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 http://lostvoiceguy.com/radioshowreel/), 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: http://www.everyonecommunicates.org/stories/individualstories.html

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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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

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! http://www.songsforteaching.com/speechtherapy/ 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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Iris Speaks Top 5 language apps

Language Apps for your child and you!

There’s an app for everything these days (except one that will do your laundry). From banking to shopping, keeping track of your fitness and even sleeping!

According to Techcrunch.com May 2017, we are using nine apps a day and 30 a month.

Children’s App creators are well aware of the power and lure of the shiny screens, reinforcing beeps and blips and colourful images. It is no surprise then that children’s educational apps make up a large portion of the app pie.

To help you navigate the sea of children’s language apps, we have put together a list of our top picks.


Cost 2.99

What we like about it
This app focuses on how much language your child is understanding. To them however they are completing the steps to build a rocket ship and send an alien into space. The friendly alien gives instructions on each turn and will repeat what was said if you tap it. This cute little ET also provides lots of encouragement with lovely positive feedback. Once the rocket has been built, the next tasks are to add food, fuel and passengers. The ultimate reward is watching the countdown and then the rocket takes off and flies away!

What can it help with?
The great thing about this app is that you can make it easier or harder depending on how much your child understands. Starting with very simple instructions, following just one key word e.g. ‘show me the apple’ up to four key words e.g. ‘give the red balloon to the girl who is jumping’. For more information on key word levels check out our language email course here. On this app, children around one year of age are expected to follow instructions at level one, children of two years, at level two and so on. The app focuses on many different aspects of language such as prepositions (in, on, under, behind, next to), pronouns (he, she, they), adjectives such as ‘new, old, wet, dry’ and many other language structures.

As there is a reward at the end, tiny tots might get tempted to swipe away until they get the right answer without processing the information. It is a good idea to sit with your child, repeat back the instruction or encourage them to listen to the alien again and take their time responding.


Cost 2.40

What we like about it
This app is a winner with very young children and creates a lot of interest with older children too, it is even APP-ealing to adults!
There are many different scenes detailing the inside and outside of a house, including kitchen, bathroom, garden. The scenes are extremely interactive. Children can enjoy moving around the house and manipulating objects and adding different family members to the scene.

What can it help with?
It’s better to ask: ‘What language can this app not help with?’.

Everyday objects are found in each of the scenes, providing enrichment of daily vocabulary. You can also make characters ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘eat’ and you open and close the fridge and eat healthy or unhealthy food. You can ‘feed’ the characters or the fish and ‘watch’ the television. Changing the scenes from day to night and back to day again is fun and could stimulate more complex vocabulary such as tomorrow, later, yesterday and the days of the week. In the garden you can have fun ‘jumping’ or ‘swinging’ and talk about the weather. You can go ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. The app provides almost as many opportunities for language development as everyday life does.

You could try creating different situations and ask them what they think might happen in the scene. For ideas on appropriate question levels, see our blog on Blanks levels of questioning here.

The only thing the characters don’t do is talk, leaving all the conversing up to you and your child!


Cost: Starts at 2.99

What we like about it
This app is based on the Colourful Semantics method that some Speech and Language Therapists use to support vocabulary and teach sentence structure. Colourful semantics supports children in making sentences by using colours to represent each part of the sentence. Children are therefore able to use the colours in a repetitive way to predict what part of the sentence is needed and can eventually move on to creating sentences independently with no colour support.

It is a fantastic app, with 154 short videos of different people doing every day actions. The videos show real people, making it easier for our little language learners to relate it to their own lives. Once the video is over the child is prompted to choose the correct parts of the sentence by dragging up the pictures to the sentence strip e.g. ‘He is washing’ or ‘She is running’. The activity can be made harder or easier by adding or removing the aid of the colours that correspond to different sentence parts.

