Using AAC during play with your child
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Using AAC during play with your child

Playtime! It’s a magic time for exploration, learning, and connection.

If your child is struggling to use words with his/her mouth, we can always use a robust Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device to help find their words. We know that using such a device does never stop or delay children to speak with their mouths. On the contrary it helps, enormously!

Can playtime still be a blast? Absolutely! In fact, incorporating AAC into play can be a powerful way to boost communication skills, build confidence, and create a truly inclusive play experience. Here’s how to make it happen, with a focus on core words and core scripts for our GLP’s (the building blocks of communication used by everyone). In this video I am using the core word ‘IN’ and ‘MORE’.

The Magic of Core Words

Core words are the most frequently used words in everyday communication. They might be verbs like ‘want’, ‘more’, ‘go’, or ‘stop’, or adjectives like ‘happy’, ‘sad’, and ‘hot’. These words are the foundation for building sentences and expressing needs and desires. They’re perfect for children using AAC because they’re simple to understand and use.

Let’s Play! Here’s How

1. Choose Your AAC System

Many options exist! It could be a low-tech picture board with core words, such as the one you see pasted on my cabinet door in the background, or it can be a dedicated AAC app on your tablet. Here I am using the GRID app but I also love using others, such as LAMP Words for Life.

2. Make it Fun and Functional

No pressure! Integrate your AAC system seamlessly into your play routine. Here are some ideas:

  • Car/trains: Use core words to describe what the cars are doing: (‘down’, ‘go’, ‘stop’, ‘again’ ‘fast’ ‘slow’).
  • Dress-up: Use core words to choose clothes (‘want’, ‘hat’, ‘shoes’).
  • Tea Party: Use core words to ask for and share (‘more’, ‘juice’, ‘give’).
  • Building Blocks: Use core words to describe what you’re building (‘tall’, ‘big’, ‘house’).
  • Dolls/Stuffed Animals: Use core words to act out scenarios (‘sleep’, ‘eat’, ‘cry’).
  • Arts and Crafts: Use core words to describe colours (‘red’, ‘blue’), actions (‘draw’, ‘paint’), and feelings (‘happy’, ‘sad’).

If your child is a Gestalt Language Processor you will want to model meaningful, fun scripts instead of single words! As above, but use phrases:

  • Car/trains: Use scripts to describe what the cars are doing: (‘it’s going down’, ‘let’s go’, ‘make it stop’, ‘want it again’, ‘that was fast’, ‘it’s so slow’).
  • Dress-up: Use scripts to choose clothes (‘I’m gonna wear this’ ‘that’s a lovely hat’, ‘let’s choose shoes’).
  • Tea Party: Use scripts to ask for and share (‘I want more’, ‘more juice’, ‘give me this’).
  • Building Blocks: Use scripts to describe what you’re building (‘a tall one’, ‘that’s so big’, ‘it’s a house’).
  • Dolls/Stuffed Animals: Use scripts to act out scenarios (‘it’s time to sleep’, ‘let’s eat’, ‘he’s crying’).
  • Arts and Crafts: Use scripts to describe colours (‘a red crayon’), actions (‘let’s draw’, ‘I’m gonna paint’), and feelings (‘I’m happy’, ‘that’s so sad’).

3. Model, Model, Model

This is key! As you play, constantly model using your child’s AAC system.

  • Point to the picture or word or script you’re using.
  • Speak clearly and slowly while pointing.
  • When using core words for either Analytical or Gestalt Language Processors, try using good phrases. For example, instead of just saying ‘juice’, say, ‘you want more juice?’

4. Make it a Team Effort

Get everyone involved! Encourage siblings, grandparents, and caregivers to use the AAC system with your child during playtime. The more consistent the approach, the faster your child will learn and feel confident using their voice.

5. Celebrate Progress, Big and Small!

Every step counts! Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s efforts, whether it’s reaching for their AAC system or successfully using a core word. This positive reinforcement will keep them motivated.

