Our latest column on Special Needs Jungle is up today. This time my topic is when and how to refer to speech and language therapy. You can check the post out here. Do let us know what you think, either here or over there.
I had a real life experience of vocabulary learning this week. We have been musing for a while on the idea of changing this little blog into a self-hosted blog to give us the opportunity to do more with it. I may have lost some of you already?….
Having decided that now was the time to do this, we set about investigating what we needed to know and who we should get our web hosting with. I just about know what web hosting is (it’s nothing like hosting a dinner party), but a quick google and I found out that
“There are various types of hosting options -free, shared, VPS, dedicated and managed WordPress hosting. “
I know what 4 out of 5 of those words mean, but in relation to a website, they were fairly meaningless to me. I also discovered that I need” at least one MySQL database” and “a Linux server”. The more lost I became, the more frustrated I got and the more I wanted to just give up with the whole thing.
This is just how many children with language problems must feel daily as they battle to understand what’s going on in the classroom. If there is one word you don’t understand, you can usually guess the meaning from context or shrug it off. If every other word is difficult to understand it becomes impossible to keep going with the task. You have a few choices – give up and just ignore it all, get fed up and frustrated or take baby steps, and learn one word at a time, practically if possible. If we don’t offer children opportunities to do option 3, is it any wonder that they give up or get frustrated? They have few other choices if they don’t understand what’s happening.
It was also a good reminder that, even as a reasonably well-educated adult, words in a whole new topic area can be very confusing. I use terms like phonology, the Code of Practice and language disorder every day and it’s easy to forget that these words are not familiar to everyone and that for adults too, we need time and repetition to fully learn the meanings of unfamiliar words.
In my case, several things helped. I found people who do understand and can explain it simply, I accepted that I don’t need to understand it all and focused on the really important bits. Finally, I just started doing it. After all, before I started blogging at all, I had no idea what a widget was. Someone could have explained it to me and if you’d asked me an hour later I probably wouldn’t have remembered it because the knowledge was too abstract. Now that I’ve used them, I have a much better understanding of what they are, and it’s a word in my every day vocabulary.
The same principles work when teaching new words and concepts to children. Here are some suggestions to help.
- Cut it back to the essentials, at least to begin with. It’s much better to teach 3-4 words and have the child remember them, than to try to tackle 20 and find the child just muddles them all. Once they have a good foundation of simple words, it’s much easier to add to it.
- Repeat, repeat, Repeat. A child needs to hear a word at least 12 times in context before they remember it.* The more familiar you become with hearing a word, the more meaning it has for you.
- The “in context” bit of the point above is important. Just repeating the same word 12 times in a row won’t really help a child to learn it. Using it in real sentences in a range of different activities and everyday life is much more likely to help.
- Try to relate things to what the child is interested in, as much as possible. If someone tried to teach me lots of words about plumbing it would probably take me longer to learn them, because I’m just not interested. I was interested in learning about websites, so it didn’t take so long!
- Use all the senses. Look at it, taste or smell it (if possible), touch it, do it! There are two reasons for this. Firstly, most people remember what they have done better than what they have heard. Secondly, while doing it, you are likely to use the word lots of times while talking about what you’re doing and as we’ve already learnt, repetition is key in vocabulary learning.
Finally, in case anyone is interested, I am still by no means an expert on websites! But by using some of these strategies and a bit of help from some friends, I understand enough to get going and our new website is under construction!…. Watch this space!….
* Stahl & Nagy 2005 Teaching Word Meanings Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey
Attention and listening skills are incredibly important as they underpin all learning. If you aren’t listening, you won’t hear all the words and you may not get the whole message. If you aren’t paying attention it also makes learning very hard. We have written about how speech therapists talk about attention and listening skills in reports before – you can read that post here.
Attention and listening skills really are the foundation for all language development. We may see a child with speech that is very hard to understand or a child who isn’t talking yet, but if they can’t sit and listen, they are unlikely to be ready to start working on their speech and language yet. There are a number of things you can do to help this though.
