Neurodiversity affirming Speech and Language Therapy
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Neurodiversity affirming Speech and Language Therapy

Introduction

I am a neurodiversity affirming therapist and I love and endorse play-based therapy. I use it alongside a strengths-focused approach in all my sessions. Find out why we should use these transformative therapy methodologies in all our work and play with our children.

I always have a range of different toys and activities up my sleeve so that when one toy is no longer interesting, that’s fine. ‘Look here’s a new one, how about we try this one?’ When therapy feels like play, children are more likely to be engaged and attentive, which leads to better outcomes.

By using play as a context for Speech and Language Therapy we can create opportunities for children to use and practise their communication skills in a natural, real-life setting. This helps bridge the gap between the therapy room and everyday life.

Goals and targets

What about goals and targets I hear you say? Of course, as Speech and Language Therapists we always have our goals for any particular child. They can be speech goals (we want Bobbi to produce a ‘k’ sound at the end of words) or communication goals (we want Fatima to ask for something by pointing to it rather than grabbing it). And these goals can be achieved where there is a reciprocation and a positive, playful relationship between the adult and the child. That relationship comes through play and fun.

Play and fun

Play is how a child interacts and learns. If it’s fun, interesting, exciting or pleasurable then that is where the magic happens. And that is what we need to return to repeatedly and then see if we can fold our targets into the activity as we go.

As soon as we expect our child to do something and we try and shape their behaviours towards a certain outcome we no longer ‘play’. We are now in teaching mode, where we direct and where we are ‘in charge’. As a neurodiversity affirming therapist, I believe that all play is valid. We must not get into the trap of thinking that only functional play is valid, that there is only one way to play with that car ramp/puzzle/potato head. Our autistic children often need to play in a particular way to navigate their world and we must not try and stop that.

When we affirm and validate our child’s play and copy their play with enthusiasm and respect then, in my experience, all children regardless where they are on the neurodiversity spectrum will begin to engage with us, copy us, and learn how to communicate effectively about things that matter to them.

Play-based therapy allows therapists to tailor interventions to each child’s unique interests and abilities. This individualised approach increases the likelihood of success and progress.

Strengths-Focused Speech Therapy

Strengths-focused therapy emphasizes a child’s strengths and abilities rather than their deficits. It recognises that every person has unique strengths that can be harnessed to overcome challenges.

Focusing on strengths helps us build a positive self-image. This is especially important for children with communication disorders, as it can boost their confidence and self-esteem.

When we encourage children to play in ways that they enjoy and are good at they feel empowered and more in control of their lives and play. This can lead to increased motivation and a sense of ownership over their progress.

Now, imagine the powerful impact that can be achieved by combining play-based therapy and strengths-focused therapy in speech therapy sessions. This dynamic combination brings out the best of both worlds. It creates a therapeutic environment that is not only effective but also enjoyable for children and their families.

As Speech Therapists we can use the child’s strengths and interests as a foundation for play-based activities. This personalisation not only makes therapy more engaging but also more effective.

An example

Charlie, a 3-year-old with social communication challenges, had a deep interest in anything that spins. We used this strength and interest to create a variety of spinning activities. As he is allowed to engage in his spinners, we can practise lots of speech and language and provide great phrases alongside his interest and activities: Ready steady go! Stop! ‘another one’ ‘the red one’ ‘again again’ ‘I love it’ ‘it’s a spinner’ ‘Charlie loves this toy’ ‘it’s going fast’ ‘it’s so fun’ etc..

Over time Charlie started to copy some of these word models and then used them to create his own little phrases, such as ‘the blue one again’. When this occurred, we felt like celebrating because it had come naturally and appropriately to the situation without any coercion or direction. That is what communication is about! Well done Charlie!

Conclusion

Play-based and strengths-focused speech therapy approaches are powerful tools and by combining these approaches, we create a therapeutic environment that is not only effective but also enjoyable and empowering for our clients.

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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Bilingualism – should I speak only English with my speech delayed child?
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Bilingualism – should I speak only English with my speech delayed child?

Introduction

Bilingualism is a beautiful aspect of our diverse world. Growing up in a bi- or multi-lingual household is a wonderful gift, allowing children to communicate with a broader range of people and access many cultures.

My own two children grew up in a bilingual German-English speaking household. They have both been so enriched by this experience, not only language- and learning-wise but of course also culturally: their world has always been so open and colourful. Growing up in inner London and having their German family and mum’s friends as well, this has been a wonderful experience. Both my boys speak German well (not quite like native speakers but like very good second language speakers) and both have very easily learned 3rd and 4th languages additionally when in secondary school.

Whilst bilingualism has untold benefits, it’s not uncommon for bilingual children to take slightly longer to reach certain speech milestones. This should not be automatically mistaken for speech disorders but rather seen as a natural part of bilingual language development.

Bilingualism and speech delays

Sometimes, of course, we do see speech delays or disorders where a child’s speech development lags significantly behind their peers. We often see a delay in both languages equally, making it extra hard for to communicate effectively. BUT PLEASE KNOW the family speaking in multi-lingual languages never caused the delay/disorder!

If there is a delay or a disorder any number of other reasons could have caused it, such as:

  • hearing impairments,
  • reduced phonological awareness,
  • sensory processing issues,
  • reduced attention and reduced joint attention,
  • neuro-developmental delays or difficulties,
  • general or specific learning difficulties
  • or sometimes other genetic factors.

So, to say that the difficulty is due to a child being exposed to several languages is a red herring. (no offence to herrings!)

Speech therapy

Speech therapy can be powerful to help bilingual /multilingual children with speech delays unlock their full linguistic potential. By providing individualised assessments, targeted interventions, and involving families, speech therapy can bridge the gap between speech delays and bilingualism. It’s essential for the therapist and parents to work together to support the children in their unique linguistic journeys, helping them communicate effectively and thrive in both of their languages.

Happy Islamic family sitting on the floor
Image by Freepik

Speak your home language at home

Many parents report that they worry about speaking their home language at home and instead they have been focusing on just speaking English at home. They now rarely use their home language with their child. They fear that speaking a language other than English with their child will cause further delay and hinder their progress. All parents want the best for their child and often parents fear that their child won’t fit in or will be seen as ‘different’. So we can understand why parents feel that the English language is the only one worth having.

But the opposite is the case: it is crucial to speak in both languages freely, both at home and outside the home! Both languages will benefit your child, no matter what the delay or difficulty is. Acquiring a ‘mother tongue’ or native language is absolutely vital for children to have a good, solid linguistic grounding on which to build other languages. Bilingual children may mix languages during speaking and parents may equally mix their languages. This does not hinder language development and is a natural part of linguistic development.

Speak freely and naturally

What is far more important than the question: ‘which language should I say this in?’ Instead think: ‘let me speak freely and naturally, let me respond naturally, in good intonation and let communication flow freely to the child.’

Speech therapy can be a crucial resource for bilingual or multilingual children and their families.

We work on targeted interventions to address speech and language difficulties, helping your child develop essential communication skills. For home practice between therapy sessions, we can recommend tailored treatment plans to help you help your child in daily life. Our input could be focusing on articulation, phonological awareness, attention and listening, vocabulary development and grammar.

Family support is crucial in speech therapy. We like to work closely with parents to provide guidance and strategies for fostering language development in both languages at home.

If you have any worries about your child being delayed in a bilingual or multilingual household do get in touch and we will be happy to support you in your journey.


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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