Remember

  • Playtime should be fun, not stressful. Don’t force your child to use their AAC system. Let them lead the way and follow their interests.
  • Every child develops at their own pace. Celebrate your child’s unique communication journey.
  • Seek professional help when needed. Your SLT can provide tailored strategies and resources to support your child’s development.

By incorporating AAC and core words into playtime, you’re not just fostering communication; you’re creating a space for your child to thrive, explore, and build strong connections.

So, grab those toys, power up your AAC system, and get ready for a playtime adventure filled with fun, connection and, therefore, communication!

Don’t hesitate to contact me!

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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Let’s live and breathe AAC
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Let’s live and breathe AAC

We all have the right and want to express thoughts, feelings, and needs. For non-speaking or minimally speaking children, finding an avenue to communicate effectively can be a challenging journey. Parents are often at a loss as to where to start. Sometimes a little bit of Makaton signing has been used here and there but we mostly find that gradually signing fades as parents feel that it just doesn’t seem to get copied and used by the children.

They live and breathe their system

This is where we need to pick up the pieces and start again: because all successful families where children start using their boards or their electronic AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) systems do this one thing: THEY LIVE AND BREATHE THEIR SYSTEM.

  • They have boards in every single room of the house;
  • They have a board in the car, attached to the side of car door so their child can point to it as they need to;
  • They have a smaller board in their handbag/rucksack when out and about;
  • They have a board for shopping and attach it to the shopping trolley;
  • They are never ever without their board.

Because they realise that a child should never be without their mouths to speak, should never be without a means to speak. They use their own board to model and the child has always access to their board to model back or to just look.

This is where success begins

Success begins at consistent and joyful use of the board/AAC system throughout the entire day. If we think about it, doesn’t it make sense? Of course, it does! We talk to our child for the first two years of their life continuously wherever we are and our child is continuously encouraged to use their mouths for talking in all situations.

Same goes for Signing: Makaton or any other sign system is a very powerful means to aid communication and I certainly advocate and use it in practice. Though much like words, signs are very elusive and temporary—as soon as the sign has been made it is gone and no longer present. Same with words of course. This can be difficult for people who need longer to process information.

The beauty of symbols or photographs is that they are permanent: they don’t vanish, they stay and with the core board they stay in the same place! This is very reassuring. We can learn where a symbol is and we can be assured that it will still be there the next time we look at the board.

AAC core board

Here is a picture of a core board:

AAC board

You can download this and other boards for free on the Saltillo Word Power website.

It has 48 cells and we can see the most frequently used core words on here, words that we use 80% of the day when talking with our non-speaking/minimally speaking children, younger children and children with cognitive delay. We keep our sentences short and we say phrases pertaining to their daily lives;

  • Let’s GET your toy
  • PUT it here, PUT it away, PUT it IN
  • Let’s READ a book
  • UP you get
  • WANT some MORE?
  • That’s GOOD isn’t it?
  • Let’s OPEN the box and LOOK

And so on… All these phrases can be aided with the above board. Your child will learn OVER TIME and OVER CONTINUOUS USE where GET/PUT/MORE/WANT/IN—where these symbols are. For children who are slow to process this is so helpful, to have a visual representation of what has just been said. It aids understanding in the first place. Gradually as a child starts to copy they will point to powerful symbols themselves and if they want to speak they can also speak of course:

A child might point to WANT + MORE and then say with their mouths: BANANA!

Board examples

Here are some other boards I have made specifically for daily situations and preferences of some of my students. Here is one for toileting:

AAC toileting board

And another one:

These boards incorporate high-frequency and versatile words, enabling us to make little sentences.

Building Language and Literacy Skills

AAC Core Boards are not just tools for immediate communication. They also play a pivotal role in language and literacy development. By using these boards, non-speaking children engage with words and symbols, reinforcing their understanding of language structure and grammar.

Over time they naturally absorb language patterns, laying the foundation for improved literacy skills.