- Are you listening!
Before you ask that question or tell them to do something, make sure you have your child’s attention first. For some children this may just mean saying their name first and waiting for them to look at you. For others it may mean getting down to their level, maybe touching their shoulder or hand and saying their name. Don’t expect younger children to be listening to you when they are busy playing! It’s useful to encourage your child to look at you as a way to show that they are listening.
- It’s my turn.
Simple turn taking games encourage children to wait for their turn. Initially it maybe a simple game of rolling a ball to each other or taking it in turns to put clothes in the washing machine! Then this can be extended to children’s games like pop-up pirate etc.
There are many fun games that you can play, where before the child can have their turn or complete the action, they have to wait for you to say go. In this way you are controlling how long the child has to wait. For a child with a short attention span, this may be a game of blowing bubbles or running or throwing a ball etc. Before the action can be completed, they have to wait for the word go. Now, you may need to start with a very short gap and just wait for eye contact and then say go straight away. However you aim to extend out the gap each time to make it longer. Then you can move on to ready…. steady ….go. Again making the pauses longer each time.
When they can listen and wait for you to say ready… steady….. go, you can add another element to the game. You can have 2 different instructions or toys after saying go. For example if you are using a ball you could have ready, steady, roll vs. ready, steady, bounce. I sometimes use a stack of small boxes vs. a few children’s stacking cups. Then you can count each item as you stack it, then say “ready steady…… boxes” and the child can knock down the boxes. This way they really have to listen to the instruction to get it correct.
- Nursery rhymes and songs.
Singing is normally fun for younger children and an easy way to catch their attention. By repeating simple songs your child will learn the words and hopefully have fun joining in. You can try to leave words out for them to fill in.
If music is something your child likes, you can have fun listening for the music to start and stop, like a game of musical bumps. Explain that you are going to play a listening game, when the music is playing you can jump and dance, but when it stops you have to sit down.
You can also play a simple discrimination game. Pick two things that make quite different sounds like banging a drum or saucepan vs. a shaker. Get your child to shut their eyes (no peeking!) and make one of the sounds. Then your child can open their eyes and guess what made the noise.
If music isn’t something your child likes, you could try games like ‘Simon Says’. If your child is younger remember to keep the instructions short e.g. where’s your nose, jump up and down etc.
- Give clear expectations.
Particularly for older children, it can really help if you say exactly how long/ how many questions they have to do and what reward/ what they can do afterwards. For example “If you write me 3 more sentences, then you can go and play in the garden”. This can work really well in school for children who constantly ask what they should be doing or those who struggle to get going with a task. For more tips for older children, you can read our review of Maggie Johnson’s book here.
Photo credit: Adam Broke www.sxc.hu
Our latest post on Special Needs Jungle is up today. Elizabeth has written about how to prepare for medical appointments and building good relationships between therapists and parents. You can check the post out here. There’s so much great information on the website generally – don’t forget to have a look around while you’re there!
Over the past few weeks, I have been into several schools/nurseries to observe children. It’s something speech and language therapists often do, especially at the assessment stage, but I can understand that it probably seems like a strange thing to spend a session doing, sitting and watching! So I thought today I’d write about what happens when I do an observation and why classroom (or sometimes playground) observations can be so useful.
A 1:1 clinic environment is an unnatural situation for anyone. Most real-life communication does not occur in a clinic room with a relative stranger. Therefore, while clinic sessions can be really useful in many ways, there is a lot missing from the picture of a child’s communication skills, if you only see them in this sort of environment. This is why an SLT is likely to spend as much time during the initial appointment talking to you about your child, as they do interacting with your child directly. For a child with speech sound problems, this is usually enough. However, sometimes, especially if the concerns are around comprehension (receptive language) or social communication, it can be useful to see a child in a more natural, everyday environment as well, to get a full picture of how they are communicating and how we can help.
