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?
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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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Help! My child has a lisp. What can we do about it?

Help! My child has a lisp. What can we do about it?

What is a LISP?

There are different types of LISPS. Let me explain:

A lisp is the difficulty making a clear ‘S’ and ‘Z’. Other sounds can also be affected by the tongue protruding too far forward and touching the upper teeth or the upper lip even. ‘T’ and ‘D’ can be produced with ‘too much tongue at the front’ and this can also have an impact on ‘CH’ and often also ‘SH’.

  1. Interdental lisp

Protruding the tongue between the front teeth while attempting ‘S’ or ‘Z’ is referred to as interdental lisp; it can make the speech sound ‘muffled’ or ‘hissy’. Often, we associate a lisp with the person sounding a bit immature. The good news is that this type of lisp is the easiest to correct and, in my practice. I have a 100% success rate with this type of lisp.

  1. Lateral lisp

In a lateral lisp the person produces the ‘S’ and ‘Z’ sounds with the air escaping over the sides of the tongue. This renders the ‘S’ as sounding ‘slushy’ or ‘wet’. This type of lisp is a bit harder to correct than the interdental lisp. In my experience this can be fixed but it might need a bit longer, more intensive therapy than the interdental lisp.

  1. Palatal lisp

With a palatal lisp the ‘S’ sound is attempted with the tongue touching the palate, much further back than it should be. The ‘S’ sounds ‘windy’ and ‘hissy’. This is a quite rare lisp production but it is also not difficult to correct.

These types of speech difficulties come under the category of ‘speech delay of unknown origin’ and may persist into adolescence and adulthood as ‘residual errors‘.

Some thoughts on Treatment in general:

Lisps can be treated successfully by a Speech and Language Therapist. However, for the treatment to work well, a student needs to be able to cooperate and want to improve his or her speech. Lisp remediation entails a fair amount of repetitive work and very young children or unmotivated older children don’t make the best candidates for treatment for this reason. Often students present with other speech, language or social communication difficulties and here the lisp might not be the priority for treating. For example, it might be that due to a student’s Attention Deficit Disorder they are simply not able to focus on speech practice in their daily life.

When should treatment of lisp begin?

Waiting well past 4½ years is not advisable as the longer we wait and do nothing the stronger engrained the erroneous tongue/speech habit will become. The ‘right’ age for therapy for one child may be different from the ‘right’ age for another child even within the same family. So do make an appointment with a speech and language therapist to assess and see whether your child might be ready to start therapy.

Do lots of children lisp—is it normal?

Until the age of about 4–4.5 years old it can be a perfectly normal developmental phase for some children to have the interdental lisp. But when we see and hear a lateral or palatal lisp we ought to act and see a speech and language therapist for sure.

After the age of 4.5 or 5 years old most speech therapists would agree on at least having a look to see if treatment could be started. The longer we wait the harder it is to retrain the brain pathways to adopt new speech habits.

What happens during the first Speech and Language Consultation?

The first consultation takes about an hour and involves screening relevant areas of communicative function. We take a detailed history, examine the anatomy of the child’s mouth and tongue movements. We check for tongue tie, teeth formation, palate structure and function, as well as swallowing patterns.

Then we begin straight away to try and see if any of the alveolar sounds (T/D/L/N) can be produced correctly with the right tongue placement as that would be the starting point from where to shape a good, clear ‘S’ sound.

The first consultation usually ends with home practice being given, explained to parents and another appointment being made for follow up.

Therapy – what does a session look like?

Each therapy session consists of:

  1. Listening to sounds, discriminating sounds, identifying sounds, listening to rhyming sounds, sound awareness. We call this Auditory discrimination of single sounds: can the student hear the difference between two words that are the same apart from the first sound: ‘sing’ and ‘thing’ or ‘sigh’ and ‘thigh’?
  2. Sound production: using a variety of different prompts and cues we will teach how to physically make the new sound. Often, we work on making a NEW sound, instead of correcting the OLD one. We work on imitation of single sounds then gradually we try and make new sounds in short words, then longer words and then phrases and sentences.
  3. Games! We play games and try and have fun in between listening and producing our new sounds to help students stay motivated and even enjoy the therapy session and process.

