Can grammar ever be fun? Our top 3 games

Can grammar ever be fun? Our top 3 games

The phrase ‘grammar fun’, for some of us, may seem like an oxymoron at best. The explicit approach to learning how to structure sentences may bring with it memories of tedious drills and the rote learning of rules.  However, for many of us, grammar will have been absorbed, through experimentation and correction, rather than through the digestion of endless rules. Whichever way we do it, we learn how to put words together in English so that they are meaningful. For children who struggle to do this, understanding others can be confusing and participating in conversations, a challenge. Many of these children will fall under a speech a language therapist’s radar and some will need some extra support internalising parts of the English grammar rule book.

Helping children use pronouns

Pronouns are important little words!  We use pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ to refer to people and objects without having to name them. In this article we will explore how to help your child use them correctly and take a look up a speech and language therapist’s sleeve for some fun activity ideas.

Understanding first

Before we can be expected to use something, we need to understand it. The activities below are therefore split in to two parts: games to aid understanding and games to help with production.

Learning to use new rules

When your child is first learning to sort out new rules, they will find it easier to focus on one rule at a time e.g. if working on ‘he’ and ‘she’ don’t worry if they make other errors e.g. ‘mixing up her/him’. It is likely that they will also find it easier to focus on shorter sentences when they start to say the words. You can model longer sentences for them but at the beginning, do not worry about them being able to copy you. As they become confident, they will start using the new rule in longer phrases, sentences and stories!


GAME 1 > ‘Me wants it’

Saying ‘me’ instead of ‘I’ can be quite cute when your child is very young, but if this continues past around the age of 2 years old, your child may benefit from some gentle guidance. Children generally learn to say ‘I’ correctly (around 1 – 2 years) before they master using ‘me’ correctly (around 2-2.5 years)


Using real or pretend food, plates, make a food order e.g. ‘I want the apple’. You can play with another adult or child and pretend you are in a cafe. Your child role plays the waiter/waitress or chef and must serve the food to the correct person. This will ensure that they receive lots of listening practice first.

Take turns to say what you would like to eat and see who can fill their plate first.

If your child says, ‘Me want the pear’, you can gently model the correct way e.g. ‘I want the pear’ and grab the pear and put it on your plate, emphasizing ‘I want it’.

Which hand is doing the good talking?
You can also give your child a chance to correct themselves by showing them both your hands closed in to fists. The first hand says, ‘I want’ and the second hand says, ‘me want’. Model the hands talking and then ask your child to hit the fist that is doing the ‘good talking’. If they tap the correct hand, spring it open and say repeat it back to them again ‘I want the…’ and then reward them with the food.

Game alternative – find silly ingredients for soup and collect as many silly things as you can. Who can make the silliest soup?

Most children will correctly use ‘he’ and ‘she’ by the time they reach 2.5 years of age.

*To work on your child’s understanding of ‘he’ and ‘she’, you can adapt the above game using a girl and boy doll or picture cut outs. Pretend the dolls are whispering to you what they want and then tell your child e.g. ‘he said he wants a pizza, do you have any pizza for him?’. See if your child can correctly place the food on the right plate. Offer feedback as your play e.g. ‘that is right, it is for the boy because I said ‘he’.

*Work on listening for the correct pronoun by telling a short story. The first time you tell the story, make no mistakes. The second time, make a few silly mistakes.

1). ‘Susie and Tom were playing catch. Susie ran to get the ball and she fell over and hurt her knee. Tom tried to help but he slipped up and hurt his elbow’

With Errors e.g.

2). ‘Susie ran to get the ball and he fell over’/ ‘Tom tried to help but she fell over!’

Tell your child that when they hear a mistake, they must shout ‘STOP!” and then tell you what the mistake is. If they can, ask them to repeat back the correct sentence: ‘Tom tried to help but he fell over’.

Remember the focus is on using ‘he’ and ‘she’ so don’t worry if your child makes mistakes with other parts of the sentence for now.

Act out the story –Using teddies, dolls or action figures, try acting out the story and practicing ‘he’ and ‘she’ using the characters. If it is not clear which one is a girl or boy, you could put an identifying item of clothing on them e.g. blue hat

Make the story visual – laminate a picture of a boy and a girl and as you tell the story, colour in red the part of the body they hurt when they fall over. You could even repeat the story again but this time put plasters on the characters!.