Although staff will probably know the child really well, it’s unlikely that they’ve had time to really watch just that child without doing anything else. It can be very revealing – sometimes things are not as everyone thought.
So, do I go into a classroom or nursery and just sit unobtrusively in a corner and watch? Well, yes, for at least part of the time I do! I sit where I can see the child but not right next to them and very often they aren’t really aware that I’m there. I’m very subtle about who I’m watching and if children ask, I just tell them I’ve come to see what all the children in the class are doing. Here are some of the things I’m looking at while I’m watching:-
- Does the child initiate interaction with others (both adults and other children?) In other words, do they try to start a conversation? What do they do if they want or need something?
- Do they respond when people try to talk to them? If so, do they do this by speaking, looking, gesturing, a mixture?
- Are they able to sit in a group and listen at an age appropriate level?
- Do they follow instructions in the classroom? This is one that really needs to be watched carefully. Many children who struggle to understand have very sophisticated ways of covering this up. I’m watching to see if they watch what others are doing before carrying out the instruction, or look round the room for clues. Do they try to distract others to cover up the fact that they don’t understand? Is there a difference between how they follow instructions given to a whole group and instructions just given to them?
- Do people understand them when they try to communicate? If someone doesn’t understand then what do they do? Try again? Try a different way? Give up?
- Do they play with others? Are they part of the group or on the outside? Do they have their own play ideas or do they copy others? Do they stick with one thing or move around to various activities? Are they aware of what others are doing around them and can they share toys?
- If they are getting into trouble at school, what seems to be causing this? Are they finding it hard to sit and listen? Are there particular situations that they find difficult? Did someone else actually start it but the child could not explain this? Did they understand what they were asked to do? Are they confused by social rules?….. It can take a bit of unravelling sometimes but it’s really worth taking the time to do, as when we know exactly where the problem is, we can work out strategies to help.
I will always spend some time with the staff in the school or nursery when I go in as well. We talk about their view of the child’s communication and whether what I saw was a typical session or not. We talk about what strategies and activities they’ve tried to help the child’s communication and how it went. Did it help? If not, why not? Was it not the right strategy or did they just need to persevere a bit more or alter the strategy slightly?
Then we make a plan together of how to move forward. This is really important. Even if I’m lucky enough to be able to see the child regularly, I am only able to be there for a really small part of the week. Any strategy needs to be used every day, so everyone needs to work together – parents, school, me and anyone else who sees the child regularly.
Often a classroom or nursery observation can be one of the most useful things I can do. What do you find most useful about observation sessions?
Both Helen and I have written before about being a Speech and Language Therapist, how we ended up in this profession, the bits we love and the bits that aren’t so great. However after a rather random email between myself and the mother of one of the children I am seeing about the child’s inability to blow their nose, it made me think about all the rather odd things I end up knowing because of my job!
- Knowing all about Sportacus and sports candy, Peppa and George etc. It really helps to know about children’s television and the current favourites. Not only does it give you common ground to talk to the children, it also gives you a fighting chance of understanding what your speech disordered child is trying to tell you. Half the characters have really tricky names at the best of times. I learnt that lesson when being told all about ‘portius’ and having the image of round Roman in my head, not an athletic man in a blue jumpsuit!
- To be very careful when googling for images when making resources. I much prefer to use real pictures rather than drawings or cartoons when making my resources. I will always remember making a set of ‘who’ pictures with associated objects for a narrative therapy session. So for example a fireman needs a fire engine, a doctor needs a stethoscope etc. My difficulty came when I looked for pictures of policemen, only to find the first few pages of Google filled with half naked stripper policemen – really not suitable! After some rather confused comments from my husband, I did find a much safer picture!
- Knowing all about dinosaurs. I must have spent many hours discussing dinosaurs and refereeing dinosaur fights with small children. They will always capture the imagination. Dinosaur names are also great for practising longer, multisyllabic words for your speech children!