Customisation for Individual Needs

Every non-speaking child is unique, and their communication needs can vary significantly. AAC Core Boards are designed with this diversity in mind. The boards can be adapted to include specific vocabulary relevant to the child’s daily life, interests, and activities. This personalisation ensures that the AAC Core Board is a true reflection of the child’s personality and needs, making communication more engaging and effective.

Collaboration between AAC Core Boards and Speech Therapy

While AAC Core Boards are an incredible tool, they are only used effectively by the non-speaking child when the board is used BY ALL COMMUNICATION PARTNERS around the child.

Again, I know I am being repetitive here, but the board needs to be used and modelled by the adults constantly in the first place and for a period of time before we can expect our children to take an interest and use the boards themselves. Think how long it typically takes for a child to learn their first word: around a year! During that time the adults talk constantly to their child without hesitation or expectation! The same goes for introducing this new way of communicating.

Collaborating with your child’s speech-language therapist (SLT) ensures that your child receives the right guidance in using the AAC system. SLTs can assess your child’s communication abilities, recommend appropriate boards and provide guidance on how to best implement them.

Conclusion

For non-speaking children, AAC Core Boards are bridges to their world.

These boards foster language development, social interaction, and personal expression. AAC Core Boards offer a beacon of hope, helping non-speaking children break through communication barriers and thrive in a world that is waiting to hear their voices. Boards are simple for anyone to use and understand. Have a go! You will be surprised how lovely it is to use a board with ease and once your child sees you do this, you have a chance for your child to start copying you…and express something! HOW ABOUT THAT! I look forward to hearing your stories!

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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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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Autism – Benefits of Early Assessment and Intervention
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Autism – Benefits of Early Assessment and Intervention

I think my child might be autistic – how can we help?
Image by macrovector on Freepik

Consulting a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist can help you in several ways: assessment, informal and formal observation, discussion and advice, onward referrals, direct intervention, parent coaching, educational support and much more, all geared towards supporting you the parents, and helping your child to flourish and thrive.

First up, we can help you with assessment and advice: with a wealth of expertise in observing childrens’ play and communication, as well as knowledge of the latest research we can see a child’s strengths and areas of struggle very quickly indeed.

Within a short space of time, we can identify the areas we need to focus on and start guiding you towards helping your child to connect, respond, react and feel better.

Early detection is key

If autism is detected in infancy, then therapy can take full advantage of the brain’s plasticity. It is hard to diagnose Autism before 18 months but there are early signs we know to look out for. Let’s have a brief look at the sorts of things we look at.

The earliest signs of Autism involve more of an absence of typical behaviours and not the presence of atypical ones.

  • Often the earliest signs are that a baby is very quiet and undemanding. Some babies don’t respond to being cuddled or spoken to. Baby is being described as a ‘good baby, so quiet, no trouble at all’.
  • Baby is very object focused: he/she may look for long periods of time at a red spot/twinkly item further away, at the corner of the room for example.
  • Baby does not make eye contact: we can often see that a baby looks at your glasses for example instead of ‘connecting’ with your eyes.
  • At around 4 months we should see a baby copying adults’ facial expressions and some body movements, gestures and then increasingly cooing sounds we make; babies who were later diagnosed with autism were not seen to be doing this.
  • Baby does not respond with smiles by about 6 months.
  • By about 9 months, baby does not share sounds in a back-and-forth fashion.
  • By about 12 months baby does not respond/turn their heads when their name is called.
  • By around 16 months we have no spoken words; perhaps we hear sounds that sound like ‘speech’ but we cannot make out what the sounds are.
  • By about 24 months we see no meaningful two-word combinations that are self-generated by the toddler. We might see some copying of single words.

24 months plus:

  • Our child is not interested in other children or people and seems unaware of others in the same room/play area.
  • Our child prefers to play alone, and dislikes being touched, held or cuddled.
  • He/she does not share an interest or draw attention to their own achievements e.g., ‘daddy look I got a dog’.
  • We can see our child not being aware that others are talking to them.
  • We see very little creative pretend play.
  • In the nursery our child might be rough with other children, pushing, pinching or scratching, biting sometimes; or our child might simply not interact with others and be unable to sit in a circle when asked to.

