Can toys supercharge my child’s language skills?

Can toys supercharge my child’s language skills?

Even as adults, toy stores are alluring. Maybe the appeal comes from the flashing lights, the beaming colours and high stacked shelves. Often we are drawn in by the manufacture’s promises and guarantees to help our children develop in EVERY possible way.

There are the teethers that promise to promote language development*, the baby iPad that will teach your crawler to code and the toy pianos that promise to take you from waddler to Wolfgang.

Whether it’s the toy kitchen that says it will increase your child’s social communication through promoting role play, or the shape sorter that gives hopes of expanding your child’s vocabulary, a toy store, any toy store, comes with a million promises. Some more far-fetched than others.

In the UK, the toy industry is worth 3.4 billion. Toy manufactures know that we want the best for our children and they are cashing in on it!


But what does the research on toys say? And is there a connection between marketing and your child’s development?

Toys are fun, but toys are expensive. Do we really need the latest expensive gadgets and gizmos to give our children the very best start?

There is not much evidence to say that we do!

Child psychologist Alison Gopnik is adamant that relying on toys and iPads to give your child a developmental edge ‘fundamentally misunderstands what is happening in development’ and even if products did exist that fulfilled all the promises they made, ‘we would have defeated the whole point of childhood’

Gopnik goes on to assert that many of the toys that we see today are marketed using questionable claims rather than solid science. This is not to say that toys are not useful and that they don’t provide any value. But being wary of their claims and knowing that there are other things that are just as good, perhaps even better for your child’s development, might well be the place to start.


Drop the flashy and save some cashy! Lets get traditional with toys

It can be tempting to buy the noisiest, flashiest, talking toy on the market, but if we are going to buy a toy, what kind of toy is the best?

A 2016 study found that compared with electronic toys, traditional toys e.g. building blocks, puzzles, stacking games and tea sets, yielded higher language interactions. With the traditional toys, parents used more words and there were more conversational turns, more often!

More conversational turns are linked to better language gains (see our article one good turn deserves another). A recent study (2018) from MIT also points the importance of taking time to use your traditional toys. It found that children’s “language centres” in the brain were stronger in relation to the length of conversational turns that parents took. The children also did better on language tests.

Traditional toys therefore provide a platform on which to stage the back and forth conversations, but that communicative edge and language boost, can come from just you and the things you have lying about.


That is right! Traditional toys might be better than electronic ones, but YOU are the best!

Playing is one serious job and it is the first way that we interact with the world.  (see article on the value of play)

Playing with your child, games like peek a boo, pointing to body parts and naming them, talking about what you are doing around the house and making it in to a fun game, are excellent ways to provide the language for your child to soak up.

Using everyday objects, pots pans, spoons and spatulas! Your tiny tot can have lots of fun banging, role playing, and listening to language, not through a battery operated talking machine but through listening to your voice and the everyday language that they will then go on to understand and use.

The adage is true, children are happiest with a cardboard box. Get ‘stacking’, ‘cutting’, ‘tearing’, ‘colouring’, ‘building’, ‘knocking’ and ‘hiding!’ Playing with such objects helps children (and you) to get creative, use their imaginations, motor skills and learn lots of words!

This is not to say that you shouldn’t buy toys! But know, you are your child’s first and best one. Nothing out there on the shelves of a toy store can replace what you can teach your child through playing with them. So, when you do go to buy that expensive, shiny, noisy toy, choose one that you like! As when your child eventually favours the cardboard box, you will have something to enjoy too! 😉

To find out more about how YOU can boost your child’s language – take a look at our SPARKLE programme

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



Interview with a SENCO – thoughts on communication

Interview with a SENCO – thoughts on communication

Our Speech and Language Therapists regularly provide you with information, inside knowledge and tips and tricks on how to support your child’s communication skills. Here we are passing the mic over to another professional, Madeleine. Madeleine has worked with speech and language therapists for over ten years as a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator). SENCOs work within the school setting and it is their job to make sure that the children who have extra support needs, get those needs met. Like Speech and Language Therapists, SENCOs work with a range of other professionals, including psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and of course, teachers.

