It’s that spooky time of year, when witches, ghosts and ghouls appear… and fairly often (at least in my experience), little children who want to get in on the activities but aren’t always old enough to go trick-or-treat-ing. You can still let them join in on the Halloween fun with these simple crafts and games, all of which will also help develop their communication skills:
Listening and language comprehension at Halloween
- Make a witch’s or wizard’s hat (there are instructions here – https://www.firstpalette.com/Craft_themes/Wearables/witchwizardhat/witchhat.html), and cut out big and little stars and moons from gold and silver paper. Give 3 year olds instructions such as ‘stick on a big gold star’, ‘stick on a little silver moon’. For younger children, simplify the instructions by using only one colour of paper. Slightly older children could be told two shapes to stick on at once, e.g. ‘stick on a little silver star and a big gold moon’.
- Make cobwebs out of paper (http://www.origami-resource-center.com/kirigami-spider-web.html), string or cotton wool. Cut big and little spiders and bats out of black paper, then tell your 2 year old ‘put the big spider on the spiders web’, ‘put the little bat on the spiders web’. For older children, give instructions containing two animals, e.g. ‘put a little bat and a big bat on the spider’s web’.
- The above activities can also be reward activities for children working on a particular speech sound. For every word or sentence they say containing their target sound, they can choose another star for their hat or animal for the cobweb decoration.
Practising basic sentences Halloween style
Look at the Halloween costumes in catalogues or magazines with your child. Take turns describing the pictures, to practise…
- Using pronouns, i.e. “she is a witch”, “he is a monster”, “he is a pumpkin”
- Describing (adjectives), i.e. “She is wearing a sparkly top”, “He is wearing a big hat”, “They are eating sticky toffee apples”
- Sharing opinions and using ‘because’, e.g. “I like the wolf costume because it has furry paws”, “the zombie is scary because he has face paint on”
For each of these areas, make sure you have as many turns as your child, so they have the chance to hear lots of good examples. Listen to the sentences your child produces in this activity, and keep your sentences a similar length (or just a bit longer). If you hear your child make a grammatical error, e.g. “her holding pumpkin”, repeat back the sentence with the correct grammar but acknowledge what your child said (i.e. “yes, she is holding a pumpkin!”) and don’t make them repeat it!
Engaging all the senses with a classic Halloween game
A classic Halloween activity is the blindfold game – who else remembers being blindfolded and a parent guiding your hand towards the eye balls (peeled grapes) and guts (cooked cold spaghetti)? This year, why not engage all your child’s senses to help them learn early language concepts and descriptive words.
Touch – as well as the classics, you could also include:
- Hot (or warm, safety first!) and cold drinks, such as hot chocolate or hot apple juice, and cold lemonade – talk about the concepts hot/cold
- Give your child an avocado skin to feel (witches skin!) – talk about bumpy/smooth
- A furry toy or fake fur glove can be a werewolf paw – talk about furry/smooth
- A sponge can be a fake brain – talk about soft/hard
Sound – have a ‘guess the sound’ round. You could either find some Halloween sound effects on YouTube, or you could make up your own with things around the house. See if your child can describe what they hear, e.g. a loud scream, quiet footsteps, a creaky door.
Smell – the hardest one to involve so you may need to get creative. Raw onion can be witches toenails, vinegar (with an adult keeping hold of the bottle!) can be a witch’s potion, and a ripe brie can be ghost goo, although you could also have some nice smells, such as cinnamon biscuits, chocolate, oranges and lemons. Everyone takes a sniff, decides whether each smell was a ‘trick’ or a ‘treat’!
Taste – try eating pumpkin, apples, apricots, nuts, candy floss, a toffee, popcorn… Describe each food you try it, using words such as crunchy, chewy, soft, sweet, salty, savoury… before your child guesses what it was.
Finally, sight – take off your child’s blindfold, and see if they can now describe what they can see. Those knobbly witch’s fingers were actually crunchy carrots!
Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist
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Why I love lego therapy
Supporting children with selective mutism
Our recent article discussed how scary talking can be for children with selective mutism. The good news is that changes to your own communication style and the environment make a big difference to the happiness and confidence of your child. Remember that selective mutism is an anxiety disorder, so creating an environment for your child that is consistent, reassuring and non-demanding (i.e. not anxiety provoking!) is the best way to help them to start to communicate verbally.