*When your child is ready to practice saying ‘he and she’, you can make the dolls do things e.g. jump, run, sleep and say, ‘Who is jumping?’. Model the answer ‘she is’ or ‘he is’ then ask your child to continue by shouting out. You can practice longer phrases this way to by asking ‘what is the doll doing?’ and modelling ‘she is running/he is eating’.

*Additionally, your child could give you the food orders for the boy and girl, like in the game above. ‘he wants chips, she wants ice cream’

*Try supporting story making skills using the story structure above. If you are using laminated cut outs, simply wipe the laminated pictures clean or use two new fresh ones. The level of support here will depend on how confident your child is at this stage, but you can support them as needed throughout the story and prompt them using the pictures, pointing out the blood/ plasters on the boy and girl. For more ideas offering feedback to support language, see our blog on speech and language blog one



Pronouns can be tricky to learn and using ‘his’ and ‘her’ is no different. Children will often have mastered this by around 3.5, but if extra support is needed you could try some of the following ideas.

*Tell a story like the one above, focusing on the words her and his. This will provide lots of focused listening. Again, you can ask your child to shout STOP! When they hear a mistake (you mix up ‘her’ and the ‘his’). Remember, at the listening stage they do not have to provide the correction but can if they wish! Once they have identified the mistake, you can simply model the correct way e.g. ‘Silly me, Susie is a girl, so it is her knee, not his knee!’

*colour, draw or put cut out clothing on pictures of a girl and boy. Your child must listen to you e.g. colour her shoes blue, draw a hat on his head,

*You can get even more listening practice by putting different objects in baskets belonging to the girl and boy doll or the cut-out pictures e.g. ‘put the ball in his basket, put the dress in her basket’

*The activities above will be familiar to your child and therefore provide a good starting point for them to practice using the correct production of ‘her’ and ‘his.

They can start by sorting out objects for the boy and girl and telling you what they have done, ‘I put the ball in her basket’.

*Prompt them to describe pictures to you e.g. You ‘Whose shoes are blue?’ Child: ‘her shoes’

If they are feeling confident, they may even wish to tell you a story like the one used above!

The ideas above provide a starting point for working on some areas that your child might find tricky. Feel free to adapt and expand on these as much as you wish, remembering that listening and understanding come before accurate production. For more information on grammar  in general and supporting word order, check out colourful semantics blog.  If you would like even more specific guidance on how to support the development of pronouns, see our higher language course.

Have lots of grammar fun!

Our top 4 apps for grammar fun

There are some excellent apps to support working on pronouns. Take a look:

TOP PICKS Price range from around 2 – 5 pounds.

Pronouns with splingo

Pronouns by Teach Speech Apps

Using I and Me Fundeck

Story builder for iPad – This app supports many aspects of your child’s language. Can help reinforce pronouns once your child is has mastered them at the phrase and sentence level.

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

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12 YouTube videos for teaching speech, language and communication skills


12 YouTube Videos for Teaching Speech, Language and Communication Skills

12 YouTube Videos for Teaching Speech, Language and Communication Skills

YouTube – teaching through video in less than 5 minute ‘bites’!

Free training!

Video is the perfect medium to teach parents and education staff signs to use with children to help their communication development.  Many of the signs we use to help can be found on YouTube:

Makaton  Their YouTube channel has videos of their signs of the week to keep your skills fresh (see ‘signing’ blog post for more information about using signs to support language development)

Cued articulation is often used with children with speech sound difficulties.  If your child is using this in therapy sessions, you might like to look up the signs on YouTube to remind yourself how to make them.  Jane Passy explains about Cued Articulation here

Songs and Rhymes

Toddlers and pre-school children will get the most out of the videos when you watch and join in with them.  YouTube is a huge library of action songs and videos, so if your child comes home from nursery singing ‘dingle dangle scarecrow’ you can learn how to join in with them here.

Singing hands  sing and sign lots of popular nursery rhymes and songs if you need inspiration for a new song to share with your child visit them.

Our article ‘make time to rhyme and sing’ has tips on how you can make the most of rhyme time to boost your child’s communication skills.

Think back to the way you first learnt the alphabet, or the colours of the rainbow – does a song or a rhyme pop into your head?  Calvert (2009) found that songs improved adults and children’s memory of content presented in a song compared to when the information was spoken.  Videos that are engaging to children may make them more likely to want to hear the content again and again (helping them to learn it), and you can find a number of YouTube videos with songs or rhymes about anything your child may need to practice, such as…

Opposites :

Check out this video on opposites

And this one!