What can it help with?
The app follows a Look, Match, Listen and Say structure. It can help children with attention and listening whilst developing their knowledge of pronouns (he, she) and vocabulary for a range of verbs (washing, running, cleaning).  The app supports children in using the correct word order and eventually in expanding their sentence length, e.g. they may start with ‘he is washing’ and build up to saying, ‘he is washing his face/the dog/’.

As an added bonus, you can record yourself saying the sentence once you have made it. So it makes taking turns and listening to each other lots of fun! 



What we like about it
Cooking with your child can be lots of fun, this app provides a great way to reap the benefits of the language exposure when cooking but with slightly less mess!

Cooking for these two monsters is quite simply hilarious. Even though you don’t have any yummy muffins or cookies to eat when you are finished, the monsters make adorable little noises as you cook up a meal for them which makes the app lots of fun. For those muffins and cookies, you may have to have some real kitchen time when screen time is over!

What can it help with?
Just like when you cook or bake for real, this app promotes the vocabulary for a range of food and actions such as ‘chopping, slicing, frying, blending, boiling’. It also stimulates a discussion around what utensils you need to cook e.g. frying pan, knives, blender. The monster will let you know if it appreciated your culinary skills and this can spark a discussion about what you could change or add so the monster finds it more palatable!



What we like about it
We often feel uncomfortable when we hear our own voice repeated back to us. Talking Larry repeats back what we say in his own unique voice, encouraging children to practice talking and listen back to themselves and others via this funny bird. As an extra reward, children can interact with the bird by tapping him on the head or feeding him

What can it help with?
Anything at all! Although this app does not focus specifically on one aspect of language, it will perhaps encourage those children who are slightly less willing to practice their language targets to give it a go! Use this app to talk about what you see in your environment, name as many things as you can within a category e.g. ‘fruits’ or play association word games where you link words together e.g. ‘apple, banana, yellow, paint’. The bird will chat away till your hearts are content.


Making virtual time valuable

In our blog on Screen time, we talk about sensible exposure to screens such as iPad and computers . Below are some additional things to keep in mind when using language apps to encourage language development with your child.

  • Taking turns will make playing with apps more interactive and ensure that your child isn’t passively playing a game.
  • Play out loud! Repeating your thoughts as you play will encourage your child to think about how they play too, e.g. ‘I will get the book for the girl to read’
  • Naming some of the things you see on the screen will encourage your child to learn the names of things.
  • Playing the same thing a few times will support the learning of new vocabulary and sentence structures.
  • Modelling back the correct words and sentences for your child will ensure that they are actively learning e.g. child: ‘She have a book’, Adult: ‘Yes! She has a book’. You can also try expanding sentences e.g. ‘She has a red book’

Playing with apps with your child can be a fun and rewarding activity.

Happy app time!

Written by Carolyn Fox

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5 common myths about online speech and language therapy

5 common myths about online speech and language therapy

At Iris Speaks we believe in facts and evidence, so we’re keen to put some common myths about online Speech and Language therapy to bed !

  1. You can only work on communication skills face-to-face

Even with the growing use of technology, children need to be able to interact with other people in the here and now – to play, get their needs met, share their thoughts and feelings, and learn.  Of course developing face-to-face communication skills is the fundamental aim of Speech and Language Therapy, even when it is delivered online.

Most online Speech and Language therapy services insist there is an adult present during the session, to join in and help the child with the activities.  This is often a family member or member of school staff – someone the child will definitely spend more time with in their daily life than the therapist!  This person will therefore be best placed to help the child use their new communication skills outside of therapy sessions.  Research has shown that well-trained parents are as effective as Speech and Language therapists at delivering therapy (Law et al 2010).  It’s the small changes we can help you make to your everyday communication style, or ideas and strategies we can teach you to use in homework activities, that will have the greatest impact on your child’s communication skills.

Once you view the online therapist as coaching and training up the adult sitting with the child, it’s easier to understand how online therapy is still working on the same communication skills as face-to-face therapy.

