Common Disorders

The Benefits of a Fidget Toy

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By Danielle Allen - Service Administrator

In today’s modern age, many of us with children do find ourselves letting them watch YouTube from time to time. The videos more often than not, consist of unboxing of toys, some of which are fidget spinners. I could never understand why my children found these entertaining which is why I took it upon myself to research these types of toys. The more research I did either online or speaking to my son’s nursery teacher, I came to the positive conclusion that there is a benefit to the use of these toys.


My son has struggled with poor attention and listening which can cause disruption in his nursery activities. With him moving into reception this year, I decided to further my research into fidget sensory toys to see if they could be of use for my son and other children who struggle with similar behavioural issues. I found that not only do they help with attention and listening but also ASD, anxiety and many more. From fidget spinners to fidget cubes, putty to taggy blankets, sensory balls to squishies. The list is endless on the variety of sensory toys available which allow families the ability to do trial and error for which one works best for your child.

A recent purchase for my son was a sensory fidget bag with a variety of toys inside. I actually found this from a fantastic online store on Facebook called Once Upon A Time. I showed my colleagues who have now purchased these for their children they see in clinic and at school. There has been great feedback from both the children and parents.

So, what exactly is a fidget toy and how do they help? Fidget sensory toys are tools which can help boost attention through the use of the toy which could allow him or her to focus more at school or at home. As I had mentioned before, there are a variety of different toys available from the way they look, to the way they feel, and in the general use. The fidget spinner for example, has a central disc on ball bearings with extended wings allowing you to spin the device. Or there is the fidget cube which has sensory tools on each face of the cube such as, a roller ball or a spring action button.

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Overall, there are numerous benefits using these toys to address certain struggles a child faces at school or at home. The biggest is increasing the concentration and focus of a child. Studies have shown that using the left and right hemispheres of the brain is required for learning and carrying out task. Fidget toys have been proven to help these as movement and sensory input are essential and allow this to happen. Case studies have assisted this research in confirming that increased focus in a learning setting was achieved in a student who was using a stress ball.

Another huge benefit is using these toys to reduce anxiety. Fidget toys, although not a cure, can have a calming effect of those who suffer with anxiety or sensory issues, such as ADHD and ASD. It can help relieve the symptoms the user gets notably in the hands and fingers, they keep their hands busy. Some parents and teachers have raised concerns of it becoming more of a distraction however with children with ADHD or ASD for example, a situation can become overwhelming causing more disruption and potential harm. Fidget toys allow the child to fidget which can be a minor disruption at first, but can have a vast amount of benefits such as a soothing or calming effect. This can then develop to increased concentration and focus which boosts the productivity and learning for the child and classmates.

From a personal perspective, I have found fidget sensory toys highly beneficial for my son and am hoping he will continue to improve when he starts reception. It is a working progress which I will take at his pace as after all, it is going to be beneficial for him growing and building up his skills with attention and listening. I am looking forward to trying the variety of fidget toys we have and testing which ones help him focus more.

‘A’ is for ‘Autovocabiography’…

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By Elen Wales - Service Lead for Milton Keynes and Specialist Generalist Speech and Language Therapist, Developing Specialist in Hearing Impairment

Your vocabulary is a product of who you are, where you’re from and what you’ve done. No-one else will have the same vocabulary as you and I think that’s kind of cool. If you imagine all the words you know were written down it would be like your autobiography, your ‘autovocabiography’.


One of my favourite books, being an unashamed speech and language geek, is Dialects of England by Peter Trudgill. He talks about the different words used to mean ‘truce’ by children in games in different parts of the UK, and has a map labelled with which were used where:

‘Truce’: barley, keys, skinch, kings, crosses, exes, cruces, cree, scribs, fainties

Sure enough my Dad used ‘kings’ in Scunthorpe and my Mum ‘skinch/skinchies’ in Sunderland. 

Most children hear about 45 million words by the age of 3. To develop a typical-sized vocabulary, between the ages of 18 months - 6 years, they need to learn about 8 new words a day. And that’s learn. Not just hear, or be exposed to, or say once, but to fully understand and be able to use appropriately - crikey. 

Vocabulary development is affected by:

  • experiences: things we see and do, either in our own lives, or with others

  • memory: ability to remember and retain the word

  • opportunities: to practise and hear the word repeatedly

  • motivation: how important / interesting is learning the word to the child?

  • cognitive abilities: any learning difficulties or cognitive impairments

Research shows a child’s vocabulary is one the best predictors of educational achievement and employment. It’s our job, as parents, teachers, therapists and adults working with these kids, to help them write their own autovocabiography.

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'No one else will have the same vocabulary as you and I think that’s kind of cool.'