The same study also found that it is important to check your child’s understanding of information learnt through song, and talk about it together in different activities and situations, so if you learn about opposites using those songs, you could then practice sorting toy animals into big vs small animals, or talk about big and small when you are sorting out the washing.


Young children practicing a sound might benefit from these videos from Ring Card phonics (plus they give adults some handy examples of words beginning with target sounds they can then use in games):

Songs that have lots of your child’s target sound can also be good to listen to, for example if your child is learning the ‘f’ sound then this ‘fee fi fo fum’  song from Jack and the Beanstalk would be good listening practice! has more examples of songs you could look up on YouTube containing a whole range of different speech sounds.


Pixar, Disney, and a few of the other animation companies have produced ‘shorts’ which are beautifully animated, often wordless video stories.  These are great for working on language and social communication targets with school-aged children.  Two of my favourites are:

Mouse for Sale


These can be used in a whole range of ways:

  • Pause the story and guess what might happen next
  • Your child could provide a ‘voiceover’ to the story, or dialogue for the characters
  • The characters are full of personality, so provide a good opportunity to practice descriptive language when describing the characters
  • Talk about the emotions in the story
  • Suggest an alternative ending for the story
  • Summarise the ‘moral’ of the story

Social skills

YouTube has cartoons and stories designed to teach children desired social behaviours, either explicitly:

Keep your hands to yourself

Or through suggestion:

My no no no day’, teaching that some days you might feel tired, sad and grumpy, but the next day you might feel better again!

YouTube is a massive resources, and these examples just skim the surface.  Please share with us via social media and tag us @Iris_Speaks  with the hashtag #YTSLT your top YouTube videos for developing communication skills.  Remember, your child will get the most out of any videos when you join in watching with them, and talk about the videos together.

Please check all external content, including YouTube videos, before using these with your child.  Whilst these videos were approved at the time of writing this post, content on YouTube and links may change.  Inclusion in this blog does not imply endorsement of the creator or poster of the videos.  YouTube contains adds prior to videos which may not be suitable for your child to watch.

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

Access the UK’s best Speech and Language Therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week. Online and at home. Book an initial consultation.

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Will using sign language impact on my child’s ability to speak words?

Will using sign language impact on my child’s ability to speak words?

What is sign language?

We all use sign language. We nod our heads in agreement or shake them in disagreement, we wave hello and wave goodbye, sign thanks to kind drivers that let us go and refrain from signing anything to those who don’t! When we visit a country where we don’t know the spoken language, we rely on signs to communicate, remain courteous or order from a menu.

Many of us already use lots of signs with our children. We may have signs for animals, different foods and so on. Using signs, supports every day conversations and for our children it can act as an important bridge towards developing more spoken words.

All languages, whether Mandarin, English, Korean, French or British Sign Language use symbols to represent the world around us. There are different types of sign and symbol systems.  The ones you may have heard of or have seen in schools are:

  • Makaton – is a language programme that uses symbols alongside sign language to represent key words with nearly 40 years of evidence backed research on it’s effectiveness in encouraging speech and communication skills. It’s used by over 100,000 people across the UK. Many schools use this to help hearing children develop spoken language. When using Makaton, the signer speaks alongside signing. This encourages the development of spoken language. Often once spoken language develops or increases the signs naturally fade out.


  • British Sign Language – is an official language used amongst the deaf community. Unlike Makaton, it has its own grammar rules. It is not commonly used alongside the spoken word.


  • Sign Supported English (SSE) – Follows English language grammatical structures. Putting sentences together is therefore much more intuitive for English speakers as opposed to learning another set of grammatical rules. Although the grammar rules are different from BSL, SSE uses the BSL signs. Many schools use this to support language learning for deaf and hearing children.


  • Paget Gorman (PGSS) – is a signed alongside speech and used in the UK, Ireland and Australia. Like the other sign systems, it supports learning for all children and especially those who struggle with language or following directions in the classroom.

There are other types of sign language too such as American Sign, Australian sign language…every single country has a different sign language – there is no universal sign language and even from region to region it can vary in dialect.

Will using sign language impact on my child’s ability to speak words?

