6 good communication habits for the New Year

6 good communication habits for the New Year

New Year good communication habits

Amongst consuming an abundance of food, opening presents, returning some of them (!) and watching Christmas movie after Christmas movie, this time of year often keeps us occupied in one other way; thinking about our new years resolutions.

In fact it’s hard to get through the last and first month of the year without someone asking you what you are going to change.

Plunging in to the new year with a whole list of things to change can be disheartening and often unrealistic!  Not to mention; change can be hard and sometimes change can take a long time.

Food for thought

At this time of year we can quite literally have enough on our plates to even contemplate piling them up higher. Hats off to you if you did shed that half a stone or visit your  in laws more. If you can do it then go for it. But let’s face it, we are already doing so may things well, why not focus on what we are already getting right and perhaps fine tune and increase the frequency?

This sounds more like a recipe for success. Don’t you agree?

Resolve to reflect

So when it comes to supporting  communication, you probably know of and  are no doubt using some great strategies. You may have picked these up on our previous blogs. Sometimes all we need is a little reminder .

Picking a couple of things and making them a habit is key. Take a few minutes to think about what you already do successfully, that could be optimized with a revisit. Write these down or tell someone about them. For some more inspiration, look at the list below:

6 New Year Communication Habits

  1. Reduce questions and increasing comments. This is a great one for taking the pressure away from child to talk. Comment on the world around you, books or simply on the task at hand e.g. “ you are building a really big colourful tower”
  2. Wait ten seconds for a response. This seems like a really long time but you will be surprised!
  3. Model back correct language. This not only demonstrates to your child that you were listening to them, but provides a good language model for them to copy. E.g child: ‘Put the presents down the tree!’. Adult: ‘ yes let’s put the presents at the bottom of the tree”
  4. Acknowledge the message rather than its accuracy. When your child has made and error but you understand what they have said, continue the communication exchange and respond appropriately. This will ensure that communication remains motivating and that your child doesn’t become frustrated and give up.
  5. Reduce background distractions.  Take time where you can and focus on just the conversation. Turn off the TV and put the phone in silent.
  6. Provide feedback– comment on what you are pleased with e.g. ‘ I really like it when you use your words/ talk in sentences/remember your ‘p’ sound). Be sure to tell your child why e.g “ it helps me to understand/,it lets me know what you want” . This might also work for other things too e.g. “ I like it when you clean your room, it makes it look so pretty,”

Try using your useful strategies a few times a day or in a set 15 minute focused time. Think about where you would like to start. How often can you focus on using communication support strategies?. Can you focus every day at a particular time? Perhaps during breakfast or bath time? Maybe it suits your lifestyle better to put 15 minutes aside for this daily or perhaps focusing on it at the weekend is a good place to start?

Reflections rather than resolutions

Wherever you start, think about what has worked well for you and your family over the last year? What things have you already started doing that you can fine tune and perfect?

So enjoy those fully loaded plates of food, unwrapping gifts and watching the old traditional movies. And from all of us here at Iris Speaks, enjoy reflecting!

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

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9 tips for a child with social communication issues. The Iris Speaks Christmas Survival Checklist

9 tips for a child with social communication issues. The Iris Speaks Christmas Survival Checklist

Your Christmas Survival Checklist for Children with Social Communication Difficulties

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… isn’t it?  For children who find social situations a challenge, the holidays can be a very mixed blessing!  All children find themselves getting over-excited and having a few meltdowns at this time of year, so let’s spare a thought for children who find changes to routines challenging, or find social situations tricky.  But some simple pre-Christmas preparation can make all the difference:

  • Get a child-friendly calendar

Not the chocolate-filled variety, but the kind you write activities on.  Write down key events, such as family visits or trips out.  Also put on ‘down time’ activities (such as an afternoon in watching a film) so these become non-negotiables, and your child knows when they will get some vital time out.  Put the calendar somewhere your child can look at whenever they need to, and look at it together regularly so you can talk about upcoming events.  Remember to update it if plans change!

  • Consider your daily routine

Maintaining some normality is reassuring for all children.  You know your child best, and the parts of their routine they particularly rely on.  It may be that you stick to your bath and bedtime routine, or it may be that your child needs some quiet time with a snack mid-afternoon (similar to their routine after a busy school day).  Then work out how you can incorporate these into Christmas plans.

