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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Creative Communication

So what can we do as parents and educators to improve communication with children who have language barriers?

I have tried to be imaginative in my approach. I'm not a speech and language therapist but I have been an ESOL teacher, I am a creative storyteller to children and workshop facilitator in creative writing, and I can see how engaging language in creative context makes a huge difference to children.

And our children can teach us how to teach them. When my daughter was younger she could only understand a limited range of vocabulary. She took this to create a book called 'To the Zoo', where she drew pictures of animals and repeated 'I went to the zoo' - inspired by the book Dear Zoo.

So even when the language is limited a child can use it, use pictures to illustrate their ideas, and feel autonomous in that use.

One of the first things I did to encourage this was to give her some lovely 'Hello Kitty' notebooks and pens, to show I respected her attempts to write and she loved them. Over time her notebooks have become secret diaries, and she will draw lines between pictures to illustrate her understanding of narrative and connection. This way of expressing concepts is so important for her confidence in expressing language clearly.

Drawings are communication, stories and imagination games are communication. Anything that encourages the same action  as the action to use language in literacy or spoken, is a confidence builder. Because of the constraints on time, schools necessarily can't focus on those 'soft targets' but as parents we can.

Over time I have realised that I can't play the part of teacher, because she doesn't like me doing that for her! But I can give her the tools to practice those things by herself.

My daughter is an inspiration to me and I often practice my stories and poems for her to see what she finds engaging, but also because she is my biggest fan and critic. As role models we can do the things we love and also help the children we want to so much.

So pick up a pen and start doodling, read a story you have written, retell a traditional tale, sing songs, have fun, be creative! It's a great stress relief and encourages your child to have a go themselves.

Creative communication in all its forms builds confidence, builds language and is fun - what's not to like? Don't let people tell you it's a waste of time, Minecraft and Lego are great examples of how children can create and it's a great conversation starter too. A child might find it hard to express how they feel about their school day but much easier to talk about their Minecraft world.

Creativity is not a soft option, its sometimes an essential tool to reach children who are on the sidelines because of their barriers to communication.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Women's Hour and Radio 4

The Radio 4 appeal this year is for Afasic - the speech and language charity for people with language and communication difficulties. However despite repeated tweeting and emailing Radio 4 and Women's Hour are still not replying. I'm trying to raise awareness for SLI as they still have repeated sections on other communication disabilities but I am yet to hear any mention of SLI. As it is one of the most common but least heard of impairments you might think they'd be interested!

It's Listener's Week this week and I have tried again by tweeting but if anyone reading this blog could give it a go as well that would be great!

Come on Radio 4 it's about time someone noticed SLI!

More awareness needed

The reason I started this blog was to raise awareness of SLI and it was interesting to see an article about this on Huffington Post  this week which I think I have posted previously #SLI 
and this tweet from ABSALT Clinic: 

 Nov 23
Have you ever heard of Specific Language Impairment? It's more common than Autism!

This prompted a twitter conversation with ABSALT Clinic who are a private speech and language clinic in Northern Ireland who were brilliant in covering some of my most asked questions, I'm posting the conversation below: 

Me: As a parent of kid with SLI I know it is more common than Autism but most parents I meet have kids w/ASD and few with SLI - why do you think this is?

ABSALT Clinic: Severe SLI may be more obvious but not always understood. Awareness & recognition of SLI is improving in schools, Also, is there an acceptance that in a class of 30 some childen will struggle & so their difficulties are not flagged?

Me: my daughter was severely affected but expect a lesser problem with SLI could be seen as general slow development/behaviour problem

ABSALT Clinic: and are crucial in identifying . Also, many cannot go down the private route for support

Me: and I couldn't afford actual slt only initial assessment
ABSALT Clinic: Yes, I see firsthand the burden it is for many parents who come for private SLT. Sometimes it's the only way to get access. Our SLT colleagues in the community services are slammed & being asked to do more with less & are under huge pressure too
Thanks to ABSALT Clinic for answering my questions.

What more can we do to raise awareness and campaign for better SLT?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Debate over SLI terminology - what do we call it?

There is a debate going on over terminology with SLI. It is so unknown compared with other terms for language impairments or communication difficulties, and the question is, is this because the term Specific Language Impairment is not working as a label?

I think this might be less to do with terminology and more to do with awareness and media coverage. Dyslexia is a wide term referring to reading difficulties but is only widely known because of the focus on it during the 1980s, around the time my brother was diagnosed it was seen as a little known condition that affected many people. We were given a leaflet that cited such luminaries as Albert Einstein as being dyslexic and focussed on how it wasn't a measure of intelligence. Very little coverage is given to SLI in the same way. There are no famous people from history, or current celebrities shown as role models. I've done a quick google search to

Famous people with learning disabilities

On this list many are cited as having dyslexia or mild autism, but only one - Steve McQueen - seems to have an undiagnosed language learning disability which might be S.L.I. but since googling have found out he has had it diagnosed as dyslexia.

Is it time for SLI to be seen as part of a group of language disabilities and given more prominence that way? I wonder how many of the list also had S.L.I? Where does it go in adulthood, are all children affected with it destined for an invisible future?

In terms of awareness, either you reterm SLI as something which sounds like dyslexia/dyspraxia (giving the people affected by the condition another difficult term to remember!) or you start to push for more awareness of the thing itself.