What sort of speech and language difficulties might we see?

Our child might do any of the following:

  • have no speech at all, but uses body movements to request things, takes adults by the hand
  • repeat the same word or phrase over and over; sometimes straight away after we have said it or sometimes hours later
  • repeat phrases and songs from adverts or videos, nursery rhymes or what dad says every day when he gets back from work etc.
  • copy our way of intonation
  • not understand questions – and respond by repeating the question just asked:
    • adult: Do you want apple? child: do you want apple?
  • not understand directions or only high frequency directions in daily life
  • avoid eye contact or sometimes ‘stares’
  • lack of pointing or other gestures

Common behaviours:

  • Hand flapping
  • Rocking back-and-forth
  • Finger flicking or wriggling/moving
  • Lining up items/toys
  • Wheel spinning, spinning around self
  • Flicking lights on and off, or other switches
  • Running back-and-forth in the room, needing to touch each wall/door
  • Loud screaming when excited
  • Bashing ears when frustrated or excited
  • Atypical postures or walking, tip toeing, can be falling over easily, uncoordinated
  • Can be hyper sensitive to noises, smells, textures, foods, clothing, hair cutting, washing etc.
  • Being rigid and inflexible, needing to stick to routines, unable to transition into new environments
  • Food sensitivity, food avoidance, food phobias

I mentioned this to be a ‘brief’ look at the areas and it is: each topic is looked at very deeply and each area is multi-facetted therefore a diagnosis is rarely arrived at very quickly. We want to make sure we have covered all aspects and have got to know your child very well before coming to conclusions.

Early detection is key, because we want to start helping your child to make progress as quickly as is possible. If you feel /know that your child is delayed in their speech and language development and you would like a professional opinion then please do contact me, I look forward to supporting you. It is important to know at this point, that if your child only has one or two of the above aspects it may mean that your child is simply delayed for reasons other than Autism and if that is the case, we will be able to help you iron out a few areas of need so that your child can go on thriving.

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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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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Developing Joint Attention
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Developing Joint Attention

Image by Freepik

Joint attention skills what are they and how can we facilitate those?

Most of us want to make friends, connect with others and bond with a friend or be part of a community. To do so we need to develop an important social skill which is: initiating, responding to, and maintaining ‘shared/joint attention’ with another. When we can do this, we are able to focus on the same thing with another person or a group of people: music, hobbies, sport, art, books, toys, games or memories: remember when we did x y z…

Many children who struggle with speech and language development are not able to share or hold attention with another person very easily. My latest blog is all about what we can do to help our children develop Joint Attention.

So to re-cap, joint or shared attention happens when one person gets the other’s attention by either words, or gestures like pointing to something and saying ‘OMG look over there!’ – both people look at that same thing.

What does it take to have or develop this skill?

We need to first of all find something of interest that captivates our own attention. This part is usually not difficult for most people or children.

Then, crucially, we need to direct our focus away from what we find interesting, for long enough to get another person’s attention onto the same topic. This could be just seconds or it could be longer if we are very determined and good at embracing others into our experience. But if we are not then it must not take longer than seconds!

Let me give an example: if someone is in the room with me whilst I see something strange out the window, I would take that second to draw their attention to it. However, I might not be bothered to run upstairs and find someone only to show them something odd outside in the road. If I am very bored, I might do! But as I am rarely bored it is unlikely. So, unless someone else is right here with me, they are not going to be part of that particular experience, I would not share it.

Back to our child: if we make it difficult for a child who is not naturally inclined to share an interest then it is not going to happen. We must be ready, and right there for our child to have that fleeting second to look at us before returning to their hobby/interest.

This skill ‘to share a moment’ tends to develop around 12 months of age and starts with a child pointing to things. Prior to that, our child might give us something or come to show us a thing. Joint attention underpins language skills and is strong predictors of later language development (Law et al, 2017).