  • Prepare quiet activities before family visits
  • Plan escape places before family visits

As much as we love (!) our nearest and dearest, haven’t we all felt that sense of relief when we can wave goodbye and have some down time at the end of a visit?  You can give your child this crucial down time during visits, by taking along some calming, individual activities (such as colouring, listening to an audiobook, or playing with a fiddle toy), and allowing your child to go off to another room on their own to ‘chill’ (or under the table!)  A quiet word in the host’s ear so your child is not disturbed during these times may also be helpful.

  • Set your watch ten minutes fast – or do whatever it takes – to arrive early

For children who find social situations daunting, arriving early and being one of the first there, with other family members or friends arriving gradually, can be easier than walking in to a group of children or adults.

  • Amend Santa’s wish list

You know your child desperately wants a toy that is going to hype him/her up completely, and probably cause squabbles between siblings when everyone wants a turn.  What do you do?  Consider when you child gets this toy (i.e. at a time when they are actually able to play with it, and not when they are with a group of other children).  Know in advance any ground rules you are going to set that go with the toy, such as if there is a time limit for playing (such as with video games) or rules about sharing.  This could be written down as a message from Santa.  As well as the highly motivating, stimulating toy, include calming and one-player toys that can be enjoyed straight after opening – depending on your child this could be a colouring book featuring your child’s favourite cartoon character, a construction toy or some play putty.

For more ideas sign up to our free social communication inbox course
  • Arm yourself against arguments

Times spent with other children, be them friends, siblings or other relatives, will no doubt lead to bickering and fall-outs at some point over the school holidays.  Being realistic about this means you can be pre-prepared!  Take a look at our squabbling siblings blog post (link) so you have some tricks up your sleeve.

  • Check your own expectations

If your child doesn’t normally like shopping because of the crowds and the noise, they are even more likely to dislike shopping at Christmas time!  Even if you both know Santa is in the grotto on the other side of the department store.  If your child doesn’t like talking to new people, they are unlikely to give it a go on Christmas Day when they meet a relative they haven’t seen in years.  Be kind to yourself and your child, and make sure you have realistic expectations of what your family will be able to get out of an activity before you start.

  • Ask your child – and yourself – what they really want to do

This is your holiday!  It can be however you want, and doesn’t need to include raucous Christmas parties if you don’t want it to.  It could instead mean a day dressed up as Spider man or an hour looking at pictures of tanks together.  Christmas is about family, so give yourself permission to spend it in a way that suits you and your family, rather than a way that suits your Instagram feed!

Wishing you an enjoyable, relaxing Christmas from everyone here at Iris Speaks

More information about helping children with social communication difficulties at Christmas can be found here:  http://www.autism.org.uk/about/family-life/holidays-trips/christmas.aspx

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

Access the best UK based speech and language therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week online and at home. Visit irisspeaks.com/consultation to book to speak to us now.

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The Colour Monster – A great book for emotional awareness

The Colour Monster – A great book for emotional awareness

It is not an easy task for a small child to understand their emotions. That is why we love this book ‘The colour monster’ by Anna Llenas.  The story of this cute little creature’s day aims to help our own little monsters raise their emotional awareness and make facing their feelings just that little bit less of a monstrous task!

Why get emotional about it?

Understanding our own emotions and the emotions of others is called Theory of Mind (ToM).  With research highlighting links between ToM and language skills, it has become a hot topic within speech and language therapy. ToM starts to develop quite early on and can be encouraged by talking to our children about their emotions and the emotions of others. From around 4 years of age children might start to develop skills in thinking about how another person feels. Using books at this stage can be lots of fun and help them on their way to understanding emotions.

The colour monster

We meet the colour monster at the start of a day that is threatening to be rather confusing for him. This baffled little monster is in a bit of a frenzy over his feelings.

His emotions are cleverly depicted by colours. This little stumped soul is bemused and wearing all his emotions (colours) at the same time. The colours are intertwined and swirled together in a jumbled-up mess.  Picture your child’s face and hands after a painting session.  It is quite clear that this little guy needs a bit of help and along comes a trusted friend to lead the way.

She takes each colour, one by one and talks it through with the troubled guy.

