Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen
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Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen

Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen
Image by Freepik

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterised by social-communication challenges, restricted and repetitive behaviours, and sensory processing difficulties. While the prevalence of autism is estimated at 1 in 54 children, research suggests a significant disparity in diagnoses between genders. Boys are diagnosed with autism roughly four times more often than girls, leading us to question: Why are girls so much harder to diagnose with autism?

The answer lies in a complex interplay of factors, including:

1. Different presentations of autistic traits:

  • Socialisation: The stereotypical image of autism often portrays boys with aloofness and a lack of interest in social interaction. However, autistic girls may exhibit more subtle social difficulties. They may appear interested in socialising but struggle with understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, or navigating complex social dynamics. This ability to ‘camouflage’ their challenges can lead to misinterpretations of their intentions and abilities.
  • Restricted interests: While autistic boys may have intense interests in stereotypically ‘masculine’ topics like dinosaurs or trains, girls might gravitate towards interests traditionally associated with girls, like specific characters or activities. These interests, often deemed ‘typical’ might be overlooked as potential indicators of autism.
  • Repetitive behaviours: Repetitive behaviours are another core diagnostic feature of autism. However, autistic girls may exhibit these behaviours in more subtle ways, such as intense focus on specific routines, scripting conversations, or engaging in repetitive social interactions. These subtle expressions can easily go unnoticed.

2. The ‘camouflage’ effect:

Autistic girls, particularly those with higher cognitive abilities, may develop coping mechanisms to mask their challenges in social situations. This ‘camouflaging’ can involve mimicking social behaviours they observe in others, leading to significant internal distress and exhaustion. This effort to appear ‘normal/typical’ can further hinder accurate diagnosis.

3. Societal biases and diagnostic tools:

  • Gender bias: The current diagnostic criteria for autism were largely developed based on studies of boys, leading to a potential bias towards male presentations of the condition. This can result in girls who don’t exhibit the ‘typical’ symptoms being missed altogether.
  • Lack of awareness: Healthcare professionals and educators may have limited awareness of how autism manifests differently in girls. This lack of understanding can lead to misinterpretations of their behaviours and missed opportunities for diagnosis and support. I must say that this is really common in my working day. I see a child—girls or boys in this case to be fair, but mainly girls—where parents tell me: the doctor/health visitor/paediatrician has said it was ‘just a little delay’ and I am thinking ‘Really!??? What did they look at? How did they not see X Y Z’… It really is still very common.

4. Co-occurring conditions:

Autistic girls are more likely to experience co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression, which can overshadow the core features of autism. This makes it even more challenging to identify the underlying autism diagnosis.

The consequences of missed diagnoses and this goes of course for both, autistic girls AND boys!:

The consequences of undiagnosed autism can be significant. Children may experience:

  • Lack of access to appropriate support: Without a diagnosis, children may miss out on crucial interventions and therapies that can help them manage their challenges and thrive.
  • Increased vulnerability to mental health issues: The stress of masking and navigating social complexities can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.
  • Difficulty forming meaningful relationships: Social difficulties and communication challenges can hinder their ability to build and maintain healthy relationships.

Moving forward: Towards a more inclusive diagnosis:

To ensure all individuals on the spectrum receive the support they need, it’s crucial to:

  • Increase awareness and education: Healthcare professionals, educators, and the general public need to be educated about the diverse presentations of autism in girls and of course also in boys. Let’s not forget that we are still seeing older autistic boys with diagnoses given aged 12 years and older who have slipped through the net.
  • Develop gender-neutral diagnostic tools: Diagnostic criteria and assessments should be revised to encompass the broader spectrum of autistic traits, regardless of gender.
  • Encourage open communication: Parents, caregivers, and individuals themselves should be encouraged to voice their concerns and seek evaluations, even if their experiences don’t perfectly align with stereotypical presentations of autism.

By acknowledging the complexities of diagnosing autism, particularly in girls, and working towards a more inclusive approach, we can pave the way for earlier diagnoses, appropriate support, and a brighter future for all individuals on the autism spectrum.

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.