What are the signs that my child is struggling with Joint Attention?

  • Tunes out or does not respond when I call their name
  • Cannot follow my suggestions for games or toys/play activities
  • Does not point to anything of interest, like a truck passing by, or an aeroplane in the sky
  • Ignores or does not respond to what I say, does not follow instructions, only when he/she wants to

What can I do to help with this?

Here are some ideas you can follow in no particular order – see which one sticks:

  1. Get down to your child’s eye/face level, we call it ‘face to face’. It does not require your child to make eye contact with you but they might just do so more easily if you are ‘just there’ and don’t have to crook their neck to look up at you. When reading a book with your child, instead of sitting behind try sitting opposite him/her.
  2. Mirror play – making funny faces together in a mirror can be fun.
  3. COPY your child: top tip!! Imitate your child’s vocalisations and actions. Even if these are repetitive, just enjoy the ride.
  4. Follow your child and let your child take the lead in the play activity. What does that look like? The adult has no agenda, does not want to teach, to ask questions (see point number 9) does not want to direct or show the child how to ‘do it better/differently’ – instead accept that the child is the boss when it comes to their play and take their lead in how a toy should be played with.
  5. Hold up objects to your face or at eye level so that your child can see your face and the item at the same time.
  6. Be the ‘funniest thing’ in the room; be hugely entertaining, watchable and offer the ‘irresistible invitation’ to look at you or play with you.
  7. Offer PEOPLE TOYS (any toy where another person is needed to have fun) so: wind-up toys, bubbles, anything that needs opening or holding or doing which is tricky for the child to do alone. I always try and hide the buttons that make something ‘go’ so that my child needs to come back to me for ‘more/again’.
  8. Do PEOPLE GAMES – as above really but games that do not need a toy, that need another person to have fun: being swung round, row row the boat, being pushed on a swing etc.
  9. REDUCE ASKING QUESTIONS – this is my favourite top tip!!! Instead of asking lots of questions try and make simple statements/comments on what is happening so there is absolutely no pressure on your child to ‘perform’. Equally, silence is actually golden sometimes! An odd bit of advice from a speech therapist? Try sitting with your child, next to them or opposite and just don’t talk but simply BE… yes easier said than done, I do know this. Turn off your phone (OMG did I just say that!?) yes, please turn it off and just be with your child for a little while, just like a comfy buddy who is just enjoying their company with no agenda. You might be very surprised how your child suddenly seeks you out!

I will write about more ideas on this in my next blog so look out for more play ideas to encourage Joint Attention.

Most important, try and have fun with your child. Think about what is fun for her or him. And make it EASY for your child, remember unless you are ‘right there’ it might not happen so easily.

Happy New Year!

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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Are the Gestalts I model easy to mix and match later on?
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Are the Gestalts I model easy to mix and match later on?

Image by bearfotos on Freepik

Here are some examples of great phrases and Gestalts that we could use:

  • Let’s get a banana / Let’s go out / Let’s play lego / Let’s go see daddy
  • That’s nice! / That’s really good! / That’s a green one / That’s a submarine
  • Need more help / Need a wee wee / Need that / Need to run
  • How about a biscuit / How about a cuddle / How about watching tv
  • We love bananas / We love a monkey / We love a cuddle

Why or how could these examples be mixed and matched?

You can see I have given several examples for each, that is how later a child can take one chunk (let’s) and add another (go out) or (need) + (go out).

What about our own grammar? Should we be using grammatical phrases?

In general for NLA 1 (Natural Language Acquisition stage 1) we want to use short phrases and keep them quite generic, something like:

‘Let’s go’ or ‘let’s play’ and pick 2-3 phrases per communicative function (see next point below).

And if we are going to say longer sentences, for example: ‘let’s go and feed the ducks now’, then we should do so with good grammar and really varied intonation. It sometimes helps me to make up a little song/jingle on the spot that has a lot of intonation, more than I would perhaps use just by speaking.

