How can we support babbling and early speech development? SLT tricks and tips
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How can we support babbling and early speech development? SLT tricks and tips

My baby isn’t babbling and developing speech – what can I do to support?

While every baby develops at their own pace, if your child isn’t babbling by nine months, it’s worth seeking help from an Early Intervention Health Professional, such as a doctor and a speech therapist. Don’t panic! There are many reasons for delayed babbling, and early intervention is key.

In the meantime, it is highly recommended that we talk, sing, and read to our baby often. Exaggerate sounds and expressions, and respond to their coos and smiles. This playful interaction helps stimulate their communication skills.

Below are some tips and tricks from my experience of working with babies and toddlers who need a little bit of help and support to develop.

The benefits of imitating your baby

Copying your baby’s sounds and gestures isn’t just silly fun, it’s a powerful learning tool! By mimicking their babbles and actions, you activate “mirror neurons” in their brain that help them connect sounds with meaning. This playful back-and-forth teaches turn-taking, a foundation for conversation. Plus, it encourages them to copy you, building their own language skills and social interaction abilities.

This is a nice clip on youtube showing how copying/imitating your baby looks like:

Here are some fun ways to imitate your baby:

  • Matchmaker: Grab two of the same, or two similar toys your child loves, like rainmakers or shakers. Give one to your baby and keep the other for yourself. When your child plays with his/her toy, mirror his/her actions with yours! This creates a fun, interactive game.
  • Face Time: Get down to your baby’s level, sitting opposite him/her on the floor or kneeling. This makes eye contact easy and encourages him/her to look at you during your playful imitation.
  • Be the Funniest You: Go all out with silly faces, exaggerated sounds, and big gestures. The goal is to capture your baby’s attention and make you irresistible to watch. This playful energy encourages him/her to interact and potentially imitate you back!

By incorporating these tips, you can turn imitation into a fun and engaging way to boost your baby’s communication skills. I have seen this happen numerous times over the past decades. It is very powerful, go ahead and try it! You cannot be silly and goofy enough!

Great toy ideas:

Did you know that speech and language development starts with how we talk to our babies?

Adults naturally use a special way of speaking called motherese. It involves a higher pitch, slower pace, and exaggerated sounds compared to regular conversation. Sentences are simpler, with shorter words and repetition. This grabs babies’ attention, helps them distinguish sounds, and reinforces word meaning.

Imitation is a key part of motherese. We wait for our baby to make a sound or gesture, then playfully imitate it with exaggeration. Babies notice this right away and often respond with more vocalisations, creating a mini conversation. This back-and-forth teaches turn-taking, a foundation for future conversations.

By responding warmly and engaging in these playful interactions, we encourage our babies to keep exploring the world of communication. Talking, singing, reading and, of course, imitating, these simple actions can have a big impact on a baby’s language development.

Once your conversation is underway then try and keep it going for as long as possible. It’s a beautiful dance of turn-taking, even without words!

A last word on oxytocin

There’s evidence suggesting early non-verbal communication with your baby can increase a mother’s oxytocin levels, often called the ‘love hormone’. This hormone plays a key role in bonding and social connection. Positive interactions, touch, and stress reduction all contribute to oxytocin release, strengthening the mother–baby bond.

For parents of babies with extra needs

The stress of caring for a child with medical needs or developmental delays can be difficult. Stress can lower oxytocin levels, creating a cycle of sadness for both parent and child.

Breaking the cycle:

  1. Knowledge is Power: Understanding the importance of communication can empower parents.
  2. Seek Support: Speech therapists and other healthcare professionals can provide valuable guidance on communication strategies.
  3. Start Small, Celebrate Big: Even small interactions can boost oxytocin. Focus on playful imitation and positive reinforcement. Remember, friends, family and healthcare professionals are there to encourage you.

This approach can help reverse the negative cycle and create a more positive and connected relationship between parent and child.

I hope this is helpful! Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.