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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Stage 2 NLA
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Stage 2 NLA

Image by Freepik

Last time we asked: is our child ready tp move to Stage 2 NLA (Natural Language Acquisition stage 2) and we looked at how we can know. Now we know: he/she is ready, they are mixing and matching those scripts quite liberally! Hurrah!

So for example we hear phrases like:

  • ‘let’s go’+ ‘downstairs’
  • ‘it’s’ + ‘downstairs’
  • ‘I see it’ + ‘downstairs‘
  • ‘I want to’ + ‘shoes downstairs’ (I want to put my shoes on downstairs)

To recap, it’s important to listen out to a variety of contexts because if we only hear the single version of a gestalt —this is so great, hurrah!— but that’s not yet Stage 2.

What we can now do on a daily basis to help and support at this time:

1. We need to offer more ‘mix and match’ phrases to help our child establish this new way of communicating.

Good phrases:

  • It’s … raining / cooking / eating / washing / brushing
  • That’s … great / cool / amazing / wow / so good
  • Let’s … see / look / go / run / chase
  • How’bout … some food / playing / I’ll chase / sleeping / we read a book
  • I see a … bird / large car / fire engine
  • I wanna … have a biscuit / have a book / have a snuggle
  • We’re … going out / going home / going in the car / going upstairs

Here in my video clip of train play I use:

  • Let’s go
  • It’s going up the hill
  • It’s coming down
  • Ooops it falls!
  • It’s stopping
  • Let’s put on another parcel
  • Ready steady go
  • Off we go
  • It’s come off!
  • Let’s fix it
  • I can do it
  • I don’t need help

You can offer these gestalts either with an AAC as you can see me do in the video clip or you can just verbally offer these.

2. Watch out for Pronoun confusion or reversal:

Gestalt kids repeat gestalts, so we don’t want to create ‘pronoun reversal’.

Instead model from a:

  • first person perspective: ‘I’ / ‘Our’ / ‘Us’
  • joint perspective: ‘We’ / ‘Let’s’ or a
  • neutral perspective: ‘It’

You can turn almost any sentence into a good language model once you get used to it. And you can avoid ‘you’ and ‘your’ at the same time!

So instead of saying, ‘Do you want to go to the park?’

You could say:

  • We wanna go to the park?
  • Let’s go out?
  • Shall we go out / to the park?

3. Start providing ‘variation’ in your language modelling:

Instead of just modelling something one way, start thinking about offering a pattern in a couple of other ways, in a couple of different situations, then several ways in several different situations.

Example: once you hear your child saying: ‘it’s raining’ and you know it’s a mitigation, because you don’t often say ‘it’s raining’, or haven’t said it in a while and you know your child says other ‘it’s’ phrases.

Repeat: ‘it’s raining!’

Then: ‘it’s’ + ‘raining hard’ / ‘it’s wet out there’ / ‘It’s’ + ‘raining lot’s’.

Then later think of other combinations for ‘it’s’ + ‘something’:

  • (rice) ‘It’s’ + ‘cooking’
  • (water/tap) ‘It’s’ + ‘running’
  • (radio) ‘It’s’ + ‘singing
  • (dog) ‘It’s’ + ‘peeing’ / ‘it’s’ + ‘running’ / ‘it’s’ + ‘jumping’

In my train video clip:

  • Let’s go
  • It’s going
  • Let’s make it go
  • Ready steady go
  • Oops its gone

4. Use natural intonation that shows you really mean what you’re saying.

You can be animated or try for musical if your child prefers that / doesn’t mind you singing —they might not like it if their hearing is pitch perfect and your singing is off key…—

  • ‘I’m’ + ‘trying to find you!’ (animated, goofy face)
  • ‘I’m’ +’ getting tired!’ (exaggerated stretch and yawn)
  • ‘I’m’ + ‘catching up with you!’ (animated goofy)
  • ‘I’m’ + ‘gonna get you!’ (animated goofy)
  • ‘I’m’ + ‘sad right now’ (exaggerated face and tone of voice)

5. USE SILENCE!

Important, I might not have said this before but we need to hold back sometimes (hard I know) and not constantly offer models. Let our child sit in a bit of silence with us there just observing and waiting for their own offers. This is a very important point. Silence is golden sometimes. Try it out. I am not talking about the silence that comes with a person scrolling on their phone though, we do need to be present and receptive.