- Don’t put pressure on your child to speak, wherever they are, even if they have spoken with that person or in that situation before.
- Avoid direct questions, and instead give opportunities to speak by:
- Making comments, e.g. ‘I like the blue monster’, ‘I can see Saira’s playing catch’
- Using rhetorical questions such as ‘I wonder…’, ‘Shall we…’, ‘how about…’ to give chances to talk, e.g. ‘I wonder if anyone in Year 3 has a pet cat’, ‘How about colouring this bit green…’
- Leaving pregnant pauses in your talk, so your child has the chance to talk if they’d like to
- If your child communicates non-verbally in some situations (e.g. with a gesture), accept this and respond to what the child was communicating, rather than focusing on how they were communicating
- Ensure your child has ways they can join in with activities at school, at friend’s houses or during clubs using other methods of communication, such as gestures, pictures to make choices or for common needs (e.g. a toilet pass), writing, etc.
- Don’t show your surprise or excitement when your child does talk in a new situation or to a new person. Even though you may mean it positively, it can reinforce the feelings that talking in front of others is unusual and difficult.
How you can help at home
- Have fun! Time spent together enjoying each other’s company, whether it’s playing, sharing a joke, or telling stories, is so valuable. The strong relationship your child has with you, and enjoyment they get from communicating with you, will help build their confidence.
- Take time to talk about each other’s thoughts and feelings, allowing your child to share as much as they are comfortable to. Your child may also want to share their feelings with a favourite toy, or a pet. Older children might find keeping a diary helpful.
- Show empathy with your child’s anxieties around communication, by acknowledging these. You can also reassure the child that it won’t always be this difficult to talk. You might find a book about selective mutism a helpful way to start this discussion.
- All siblings are equal. Remind all family members not to speak for the child with selective mutism, but also don’t worry about reminding all children (even your child with selective mutism!) that they need to take turns to talk – turn-taking is an important life skill.
- Focus on what your child can do, rather than the selective mutism. This can be as simple as asking them what they enjoyed doing at school that day, rather than whether/who they spoke to.
- Encourage your child to join clubs and activities that match their interests, such as sports or craft clubs. As well as being fun, this supports your child’s social skills development. Talk to the group leader beforehand about selective mutism so they understand not to put your child ‘on the spot’ to communicate.
Tips for your child’s teachers
- Don’t try to ‘trick the child out’ into talking when someone else is nearby and they don’t know. Trust is vital to making sure the child feels secure and building their confidence.
- Don’t offer bribes or punishments for talking or not talking, and discourage others from doing the same. Instead, encourage joining in with activities in whichever way they can
- Don’t allow others to answer for the child with selective mutism. If they are, consider what kinds of questions you are asking the child (remember one of our golden rules – no direct questions) and what kinds of non-verbal responses the child could give that they are comfortable with.
- Accept other methods of communication. For example, a nod or a hand up could be used as a response to the register. Allow the child to bring in photos, pictures or items to show the class if other children are talking e.g. about their holidays or experiences. If the child is happy to, they could record on a Dictaphone or mobile phone video their contribution – but only if they know they’re being recorded and what it’s for. Trust is vital!
- Prepare for transitions (such as moving up to the next year, or a new teacher taking over the class). Tell the child in advance about these transitions, as well as training any new adults, and making sure they are aware of any support strategies used to enable the child to communicate non-verbally.
Education, education, education
- Educate yourself. Look at reputable sources of information such as smira.org.uk , or “The Selective Mutism Resource Manual: 2nd edition” (2016) by Maggie Johnson and Alison Wintgens. Knowledge is power to help your child!
- Educate others. You may find your child’s teachers or club leaders have no previous experience of selective mutism, so don’t be reluctant to pass on basic information (such as our last blog post link, or leaflets on smira.org.uk) and encourage them to attend training offered by local services such as Speech and Language therapy or Educational Psychology
- Build your own support network – there is an active SMIRA Facebook group, and website (smira.org.uk)
One last word of encouragement – patience and perseverance with these changes to the adults’ communication styles and the environment around your child will pay off in time.
Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist
What is selective mutism?
Is my child a late talker?
Lego therapy love
I love it when research finds that something my students love doing is also really beneficial. Lego has been one of my favourite toys since childhood (I loved my pirate island), and a key part of my therapy toolkit since I qualified. But how can I claim Lego and lego therapy is so much more than a bit of fun?
Lego therapy groups are an evidence-based (LeGoff and Sherman 2006 , Owens, Granader, Humphrey and Baron-Cohen 2008), highly motivating and practical way of working on social communication skills. They are enjoyed by children and young people of all ages (although this post will refer to ‘children’ throughout for ease). I have even heard of some corporate away days using similar activities to develop team-work skills! They are also much more reflective of the actual play or social scenarios the child is likely to experience, compared to other social skills group formats.
Lego therapy sessions develop a lot of different skills:
- Team work, as the children have to work together to achieve a completed model
- Accepting your role, and practicing taking different roles within a group
- Listening and following instructions from others, particularly for the supplier and builder roles
- Giving instructions containing a range of vocabulary and language structures, such as adjectives (e.g. the size and colour of pieces) and prepositions (e.g. ‘at the side of the spaceship’, ‘behind the green square’)
- Communicating clearly (e.g. at the right volume and speed, giving enough information), and ensuring the other group members have understood
- Strategies to ‘repair’ a conversation if something goes wrong, such as asking for clarification if you don’t understand an instruction,
- Practical problem solving and flexibility of thought, e.g. what to do if you can’t attach the piece in the way described, or if the piece you need is missing from the box
- Expressing ideas clearly, listening to other’s ideas, and negotiating when building “freestyle”
This is how lego therapy sessions work…
There are normally three group members:
- An engineer (who has the instructions)
- A supplier (who has the bricks)
- A builder (who builds the model!)
Children can swap between the roles within the same session, or keep the same role for the whole session. Children agree to follow the ‘Lego group rules’, such as ‘if you break it you have to fix it or ask for help to fix it’, ‘do not put Lego bricks in your mouth’.
Children start by working together to build small models from instructions (I choose models that can be completed in one session), then can move on to building larger models with instructions over a series of group sessions. You can also have sessions of “freestyle” building where the children have a challenge (e.g. build a car), but no instructions to follow.
An adult is present during the session to help the group run smoothly, but crucially not to solve the children’s social problems for them – instead they just draw the children’s attention to a problem, and help them come up with their own solutions.
Adult: “There’s a bit of a problem here, does anyone know what it is?”
Child: “Sam got the wrong piece out of the box”
Adult: “How could you make sure he gets the right piece?”
Child: “Sam, I need a big red piece”
Adult: “That was a good idea – what did you just do?”
Child: “Said it again”
Adult: “Did Sam get the right piece that time?”
Adult: “Your idea worked! How do you feel now?”
Once the group have identified a good strategy, then this can be practiced in future groups until the children are using the strategy independently. I like to remind the children of useful strategies they have identified and been practicing at the beginning of each session. In this way, the children identify strategies they are happy using, and can start to reflect on the impact of their communication skills on other children.
So Lego therapy groups can be a really powerful way of developing social communication skills. If your child’s school suggests your child joins a Lego therapy group, you can be sure they are doing so much more than just ‘having fun’ (although it is a lot of fun too!). For more information about the benefits of play for children of all ages, see our ‘child’s play’ blog post. Lego can also be used in Speech and Language therapy sessions to help practice a range of other communication skills, such as extending sentence length (e.g. moving from ‘blue brick’, ‘there’ to ‘put the big blue brick on the flat red piece at the front’) or as a motivator in speech work. Lego is truly a versatile and fun therapy tool!
A word of warning
Some schools run ‘Lego clubs’ which are opportunities for children to play with Lego without the structure of a Lego therapy group. They can build whatever they want, on their own or with other children, and usually don’t have instructions to follow. Whilst this can also be useful to help some children learn to play alongside others, this is very different to a Lego therapy group. You may want to check with your school whether they are running a ‘Lego club’ or a ‘Lego therapy group’ if you think Lego therapy is the best option for your child.
Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist and proud owner of a Lego Pirate Island
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Talking about Selective Mutism
Imagine being faced with a paralyzing fear every day of your life. Well-intentioned people may encourage you to face that fear, but to you, it is the scariest thing in the world. Around 0.71 to 1.9 percent of young school children are likely to have Selective Mutism.
(Kumpulainen et al, 1998; Bergman et al, 2002; Kumpulainen, 2002; Kopp & Gilbert)
For these children, talking is that fear. It can manifest itself in different ways. Perhaps the fear is only apparent when at school, talking to adults or talking to other children. The situational nature of the fear can cause others confusion.
Why are some children with selective mutism talkative in one situation but not another?
Selective Mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder. Children may display different skills in different settings dependent on how relaxed they feel or who they are with at the time.
For some children, it means that they are unable to make any sounds at all, rendering them completely silent. For others, it may be that they can make some environmental noises e.g. the ‘choo choo’ sound when playing with a train. Others may be comfortable enough to speak in a whisper but when the demands increase to raise their volume, they recoil. Many children with selective mutism have speech or language difficulties, thus adding to the anxiety of speaking. The manifestation is as unique as the child themselves.
Usually selective mutism will occur before the age of 5 years but it may not be picked up until the child reaches school. In rarer cases, the onset could be from preschool age until teens.
Why might a child develop Selective Mutism?
Selective mutism is a complex disorder and experts cannot pinpoint one single root cause. There are thought to be some contributing factors however. An extremely sensitive or anxious predisposition (Johnson & Wintgens 2001) could put a child at a higher risk. It is thought that in fearful situations there may be a ‘decreased threshold of excitability’ in the part of the brain that receives a warning about potential dangers. This means that protective reactions are set in motion more easily e.g. decreased eye contact, not speaking. Because the threshold needed to trigger a danger warning is low, these reactions are set off by every day events such as school or family parties (Dr Elisa Shipon-Blum)
It can be alarming and very confusing for those who care for the child. As the communication disorder is anxiety based, being armed with information is of paramount importance. Understanding selective mutism will help to allay some concerns and provide the tools needed in order for parents and carers to provide optimum support.
Understanding Selective Mutism
Looking at the myths
- Children with Selective Mutism don’t want to talk
When talking comes so naturally and easily to most us, we may think staying silent is a choice. Public misconception is not helped by headlines in newspapers such as ‘The children who chose to stay silent’ ran by The Daily Mail in 2012. Staying silent is not a choice, in fact, it is a very hard thing to do and maintain!
- Children with Selective Mutism have suffered a trauma.
When a behavior is extreme, it is understandable to try and pinpoint causes. there is no evidence that children with selective mutism have suffered any trauma. In fact, the rates of trauma amongst this population are the same as in the general population.
- Children with Selective Mutism are shy and will grow out of it
Shyness is a very common personality trait in young children and is quite different from selective mutism. When a child is shy, they may hide behind a parent or blush but usually, slowly they will overcome that shyness as familiarity builds. If a child has selective mutism, they will find creative ways to function during the communication exchange e.g. point or nod to avoid speaking (Maggie Johnson 2002)
- Children with SM are stubborn
It may appear as though a child is willful when they won’t answer your questions or join in discussions, however what is perceived as willfulness is really the buildup of anxiety. This in turn leads to more avoidance. In such situations, it’s important to take steps to reduce the anxiety and the pressure on the child by recognizing the inner battle that is taking place.
Keeping the conversation going.
As selective mutism has its foundations in mental health, children can be referred to mental health services as well as to a speech and language therapist. If a child is suspected of having selective mutism, it is important to obtain advice and support early on. Early intervention leads to more successful outcomes and improvements in a majority of cases (Keen et al 2008; Johnson & Wintgens 2001). With the right kind of support in place at home and at school, barriers to communication can be broken down and addressed. Being armed with the right information is key to supporting these children and giving them their voice. The language we use to speak to children about their challenges is instrumental in managing their anxieties. In the next blog we will talk more about these strategies and look at how we can keep the conversation going with children with selective mutism.