It is a demanding, fast paced and very busy job! So, we thank Madeleine for taking the time to talk to us. Madeleine has worked in the UK and Australia. In 2016, she won an award for being one of the best in her field.

Here she explains to us how Speech and Language Therapists work within her team at school and what communication means to her.

What is your job?

I am a SENCO in a school and I am also a dyslexia specialist.

What does speech language and communication mean to you?

Speech and Language Therapists are an outside agency that I can turn to, to ask for help with children’s speech articulation and their language development. I can use speech and language therapists to assess a child, understand their needs and to provide treatment programs to move children forward.

I would say that prior to being a SENCO I wasn’t aware of how much speech and language therapists had to do with language. I thought it was more to do with speech articulation. They work with a wide range of communication needs and are an integral part of the team.

How do speech and language therapists help children in schools / your school?

They help by assessing the children, so we can understand their needs fully and then everything that that encompasses, e.g., speaking to parents and teachers so we are all aware of strategies that we can use to support the child. They help by providing a treatment plan and working with the classroom teacher and assistants. They also provide whole school inset trainings. They leave lots of good communication resources in the school and point us and parents in the direction of great online support and resources e.g. The Communication Trust and Talking Point sites. They help us to manage referrals that come through and provide us with strategies that support the child without having to make a referral. So, as well as working with children and supporting staff within the school, they are supporting us in identifying the right children to refer in the first place.

What is advice as a SENCO have you received from a Speech and Language Therapist that you have found particularly useful?

Short bursts of regular intervention are better than sitting for hours with a child working on something.

The therapists I have worked with over the years have also emphasised using gesture with children, modelling back the correct language and using open ended rather than closed questions. These are all little things that make a big difference to communication.

For more information on how to use these strategies to support your child’s communication check out our blogs/courses/Sparkle

The fact that they encourage and promote everything that our school does, give us reassurance, we are all working towards the same goal and singing from the same hymn sheet, using the same strategies.

One other thing that therapists have encouraged is early intervention. Speech or language delays may be helped greatly by early input.

Do you have a young child that may need early intervention? Check out Sparkle.


What advice as a SENCO do you pass on to parents who are worried about their child’s communication?

That depends on what the worry is, so if for example they are worried about (how their child says a) certain letter sound, I would refer to NHS guidelines that gives information about what letter sounds they should be able to pronounce at certain ages. Often, I will say that I am happy to listen to the child so parents could ask their SENCO or class teacher to listen their child as they will know that age group. Asking parents for examples of what they are hearing that they think is problematic can help. I encourage parents to be as specific as possible. Is it language? is it speech? is something specific like pronouns or past tense they can’t get quite right? Then if in doubt I would ask the speech and language therapist before making a referral.

For more about identifying communication challenges and the difference between speech and language challenges check out this article.

What advice as a SENCO do you pass on to teachers to help children communicate in the classroom?

Things related to ‘Wave one quality first teaching’ e.g. Children should be able to see the teacher who is talking, lessons should be multi-sensory so children are not relying on the auditory stimulus and so they can see and touch things, lessons can also be kinaesthetic and I also look the acoustics in the classroom at the start of every year, e.g. sound proofing , making sure the walls have felt on them (this can make the sounds in the classroom easier to hear) , chairs that don’t scrape. It is important that children have the best opportunity to communicate and hear communication. Then thinking about specific special needs – individuals need to communicate, so we may use alternative resources, Makaton/sign to make sure that every child can communicate fully. Then giving the children different opportunities for communication e.g. with the teacher, 1.1, in a group, in a small group, with different people and different audiences. So, I will discuss these things with teachers.

Give me one quick thing parents can do tonight to help their child communicate

I personally like, and I use with my own children, any of the Julia Donaldson rhyming books. Encourage your child to finish off the rhyming couplet, which is great for the phonology development and that underpins their literacy and will help with their reading and writing later.

Check out our sing and rhyme article for more ideas on this!