Kind regards

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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How do we play with our Gestalt Language Processors?
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How do we play with our Gestalt Language Processors?

Image by Freepik

Child-led therapy

When working with Gestalt Language Processors, it is always advisable to use child-led therapy. What does that mean? Child led therapy involves following a child’s interests and allowing her/him to lead the play activity throughout the speech and language therapy session. In other words, instead of having my own ideas of what we might want to play with or what activities I might try and use, I provide a range of toys I know the child likes or has played well with before; then I wait for the child to pick what she/he enjoys doing.

Play can be very repetitive and we can often see our child cycling back to the same one or two toys throughout the session. But this is what she/he needs to do at that time and it means that we have focused attention and engagement. This in turn is very helpful for the therapeutic process, which is to offer great scripts and phrases/words alongside what she/he is playing with.

Monotropic minds

Often the mind of autistic children is more strongly pulled towards a smaller number of interests or hobbies as I like to call them. Dr Dinah Murray, Dr Winn Lawson and Mike Lesser have found in 2005 that autistic people have ‘monotropic’ minds. They explain that autistic children focus their energy on a narrow range of activities as the energy required to switch between several toys is much higher than we would see in the neuro-typical population.

Gestalt Language Processors are often also Gestalt Cognitive Processors. This is when experiences are retained as episodic events and memories. An event is remembered by specific parts of the same event. And, therefore, these specific parts should always be part of that event, when the event is repeated.

Should any of the specifics be changed or are missing, then this can cause great upset to Gestalt Cognitive Processors. So, for example, if the last two times in speech therapy we had the train set out and this was played with happily, then this becomes a specific part of the whole session. If, I then don’t offer the train set the third time a child comes to see me, this could be very upsetting.

This is why I tend to try this out and see what happens. Usually in the 3rd or 4th session: I might not bring out the car run that has hitherto been super successful to see if we are able to transition well to other toys. If yes, then we can have new experiences but if not then I will re-offer the car run/or whatever toy pretty quickly so as not to cause complete dysregulation.

A few pointers below which help with child-led play:

Introduce a few new toys and see what happens

Parents are encouraged to bring some familiar toys their child likes to the session. We can then introduce a couple of different toys to see how we go. Try offering a new toy alongside the familiar one; try offering new toys without the familiar one present, but be prepared to re-offer the “old” toy should our child get upset.

Rotate toys and don’t offer out too many toys

I find that children can get overwhelmed and overstimulated by too many items out all at once. I always talk to parents about toy rotation at home and I encourage storage and ‘tidy up’ of toys so that we can increase attention focus, and also maintain freshness and new interest in older toys.

Some children are not yet ready to play with toys

Here I suggest people games: these are games where the adult becomes part of a more motor-based activity. Some call it ‘rough and tumble play’ but it can be nursery rhymes such as sleeping bunnies/row row the boat or peek-a-boo for the younger ones.

Copy/Imitation is so important – try getting two identical or similar play items

When we are copying our child, it is often not desirable to ‘take turns’ with their toys/blogs/cars etc as our child may not be ready to let us take a turn. Instead, if we have the exact same toy that our child is having then we can play alongside our child and copy them perfectly without interrupting their play.

References:

Murray, D., Lesser, M., & Lawson, W. (2005). Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism. Autism9(2), 139-156.

If you need help with your child, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Toy Rotation – A Good Idea?

Toy Rotation – A Good Idea?

Toy Rotation – A Good Idea?

Here is a very commonquestion/request that I get from most parentsI see: ‘Help! My childhas lots of toys!In fact we have so many toys we couldopen a shop but , alas, he/shedoesn’t play with anything for longer than a minute, even less than that! What can I do?’