How many varied communicative functions do we cover with our modelling?

We want to model a variety of Gestalts other than just requesting for example. In general, we are looking at our child having one or two Gestalts in the following areas before they are ready to move on into stage 2.

These are the most common ones I see in my practice:

  • Requesting ‘want a banana/biscuit’ ‘Wanna play ball’
  • Transitioning: ‘what now?’ ‘what next?’
  • Ask for help: ‘need help’ ‘help me’ ‘mummy help’
  • Commenting: ‘it’s big’ ‘it’s red’ ‘it’s fast’ ‘too loud’
  • Speak up for self: ‘not that one’ ‘go now’ ‘stop it’

Is the Gestalt I am modelling meaningful to my child?

We don’t use all available Gestalts for every child. It has to be meaningful to the individual and has to match their interests. If our child is a big fan of feeding the ducks in the park then we can think about Gestalts like:

  • I see ducks!
  • They’re over there
  • Let’s feed them?
  • Let’s get some seeds
  • They’re coming!
  • They want food / They wanna eat!
  • That’s a big one
  • It’s so hungry
  • It loves the seeds!
  • No more! All done! Finished! Let’s go home

What is my child actually trying to tell me?

We have to be become word/phrase detectives! Is the phrase/script/Gestalt they are using right now actually meaning what they said or does it mean something else, and if so, what?

Here is an example from my own personal experience in my practice:

The little boy I was working/playing with was building a tall tower with blocks. When it finally fell with a great big bang he said in a sing-song voice ‘ring-a-ring-a roses’ … then he began to collect the blocks again to make a fresh tower. I sat there and thought: why ‘ring-a-ring-a roses’? What does that mean in this context? I then sang the song (silently) to myself with my detective hat on and realised as I came to the end that it finishes with ‘we all fall down’! it was a real AHA!!! moment for me as I saw right there what the meaning of his Gestalt was. He sang the first line of the song to say ‘all fall down!’

So realising this I waited for the next tower to fall, and there it was again, he sang the first line of the song. I replied thus, copying him at first:

‘RING-A-RING-A ROSES – WE ALL FALL DOWN!…

FALL DOWN

WE LOVE IT FALLING DOWN.’

The process to find what we should say is not always straight forward or easy at all, and often we don’t quite know in the moment what our child is trying to say. But we can try and get to know their interests and then gradually we do know more and more what the meaning behind the Gestalt is or could be.

What pronouns should we use?

This can be a tricky one.

We don’t want to use language that uses the pronouns ‘you’ or ‘you’re’. The reason is that our child will likely copy us exactly as we have said it. Therefore, using pronouns ‘you’ and ‘you’re’ will then sound wrong.

Always try to model language that is from the child’s perspective or in other words how they would say it if they could.

Alternatively, you can model using WE or US. For example, if the child is tired, rather than saying ‘you are so tired’ model language from his or her point of view: ‘I’m tired’ or ‘let’s go have a lie down’.

There is so much more to talk about. Stay tuned for a blog on NLA stage 2 coming soon.

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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How to model AAC with our minimally speaking students?
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How to model AAC with our minimally speaking students?

modelling AAC

How should we start? Should we use prompts? What kind of prompts? hand-over-hand or just pointing? Should we wait, and, if so, how long? Introducing an alternative communication system (AAC) to our child is for many of us a confusing and sometimes scary prospect, but it needn’t be! Let me reassure you and share some tricks of my practice in this area.

Once we have decided to try for a picture based communication system, I usually start with a paper-based single page with between 48–88 core-words. I choose the number of words depending on where the child is developmentally and also verbally.

If a child does have a small handful of words already, I might start with the 88-cell board below. If, on the other hand, my student is completely non-speaking and still quite little then I might go for the 48-cell below here or I might have even less cells to start with. Again, sometimes I start with an electronic device in my clinic just to trial and introduce the idea and to see if, or how, a student responds. 