Whilst giving the feelings a name, she explains what the feeling might make you want to do e.g. “anger can make you want to stomp”, thus helping children to recognize and identity with the different feelings.  This could act as a great prompt to get your child to talk about what anger or another emotion makes them want to do.

This clued up companion goes on to say what you can do when you feel a certain way. When addressing fear, she says “If you are scared, tell me why and we will through the forest together”. Thinking about why we feel a certain way and what we can do about it can be a little tricky. With the monster sharing his emotions first and leading the way, we can then go on to attempt the same dialogue with our children.

What started out as a daunting day, turns in to a vibrant and educational journey for the colour monster. Together with the little girl they have organized his emotions and they are no longer tangled up. His world is much clearer.

For little ones and adults who enjoyed the movie Inside Out, this book is a must!!

Get our FREE Reading Skills Course!

Carrying over the colour of your emotions!

The colour monster book provides a lovely fun read with lots of talking points. You can try some of the below:

  • Guess how the colour monster feels. As you look at each page see if you and your child can remember how the colour monster is feeling by looking at the colour.
  • As you go through the story ask your child when they have felt sad/happy/ etc.
  • What does it make them want to do?
  • Are they the same or different from the colour monster?
  • What about other people? Together can you think of how other people in the family feel and how they show it? What colour are their emotions?
  • Together can you think of other emotions that the colour monster might have but has not shared in this story? What colour might they be?

Other fun activities

-Draw and colour pictures of how you are feeling today, what colour are you?
– Can you remember what emotions go with what colours? Use different colored tokens, or paper and match the right colours to the word for the emotion.
– create a mood map of the monster’s day by putting different coloured pieces of paper/tokens, or colouring in squares on a piece of paper in order e.g. morning, afternoon, evening.
– Share mood maps of your day. What colour did you feel in the morning, afternoon, evening.

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s speech and language therapist

Access the best UK based speech and language therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week online and at home. Visit irisspeaks.com/consultation to book to speak to us now.

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5 hacks to make back to school morning routine smoother!

5 hacks to make back to school morning routine smoother!

Ah, that back to school feeling…  Whether you’re feeling relieved the 8 weeks are over, or regretting the fact the time flew by so quickly, I’m sure we’re all dreading those frantic school mornings that will soon be upon us.  As well as over-hauling your children’s pencil cases for the new term, why not also take a look at your morning routine and see whether you can put in any of these simple ‘hacks’ to make everyone’s first experiences of the day that little bit nicer…

5 hacks for a smoother morning routine

  • Plan your ‘morning timetable’ in advance.  Knowing what you want to accomplish, in what order, is the first step to actually achieving it!  It will also help you set clear expectations for your child.  Then use these handy visuals to create your own morning visual timetable for your child (http://porch.com/gigglesgalore/school-morning-routine-checklist-with-free-printable/ )
  • Give your child a visual checklist for items they need to get for themselves (ideally laminated to help it last!), and teach them to tick off the items themselves with a dry-wipe marker if they are old enough.  Practice using this together when leaving the house for other activities before the start of term (download below)
  • Prepare the night before
    • Lay out your child’s school uniform, in a neat pile layered in the order your child needs to put the items on in (i.e. underwear on the top, jumper on the bottom).
    • Set out breakfast so that your child can help themselves.
    • Check whether there’s anything extra your child needs for school the next day, such as P.E. kit or cakes for a cake stall.   Then involve your child in getting these things ready.
  • Make the tricky parts of the routine into a game or challenge.  Which part of the morning routine do you dread most – brushing teeth? Getting dressed?  Think about how you can add an element of fun, or competition, into these activities – either racing against a timer to get dressed a little bit quicker every day, or seeing if your child can put their coat and shoes on in the time it takes you to sing (one or two) verse(s) of ‘if you’re happy and you know it’.    For teeth brushing, download the free ‘Brush DJ’ app which plays 2 minutes of music to keep your child brushing for the recommended amount of time.
  • Motivate your child to be more independent in their routines (i.e. doing the next step on the timetable without being asked, or getting the items on the ticklist), either via verbal praise, the opportunity to do a preferred activity once they have done their routine (e.g. watching a bit of TV), or with a reward chart

The above ‘hacks’ reflect the general advice we give for children with communication difficulties – use visuals to support understanding and develop independence, work in an element of fun or challenge, and notice and reward the positives.  More information about using visuals to help children understand routines, and changes to these, is included in our Autism course – even if this diagnosis does not apply to your child you may be able to pick up some more tips.  Good luck in getting your mornings off to a flying start!