So how can we do it, how can we nurture them to be best-sellers? Well, there’s lots of ways and you don’t need a whole load of resources to do it. Firstly, we need to acknowledge that words are more than their spelling. If you want to sound clever you can call it ‘semantics’, but this just translates as ‘word meaning’. The overall goal is to develop a child’s semantic network, or web, of what the words mean and how they link to one another.

Consider the word ‘spoon’. We know that:

  • it has 1 syllable and rhymes with ‘moon’

  • it can be made of metal, plastic and sometimes wood and come in a range of different sizes

  • it is in the same family as the words ‘knife’ and ‘fork’, and that word family is called ‘cutlery’

  • we use a spoon for eating, stirring, measuring and serving

  • it has a handle part and bowl part, and is normally hard and sometimes shiny

  • spoons are often in drawers in kitchens and on tables or in hands in the dining room

  • the word can also be used as a mild insult implying someone is stupid

 Imagine a word like a spider on a web in the brain. When the spider has a strong web, and is linked to lots of different information about the word, if the child forgets a few of these links the spider is safe and web can still hold the spider in the brain. If the spider has a weak web, and is only connected to a few bits of information about the word, then if these few bits are forgotten the web cannot hold the spider and he falls out of the brain:

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To build strong webs we need to approach the word and learning process from lots of different ways, utilise the power of repetition and keep it fun. You can try the following:

  • ‘Word of the Day/Week’: stick it on the fridge as reminder for them and you, see who can use the word the most, maybe keeping a tally on the fridge as you go

  • Read: support the child to read, read to them, get them to track the words as you read them - it’s all good

  • ‘I-spy’: play I-spy but instead of using clues about what letter the word begins with, use information clues, e.g. “I-spy something made from metal…found in the kitchen…we can use to eat with…”

  • Word stickers: It is notoriously hard to get kids to do extra work outside of school, but a bit is better than nothing. I send kids home with stickers on which have a word we have been working on, and if parents only have time to ask the kids why they have a bizarrely large sticker with a random word on, on the way to the car, then it’s a good start.

  • Make it multisensory: turn it into a cheerleading song, e.g. “give me an S…S!...give me a P…P!...” 

  • Word associations: start with a word and the next person needs to name something related and continue around everyone, e.g. ‘spoon - soup - bread - butter - cow - black and white - newspaper - book - paper’. Because everyone’s word webs are linked in different ways, it’s always surprising when someone links something to a word you never would have!

  • Don’t give all the information straight away: cajole them into a conversation with you, e.g. rather than saying “I went to a party at the weekend”, just offer a teaser such as “You’ll never guess where I went at the weekend…”

Lastly - don’t underestimate the capacity of these kids. I’ll never forget the time a 5-year-old boy, with a language delay I might add, used the word ‘googolplex’ in a session with me. It took me a good few seconds to pick myself up off the floor and dig around in my brain for a vague meaning of the word, which I recognised, but would never have remembered to use. I’ve now listed him as co-author of my autovocabiography - I’m hoping it’s going to be a best seller.

Trudgill, P. (2000) Dialects of England, 2nded. Wiley

Who do I turn to?

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By Sunita Shah - Service Lead for North West London and Specialist Speech and Language Therapist in Bilingualism

I have been a practising Speech and Language Therapist for over 18 years and a parent of two lovely boys for 5 years... Wow! How much my practice has changed since becoming a parent and seeing “the other side”!

From the moment you see those two blue lines on a pregnancy test the worrying and excitement starts. It only grows when you have that bundle of joy in your arms and will continue to grow, even when they are an adult (so my mother says).


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As soon as you know that you are going to be a parent life totally changes. Initially there are classes from the NHS and NCT; how to go through labour, what you need to do to care for your child in the early days and months.

Advice floods in (either wanted or unwanted!) from the internet, from books, television, from friends and family. They tell you what you should and shouldn’t do, EVERYONE knows best. You need advice and support with breast feeding, sleep routines, weaning and toilet training...  As time goes on there is an array of fantastic classes for babies, toddlers and children to develop song, rhymes, baby sensory, baby music classes, swimming etc... 

BUT WHO REALLY TEACHES YOU to help your child’s communication to develop?

The same concerns often arise for parents:

“He’s not like his sister... when she was 2 years old she would not stop talking”.

“People do not think he’s clever as they do not understand him, and he is getting frustrated”. 

“I was told her uncle did not speak till 6 years old; he is 3 years old and not said his first word.. should I be worried?”

“My son has started stammering... nobody stammers in my family why me? I have been told he will grow out of it”.

“We speak Spanish at home many chid is 2 years old and has not used any words, people say it’s because he is bilingual and I am confusing him”.

