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

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

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

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:

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

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

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!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

What is a lateral lisp?

A lateral lisp is a type of functional speech disorder, where a child or adult has difficulty producing specific sounds.


The term “lisp” is not typically used by speech and language therapists as it is not very specific - there are actually four different types of lisp as well as all the other speech sound errors. Instead we may say “lateralisation of s” or “s articulation difficulties” depending on what the error is.

What is a lateral lisp?

As mentioned, a lateral lisp is a type of functional speech disorder. Unlike some other lisps, Lateral lisps are not found in typical speech development. The tongue position for a lateral lisp allows the air to flow over the sides of the tongue instead of over the front. This is the reason this sort of lisp is sometimes referred to as a 'slushy lisp'.


There is no known cause of a lisp. However, some professionals suggest that excessive or long-term use of dummies could be a contributing factor. This is not the case for all, as some children who have never used a dummy still go on to develop a lisp.


There are many different ways to work on Lateralised sounds, depending on what the sounds are.  Typically it will include listening activities, production of the sound in isolation (the sound alone) progressing onto words and sentences.

Sophie Harding
Speech and Language Therapist

Sunday, 4 March 2018

But she looks fine when she's here!

How many times have I heard this yet the parents KNOW their child is anxious?! Maybe they've had to drag them kicking and screaming into school, maybe the child has tried to self harm or attacks their parents on a regular basis. I saw this on twitter and it sums up how anxiety is not one thing. We don't always see it. A child can mask: hide their issues at school but all the time building the pressure til they get to the save haven of home or maybe just the carpark in some cases. It's called the 'delayed effect'.

It's not right just to say, 'it's parenting,' We need to listen, we need a team approach not 'them' vs 'us'.

Please help spread this word as it's a HUGE problem and children's mental health depends on more people being aware that anxiety does not have just one 'look'.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Bad behaviour? no, just a lack of awareness and understanding of SLCN

Many of the children I work with get in trouble because they have language and social communication difficulties which impact simple, everyday interactions. This is just a typical one from last week:

A lovely young lady I met recently, Ruby aged 12 years, was very upset to receive a detention for something that had happened in school. The teacher was one she knew but was a maths teacher, who was covering a science lesson. 

This is what Mr Jones, the teacher reported and says happened in lesson:
He'd asked the class to be quiet, Ruby 'decided to continue talking'. He asked her if she understood what he'd said, and she said, 'Yes,' but carried on talking. He became cross and told her to 'be quiet.' She was shocked and said, 'But it was quiet working and if you wanted the class to be silent, you should have said.' Mr Jones felt that Ruby was being difficult and disrespectful for no reason.  He discussed this with her, but due to her response he felt he was unable to get anywhere and had no option but to give a detention for her poor attitude.

Teacher who was normally in maths covered science

Ruby dislikes change and hadn’t been prepared
Teacher asked the class to be quiet
Ruby carried on talking
Ruby has a literal interpretation of language, so he didn’t say ‘silent’
Teacher probably looked at Ruby and pulled a face to indicate he wasn’t pleased
Ruby carried on talking
She can’t read facial expressions and would not be able to interpret his intentions
He asked her if she had understood
She said, 'Yes.'
In her mind she had got the right interpretation
He said, ‘I meant silence!’
 She said, 'you didn't say that!'
She has difficulty with word definition and is sure she knows, whereas she might be slightly off or way off
She also cannot read inference
She said, ' You should have said that then.'

Ruby has little understanding of the rules of modifying language to teachers. She doesn’t know it's rude
Teacher thought she was being disrespectful
As she would be if she was of typical social understanding and /or pragmatic ability
 She hasn't got the language or pragmatic skills to interpret the situation

Ruby wouldn't let the subject drop
She has a clear fairness rule/sense of justice which she thinks the teacher was being unfair as she didn’t understand
Teacher discussed it
Ruby didn’t give the response he expected
She doesn’t understand as she thinks she didn’t do anything wrong
Teacher would be upset with her and may be was possibly feeling a bit under-confident as he was not teaching his subject

She can’t put herself in others shoes/see their point of view

 That's not the worst one I heard this week either!