How long does it take to ‘fix up’ a lisp?

It tends to take about one term with weekly sessions to help a student make good ‘S’ sounds in phrases and sentences. If the student can do the home practice every day in between the weekly sessions, then in most cases I am able to pronounce the lisp as ‘fixed’ after about one term.

After that the student needs to practise, practise, practise, at home and in daily life to keep reminding themselves of their new skills and their new sound production.

It is a matter of reminding and wanting to get it right. Occasionally a student returns to me for another term of simply practising their skills together with me as they are finding it hard for any number of reasons to practise at home. But generally, 8/10 students will be fine after some 12–13 sessions and their speech will be perceived as perfectly typical by family and friends.

If your child has a lisp or any other speech error, 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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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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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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How can we help practise speech targets with our children during the day, without it being an “extra tedious ask”?

How can we help practise speech targets with our children during the day, without it being an “extra tedious ask”?

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Say, your child replaces the ‘f’ sound with a ‘p’ so they say PAN when they mean FAN or POUR when they mean FOUR. Now after one or two therapy sessions we have managed to get your child to “bite your lip and blow” and we are seeing a little ‘f’ sound right there! Result! But now we need to practise this so it becomes a habit, so that we can start building up some little words like FAN and FUR and FAR or FOUR….

Now, for older children, let’s say over 6 years old, we might just get away with saying: ‘darling come and sit down now and do your speech practice quickly before you go and play.’ But for the little ones, under 5 years old, it is often necessary to “package” the practice within daily activities.

Daily activities

So, our goal might be: produce an ‘f’ about 50 times a day. You might think: ‘oh gosh, I won’t be able to do that, it’s too much’, but wait! It can actually be done as part of your daily activities.

Here are some little examples and you will be able to think of some more for sure.

Morning

Before brushing teeth look into the mirror together and say ‘let’s practise our “bunny sound” quickly: bite your lip and blow: FFF FFF FFF FFF FFF FFF FFFF’. Look in the mirror, get as many done here as possible, 10-15, RESULT! Now brush teeth and done.

Mid-morning snack

A … muffin? Pop a little birthday candle on it and say: ‘let’s practice our Bunny Sound here quickly: bite your lip and blow and try and blow out this candle.’ FFF FFF FFF FFF FFF (you might have to re-light it a few times). Do 10-15, now eat the cake, done!

Play

Pretend to fly an aeroplane and say: “’oh look, I can make the ‘bunny sound’ and make a noise at the same time VVV VVV VVV VVV VVV. That’s cool, let’s try. Ten times?’

Lunch

‘Oh, that soup is a bit hot, let’s blow it, let’s do it with our “bunny sound”: FFF FFF FFF.’ Do ten and by now you have done most if not all of your repeats.

Book time

Select a book with a lot of ‘f’ sounds it in or a book with bunnies (your Speech Therapist will make suggestions). Read the book together with your child and each time there is a bunny or a fish practise the FFF FFF FFF FFF.

By now you will probably have exceeded your target of 50 times FFFs a day!!

Story telling

Now for something different like “Story Telling”: your child’s goal might be: “to talk about what’s first, then, next and finally”.

Examples:

Tooth brushing

Ask your child to think about what is first, what’s next and then last before you start brushing teeth.

Meal times

Talk about what did we eat the other day at Nando’s? ‘First, I had xxx then I had xxx. What about you?’ Or as you are about to lay the table: ‘what do we need to do first, then and then?’

Dressing

Pretend to be an alien who does not know what to do first, get it all wrong and have a laugh… ‘oh I think those underpants must go on my head?!’ Etc

Play time

Use figurines with farms or Lego houses or Playmobil and help your child make up simple little stories using first, then next and last.

Books

Share a book with a clear start, middle and finish and talk about the characters, who does what, who is first, then and then and finally.

At the end of each session with your child we will talk about what the targets for the week will be and together we can think about how you can incorporate your practice easily into your daily life, no matter how busy you are!

Be sure to bring this up next time you have your session, so that we can figure out together what will work for you and your daily schedules.

Together we can make it happen!

Sonja


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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