Below is an example check list, you can customise it with the items your child needs to take to school with them every day.  If possible, insert photos of your child’s actual rucksack, lunch box etc.

For school I need..

morning routine







Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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Why is developing Theory of Mind important for speech therapy?

Why is developing Theory of Mind important for speech therapy?

As adults we understand that others have emotions, we comment on this to show we understand and respond to their needs (most of the time!). Being able to do this is called having a theory of mind (ToM).

Theory of Mind skills are directly related to mental state, emotional vocabulary and grammar skills.

In light of recent research, the speech and language therapy profession has become increasingly interested in the development of these skills in very young children and the relationship these skills have to language impairments.

What group of children might struggle to develop Theory of Mind

Children with autism are known for having social communication difficulties and deficits in theory of mind, meaning that they find it challenging to see the world from another person’s perspective. However other groups of children can have challenges here too including children with language impairments, deafness and attention-deficit disorder.

Early development of Theory of Mind

Traditionally it was thought that ToM developed when a child was around 4 or 5 years of age, however recent research has highlighted that babies start to develop this from the moment they are born with the help of their caregivers. For example, babies will attempt to copy mouth and facial expressions of their caregivers, demonstrating that they are starting to understand a world outside of their own minds. These very early communication exchanges are thought to lay the foundations for theory of mind and mark the start of a child’s journey to becoming aware of others. (Gallagher & Hutto, 2008)

At this stage you will recognize the sort of games that parents play with children e.g. peek a boo or engaging with and playing with a toy together. It is here that we learn to pay attention to what someone else is looking at or ask for their shared attention when looking at something. If at this stage a child is struggling, over emphasizing your emotions can help with engagement Gutstein (2009) as children with ToM deficits may need more than just subtle clues.

It can sometimes be challenging to bring a child’s attention away from what they want to focus on, so starting from their point of interest will work better and if so, intruding on their play, holding desired items out of reach and supporting them in getting used to another presence might help.

Moving on from joint attention and engagement.

At around 18 months to four years of age children will start to develop a sense of self and pretend play. Having a sense of self is a building block for ToM as it is the point at which children will start to understand that others have different likes and desires and they are separate from those around them. We can support children at this stage by encouraging pretend play e.g. pretend to eat a plastic cookie or take on roles in play e.g. the mummy or the daddy. Reading the same story over and over again and using props and then guiding creativity and pretending within the story.

Understanding those around us

Between four and five years of age, it is thought that children will start to develop skills in reflecting on what someone else is thinking or feeling. The ability to understand emotions develops so that social emotions such as embarrassment, guilt, pride and shame start to be understood.  At around 2-3 years of age children will show emotions such as guilt or regret. Around 5 years they might be able to imagine situations where these emotions would be felt, but it is not until they are 7 years old that they can describe contexts where these emotions are experienced. (Harris, Olthof, Terwogt, & Hardman, 1987)

Children who are exposed to lots of reflective talk about emotions tend to have stronger skills in this area. For example, commenting on the emotions of people around you and explaining why they might feel the way they do, can help your child to tune in and develop stronger ToM skills.

Books can also support this, for example, The Doghouse (Thomas, 2008) asks children to think about what they think the animals might be feeling and thinking.

Ability to anticipate the thoughts and actions of others

In later development children will start to predict what one person is thinking or feeling about what another person is thinking of feeling! As adults this is not always something that we have mastered 100 percent! Just think about miscommunications between couples! However, this skill starts to develop after age 7. Here children start to become aware of lies, sarcasm and figurative language (where what is said is not what is meant) e.g. ‘watch your back!’

Having an idea of how theory of mind develops can help us to support children’s emotional development, can give them opportunities to learn how to engage, share attention and develop their emotional vocabulary.

As adults, we are constantly learning about other people’s mental states. The things that help us develop as adults will also support children. For example, increasing our exposure to situations and opportunities for learning about mental states, talking openly about these and reflecting on them, be that through real life experiences, movies or books.