- That I would find myself writing social stories about hair and other less obvious things. Social stories are fantastic and very useful for a range of children. Often they revolve around playing nicely, listening to the teacher, completing your work etc. But every now and then you will find yourself writing some slightly less obvious ones. ‘I like hair’, ‘I like looking at plates’, ‘I must not stroke or eat other peoples hair’, ‘Hair is fun to look at’ etc
- Talking about children’s bodily functions! It is inevitable that when you spend time with small children, you get the joy of runny noses and being covered in spit through overly enthusiastic bubble blowing. Hence my email about palate function and the child’s difficulty with blowing their nose.
- Learning the art of subtly cheating in a game without the child noticing. Sometimes you need the game to slow down or speed up, or maybe you need a certain child to win. Maybe you are letting the child hide the cards in ‘hide and seek’ and you need to keep an eye on where they are putting the pictures! Trying to subtly cheat is tricky! However, I find it interesting when the children start to notice what you are doing and tell you off!
I love working with children as you never know what they will say or do! What else have you learnt whilst spending time with children?
A while ago, Elizabeth and I were contacted by Special iApps to ask if we would review their apps. Even more generously, they are offering 2 of each of their apps as a giveaway here. I received a copy of the app for free, but the views are my own.
Special iApps is a non-profit social enterprise set up by parents of children with SEN, and they have made a range of apps to support early learning and language. Elizabeth reviewed the Special Words app a few weeks ago. You can find out more about this app here and read the review here. The app I’m going to talk about today is called Special Stories.
This is a great versatile app that you can use to build simple photo stories. There’s a very simple guide which shows you exactly how it works, so it was really quick to work out how to use it.
When you open the app up, it brings up a list of all the stories you’ve made so far that you can use or edit. When you want to build a new story you just click the + at the top and you can add a new story (or a new page to an existing story).
You type in a title and then you can add any photo from your photo library or take one there and then. So if you’re using it out and about to make a record of a trip or want to use photos of a child’s favourite toy, you can do that. It is really quick to add a photo, just take it and click “use”. After you’ve confirmed the photo, you need to record sound to go with it. You can record any verbal message you like to go with the page – so you can just read the title aloud or put a different verbal message on. Once you’ve completed your page, just save it and move on to the next one.
You can import and export stories to other devices with the app, which makes it great for sharing between home and school, for example. There are lots of settings you can alter – for example, you can automatically slide through the pages, or wait until someone clicks or taps the page to move on. You can lock editing so that it can’t accidentally be recorded over too if you want to. The only setting I’ve wanted to change and can’t (I don’t think) is to switch the voice off so that the child I’m working with can retell the story in their own words. However, this is easily solved by flicking the mute button on my iPad!
The main thing that I love about this app is how versatile it is. There are so many ways that you could use it. Here are a few ideas:-
- It would be a great way for a child with limited speech to share news between home and school. They can make a photo story of their weekend or their day at school and share it with others.
- You could use it to make personalised social stories – take real life photos of the situation and it can be ready to go in a couple of minutes – no cutting or laminating required!
- You could also use it to make step by step instructions of how to complete a task. For example, I’ve made one to help a child remember the sequence of getting dressed.
- It would be great to use it to make a communication passport for a child with limited language who is going into a new situation. You could make pages about their likes and dislikes, how they communicate etc. As long as the child has the iPad, the communication passport is always there to be used.
- With the sound off, it would also be great to use with children who are putting simple sentences together to help them to retell stories or things that have happened. They could listen to the story they have made a few times, and then try telling it again. They could even record themselves describing each page.
What other ideas can you think of? Do let us know how you have used this app or how you would like to.
This app is currently priced at £9:99, which seems is a great price for such a versatile app. However, Special iApps have very kindly offered us 2 copies to giveaway. So if you would like a copy of this app, please leave a comment on this post. We will pick two winners next Monday (10th February).