Below are some samples: a 49-cell board which I made for a child in a nursery setting

Below a Saltillo WordPower board that can be downloaded from the Saltillo website:

Example of a slightly more advanced board, again from the Saltillo Website

And here below one example of a board I made for a specific activity for a child who loves water and sand play:

It is perfectly possible to be very flexible and create a suitable board for any student, starting with as few as 2–5 cells and working up to over a 100 (very small ones) on a sheet of A4 or A3 paper.

So once we have a good board for our child, what now? How do we start introducing this into our daily life?

We can start by showing/pointing to the word GO within a play activity. For example:

  • a car run,
  • or a marble run,
  • or a spinner activity,
  • a wind-up toy,
  • anything that can be stopped and started easily.

How to start?

I will talk us through each of the steps using the example for the word ‘GO’.

First phase

The first phase is a TEACHING/ LEARNING PHASE. In this phase we do not expect our student to do anything, to copy us or to point to the board. If they do that it is of course a huge bonus and we will celebrate it.

Our job is to simply MODEL/SHOW/GIVE EXAMPLES of how we can use the board, by steadily and regularly pointing to the chosen word or words. We do so across the day and across settings:

  • play
  • meal time
  • getting dressed/undressed
  • bath time
  • going to the car/shops
  • etc

Once we can be sure that our student has been submerged and SOAKED in seeing the coreboard being used, say after some 3–4 weeks of using it consistently…

Second phase

We can begin to move into the second phase which is the PRACTICE PHASE. By now the student has seen the boards and he or she has seen the word GO (as a example) modelled many times.

Now we can start to see if we can tempt our student into trying this out for themselves.

What sort of TEMPTING are we talking about? Take a look at the Prompt Hierarchy below, which shows us what to do to get our student to be independently communicating as soon as possible. 

The PROMPT HIERARCHY: what sort of prompting should we do, should we expect something from our student or how should we view this stage?

  1.  TEMPT AND PAUSE

I have the AAC near to the toy and each time the child starts another round of the activity I say clearly ‘GO’ and I point to the picture as do so. I then pause and wait to see what happens. NOTHING? Then…

  1. USE SIGNS AND BODY LANGUAGE

Next time the child starts another round I might be very animated and do a Makaton sign for GO as I say ‘GO’ and I make a very over point to the picture again. Then I wait. STILL NOTHING? OK then…

  1. OPEN-ENDED QUESTION

Now I might say ‘GO’ and follow with: ‘OOH I WONDER IF THERE IS A PICTURE TO POINT TO…’

‘OH LOOK HERE IS GO!’ I then point to GO.

 STILL NO RESPONSE?

  1. ASK FOR A RESPONSE

I might say ‘GO’ followed by ‘LOOK! LET’S POINT TO GO HERE ON THE PICTURE.’

STILL NO RESPONSE? 

  1.  PHYSICAL TOUCH

Next time I say ‘GO’ I will try and take the student’s hand, help isolate their finger and help him or her to point to the actual picture.

REMEMBER: Prompting serves a very important function in scaffolding learning for students BUT if we are constantly prompting kids, then we are teaching them to only communicate when someone tells them to. We want our student to become as independent in speaking and using words as possible.

So once I have done Physical Prompting I will try and phase back down to number 1 where all I need to do is point to the picture or look at the board with the aim that the student will then point to the picture.

Take away points:

  • Keep the learning phase pressure-free and model without expecting our student to jump in. In other words, let’s model first without expectation. Later we can have a little bit of expectation.
  • After they’ve been exposed to and have been ‘soaked’ in plenty of AAC input, then, YES, we can create an opportunity to help them say or point to the word on their own.
  • We can model BOTH with and without expectation.
  • Only after LOTS of exposure, use the least to most prompting hierarchy and start creating opportunities for a student to become an independent communicator.

Do get in touch if you have any questions or comments or if you would like some practical help.

I am always pleased to hear from you.