You will see this works wonders!

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.

You can also check my friend’s lovely handmade jewelry on her website.


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 know our Gestalt Learner is moving to Stage 2?
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How do we know our Gestalt Learner is moving to Stage 2?

Image by Freepik

Is our student ready to move to NLA 2 (Natural Language Acquisition stage 2)?

We know that the GLP (Gestalt Language Processor) will move into the next stage when they are ready. But are they now ready you might think? When are they ready? How do I know? If you are not sure whether your child is ready to move forward then go and see your GLP trained Speech Therapist. Together you can work out what the next steps are and how to help your child settle into NLA 2. It’s very exciting!!

Tip

The first useful tip: keep a language sample of phrases your child says. This is very helpful!

You might want to check with your Speech Therapist and offer some language sampling you have taken so they can help you figure out where your child is currently. Always keep an Utterance Journal that you can share with your Speech Therapist and with others who look after your child.

Basically, we want to listen out for phrases our child says that you or nursery don’t say routinely; that way you can presume that this is not an echo but a mixing together of two chunks of gestalts. Watch out for those coco melon phrases though: double check it really isn’t an NLA 1 gestalt that is copied verbatim from a favourite you tube video.

You can best support your child best by listening, and thus figuring out what your child is TRYING TO SAY. Often your child might skip over the parts of gestalts they don’t want to say. This is common in older kids who have long gestalts, sometimes even whole episodes or whole stories!

Try and tease out their shorter mitigations and then focus on practicing and modelling those as they are so much more useful!

So back to our question: are they ready?

Are their gestalts covering a variety of situations and contexts?

Make a note in your journal to see what the backgrounds are to each phrase you ear, so for example:

  • Transitioning: ‘it’s time for the park’ ‘what’s next’ ‘shoes on’
  • Bed Time: ‘we need to wash’ ‘let’s get in (bath/bed)’ ‘ready for our book’
  • Toilet/nappy: ‘we need the potty’ ‘where’s the potty’ ‘let’s wash hands’
  • Mealtime: ‘time to eat’ ‘go get a spoon’ ‘yummy num num’
  • Park/going out: ‘look at the squirrel’ ‘funny doggy’ ‘I wanna swing’
  • At the shops: ‘let’s get the trolley’ ‘lots of veggies’ ‘no tomatoes’ ‘ooh long queue’ ‘back to the car’

And… does the child use the phrases for a variety of functions?

  • labelling
  • providing information
  • calling out
  • affirming
  • requesting
  • protesting
  • directing

We need to offer lots of similar language models so that in their own time our children can extract/mitigate useful phrases for what they want to express. The more similar utterances a child hears around him the more he/she can discover the communalities. Once the child has a small range of phrases, he/she can mix them up and create semi-original own phrases.

If the answer is YES!! our child has perhaps not all but a range of functions and a range of situations where they use a variety of easily mitigable gestalts then yes they are ready for moving to stage 2 of NLA!

Hurrah!

Keeping a journal of what your child is saying and in what circumstance is crucial to help with our ongoing detective work!

Next time I will be looking at how we can help our NLA 2 GLP produce even more of their own mix and match phrases.

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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A day in my life as an Independent Speech and Language Therapist

A day in my life as an Independent Speech and Language Therapist

During the pandemic I wrote a blog on what my working day looked like. Now a good year has passed since coming back to some sort of normality and I thought I would update this ‘day in the life of an SLT’ as my working life has changed of course to reflect the ‘new normal’.

I have become truly busy, perhaps busier than I have ever been to be honest. It’s probably mostly due to the fact that I do most of the aspects of my work myself — though I want to mention two invaluable people here without whom I could not function as well as I do: the excellent Nathalie Mahieu () helps me with my SEO, Insta posts and blog uploading and the wonderful Sue Bainbridge () makes sure that my accounts don’t get into trouble with His Majesty’s tax office.

Attached to our role as Speech and Language Therapists is an arguably enormous amount of administration/paperwork and preparation required for each and every client. This needs to be factored in when deciding how many families I can realistically see each working day. For me it works out as typically 3–5 clients a day, Monday to Friday.