My short answer to this is always: consider tidying most of the toys away and ROTATE them! This is my top tip for helping your little one sustain interest, focus, curiosity and creativity. Let me explain…

First up, I am not suggesting you sell all his/her littlegems on E-Bay (although…. ☺ ok let’s not go

there for now). NO, I simply recommend that instead of having ALL the toys out in the living room and all across the home, you put them into categories and groups and you pack them into boxes or containers so that you can find whatever you are looking for easily. So, all the construction toys – Lego’s magnetix, blocks etc go together; all vehicles, all animals and animal related items, etc etc you get the idea. (I am not suggesting you need to do a whole KONMARIon everything, (thoughto be honest I do think personally there is merit to her approach but I digress).

It works a treat not having ALL toys available at all times. Let me quickly tell you a little story about my childhood which may sound draconian to most of you, but we are talking late 50’s now in post war Germany….. What happened in my and many families for Christmas was this: your dolls house or railway tracks – and I am talking industrial tracks with electricity and proper little trains, your little shop or dolls-kitchen, all of it came down from the attic and was put up over night by one’s dad or uncle in possession of a screwdriver and some DIY skills, in readiness for the big event, this being the 24th of December, the Holy Evening. We children knew this, of course, and started talking about seeing our beloved toys again for Christmas and the period thereafter until about the 6th of January. We couldn’t wait to play with our toys and it was total bliss and happiness for about 4 weeks where we literally played day and evening with those toys. (We did get some new ones as well to be fair, but I cannot remember any of the new ones.) All that I now remember, in great detail and fondness, was my shop, my kitchenette (Victorian, splendid!), my dolls house and my cousin’s most fabulous intricate railway track. All of our toys occupied the entire basement of our home and this was where we played and played and played. Until the 6th of January. Oh yes… that was always a sad day of course when everything was packed away until…..December!!!! yep…. I vaguely recall there being a ‘special day-out’ with little treats arranged for us all and whilst away, the toys were taken up into the attic.

Kids Speech Therapist London

Like I say, it may seem somewhat outdated as an idea…but I actually am so glad I had that experience because I believe it has helped me with my language learning, my imaginative play, my ability to share and play with others, attention focus and last but not least it helped me learn to value my toys and appreciate the things I have more deeply than would otherwise have been the case (no research there, just my opinion).

Now I am not suggesting you do this, and indeed I never did this with my own kids either (I don’t have a large basement for starters)…. But I did rotate their toys quite a bit, inspired by the basic notion of my childhood experience.

The benefits are obvious if you think about it: apart from greatly reducing clutter at home, there are so many benefits of toy rotation for children. Just like us, children often find too many things all lying about unsettling; and especially our children with sensory processing difficulties can lose their sense of ease and calm very easily when overwhelmed by too many toys on offer. This is when they become restless and start roaming from one toy to the next without any focus or functional play. Additionally, just like adults, kids get bored with having the same toys or playing the same games, of course!

Anything that we always have available is by definition no longer novel or interesting.

Children who struggle to attend and listen due to developmental delays perhaps, or neuro-diverse development, possibly Attention Deficit or other diagnoses, have an increased tendency to roam, pick up and discard items as they often get distracted so very easily.

Kids Speech Therapist London

I recommend selecting a small range of toys for one week to start with. Ease your way in! Nothing is written in stone, it is not an exact science, rather more an intuitive strategy of picking what feels right for your child. If you have bags or boxes of small toy categories, as described earlier, now it becomes quite easy to decide on what toy groups to bring out.

I will give you an example – you could think of it as a TOY DIET!… so, like a food diet, you think of your food groups that you need daily and you put a menu together that has one of each group; however most of us don’t have the exact same foods everyday, we vary it so it’s a nice, healthy and enjoyable balanced diet. The same with the toys, so for instance:

Toy Rotation ‘Diet’

Week 1

  • Construction Group: Legos/ Duplos (not a ton, but a nice amount so you can actually build something)
  • Puzzles: Animal Farm Puzzle Vehicles: Cars and the Car Run
  • Action figures: Mr and Mrs Potatoe head Musical Instruments: Cylophone
  • Mark-making: Bunch of crayons/paper plates
  • Books: I wrote to the Zoo/ Hungry Caterpillar