What communication skills do expect from a four-year-old just starting school

All children develop at different rates, it is important to remember this when thinking about where your child should be, but in general I would like them to make eye contact, ask and answer questions appropriately and be able to talk to their peers about themselves. They should be able to retell a story e.g. what they did at the weekend.

What communication skills do you want a year 6 to have when they leave primary school

Again, all children develop at different rates. But to be able to have a good conversation, not go off on a tangent, stick to the topic, have more complex conversations, use more complex grammar, richer vocabulary.

Need ideas on how to make grammar fun? Check out our article!

What is your favourite word and why

Oh, that is a hard one. So many words! I think it would have to be ‘Hello’. I like greetings! And meeting people. ‘Hello’ is universal, I think anyone anywhere would be able to understand the words and the of course the gesture! It is friendly, and everyone uses it.

Finally, what does communication mean to you?

Communication is everything, without it we are unable to access many things in our daily lives, socially and academically. Being heard and being able to express your needs and opinions shouldn’t be taken for granted. I am a big chatterbox, so I should know!

Everyone should be able to do this, regardless of skill set. In our school we work towards making sure that all the children are able to access communication.

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

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So your kid needs a speech therapist – what happens next?

So your kid needs a speech therapist – what happens next?


When speech and language therapists put together a therapy program for your child, their decision will be informed by a few things: the age of your child, their main mode of communication, their understanding levels, how much language they have, what speech sounds they have and what communication skills they most need to function socially and academically. Moreover, there is one more very important factor that will be taken in to account: What the evidence says about the recommended therapy. Using research to inform decisions in therapy is crucial to ensure that your child has the best chance of reaching their goals. Therapy programs that encourage joint working between parent and therapist are known to provide better outcomes for the child.  Including parents as active participants rather than observers of therapy programs is often the approach taken in the early years.

So, after seeking out support and perhaps obtaining an evaluation, you and your child may have been offered guidance by a speech and language therapist rather than 1.1. therapy sessions. Not all speech and language therapy is given by these 1:1 therapy sessions.

Why not just 1:1 sessions?

Here are some things that may have guided your speech and language therapist’s decision making:

  • The research indicates that most of the learning children undergo happens incidentally i.e. by listening to the world around them. Around 98 percent of the words that your child knows will be words that are found in your own vocabulary! (Hart and Risley 2003). So, when it comes to language development, you are the biggest contributor to your child’s language and working with your is crucial!


  • Guiding and supporting parents in the enrichment of their child’s communication skills is thought to provide long lasting results. Following a parent/child interaction program (Russ & Niec, 2011) found that the improvements in communication were still noticeable two years post therapy. So, signing up to a program and seeing it through, is not just a quick fix, but an investment in your child’s communication for the longer term.

Put simply, when parents fully engage with their children, communication skills improve (Roberts, M and Kaiser, A 2011). Working with a speech and language therapist to help you fine tune your interaction skills and offer support where needed, is a sure way to achieve positive results!


Speech and language therapy, your child and you!

What will I learn from following a tailored program?

More comments, less questions!

Questions are important and can help children to develop their understanding, however, we often ask too many questions! We are trained to ask questions to fill silent gaps. So, this strategy will take some planning and practice.


Speech and language therapists will encourage you to comment more. Commenting on your child’s play takes the pressure away from them and they will be more likely to provide you with spontaneous language. In addition, by commenting on what your child is doing, you are giving them the opportunity to listen to lots of language. The more language a child hears, the more likely they are to use new words., so this strategy is very effective


Repeating what your child says but adding new words to expand the sentence and make it more grammatically correct.


Provides strong language examples. Children will get a chance to hear words that they miss out e.g. ‘is’. Remember, the more a child hears, the more they are likely to learn!

Use gesture!

We all use some gesture when we speak. 50 percent of communication involves some sort of nonverbal communication. You may point to something, or use the iconic gesture e.g. holding your hands in the shape of ball while you say ‘ball’ Using gestures every day can provide positive communication exchanges between you and your child.