  1. You can work on all communication skills online – technology can do everything these days! Technology claims it can do everything these days, how can I trust it is effective for my child?

Alarm bells go off in my head whenever any treatment claims to cure a wide range of problems.  Any intervention or programme should be clear about who could benefit, and who might need a different approach.

For the under 3’s online Speech and Language therapy may not be appropriate, or might focus on supporting and coaching you as a parent rather than working directly with your child.  Some elements of social communication, such as joint attention, turn taking, or peer interaction, are less suitable for one-to-one online therapy.  Parent training and strategies can still be provided if advice is needed with these areas.

The quality of the online connection will also have an impact on the success of the session.  If there is a clear connection, good sound quality and suitable screen view, online Speech and Language therapy is effective for children with speech difficulties (Waite et al 2006, Grogan-Johnson et al 2010, 2011, 2013 ), primary-school aged children with language difficulties (Fairweather et al 2016, Gabel et al 2013), children who have a stutter (O’Brian et al 2008, 2014), and children with hearing impairment (Constantinescu 2012).  Online therapy has been used successfully to coach parents of pre-schoolers in early language development strategies (McCullough 2001, Kelso et al 2009).  It has also been seen to be reliable for language assessment (Waite et al 2010) and speech assessment (Waite et al 2006).  This is a very new area of Speech and Language therapy, and the research is racing to keep up with technological developments.  Iris Speaks aims to be at the forefront of online therapy and research, and our articles, e-books, courses and social media feeds will keep you informed of the latest research.

  1. Speech and language therapy in person will always be better than online speech and language therapy

Not necessarily.  When deciding whether to opt for face-to-face or online Speech and Language therapy, you need to carefully consider:

The experience and skills of the Speech and Language Therapist.  Does the therapist have experience working with children with similar difficulties?  Have they got up-to-date training and peer support?  Are they able to access resources and therapy interventions that are supported by research?

Time of therapy sessions.  Will the child need to miss any school lessons?  Will therapy take place on a day and time when the child – and just as importantly, you – are ready to devote your full attention and energy to it?

Location of therapy.  Will the therapy sessions take place in a setting that your child feels happy and relaxed in?  How much travel time will you need to factor into your day?

  1. I need lots of expensive kit to take part in sessions. I probably also need to be a technical genius…

Not at all!  If you are able to read this blog, it is likely you have all the kit and skills you need.  You need a computer with a webcam and a microphone (most have these in-built), and an internet connection.  You can check your kit here. You also need a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed by others during your online therapy session.  Depending on the age of your child, this may be best at sitting at a table, but very young children might prefer to sit on the floor.  For younger children, the therapist will incorporate plenty of movement breaks and lively activities into sessions so your child might not be sat down for long!

This is a checklist for everything you need for Iris Speaks.

  1. This is just yet more screen time…

The screen time debate is not new, and continues to be hotly debated.  The Royal College of Speech and Language therapists provide a common sense perspective, stating that “concerns about screen time need to be balanced with possible benefits.  It is also advised that therapists ensure parents are aware of the need to interact with the child when they are using an app.”  The same goes for online Speech and Language therapy – your child will get so much more from it if you take an active part in the session.  Remember that the aim of Speech and Language therapy support is to train and support you to be able to support and develop your child’s communication skills in your everyday life.

If this article on common myths about online Speech and Language therapy has whetted your appetite, Iris Speaks provides a no obligation consultation service, where you can discuss your child’s communication skills with an experienced Iris Speaks consultant, and find out whether online Speech and Language therapy might be right for you and your child.

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Screen time and technology – a speech and language therapist perspective

Screen time

The amount of time children in the UK spend online has doubled in the past decade (to an average of 15 hours a week in 2015, Ofcom).  Screen time and technology is often in the news, and can get a pretty bad press.  But is technology affecting our children’s communication development?  How might TV, computers, tablets and phones be used for learning and for pleasure by our little (and not so little!) ones?