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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AAC Systems and Speech and Language Development
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AAC Systems and Speech and Language Development

Introduction

I see a lot of minimally speaking or non-verbal children in my practice. Some children are autistic and others are severely challenged with motor planning and some are both. Some children are simply delayed in their spoken language for reasons that we don’t quite know yet.

Regardless of the causes, what is always apparent pretty quickly is that apart from the odd gestures or Makaton signs (mainly ‘more” ‘finished’ and “biscuit) we don’t have a robust alternative for speech in place. Instead, what we often have is a child with lots of frustration and tantrums and some behaviours we really don’t want like: hitting, biting, pushing, grabbing and often throwing… There are others, too many to mention, but we don’t enjoy watching our children in these states. And we are often fearful of what might happen next if we don’t find a way to calm our child.

Fear not

In my work, before I get to offer an alternative means of communication, I often have to work with a fair amount of resistance on the parents’ side as parents tend to feel that allowing such a system into their lives will prevent their child from speaking. They fear that their child will so enjoy pressing those buttons that they will become lazy and not talk at all.

I totally get it!

Parents often feel overwhelmed by the task of getting their own heads round how to use AAC, either in paper form or a computerised system. This can be a great turn-off for lots of people who feel they are not very “techy” – like myself actually! Indeed, it is true to say that I resisted operating in this field for a long time as I didn’t feel able to navigate electronic devices. But fear not. Truly, most systems are very user-friendly. The support is great. And I have managed to become quite proficient in one or two of these systems, through using it daily. It really is as simple as that.

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)

There is plenty of research on the efficacy of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC). It is now very well understood and proven that, once we introduce our child to a good, attractive way of communicating that they can actually do, in time children who can speak will speak. Speaking is more effective than any AAC system. It is more versatile, more fun, and when human beings have discovered how to speak, most will do so in favour of any other system.

Many children and adults, for many reasons, were never going to speak an awful lot, or with great difficulty. Or they were not going to like to speak. Or they were going to like to speak some times but not other times… And for all those people an AAC system is invaluable and a wonderful resource.

Neuro-diversity affirming means that we do not impose one system of communication on our children (speaking with our mouth) only because it is the one we are using and most people we know too.

Of course, we want the best for our children, and we want them to have the easiest and most straight forward existence on Earth. Of course we do. Speaking with our mouth does help with that. But we must come to understand that not all children and people feel like that and they struggle to use their mouth for talking.

Personal experience

I have difficulties understanding this myself, I will be very honest here. And I will say that – shoot me down in flames SLT fraternity – but I am learning to accept that using an AAC system proficiently is a very good alternative for when speech is not coming. I am learning to accept that some people are perfectly able to speak, and might do so but not always and only when conditions are right. I came into the profession as a speech therapist with the idea that I would help anybody that came to me to speak with their mouth. But I have changed my stance on that and now am happy to help anybody that comes to me to communicate most effectively with whatever works for them. I will always try for speech if I can … Just because it’s easiest!

Acceptance

Now I will equally celebrate a child pointing to a symbol or making a sign for something. It is a fantastic moment when it happens for the parents and me and the child! And we can always hope for more speech to come as we go. Nothing wrong with our aspirations, is there?

The basic premise is this: accept any mode of communication as valid, as long as your communication partner understands what it means. Don’t require individuals to repeat themselves in another modality. Do model the response in the modality you are trying to teach. So, a child can point to a symbol and I will respond with speaking (with my mouth) but I will also respond by pointing to a symbol because that way I am signalling that both are ok and that I have understood and am encouraging the person to say some more.

Here is some research;

Binger, C., Berens, J., Kent-Walsh, J., & Taylor, S. (2008) The effects of aided AAC interventions on AAC use, speech and symbolic gestures. Seminars in Speech and Language, 29, 101-111.

Sennott, S.C., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2016). AAC modelling intervention research review. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41, 101–15.

Dada, S., & Alant, E. (2009). The effect of aided language stimulation on vocabulary acquisition in children with little or no functional speech. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18, 50–64.

Contact me if you would like your child to have neurodiversity affirming speech and language therapy.


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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