challenges in speech and language. “For six years we have run these awards as we believe it is so important to recognise and celebrate the incredible, but often unsung, work being done across the country to change the lives of children and young people by helping them to develop their communication skills.”

Octavia Holland, Director of The Communication Trust, said: “Congratulations to everyone who triumphed at the 2018 Shine a Light Awards. These awards highlight the very best practice that is taking place in settings across the country. The winners and highly-commended finalists have shown what can be achieved when expertise, enthusiasm and dedication are given to children and young people who struggle to communicate. We would like to say a huge thank you to Pearson for their long-standing support.”

In total, 17 awards were presented by Adam Hess following a process where a judging panel whittled down the applications received. This panel included 19 key representatives from across the education and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) sectors, as well as previous Shine a Light Award winners. Representatives included Jonathan Douglas, Director at National Literacy Trust; Kamini Gadhok MBC, Chief Executive at RCSLT; Bob Reitemeier CBE, CEO of I CAN; Lesley Munro, Education and Speech and Language Therapy Manager at Pearson Clinical; John Parrott, Chair of Communication Consortium at NAPLIC and Victoria Roe, Secretary and Deputy Chair, SMIRA. The Shine a Light Awards have grown in popularity since their launch during the National Year of Communication in 2011 (known as the Hello campaign).

To date, the awards have celebrated the work of over 140 teams and a wide range of individuals, including young people with severe and complex SLCN. In the UK, over one million children and young people have some form of long-term and persistent speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) that can impact them early, severely and for life. The awards highlight the incredible contributions of teams, settings and individuals across England who support children and young people to achieve their full potential despite the challenges they face. For further information about the Shine a Light winners and highly-commended finalists, visit www.shinealightawards.co.uk

It was fantastic celebration of all that is good in the field of SLCN

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Don't rely on the test score alone

I read this interesting article today which mirrors my beliefs: https://www.smartspeechtherapy.com/what-does-research-say-about-the-functionality-of-language-standardized-tests/

We cannot rely on standard testing alone, we need a measure of what the child or young person is doing in 'real-life' everyday, functional ways. As a great example, I've got an annual review this week where the 14yo has scored age-equivalently on everything on the CELF-4 BUT that does not mean he needs to be discharged.

I see him on a one-one basis where he sees me as an equal. There's no anxiety so I can push him to his absolute best, he wants to both please me and beat me at tasks. His memory has wikapaedic qualities! However, in everyday situations he cannot put his skills into place as he has auditory processing issues, anxiety, difficulty reading people's cues and clues and he acts as a much younger child (as a safety devise?). His anxiety affects his processing and his language and communication difficulties remain a huge barrier to accessing the curriculum, making friends and 'fitting in' with his peer group. Fortunately, he has a parent who knows all this and will fight to the nth degree to make sure he receives the support he needs.

I've also seen numerous children who score well on tests but in context cannot use these skills demonstrated in the one-to-one, quiet situation with the very nice lady/man who is skilled at getting the best out of children for the short time they're there. We only get a snap-shot of the child in that situation, at that time.

Instead of relying on just a score, we also make use of checklists and interviews with people who know the child best, so parents and teachers; we use tools such as the CCC2 and the Dewart and Summers Pragmatic profile. We also use a dynamic approach so we're looking at everything from the initial 'Hello' to the sight of the back of their head on the way out!

Formal assessments have a place, of course (I'm not stupid!) but we need to listen well to the important people in the child's life and be more confident in our skills as clinicians! What do you think?

Monday, 12 March 2018

How to get help for Selective Mutism

Smira has worked hard to produce an excellent flowchart about where/how to get help for SM:

Links given on page 1 above:

Search for Private Therapist
Check that the therapist has SM knowledge and is registered with www.hcpc-uk.co.uk

Links given on page 3 above:

Additional Reading
Details and purchase links for all of the books below are on the Recommended Reading page on the SMIRA website.
  • “Selective Mutism Resource Manual 2nd Edition” (Johnson & Wintgens). Most changes in 2nd Edition are for older people with SM and generalising outside school
  • “Tackling Selective Mutism” (Sluckin & Smith, ISBN-13: 978-1849053938, ISBN-10: 1849053936)
  • “Can I tell you about Selective Mutism?” (Johnson & Wintgens, ISBN-13: 978-1849052894, ISBN10: 1849052891)
  • “Can’t Talk? Want to Talk!” (Jo Levett, ISBN-10: 1909301310,ISBN-13: 978-1909301313)
Selective Mutism Information flowchart p4

Have a look at the SMIRA website http://www.selectivemutism.org.uk/

Friday, 9 March 2018

What’s inside Tasha’s Toolbox!

I’ve been so busy lately with all the new children on my caseload on and of course the launch of our Parent Hub Membership Club; that it got me thinking back to many years ago to when I was a student at Smalltalk. I remember Libby telling me on the very first day that as a Speech Therapist there will never be enough hours in the day and that I always had to be prepared for anything the job may decide to throw at me. And of course, she was right! On that day she assigned me one simple task! – to create an ‘Initial Assessment Kit’ that, when working with any child on the caseload, I would be able to use to carry out a complete assessment screen of their communication development. After a small moment of panic (that of course I didn’t admit to at the time) it occurred to me that, no matter what child comes through the door, regardless of the difficulty or diagnosis there are still underlying factors we need to target.

And so, my Mini Assessment Toolbox was created and nearly 8 years later I am still using the same kit, if not with a little wear and tear and a few new additions. Though one thing hasn’t changed; there are still not enough hours in the day and I still need to be prepared for anything. If like me, you are continually dashing between appointments, have little time to remember all the resources you need beforehand or get thrown into a new assessment at the last minute, it may be a good idea to have your own handy Toolbox that you can keep with you containing all the essentials!

Today I thought I’d write a helpful post showing you what’s inside my Assessment Toolbox.

 1.      ‘Now and Next’ Visual Timetable whiteboard
2.      Session Activity pictures
3.      Short story book (with accompanying Blank Level Question)
4.      Bubbles
5.      Balloons
6.      Balloon Airplane and (a fun and engaging turn-taking toy)
                                                              i.      Wind-up - Toy “Dancing Robot”
7.      Information Carrying Word (ICW) pictures
8.      Matching Rhyming Cards
9.      Everyday objects: (for Auditory Memory and Vocab)
                                                              i.      Cup
                                                             ii.      Ball
                                                           iii.      Spoon
                                                           iv.      Car
                                                             v.      Bear
                                                           vi.      Pencil
                                                         vii.      Glasses

10.  .and of course, Stickers
So next time you are rushing between appointments, just remember to keep you Toolbox close by, and you’ll be surprised by how many areas of speech and language you can work on with just a few everyday objects!