“My son’s behaviour is terrible he just will not listen I am not sure he understands me, his hearing was tested and its fine?” 

“I know I should not compare, but I look at other children in his nursery and I know there is something wrong. He seems so different and does not play with the other children, he just seems in his own world”.


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Have you ever been worried? Are you concerned about your child’s speech and language development? Who do you turn to? Where do you go? What should you do?

DO NOT WORRY AND DO NOT PANIC...

Magic Words is an Independent Speech and Language Therapy Practice working with children of all ages to support and develop their speech, language and communication needs.

We have clinics in Newport Pagnell, St Albans, & Harrow.  We offer home visits, nursery visits and work in schools with Children with Speech Language and communication difficulties. This may include: stammering, voice problems, language delays and disorders, speech difficulties, autism and many more.

Our fantastic speech and language therapy team are specialised to assess your child; looking at the areas of the communication pyramid:

Attention & Listening

Social interaction

Play

Understanding

Use of language

Speech Sounds


We offer suitable treatment options which are personalised to your child’s needs, and most of all fun and practical.

If you are concerned about your child’s communications development please get in touch.

#Dyspraxia17: What it means for one mum and her son

By guest blogger Jodie Franklin


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Meet Stanley. 

Stanley was diagnosed at a young age with dyspraxia, he was a very clumsy toddler who was falling over all the time, had no spatial awareness, the list goes on. At the age of 3 I simply put these things down to his age, but his speech was just not developing.

As time went on and he joined nursery we could see he was miles behind his peers. He didn't have a friendship group because nobody could understand him. I was embarrassed to say I struggled at times and our conversations consisted of me of me randomly pointing at objects until I correctly guessed what he wanted.

Stanley starting speech therapy was the first big step towards a diagnosis of dyspraxia. His speech problems alongside his other problems began to make sense-- it all came together-- it was like one of those lightbulb moments. We could then start the process of a formal diagnosis.

We continued our weekly therapy sessions and slowly but surely he was improving with his speech.

As his mother I was so moved to see his confidence growing. He started to make friends and even bought a couple of friends home for tea.

I can honestly say being able to communicate with Stanley made such a difference to the both of us. It was not just his confidence that was growing. 

Stanley is 8 now and his speech is not such a hurdle anymore. Don't get me wrong there are many other challenges, like the time at sports day when he tripped over the hurdles and took out three of his classmates on the way down, but the important thing is he can get up smiling.

He knows he has 'praxia' as he calls it and he sees it as a strength. When told by his consultant that he would find something he is really good at one day, his response was: "I already have I'm really good at falling over!"

Then he laughed.

I can not express how proud I am of his amazing attitude to life.

Makaton: signing your way to successful communication

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By Eleanor Harris - Director of Magic Words Therapy and Specialist Generalist Speech and Language Therapist

Want children to understand you better in the classroom? Increase your gesture and use key word sign!

As a Speech and Language Therapist working with children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN), I use key word signing whenever I speak to my clients to help to support their understanding. I also use key word signing to scaffold their spoken sentences, cueing them in with sign for the next word or idea in their spoken sentence. 11 years of experience tells me that this works really well and benefits the children, but what is the evidence to support this?


The answer is that there is a lot of research that confirms my clinical experiences – there is a neat summary of this evidence here

Why does it work?

Imagine you can’t hear at all, or you can hear but you can’t make sense of the sounds you are hearing, as though you are hearing an unknown foreign language. You can see your teacher is talking, but her hands are still, and her face is expressionless. You don’t understand one word of what she says. You feel a rising sense of panic, what are you supposed to do? Everyone is looking at you. Your body begins to go into fight or flight mode. You don’t know what is expected so you have an emotional reaction. Perhaps you freeze, absolutely terrified. Perhaps you hit the table and run from the room. Perhaps you internalise this feeling of panic and never want to communicate at school again.


Now imagine you still can’t hear or process the sounds that you hear, but this time your teacher is pointing at the things she is talking about AT THE SAME TIME that she says the word, for some words she is doing a SIGN at the same time that she says the word and the sign looks like the object or action. She is gesturing where things start and finish and she has a really expressive face so I can tell when her words are a question rather than an instruction, and I can tell how she is feeling when she says them. As she signs each key word, her speech is slowed down, giving me a chance to process the sounds and words a bit better. I understand 2 or 3 pieces of information from each sentence, I am learning what some words mean because the sign is said at the same time as the word, I learned a new word because the rounded circular outline you just mimed with your hands when you said the word ‘balon’ gave me a clue to understand that it means ‘ball’. I can see you want me to put the ball in a particular place behind me, I can tell because you pointed there after you said ‘balon’. I feel comfortable, I know what to do, I’ve learned new words and I achieve success. I want to communicate again next time.