Gesture has immense value when it comes to highlighting key words for children to learn. Children learn by listening and by watching and they will associate what they hear with what has been shown/signed/pointed to. Teaching your child to gesture before they can use words will also benefit their language development. Children who use gesture at a young age e.g. point to request something, will have larger vocabularies later in life (Hanen 2016)

Follow your child’s lead!

This means, letting them choose the toy they want to play with and following what they want to do with the toy. This can be hard at first as its natural to want to lead the play in order to support specific skills. Following what your child wants to do can be a strategy that suddenly opens up their communication.


Following your child’s lead shows them you are interested in what they are interested in and it takes the pressure away from them to respond to an adult led activity. As this can then make them feel more relaxed, they will be more likely to engage and attention levels will increase. Commenting on what your child is doing while they are exploring toys and games, again provides some great listening practice.

Using simple language

When children are learning language, the amount of information they can process will vary. It can be useful to break down longer sentences in to short phrases or pause before adding in more information. Many speech and language therapists will also teach you how to use information carrying words, so the language load is aimed at your child’s level of understanding. As ICWs are words that carry information, focusing on them raises your awareness to how much information you are giving your child E.G. ‘the cat’ (when shown a picture of a cat and dog, is asking your child to listen to one piece of information ‘cat’. ‘The big cat’ when shown a picture of big and small cats and dogs, is asking your child to listen for two key words (big and cat) to choose the right picture. We have a full article on this and a FREE 10 part email language course you can sign up.


Making language simple can greatly increase the likelihood that your child will be successful in following your instruction. Keeping sentences short and using key words allows you to see how much your child is understanding and therefore add in more words slowly as your gradually support their language understanding.

Use rhymes and songs

Using rhyme and song is a great way to have fun with your child whilst also optimizing their learning of new words. See our time to rhyme and sing article. You can try singing the same songs over and over or missing out a word and seeing if your child can fill in the gap.


When children hear a word repeatedly or in many different situations and contexts, learning the word becomes much easier. Rhyming also helps children learn about the structure of words, identifying what words start with the same sounds or end with the same sounds can also help literacy skills (Goswami,1986, 1988)

Share a book

Books provide repetitive language, picture support and introduce your child to new words. Reading can be a fun daily activity. If your child is interested in a story they will be more likely to learn some of the words from that story.


Listening to stories is another way for your child to meet their listening quota!  The more words they listen to, the more they will use! Spending some focused time reading, commenting on the story and responding to your child’s questions is a great way to up their language! As well as increasing your child’s exposure to words, reading to your child daily will have a positive impact on their literacy levels (Read On. Get On.” report published by Save the Children)


DID YOU KNOW?…………………

You are your child’s best teacher?

When parents are given guidance to work on their child’s language via a program rather than offered 1:1 therapy the results are positive! Following a review of 18 different parent child interaction programs, improvements in understanding, language, gesture, vocabulary and grammar were all documented (Roberts and Kaiser 2011)

In fact, once given guidance and support, parents were found to have even more of a positive influence on their child’s communication skills than a speech and language therapist!

If you are worried about your child’s communication skills and feel they would benefit from some focused support, it is always worth contacting your local speech and language therapist for an assessment or advice. There are a few different parent child interaction programs available. For more information on what Iris Speaks has to offer, click here.

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

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Roberts, M., & Kaiser, A. (2011). The Effectiveness of Parent-Implemented Language Intervention: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Speech-Langage Pathologie20, 180-199

Hurray for Play! From 0-3 years and how it aids language development

Hurray for Play! From 0-3 years and how it aids language development

Hurray for play!

Play has been likened to a fertiliser that nourishes the brain ‘with the behavioural equivalent of miracle Gro’ (John Medina 2008).  Play facilitates learning, encourages creativity and imagination, supports and develops our memory, language, social skills, problem solving ability and much more!

Play is the ‘work of childhood’ (Fred Rogers). As children learn about their world through play, understanding how it develops and how we can support it, is crucial.  Entering a child’s world, requires that we meet them at their developmental stage of play. By doing this we will have a good chance of encouraging them to listen and watch, explore and imitate.

