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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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?

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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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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
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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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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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Explore speech delays and disorders and how you can support your child’s communication
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Explore speech delays and disorders and how you can support your child’s communication

Speech delay vs speech disorder
Speech Delay vs Speech Disorder

You often wonder if your child’s speech difficulties will resolve. This very much depends on whether they have a speech disorder or delay. You often wonder if there’s something you’ve done to cause your child’s speech difficulties. Rest assured this is not the case. Let’s explore some of the factors to put your mind at ease.

We know that males are more likely to have a speech, language, or communication difficulty than females. Additionally, if your child has an older sibling, they may not have the opportunities to speak. Their sibling may speak for them, especially if their speech difficulty causes them to be anxious or self-conscious. It’s important to note that bilingualism does not cause a speech delay or difficulty. Your child’s Speech and Language Therapist will ask about your child’s milestones. Research suggests that if your child did not babble then they may be at a higher risk of having communications difficulties.

When it comes to a speech delay or disorder, it’s vital to rule out any other co-occurring difficulties such as hearing loss. Your child’s Speech and Language Therapist will need to factor in the health of your child. They will ask if your child has had lots of colds or ear infections. This may have affected their hearing, so it’s also recommended that your child has a hearing test. Your Speech and Language Therapist will tell you how you can book an appointment.

It’s natural that children learn at different rates. The same is true for speech sounds. Some children are slower to pick up speech sounds, and this might be called a ‘speech delay’. A delay is when a child is behind with the development in a particular area or areas but is generally progressing along typical milestones. They will be progressing at a slower rate than expected. For example, a four-year-old understands two key word instructions and utterances are at a single word level, with some short phrases. But, some may show unusual speech sound error patterns, and this is typically where you may hear it called a ‘speech disorder’. A disorder is where the development we see is patchy and not following what is typically expected for your child’s chronological age. For example, a child understands three key word sentences, but speech is unintelligible and the utterances sound like jargon.

You recognise how important speech is in daily living and want to build your child’s confidence so they can maximise social and educational opportunities. Follow our top tips to support your child’s communication.

Top tips for supporting your child with their speech sounds:

  1. Allow your child to communicate in another way to convey their message if they get stuck (e.g., you could ask ‘show me’, ‘draw it for me’).
  2. Model the correct sound (e.g., child: It’s a thnake, adult: it’s a snake, a slithery snake).

    You can emphasise their tricky sound.

  3. Avoid telling your child to ‘say [insert sound here]’.
  4. Your child may speak quickly, especially if they are excited to tell you a story. If you slow down your rate of speech, they will too. This may make it easier for you to understand the message of their story.
  5. Allow your child to speak about how their communication difficulty makes them feel (if they are aware and want to speak about it).

If you are unsure of where to start, contact me to ease your confusion, and allow your child to communicate effectively.


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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