We know key word signing and increased gesture doesn’t just help SLCN children, but also helps an increasing number of English as an Additional Language children in our schools, as well as typically developing children – listening to a person that uses more gesture is much easier than listening to a person who stands still and expressionless.

For further information on MAKATON, take a look at their website

Diagnosis: pulling through the grief process

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By Eleanor Harris - Director of Magic Words Therapy and Specialist Generalist Speech and Language Therapist

Providing a child’s diagnosis to a parent can be like launching a grenade at them.  With one short sentence you can be shattering their hopes and dreams of the perfect child that breezes through school, makes friends easily and goes on to over achieve. It doesn’t matter if the diagnosis is something as mild and temporary as a simple speech sound delay, or as serious and long term as Autism. Some parents readily accept the diagnosis after a long battle to get their child’s difficulties recognised while others are battling through the grief process and are not yet able to accept what professionals are telling them, seeking second opinions or not seeking any opinions at all and holding up a shield to the grenade.


There is little in a Speech and Language Therapist’s training that prepares them for giving a diagnosis to a parent. It wasn’t until I had been through the grief process with my own son and his diagnosis of permanent hearing loss at one month old that I fully understood how the words can sting. The brain reacts to protect itself through denial, you can feel angry at professionals and yourself for not doing enough, ‘if only’ thoughts plague you with guilt and sadness sets in for the perfect and easy child development that your child will not have and the uncertainty for the future. 

Our role as diagnosing professionals is to recognise the stage at which a parent is at in the grief process, to soften our tone and words to show empathy, to be honest and frank and to provide them with a blanket of support and encouragement. We should provide high quality information using easy to understand language, given at a time when the parents are ready to receive it. I remember being given boxes and boxes of information that remained unread for quite some time until I was ready to ‘deal with it’. Professionals need to remain on hand for weeks after the diagnosis to be available for the questions that will inevitably arise after the shock of that initial grenade.

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As you move through the process, sometimes stuck in one stage, sometimes feeling all of them at once, you gradually move towards the stage of acceptance.  You are able to accept where your child is now, what you can do to make them happy and healthy at their current stage, and begin to look towards the future with hope, optimism and certainty. Although your child’s passage through the childhood years won’t be the same as everyone else’s, they will achieve their best, be happy and be who they are with loving support from their family.

Having moved through the grieving process some time ago now, I look at my little boy and I’m so proud of his achievements and genuinely don’t even see his disability as a disability any more, just a difference that makes him stand out from the crowd.

Speech Therapists – for further information about best practice when providing a diagnosis, read this informative article

Parents – for further information on understanding the grief process related to a child’s diagnosis read this informative article

True Colours

By Natasha White

February. The month when all that mushy emotional stuff is celebrated. An overwhelming amount of Valentine's Day cards and gifts line the shelves of the shops and what colour strikes us most? Red. Maybe pink. Clearly, we have come to associate a particular colour with love, just as we load all other colours with meanings and feelings.


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Anna Llenas, a Barcelona based illustrator and author, explores this in her beautiful book, The Colour Monster(Templar Publishing). 

A rather confused little monster is feeling a little muddled inside. Luckily, he has a friend, a little girl, who helps him sort through and focus on each emotion separately. As they work to place each emotion in a jar, Llenas cleverly provides several perspectives from which to explore the feelings in greater depth:

Label: the emotion is given a name

Describe: uses a metaphor or simile to create a comparison to a concrete object or noun

Action: shows how it can manifest and what it can feel like

Once the feelings are sorted and understood, the monster begins to feel better. He even starts to feel a warm and cosy feeling. He is surrounded by a mixture of pink flowers and hearts and the reader is asked: 'But what's this?' Something I think we can all recognise... 

Importantly, the monster's private feelings are linked back towards seeking social engagement. The little girl suggests ways in which he can 'deal' with the different emotions and most of them stress the importance of 'togetherness', such as holding hands.  

As a result, the book could be used as a classroom or therapy tool; The Colour Monster provides a fun platform to teach emotional literacy. 


Some tips for teaching your child emotional literacy skills:

 For the younger ones:

  • Create and colour your own colour monster and label the feelings

  • Make colour cards for the child to signal how they are feeling today

  • Make your own jars and put coloured counters or items in to describe feelings

  • Contextualise: think about times when they felt the different emotions. There is also an official activity book available, which puts the colour monster in different situations and asks you to colour him in to illustrate his emotion. 

  • Discuss practical strategies to cope with emotions 

 

For the older ones: 

  • Consider empathy: learn that you can inspire feelings in other people too 

  • Explore why did the little girl want to help her monster friend

  • Explore what happens when more than one feeling gets mixed up together