State of play

You are being watched! All the time. As your child’s most influential teacher, they will be watching and learning from you continuously. When we play with children, they watch and learn, learn learn!  We play from the moment we are born, and we continue to play in to adulthood. The way we play throughout these stages is however very different and children will pass through distinct play stages from infancy to preschool age.

Let’s take a look at this journey.

Exploratory play. From birth.

From the very first stages of life, children learn about the world using their senses. Did you know that the lips are one of the most sensitive areas of the body? The lips have many receptor cells that send information to the brain. It is no wonder then that children who are just starting to learn about their world, will play by putting objects to their mouths and in their mouths. Exploring objects this way helps children learn about their features and uses. Each time they explore, they will learn something new and keep adding to this information store for later use. It will eventually help them name items using language.

Encouraging play at this stage

Having everyday objects around as well as toys is a useful way to encourage this learning.  Slowly children will learn about how to use objects appropriately. Try giving your child a spare cup, spoon or toothbrush to play with when you are carrying out real activities using these objects.

This is also the stage where your child will be looking at you to exchange smiles with you and play with sounds. As your child learns that their actions receive a reaction from you they will be encouraged to play more.

Exploratory play doesn’t stop here. It will continue throughout the preschool years as your child is introduced to new objects and new functions, although rather than putting things in their mouths, they will be more likely to discover things with their hands!

Play at 9 months

Children will start to use the information they learned from exploring objects and will begin to show you that they know how to use them! Your clever little cookie may pretend to brush their hair with a hair brush or put a toothbrush to their teeth.

Encouraging play at this stage

Continuing to demonstrate the uses of everyday objects will support your child during this stage. Try making a ‘treasure chest’ filled with useful things. What can they find? Take your time to explore what’s inside.

This stage of play provides some good opportunities to develop language as your child may start to act out events. Using repetitive phrases such as ‘brush dolly’s hair’ or ‘give teddy the cup’ will expose your child to the same language over and over as they play.

Play at 18 months

Your child’s play is really developing and evolving now. They will start to understand that one object can represent another object e.g. a miniature spoon represents a real spoon.  They have been busy bees and all that important playing has helped them reach this significant point. Understanding that one thing can represent another thing is key for learning language, as we use words to represent objects. Your child is beginning to master something complex!

If you have ever wondered why a speech and language therapist looks at how your child plays with objects and toys, this is why! Play can tell us a lot about where your child is on their language journey. Often, if there is a delay in play, there is a delay in language. Supporting and moving on your child’s ability to play therefore helps build the foundations required for language.

Encouraging play at this stage

You can help your child to learn that one object represents another by:

  • Playing with real objects and then introducing a miniature version (from a doll house set). You can model what you do with these objects e.g. brush teeth, drink from a cup
  • Play with teddies and dolls using these objects e.g. feed dolly
  • Play matching games. Have a bag of big and small matching objects. Take them out one by one and try and match them.
  • You can also try this with a picture of the object and the real object. Use a feely bag. What can you feel? Does it match the picture? You can use real photos of things that your child uses or generic pictures.
2.5 years Acting out!

Through play, your child will now likely be showing you how they understand the world around them. They will be using their toys, teddies and dolls to act out sequences that they have grasped from watching, playing and doing e.g. giving teddy his milk and putting him to bed. Acting out these sequences is crucial for later when your child will tell you stories.

Encouraging play at this stage

You can help your child at this stage but acting out the sequences with them. Use familiar toys and clear language e.g. ‘Dolly is eating breakfast, now she is getting dressed’.

You can help your child to structure these ideas but using words like ‘first, second, third’ or ‘Now and next’. Make up sequences containing two steps and see if your child can copy you or do their own.

3 years

Your child has come a long way since the stage of exploration and mouthing objects! They can now use their imaginations and act out short sequences and pretend to be different people e.g. doctor, nurse, fireman. This sort of play will further help them expand on their world knowledge and support their understanding of other people’s emotional states.