This is a common concern, however, for children who are going to be verbal, learning sign language does not hinder their potential. Think of a baby who has not yet developed language. Caregivers use gesture regularly from the day babies are born. We wave hello and goodbye to them before they know these words, we may even have gestures for key words in songs. Some parents teach their babies ‘baby sign’ so they can start communicating using their hands before their language develops. In normal circumstances these babies then go on to develop language, the gestures/signs merely support this journey.

Why sign?

Using sign can benefit children whether or not they have a speech and language delay.

Supports learning in the classroom
Signing or gesture helps all children in the classroom and particularly those who struggle understanding verbal language. It can aid their ability to follow directions and is instrumental in reducing anxiety and increasing participation. Think about being in the foreign country again and interacting with locals to get directions back to your hotel. By following the hand gestures of the locals, you can safely make your way.  Yay for sign!

Enriches vocabulary
When a word is heard and seen, children tend to recall the word more easily, leading to better vocabularies. Providing a sign for the word gives them another hook to hang the meaning on to.

‘Language and imagery are inseparable’ (David Mcneill 2005)
Gestures and signs are visual aids. If we understand gestures to be interlinked with speaking, then sign language is just a more structured way to elaborate on these gestures.  Creating strong images for words is immensely useful for little language learners. Using gesture or signs with speech also slows down the pace of your speech – making it easier for little ears and brains to digest and process information.

Signing supports children who are struggling to develop language
Signs can bridge the gap between having no meaningful communication and speaking. For children who are finding it hard to use words, signing can reduce frustrations, increase participation and learning and increase communication confidence. For some children, using sign successfully can lead to the development of verbal communication.

Extra facts

It is thought that learning sign language may boost cognition by as much as 50 percent! (John Medina 2010)

Vocabulary development comes on leaps and bounds when little fingers master fine motor control. Signing is a good way to support this!

From around 9 months of age, typically developing children can start to learn language using sign.  ‘Baby Sign’ has become very popular in recent years.  Parents who wish to can attend sign classes with their baby and start communicating with them before verbal language develops.

If we view sign language as an extension of verbal language rather than something separate from it, we start to see it as an integral part of the language learning process. Signing can make activities like singing songs, requesting objects and naming things in the environment much more interesting, engaging and fun!

Video copyright The Makaton Charity

Check out the Makaton sign for lamb above! To see more Makaton signs if you’ve got an iPad check out the MyChoicePad app

Visit for fun Makaton classes, sessions and resources.

Singing Hands also have some fantastic videos of popular nursery rhymes using Makaton signs that you can watch with your child

Check out this week’s Makaton Sign of the Week!

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

Iris Speaks – Access the UK’s best Speech and Language Therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week. Online and at home. Book an initial consultation.

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What is auditory processing and why is it controversial?

What is auditory processing and why is it controversial?

Auditory processing disorder (APD, also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder) is a controversial topic.  NHS choices provides information about auditory processing disorder, yet you might hear a sharp intake of breath if you mention it to your child’s Speech and Language Therapist.

What is auditory processing?

When most people talk about ‘auditory processing’, they are referring to how we listen to and understand sound information.

auditory processing

Whilst we are all aware of the ear’s role in listening to sounds, the brain also has a huge role in listening – by making sense of what the sounds mean (leading to the lightbulb moment!).  This hugely over-simplifies the processes involved, but as a starting point it also helps us to identify the roles of professionals in working with children who may be diagnosed with APD.

Audiologist – can you hear the sounds?  This is measured using tones or beeps, at different volumes or pitches.  Any audiology tests that involve listening to words or sentences add in an element of language or sound processing, so the brain is involved as well as the ear. If you have concerns about your child’s hearing, talk to your GP or health visitor to arrange a hearing test.

Speech and Language Therapist – can you understand the sounds, words and sentences?  We look at the brain’s role processing auditory (sound) information.

Other professionals, such as Educational Psychologists or Specialist Teachers, may also be involved to assess the child’s memory skills (including working memory, the brain’s ability to remember sound information long enough to process and understand it).

What difficulties are sometimes assumed to be due to auditory processing difficulties?

  • Difficulties listening in background noise
  • Not following spoken instructions
  • Not understanding or losing track when listening to stories
  • Difficulties listening to and identifying speech sounds in words or phrases

Why is Auditory Processing Disorder controversial?