There is very little awareness in schools, for example. Where are the leaflets and the checklists? The TV shows and characters? In addition is the diagnosis itself used as a coverall for a developmental delay with language. My daughter doesn't have dyslexia, which surprises me, but as soon as she was given enough support has learnt to read fairly quickly. Her issues come with learning language grammar and concepts in expressive spoken language. So how to we help the uninitiated to understand verbal and receptive language disorder?

I am contemplating a play or book about a character with SLI so if anyone is interested in encouraging me, please get in touch! Adults and children alike need more understanding so that our children don't end up like the dyslexics of old, stuck at the back of the class being told they are stupid.

Royal College of Speech and Language therapists - SLI information

Monday, 18 August 2014

School's Out

Wow, I didn't realise I hadn't posted for so long, the whirl of statement review followed by summer holidays has made me blog barren! I'm back for a brief post and hope your summer is going well.

Yet again the summer for us is a question of one step forward three steps back stage. Daughter is doing ok but has a complicated relationship with growing up, and as she gets bigger it becomes less easy for her to get away with making noises and pointing instead of sentences. At this point I am reminded of how much positivity is needed in parenting and being a child with communication difficulties because of the inevitable frustration on both sides.

However I saw this today and was so pleased to see a young man taking huge strides with his empowering overcoming of a speech impediment. I am posting it as a holiday treat -  The lad from Educating Yorkshire, Musharaf Asghar, who managed to find ways of overcoming his stammer is taking the presenting lead on a spin off series about speech therapy. I wish him all the best and am so pleased to see a young person being so confident and visible about their own communication needs. More power to you Musharaf!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

With the right support...

I have returned from the annual statement review in tears - not because it was so awful but quite the opposite. They can see her doing really well and she is nearly at average levels for her language understanding.

Expressive language is still an obvious difficulty and she doesn't understand everything but to have come so far in such a short time is enormous, and much of her vocabulary understanding comes from books. Her reading has unlocked a door to understanding and expression.

This is huge for me, to finally have some light at the end of the tunnel, however I'm not going to say it's all over and she's cured because that is not the truth.

It's the right support that matters and it saddens me that children don't get the support, don't have the help and end up struggling through life, illiterate and locked in a world they don't understand. It is still a large lack of awareness that needs to be tackled, even before you can find the support.

I wrote an article for the fabulous Speechbloguk which you can read here, about the struggle to get the speech and language therapy and support. It's brilliant that all the professionals involved pulled together to get her the right support in the end but this could have been done and dusted from age 2 if there was more awareness and focus on speech and language therapy. It absolutely worries me that there are so many children out there not getting the support because it should be a basic human right to be treated equally, which in our society means the same as anyone else who has a medical need. Saying that I'm blown away by the wonderful SLT support we've had and how well they've done at school with her.

Next on the agenda is to tackle the behaviour issues that come with frustration and acting out. To be honest we've had a few meltdowns that last for a long time and a lot of it is due to being socially unable to join in equally, so she acts out to get her own way.

Positive behaviour rewards.
I am a convert to positive behaviour reward charts. After many years of not having enough discipline in myself to keep them up for too long, they work like a charm on my daughter. If you have a child with special needs it's often the behaviour that causes most stress, but if you start to lay down discipline that is often a hugely negative effect. The problem with too much discipline is that my child would thrive on the negative attention and act out even more. So to turn to those positive behaviour reward charts might seem a hippy response to 'bad' behaviour but a really really effective one!
I have started a new one -  'independence' reward chart, to encourage her acting her age (of nearly 9) instead of regressing to toddler like behaviour. This seems to have worked wonders so next month I think we will tackle joining in and sharing!! I wonder how we will get on!  :-0

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Non-Verbal Communication - the experts

A positive note that has occurred to me whilst writing this blog, as a parent if we learn to use more visual language and understand non-verbal communication, it will open up a whole new level of communication for you with everyone not just your child. After all it has often been quoted that communication is mainly non-verbal and children with language problems are often expert in that!

Some ideas for non-verbal communication :

Visuals - children with language disorders are often more visually literate, so pictures, drawings and visual stimulus are a great start.

An exercise to try : Info gap....
In ESOL classes we often use this as an exercise to encourage communication. Have a picture that one person can't see - you describe it and the other person draws it. Have to use 'left/right' 'above/below' and colours, as well as describing the picture itself. This can be lots of fun but keep the picture simple!

Splingo! app builds key words memory and following instructions by building a rocket with objects after completing key word instructions. Splingo description/ Apps are a great way to let a child follow their own path when learning.

Gestures - drama is a great way to try out non-verbal communication. Drama teachers often use 'tableau' or 'freeze frames' to tell a story or make a group picture. This can be used alongside 'musical statues' or simple 'charades' to include children with language difficulties in groups.

An example game from 'In the manner of the word' - everyone in the group trying out an action, the group leader or a child within the group shouts a present continuous verb e.g. 'swimming' and everyone acts out that word - can reinforce some words that get mixed up.

I'm currently looking at other ways of learning language, as an ESOL (English as a Second Language) teacher I often used drama techniques in teaching adults as many of my students had very low levels of literacy. This is a great way of attracting children as it's fun and inclusive. I'm going to look at learning through stories in my storytelling work and post some more on what drama and story exercises might be useful.