Encouraging play at this stage

Encourage this sort of play by using fancy dress. Pretend to be different people and create scenarios where your child may have to think about how someone feels e.g. taking on the role of a doctor to help a patient who is unwell or a vet who is helping a scared animal.

Your child’s play skills will continue to develop and evolve now as they mature to school age and onwards.

Learn to play, play to learn!

Playing allows children to explore and learn about their world, it powers the imagination and boosts their creativity. As your child’s best teacher and first playmate you have an amazing role in spurring on all these skills.  Each stage of play is dependent on the stage before and in each stage, they are learning something crucial that will help them navigate their world.

We learn best when we are having fun, so it makes perfect sense that learning is so rapid in these early years!

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

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5 Reasons YOU are your child’s best Speech Therapist

5 Reasons YOU are your child’s best Speech Therapist

5 Reasons YOU are your child’s best Speech and Language Therapist

Speech and Language Therapists are keen to get parents involved in the therapy process, but is this just a cop-out to avoid doing the work themselves?  Yes, it can be tricky to convince a child to practice their new words with you (and most likely the last thing you want to do) when you’ve just spent 20 minutes convincing them to eat one green bean.  But there are really good reasons therapists want you to be closely involved:

  1. You know your child best

You experience their ups and downs.  You know what really motivates them, and what really frustrates them.  You’ve been through it all with them.  But don’t just take your own word for it, research has been carried out which shows that parent’s opinions and questionnaires about their child’s language skills, are as accurate as some of the tests Speech and Language therapists do to measure language abilities (Dale 1991).

  1. You can practice communication ‘in the moment’

What’s the point in learning how to say ‘more cake’ unless there’s a real cake on offer?  Why practice listening to items to pack in a school bag if it’s not actually time for school?  Plus there’s limited realistic opportunities to practice signing ‘hello’ in a therapy session, but countless times throughout a day.  You can see why some children are perplexed by the activities they may be asked to carry out in a therapy session, even though the parent and therapist know there is a clear reason behind them!  But you can incorporate your child’s communication targets into everyday activities.

  1. You can personalise your child’s therapy

So your child just got a trampoline for their birthday?  Let’s take the therapy outside!  The cartoon character they loved last week has been replaced by a new favourite?  No problem, they can practice clapping out that name instead!  A therapist can give you pointers as to what kinds of activities to carry out, into which you can then incorporate your child’s interests.

  1. Your child gets more therapy sessions

Imagine being able to give your child access to Speech and Language Therapy for most of their waking hours, or one hour a week.  Which option would you pick?  Let’s add in to that scenario that the one hour a week could be at a time when you’re child’s just woken up from a nap, so are grouchy, or maybe they’re so focused on the toy shop you walked past on the way to the session, they aren’t listening to the therapist…  Training you up as the therapist means that you can provide therapy to your child on a daily, even hourly basis, and you can keep activities short and sweet because you know there will be other chances that same day.

  1. It might just make things easier for you…

Let’s be a little selfish here, and also return to point number one.  Who does your child talk to most often, and therefore who needs to understand them when they talk the most?  You!  Who might also be most needing the tips and tricks to work out what children mean when they are having difficulties communicating?  Or need the strategies to manage conflicts raised by the social communication difficulties?  By building your skills as therapist, learning some of those little tricks and strategies, you will help both of you enjoy the time you spend together.  And that’s what it’s all about… just promise to share with us teachers and therapists what you learn about what helps your child!

If you’d like to find out more about how you can help your child – check out our SPARKLE course

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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Lost Voice Guy – more about the communication aid he uses and what they are

Lost Voice Guy – more about the communication aid he uses and what they are

Lost Voice Guy

Lee Ridley, known as ‘Lost Voice Guy’, is the first comedian to win Britain’s Got Talent… and also the first communication aid user to win!  Lost Voice Guy may not “speak”, but he certainly has a voice –  sharing his experiences of cerebral palsy and communication aid use in his comedy, and discussing the representation of disabled people in the media.