So how does my day typically look? Each day varies a lot depending on what type of client I have, but on average it looks a bit like this:

First thing in the morning — after having a coffee and a quick check-in with my besties on WhatsApp — I do my Buddhist chanting for about an hour. My Buddhist prayers are the base of all I do and get me connected to my higher purpose and how to create value with each activity and each person I see that day. It sets me up for the day, I keep in mind who is going to come and see me and how I can best help them.

Next up, I do the daily ‘spring-clean’ of my therapy room (on all fours! no joke ???? those kids see every speck!), vacuum the floors, wipe down the toys with flash-wipes and tidy up all my boxes, making sure that the battery toys are working, and everything else is in place. On to the guest toilet, the hallway needs to be rid of all the men’s shoes and trainers and coats… It’s endless what needs tidying when you are living with three men… This takes about 45 minutes.

An articulation activity – packaging practice into a little game

Then I prep for all my clients that day. I have now got so much quicker about selecting therapy materials. For one thing I have purchased so many toys and materials over the past five years that I can literally now open a shop and need to consider building an extension! ???? The upside is that it is now very easy for me to select a good handful of toys or games for any one child, even at a minute’s notice. Though, on average, I spend about 30 minutes per child preparing activities.

Hurrah, it’s 11 am and my first client of the day arrives and the fun begins.

When they leave around an hour later, the cleaning and wiping down starts again, this time less extensively. I write up my notes and send homework whilst enjoying a cuppa.

The next client comes at 12.30 pm and once they have left, floor cleaned, toys wiped, notes written it is time for a quick lunch. No more than half an hour usually.

Afternoon clients tend to be one more little one (nursery age) at 2.15 pm and thereafter I see mostly older school children for a variety of reasons (mainly speech production but also some language-based activities). I tend to say farewell to my last client of the day around 6 pm. I spend another hour, sometimes more, on writing up notes, answering new enquiries, blogging and phone calls to keep my service fresh, inspirational and exciting.

And then dinner and the rest of the day rushes by. I tend to finish my day with some more Buddhist chanting, not a lot, perhaps 10–20 minutes to reflect on what has gone well and what could have been better — re-determine to improve or make better as needed.

Tele therapy activity using online materials plus a coreboard

In terms of where I provide a service, I still do a good mix of online clients (tele-therapy) and in-person clients in my clinic, which I love. Occasionally, I visit children in their nursery or at home but this service is now only available for long-standing clients.

Each client is hand-picked to make sure that we are a good fit: no one client gets the same treatment as another; each client is unique, we get to know one another well over the time we work together and they are always highly valued. That takes time and, in reality, each client gets about two hours of my time. That is the actual session plus all the preparation and aftercare, i.e., bespoke hand holding, tweaks, problem solving and reassurance in between sessions.

I absolutely love this way of working and would not ever want to do anything else. Nearly three decades of working both in the NHS and in private practice, countless courses (continual professional development) have enabled me to flourish as a therapist and I know that I offer something special and very valuable to my clients.

My unique way of working affords all my lovely clients the help they need to support their children to make progress; and it gives me the right balance of job satisfaction and work life balance for now. My lovely reviews and testimonials tell me that my clients appreciate my service and this at the end of the day is the most important.

If you are interested in exploring Buddhism/buddhist chanting then check out this link (https://sgi-uk.org/), and feel free to contact me about that specifically, regardless of whether you want speech therapy. I am always happy to chat about Buddhism, it has been so enriching for the last 43 years of my life.

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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Milestones of Autistic Children: Crawling, Walking, and Talking
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Milestones of Autistic Children: Crawling, Walking, and Talking

For all children every milestone achieved is a testament to the unique and intricate process unfolding within each young mind. For autistic children, this journey may present a distinct pattern, with some reaching developmental milestones like crawling, walking, and talking later than their neurotypical peers. Let’s have a look into the fascinating realm of Autism and explore why some autistic children might crawl, walk, and talk later, shedding light on the underlying factors contributing to this unique way of developing.