Does use of technology lead to poor communication skills/bad behaviour/social and emotional problems?

Despite the headlines, the research is actually not so clear – most studies are inconclusive about whether screen time causes these outcomes, and whether more screen time makes the outcomes worse or not.  For example, teenagers who play violent video games may also display more violent behaviours in real life, but it is not clear whether this is caused by playing the video game, or other factors – and it does not mean that every teenager who chooses to play these games will also display violent behaviours.

Research about screen time and language development is still patchy at best.  Whilst some research has suggested that in very young children (aged 8-16 months), increased viewing of baby DVDs is associated with smaller vocabularies, this was not found for the 17-24 month olds (Zimmerman et al 2008).  Very young children learn best by playing and talking with you in real-world activities; if they enjoy playing a shopping game on a tablet, get out your pretend food or line up tins so you can play ‘shops’ in real life, then take them shopping with you and talk about the food you are buying.

Technology can be used to provide opportunities for repetitive learning, reinforcing skills that a child has learned in school, such as phonics or maths skills. Many apps and games provide instant feedback for the child, which can be highly motivating.   Technology can be used to re-engage reluctant learners, as was seen into this research study into using touch screen books .

In January this year, a group of over 50 well-respected researchers in child development wrote an open letter to the Guardian calling for further research into the impacts of screen time before guidelines are put in place.  There is a need for further, longitudinal research into the types of technology use and their impact on the development of communication skills.

So what do you do now whilst we await clearer guidelines based on research?

Teach online safety

Online safety will also be at the front of your mind when you see your child on a tablet, phone or computer. The NSPCC has some great resources to help you keep your child safe online and on social media.

It’s not just about screen time…

Consider what (your child is watching/playing) when, where and with who your child is using technology (LSE media policy project, 2016).  All of these are just as important as the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen.  For example, there’s a clear difference between a child playing a spelling game online with their parent at their side (talking to them about the letter sounds whilst they play), and a child watching YouTube videos alone in their bedroom.  When parents treat technology as “an interactive, shared experience, it can become a learning tool” (Barr & Lerner 2015, Guidance from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists).

Of course as a parent, you need to think about what your child is doing with the rest of their spare time, not just when they’re in front of a screen.  A recent study found that up to 6 hours of screen time a day may be ok for a teenager as long as they are working well in school and also exercising.

Finally, look out for our future blog post for advice on how to find the best computer programmes or apps out of the huge number available!

Technology and Communication – the new frontier?

The market for apps, games, and computer software is growing at a faster rate than ever before.  With so many of these being marketed as ‘educational’, how can you work out which products are best, and what are the potential benefits of engaging with new technology?

  • Speak to your child’s school Apps and games are constantly being released that provide children with opportunities to practice new skills in fun games that don’t feel like traditional ‘learning’ (e.g. ‘Sumdog’ https://www.sumdog.com/ and mymaths.co.uk which some schools are using to provide their maths homework). Your school may be able to recommend specific games or programmes that compliment what your child is learning in school.
  • Look for programmes that are supported by research, so you know how effective they are at teaching the skill they claim to teach. https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-apps has a table of apps that target a wide range of communication skills, and provides information about the level of research support for each app
  • Look for programmes that provide instant feedback to the learner (that they will sometimes accept more readily than a parent or teacher correcting them!), as this can motivate children to persevere with repetitive learning.
  • Check the content is at the right level of difficulty for your child by joining your child when they play. Talk to your child about what they are learning
  • Think beyond the simple app…  videoconferencing platforms such as Skype are helping children interact with friends, family and even listen to motivating speakers (https://education.microsoft.com/skype-in-the-classroom/find-guest-speakers).

If this has whetted your appetite, https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/news-and-blogs/parenting-tips/2017/february/using-technology-to-help-childrens-communication-skills/ has a few more ideas on how to use tech with your child to help their communication skills.

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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