This may be one of the first times you’ve seen a communication aid used by someone in the public eye – apart from Stephen Hawking.  Lee Ridley’s BBC Radio 4 sitcom ‘Ability’ amusingly shows just how frequently he hears that comparison, as people’s only cultural reference point for someone who uses a communication aid.  You might therefore be surprised that around one in two hundred people use some form of aid to help them communicate (also called “augmentative and alternative communication”, or AAC) (Blackstone 1990).   Lee Ridley, and American sitcom “Speechless”, may be the first tentative steps towards more accurate media representation.



Apart from Lost Voice Guy who needs a communication aid, and why?

Communication aids, or AAC, are used by children and adults who have difficulty using spoken language (and sometimes with understanding language too) for a wide range of reasons.  Some will have needed additional methods of communication from childhood, such as those with cerebral palsy, autism, or many other developmental or learning disabilities.  Others may need to use additional methods to communicate following a brain injury, stroke, cancer, or a neurological disease such as Motor Neurone Disease.  These are just some of the causes of communication difficulties, and having one of these diagnoses does not mean that person will definitely require a communication aid.

The potential power of a communication aid is immense:

“My aid has enabled me to live independently in my own home, employ my own care staff, set up my own business (self-employed), earn enough to come off means-tested benefits, earn enough to buy my next new AAC device soon.”

Scope’s “No voice, no choice” Communication Aids Survey respondent, 2007


Always so technologically advanced?

Not at all… AAC, or communication aids, are anything ‘extra’ that helps communication.

We don’t just communicate using spoken words.  Watch just a few of Lost Voice Guy’s videos  and you’ll see a wealth of facial expressions, gestures, not to mention comic timing.  All this would be lost if you were just listening to the voice synthesiser only.  Communication aids are frequently used alongside speech, gestures or signing.  Speech and Language Therapists sometimes refer to this as ‘total communication’, supporting the person to use a wide range of communication methods to get their message across in the best way possible for the person and situation.  In the BGT final, Lost Voice Guy made a joke out of how cumbersome communication aid use can be, by typing a response ‘good’ to David Walliams over the course of a comic 20 seconds (complete with ‘thinking’ pause and gesture).  Sometimes a simple ‘thumbs up’ is all that’s needed to get the message across!

A communication aid may consist of:

  • a gesture or signing system (such as Makaton or BSL, see our article for more info this area)
  • a symbol or picture-based system, mounted on a board, or in a book
  • alphabet or word boards or books
  • typing based systems (such as the Lightwriter system used by Lee Ridley)
  • A mix of some or all of the above!



MyChoicePad uses Makaton sign language and symbols


This is the Lightwriter system used by Lee


Communication aids can be controlled by pointing, using a keyboard or switches, or even small head or eye movements.  A person’s literacy skills and physical skills will be taken into account when considering what methods of communication will work best for them.

This clip shows the teens from sitcom “Speechless” demo-ing two different types (pointing with a headlight to a word board for someone to read vs. a computer system operated by eye movements), and discussing some of the pros and cons of different communication aids.

As personal as any method of communication

The way we talk is highly individual – from our accent and tone of voice, to the words, phrases and expressions we commonly use.  A communication aid should be as personal as this – an adult communication aid user will need a very different vocabulary to a child so they can join in with social chit-chat (“Kanye West” being a crucial omission from Lee Ridley’s, before you consider the specialised vocabulary an adult communication aid user might need in the workplace.

An accent is also a highly personal thing, Stephen Hawking was reluctant to change his when technological advances made it possible, saying “It has become my trademark and I wouldn’t change it for a more natural voice with a British accent.”  However, Lee Ridley is not as attached to his, saying he’s going to spend some of his winnings on a Geordie accent for his communication aid so he doesn’t sound like ‘a posh version of Robocop’.

If this blog has inspired you to find out more about AAC, you could start by reading some of the personal experiences of using AAC here:

But let’s leave the last word to Lost Voice Guy.  Whilst this article celebrates the empowering nature of communication aids, the communication aid is not the star of this story, it’s Lee Ridley and his hilarious comedy:

“When I am performing, it’s as if I have finally found my voice – and it’s a great feeling making people laugh.”

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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