A diagnosis of auditory processing disorder is only suggested if the child has normal hearing levels.  The current research concludes that ‘the listening difficulties of children with APD may be a consequence of cognitive, language, and attention issues’ (Wit et al 2016).  All of the above symptoms can be signs of a difficulty understanding language, or understanding and manipulating speech sounds, and these difficulties are seen in children for whom other diagnoses would also be appropriate, such as dyslexia (Dawes and Bishop 2009) and language impairment (Sharma et al 2009).

If difficulties in any of these areas are assumed to be due to APD, this may lead to inappropriate or ineffective strategies or interventions being used with the child.  This is frustrating for parents and children, as well as being a waste of precious time and resources.  If your child has difficulties with any of the areas above, rather than assuming a diagnosis of APD it will be more beneficial to seek an accurate assessment of their strengths and needs across the different areas of language, as well as looking at your child’s attention and memory skills.  Any interventions or support should then target their specific needs.

This might include a mix of changes to the environment (such as providing cue cards to support your child’s focus of attention in the classroom) or therapy approaches (such as practice understanding a certain type of instruction or language concept).

The free Iris Speaks language course and higher level language course are 10 week courses designed to help you understand the complexity of the language learning process, and provide you with some starting points to help your child’s understanding of language across a range of language areas.  You can see that a couple of environment changes, or an out-of-the-box computer intervention, would not be able to ‘fix’ every child who might receive an APD diagnosis despite some of the claims.

But how can you judge whether a treatment or intervention is right for your child? 

  • Start with a full assessment of your child’s abilities, including their attention, memory, speech and language skills. This will help you to work out what outcomes you would like for your child, and what you would like any intervention or treatment to target
  • Don’t select based purely on a diagnosis. For example, children with dyslexia will have very different reading levels, and children with Autism will have very different social communication needs.  Just because your child may have a diagnosis, and the intervention says it ‘works for children with…’, doesn’t mean it will be practicing the right skills, or aimed at the right level for your child.  Check what skills the intervention or treatment is targeting, and that these are skills your child is ready to learn.
  • Focus on interventions or adaptations that improve your child’s communication skills in everyday environments. Learning and then practicing a skill in the place or time when they will need to use it helps it become part of their communication system.
  • Look at the evidence that the treatment or intervention has been successful for other children with similar needs to your child. Whilst the endorsement of other parents (a recommendation at the school gate, or an enthusiastic parent quotation on the website) is encouraging, a research study or academic paper finding that the treatment is effective is more valuable.  You can ask your child’s Speech and Language therapist about this!


If you want to find out more about auditory processing, useful information is contained in Chapter 8 of ‘Making Sense of Interventions for Children with Developmental Disorders’ by Bowen and Snow (2017), and in the journal articles referenced below.

Written by Alys Maths, Speech and Language Therapist


Dawes, P., Bishop, D. V., Sirimanna, T., & Bamiou, D. E. (2008). Profile and aetiology of children diagnosed with auditory processing disorder (APD). International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology72(4), 483-489.

Dawes, P. and Bishop, D. V. (2009) Auditory processing disorder in relation to developmental disorders of language, communication and attention: a review and critique.  International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders.  44(4):440-65

Fey, M.E., Kamhi, A.G., & Richard, G.J. (2012). Letter to the Editor. Auditory training for children with auditory processing disorder and language impairment: A response to Bellis, Chermak, Weihing and Musiek. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 43(3), 387-392.

Fey, M. E., Richard, G. J., Geffner, D., Kamhi, A. G., Medwetsky, L., Paul, D., Ross-Swain, D., Wallach, G.P., Frymark, T. & Schooling, T. (2011). Auditory processing disorder and auditory/language interventions: An evidence-based systematic review. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools42(3), 246-264.

Kamhi, A. G. (2011b). What speech-language pathologists need to know about auditory processing disorder. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools42(3), 265-27

Sharma, M., Purdy, S. and Kelly, A. (2009) Comorbidity of Auditory Processing, Language and Reading Disorders.  Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.  52: 706-722.

de Wit, E., Visser-Bochane, M. I., Steenbergen, B., van Dijk, P., van der Schans, C. P., & Luinge, M. R. (2016). Characteristics of auditory processing disorders: A systematic review. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 59(2), 384-413.

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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.

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  • 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:

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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