1. Individual Pacing:

Child development is not a one-size-fits-all journey. Each child, whether neurotypical or autistic, has a unique timeline for achieving milestones. Autistic children, like any other children, follow their own pacing. This individual rhythm might lead them to focus on one set of skills before they progress to others. Like some neurotypical children might focus on talking earlier than walking, autistic children might prioritise other areas before crawling or talking.

2. Neurodevelopmental Complexity:

The human brain is a remarkable entity, with a bewildering array of interconnected processes that lead to us achieving our developmental milestones. Autistic children often have variations in “neural wiring”, which can impact the balance between gross motor skills (crawling, walking) and fine motor skills. Speech and language acquisition falls under fine motor skills and may be momentarily disrupted due to the divergent neurological pathways at play in autism.

2. Sensory Processing Differences:

One of the hallmarks of autism is altered sensory processing. Autistic children often experience sensory stimuli differently than their neurotypical peers. This heightened or diminished sensitivity can influence a child’s desire or ability to engage in activities like crawling and walking. The sensation of movement while crawling or walking, for instance, might be overwhelming for some autistic children, causing them to either avoid or delay these activities.

3. Visual-Spatial Abilities:

Autistic children and adults frequently display excellent visual-spatial abilities. This strength might lead some children to focus more on activities that engage these skills, potentially delaying their engagement with activities like walking or talking. As they navigate their environment and process information visually, they might naturally invest more time in activities that stimulate this particular cognitive ability and strength.

4. Communication Challenges:

For many autistic children, speaking can be a really complex and difficult endeavour. Communication delays are a common feature of autism. This can affect both receptive and expressive language development. While some children might be physically capable of crawling or walking, they may not yet have the tools to communicate their desires and intentions. This leads to a temporary focus on non-speaking forms of expression. This does not mean that they do not communicate at all. But autistic individuals often start out using jargoning or echolalia as a form of communication as well as behaviours and physical forms of communication.

5. Executive Functioning and Motor Skills:

Executive functioning, or abilities for planning, organising, and carrying out tasks, can vary in autistic children. These skills are crucial for activities like crawling, walking, and talking, which need coordination and planning. About 40% of autistic persons have a motor planning difficulty.

6. Intense Interests and Routines:

Autistic children often develop intense interests in specific subjects, sometimes to the exclusion of other activities. These interests might become their primary mode of engagement. They might side-line milestones like crawling, walking, or talking. The mostly rigid adherence to routines and preferences might cause them to allocate more time to their preferred activities. This delays their engagement with other developmental tasks.

How can Speech and Language Therapy help:

Support and Intervention:

Early intervention and regular Speech and Language Therapy play a pivotal role in the developmental journey of autistic children. Therapies tailored to individual needs can aid in bridging the gaps between milestones. Occupational therapy, for example, can help address sensory sensitivities and motor skill challenges that might impact crawling and walking. Speech therapy can help communication development, gradually bridging the gap between non-verbal expressions and spoken language.

For example, we now know that echolalia or jargoning of longer phrases with intonation, repeating scripts from favourite tv shows or songs have many meanings and communicative functions. For example, a child who utters long strings of echolalic utterances, often difficult to understand, might want to do any one of the following:

  • Comment
  • greet
  • ask a question
  • make a request
  • express surprise
  • negate something.

We now understand that the way to support a child with echolalia is to acknowledge all utterances and try and find out what the meaning is behind these scripts. This is very supportive. Over time it will lead a child to move on to understanding and saying more clear and self-generated language. For more information about this Natural Language Acquisition here are some other great websites for you to look at:

Conclusion

In conclusion, the journey of an autistic child’s development is a testament to the uniqueness and complexity of the human mind. The delays or differences in achieving milestones like crawling, walking, and talking can be attributed to a range of factors, including

  • neurodevelopmental intricacies,
  • sensory processing variations,
  • and communication challenges.

It’s crucial to recognise that these delays are not indicative of a lack of potential, but rather a manifestation of the intricate interplay between an autistic child’s strengths and challenges. By embracing these differences and providing tailored support, we can help each autistic child unfold their potential at their own pace.

Do get in touch if you would like to book an appointment where we can explore how to help your child develop and thrive

Do get in touch if you would like to book an appointment where we can explore how to help your child develop and thrive


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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