Week 2

  • Construction Group: Train tracks
  • Puzzles: Rainbow puzzle
  • Vehicles: Trains and Planes
  • Action figures: doll house figures
  • Musical Instruments: Drum set
  • Mark making: Bingo daubers and fun bingo sheets
  • Books: Bear Hunt/ Rainbow fish

Larger Toy Items

Don’t worry about rotating those: they can be a steady back-drop to the category items your child has available: today/this week it might be animals feeding in the kitchen. Next week it might be action figures or Mr and Mrs Potatoe Head. The following week, there might be playdough out so then that can be used in the kitchen together with some Paw Patrol figures, etc. Like I said: most of us do not have a handy and empty basement or attic to store away large amounts of stuff so we do need to be pragmatic.

Tidy Up

This is often simply too overwhelming for children and the best they can do, if you are very lucky, is to throw everything into one big box, which is not what you want!

However, if you have 4-5 clearly labelled boxes for each category, now Tidying up can become a nice little activity in and of itself. Example: let’s put all the cars into the red car box, let’s count how many cars we have! Let’s see if we can find all the cars that I have hidden and then put them into the red car box! Let’s see what colours our cars are as we tidy them away…..endless possibilities for a little language development as well as a tidy bedroom, you can see this is a WINNER! You’re welcome! ☺

How To Prepare

Should you ask your child for permission to rotate their toys?… Erm… no! I think that would be like asking your little sweet-toothed cherub if she minded having the 5th ice-cream taken away… we know the answer to that one! Just decide on it, get your boxes organised, perhaps a cabinet bought or made – Ikea do simple ones – and then one day when your child is out, or in bed, you can start collecting all the toys and sifting through them – you might even want to weed out a few as you realise they are broken, bits are missing, that one scratches the floorboards, that one makes too loud a noise…etc… and then hurrah ! You are left with a load of toys that are brilliant and good for rotating. Let the fun begin!

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Electronics

A last little note on ELECTRONIC TOYS – they are, in my humble opinion, fiendishly attractive and all-consumingly fascinating for little ones…and they are mostly counterproductive to creative play. Children who are prone to repetitive behaviours, repetitive play and reduced attention span will often focus on these beeping, singing, pinging toys to the exclusion of everything and everyone else around them. This may not really be great for your child if he/she is struggling to jointly attend with other children or yourselves; or if your little one has sensory processing difficulties or lacks imaginative play.

I would highly recommend that you reduce those electronic books/toys to a minimum and only bring them out very occasionally, preferably when you yourself need a little break! The same goes for the television, laptop and tablet of course! Please consider REDUCING or entirely REMOVING all electronics from your toddler if you would like to help your child to play, to focus on a range of toys and to build their creativity and joint attention.

Summary

Rotating your child’s toys is a fantastically useful strategy that will help your child develop focus and play more independently, while also helping you reduce clutter in your home.

  • Simply make sure a good range of toy groups are available at any one time.
  • Carefully select only a few items of each group.
  • Don’t worry about rotating big toys. These toys providea great back-drop for your child’s creative play, almost as part of the furniture.
  • Keep the toys that are having a little breakout of reach and, if possible, out of sight. Out of sight is usually out of mind and therefore your child will be able to enjoy what is in front of them and not pester you all day for the thing they cannot have.
  • Think LESS IS MORE! There are no strict rules on how many items you can have out, but on average I would recommend one or two per category at the most.
  • Try to keep to a regular rotation and to make sure they have time to really explore their toys fully. Once a week is a good place to start.
  • Reduce/eliminate electronic toys – This is so important!
  • Trust and relax knowing that you are helping and facilitating your child to really enjoy their toys, and to deepen their creativity and focus.

Let me know, drop me a line and tell me how you are getting on with this. I would love to know!

🙂


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.