We need so much more awareness about language and social communication difficulties, it's NOT just children with ASD!

Please support the campaign to save the Communication Trust as they are working hard to help schools understand more see more here

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

What does anxiety look like in a pre-schooler?

I work with a fabulous nursery who have just taken over a pre-school too. I'd like to say who but it might identify the child so I won't. They have such a great balance of professionalism and caring. They also really understand children.

I saw a 4 yo chap today who sat in my little group and pretty much did everything that was asked of him. He joined in, answered questions, volunteered answers, helped another boy who was struggling. Only a minor protest when he didn't get a gold star first, in fact.

Last time I'd seen him was before xmas when his behaviour was awful: I'd even managed to be hit around the head with my own boot! He'd ripped things, stole things, grabbed items out of my bag and ran off with them, tipped the bubbles on the floor while maintaining eye contact in some sort of act of defiance, refused to co-operate, etc etc

In many nurseries he would have spent hours on the naughty step, been told off, been discussed by staff as the 'really naughty one'. In this one, however, they knew better: they knew that his behaviour was actually as a result of low self-esteem, poor confidence  and a desire for attention which didn't matter if it was positive attention or negative attention.

They've given him a good routine with firm boundaries, ignored what they don't want to re-inforce and praised what they want to encourage. He's really doing well and is miles away from the boy he was before xmas! I'm sure they're will be a few hiccoughs along the way but with the right support and understanding he's doing fantastically!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Working with demand avoidance needs a different approach!

I had a break through today! I won't get complacent as it might not happen again or at least not the next time I try the same things but.........

F is a beautiful, funny, witty, gorgeous little princess who is like a ray of sunshine...... until you ask her to do something, when she can turn into 'a monster from your worse nightmares' (parental quote, not my words but I do know what they mean). 

I have used demand avoidance strategies on her for a while but the session might go something like this:

Me: 'Ok, thank you for choosing the order of the session F, let's see, you chose the memory game first.'
F: 'yes, but I'm not doing your stupid game now........I'm playing with the plastic fruit'
Me: 'No problem, let's use the fruit for the game.'
F: 'Ok, but I'm not playing on the table.'
Me: 'No problem, let's sit on the floor to do it, we'll have more room anyway.'
F: 'NO and you can't make me!'
Me: 'Where shall we do it because look, (pointing at her written list) you said we'd do it and it's on the list?'
F: 'On the floor under the table.'
Me: 'No problem,' but actually wondering if I'll get out from under the small table she's referring to!

This might happen for all 4 planned activities or we may only manage 2!

Today I 'wondered' (alot!) and did not tell her to do anything at all. I acted as an equal, discussing her favourite things, commenting on her new shoes, drawing on a white board next to F drawing on her white board. I asked no questions but made lots of comments:

'I wonder where F would want to work' (she chose somewhere different to usual)
'I was wondering what F had for xmas'
'I wonder what order we should do these'
'I wonder if F could show me..'
'I wonder if F wants to carry on drawing while we do this activity'
'I'm not sure I know what to do here...'
'I think I need help with this...'

We managed all the activities and both of us looked far less stressed at the end. I will try that again but F may have changed the goals by next week!

We need a different approach, we can't be the adult and tell them what to do. We need to pick battles and  make different priorities but above all we need to understand that this child is very anxious and the anxiety means she needs to feel in control. She doesn't need reprimanding, she needs compassion and support. The children who need the greatest help may ask for it in the most unhelpful way (I don't know who said that, but it works for me)!

I love the ideas and activities  in Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome in Children: A Guide for Parents, Teachers and Other Professionals 
by Phil Christie ,‎ Margaret Duncan ,‎ Ruth Fidler ,‎ Zara Healy. If you work with someone similar to F, I'd highly recommend this book.