For more information and support for parents, look at http://www.smira.org.uk, a registered chairty supporting the families of children with selective mutism.
Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist
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How can speech and language therapy help my child?
Speech and language therapy can help by providing treatment, support and care for children who have difficulties with communication.
Speech and language therapists are qualified health professionals who can support children with primary speech, language and communication difficulties, such as stammering as well as speech, language and communication difficulties that are secondary to other conditions such as learning difficulties and hearing problems.
Speech and language therapists also support premature babies and infants with conditions such as cerebral palsy, cleft palate and Down’s syndrome from very early in life. They may have difficulties with drinking, swallowing and early play and communication skills.
17 areas speech and language therapists help with
Here are just some of the important ways that speech and language therapists can help your child:
– Pre-school language problems
– Delayed development
– Trouble understanding meanings, gestures, directions or answering questions
– Problems identifying words, objects and pictures
– Problems putting words into sentences or learning new vocabulary, songs or rhymes
– Having difficulty understanding what others say
– Poor pronunciation
– Speech and language delays
– Stammering or speech difficulties
– Falling behind in learning numbers, letters, spelling or telling the time
– Learning disabilities
– Not being able to form words (Apraxia)
– Early play and communication skills
– Asperger Syndrome
– Hearing difficulties
The list is not exhaustive – and speech and language therapists can help your child in a range of other ways.
The important thing to remember is that every child is different and that is why a qualified speech and language therapist will assess your exact needs and development goals to come up with a plan to help meet these vital communication needs.
Iris Speaks provides an initial consultation to determine if your child could benefit from speech and language therapy. Then, if you feel a speech and language therapist can help, we undertake a full expert assessment of your child’s exact needs and organise a personalised and flexible ongoing programme of support just for you and your child.
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How can I access speech and language therapy for my child?
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How can I access speech and language therapy?
Speech and language therapy can be a vital way to help improve the quality of life of your son or daughter by helping them communicate, learn, develop their language and achieve their true potential.
Expert therapy is carried out by qualified Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) who are trained to help children and adults improve their communication abilities and skills.
SLTs usually work with children, and their parents, on an individual basis to provide a customised programme of support to meet specific needs and goals. This is usually based on a development plan that identifies key communication, language and learning difficulties and how to help overcome these and reach important goals and milestones.
Speech and language therapy can be accessed free of charge on the NHS. You can contact your local NHS Speech and Language Therapy service, or speak to your GP, Health Visitor or school staff about a referral. Some schools also employ specialist speech and language therapists where demand is high with many children needing urgent improvement in their learning and language skills.
If you get referred to the NHS you will normally be put on a waiting list to access speech and language therapy.
However, waiting lists can be long. According to a survey by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists some children have had to wait a year to see a therapist. The institution suggests quality of care has been impacted by NHS cuts as half of services across the NHS, schools and local authorities in the UK have had budgets significantly reduced.
Private speech therapy
The alternative to the NHS waiting lists is private therapy with qualified speech and language therapists. You can contact speech and language therapists directly without an NHS referral. You will need to pay for any therapy. But the advantage is you can start assessing and addressing your child’s communication problems much sooner and seek improvements when it can matter most.
As well as Iris Speaks, which provides access to affordable speech and language assessment and therapy in your own home, you can contact the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice to find your local independent therapists.
This sort of service also allows you to make appointments at times to suit you and your child and see therapists more frequently to maximise the impact and improvements for your son or daughter.
You can top up your NHS therapy
And remember accessing an independent speech and language therapist doesn’t have to mean you lose your place in the NHS queue.
You can see a therapist before you get NHS treatment and continue, if you wish to, in conjunction with, or after any help you get from the NHS.
Whichever route you choose, timely and effective speech and language therapy can have a vital impact on the communication and quality of life of your child.
Iris Speaks helps parents by providing quick, affordable and flexible access to qualified and highest quality speech and language therapists for children in their own home.
Royal Collegeof Speech and Language Therapists
Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice:
ICAN – The Child Communication Charity:
What is speech and language therapy?
How to tell if my child has a speech or language issue
How can speech and language therapy help my child?