ToM can be a fun area to work with your child whilst supporting their language skills along the way!

In the next blog you will be provided with even more ideas and practical tips how to develop ToM!

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to build social communication skills check out our FREE parent’s 10-part parent’s programme. 

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s speech and language therapist.

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Fidget spinners – tiresome trend or teaching tool? Speech and language therapist perspective

Fidget spinners – tiresome trend or teaching tool? Speech and language therapist perspective

Fidget spinners – the latest trend amongst children, now also causing a media frenzy.  Iris Speaks have browsed the internet to summarise for you where fidget spinners came from, why schools are having issues for them, and some surprising benefits.  Plus, my top homemade fiddle toys.

Media Frenzy for Fidget spinners

The Telegraph provide a beginners guide to what a fidget spinner is, in case you don’t know any school-aged children but want to get involved with this craze!

The idea that fiddling helps some people focus their attention is not a new one.  Children have been using fiddle toys in classrooms for years, and they’ve also started popping up on adult training courses.  Personal experience has shown me how useful they can be for children (and adults) of all ages when listening demands are high, and social media is awash at the moment with similar anecdotal evidence supporting the use of fiddle toys.  The Guardian encourages you to ask yourself if you twiddle your pen when talking on the phone, and consider the benefits of fiddle toys for many of us.  Sarver et al (2015) found that for children with ADHD, more movement during a task predicted better results in a working memory task.  Website ‘Occupational Therapy for Children’  explains some of the science behind fiddling, as well as giving some examples of different kinds of fiddle toys.

Time.com  are worried that fidget spinners may be seen as a ‘quick fix’ for attention or anxiety problems, and say that they are a distraction rather than helping a child concentrate.  However, metro.co.uk remind us that sometimes a distraction might be exactly what’s needed for a child with anxiety, other mental health or sensory issues

So what’s the problem with them?

Fidget spinners have been accused of distracting other children in the classroom, as instead of just spinning them on the tabletop, children are trading and doing tricks with them during lessons.  Unlike many other fiddle toys, fidget spinners make a noise when they spin, and can’t be used discreetly under the table.  One Year 7 student found them so distracting she wrote to her headteacher to ask him to ban them.

Surprise benefits?

Let’s remind ourselves what these children might be doing if they weren’t showing off fidget spinner tricks.  Might this real-world interaction be better than the alternative of playing another level on a smartphone game, or watching another YouTube video?  Alex Fitzpatrick of Time.com argues that if fidget spinners fill that bit of time when you’d normally reach for your phone (checking social media for the umpteenth time), this isn’t a bad thing.

For children who need to use a fiddle toy to calm down or concentrate, this craze might make them feel happier about using it in the classroom.  There’s a great infographic circulating on Facebook urging parents to use their child’s interest in fidget spinners to start a conversation about the needs of children with ASD and ADHD, and to consider how they could help.

fidget spinner

Homemade fidgets

You can buy a whole range of fiddle toys online, but you can also make your own!  The best fiddle toys are quiet, strong and sturdy so they can survive many ‘fiddles’ a day, and able to be used subtly without distracting others.  I’ve challenged some of my students to make up their own fiddle toys.  Some of our favourites:

  • A piece of straw on a pipe cleaner, with the ends twisted around to make it safe and stop the straw sliding off
  • A bead on a large paperclip
  • A lump of blue-tak
  • Use K’Nex or Lego Technic wheel and axel pieces to get creative and make a spinning wheel fiddle toy
  • A larger pen lid on top of a pencil
  • A different kind of movement break! Go outside and run around the garden, do star jumps, or twiddle your thumbs

My final thoughts having read the articles, and looked into the research: whilst fidget spinners themselves might not be the best tool for it, there is at least anecdotal evidence that fiddling can help some children listen, or stay calm.

Whilst us adults sometimes pick up and fiddle with items for these purposes (or even subconsciously!), is it fair to stop our children doing the same?  Let’s not demonise all types of fiddle toy as being just a classroom distraction, and use this craze for good where we can!

To see more of Alys’ work – she has written two training courses you can get free in your inbox with tips, activities and videos. Sign up to the FREE social communication course for children up to 7 with autism or the FREE language course for late talkers.

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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