Parents

My final week in Kisumu with Yellow House

By Catherine Clancy, Speech and Language Therapist

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Unfortunately, I fell ill at the beginning of this week and it took me some time to get back to my usual self. However, I was able to attend a Communication Camp that had been organised by Yellow House to support parents of children with Cerebral Palsy. This post will be focused on the content of the camp and how Yellow House are raising awareness of cerebral palsy and empowering parents to support their children.


On the left is Florence and the right is Duncan (with Gregory translating), who explained what communication is and ways in which children with cerebral palsy can successfully express themselves when speech is unclear or not present. The communication house is a lovely way to understand the foundations that need to be put in place before you can expect a child to understand spoken language, and then begin to express themselves using gestures and speech.

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There was a specialist talk from an Occupational Therapist who discussed ways parents can support their child’s fine and gross motor skills through daily exercises. Here, John is demonstrating how to support a child’s ability to stand with support.

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Here are some of the toys that the parents made for their children using those materials that are easily accessible to them – a very creative way of recycling waste into something kids can enjoy!

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Whilst the parents were busy attending the talks within the camp, the children were taken into a separate room where they had the opportunity to play, sing and dance – it was a lot of fun and it was lovely to see the supporting adults interacting so freely and easily with the children – the children were in their element!

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After the camp and on my final day, I said bye to a client and his mother who has been supported through the use of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC). A symptom of cerebral palsy for this client is stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity). Unfortunately, this means spoken language is extremely difficult for this boy and direct access to a communication board (e.g. pointing to a picture) is not possible. For this reason, eye gaze (looking at the picture) has allowed this client to communicate a preference when given a choice. This has given the mother a new way to communicate with her son and the joy that this brings to the both of them is wonderful to see!

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My time working with Yellow House has been eye-opening, rewarding and enjoyable. I have met a team of people who are raising awareness of speech, language and communication needs in Western Kenya and are working hard to support children and their families. The stigma around disabilities is still very much present and during the camp many mothers expressed their sadness around the fact that friendships and relationships had ended simply because they had a child with a communication disability. However, seeing these parents come together and pro-actively learn about their child’s condition and how to best support them was very inspirational, which is heightened by the fact that these families are doing their best to integrate their children in their communities to reduce social stigma and normalise their child’s differences.

Goodbye Kisimu!

Goodbye Kisimu!

It has been lovely to see parents and families so invested in supporting their children.

By Catherine Clancy, Speech and Language Therapist

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Week 3.

29.07.19: On Monday I spent the day at Russia working with the team to complete a triage. This is to support the management of new referrals who are seeking support for their child. Here, I completed case history questionnaires to find out the child’s strengths and difficulties, and as a team we discussed how to prioritise the new referrals seen. There are many people seeking support from Yellow House which can unfortunately mean long waiting times for clients to be seen. However, the triage gave us the opportunity to meet face-to-face with families and offer advice.

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01.08.19: It’s August already! On Thursday I continue to see clients for their weekly therapy sessions. Above are some of the resources I made with the team to help children express their wants/needs and interests if they are finding spoken language difficult. When lunch time came around I thought I would try something new and ordered the local vegetables with chapati and beans – YUM!

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30.07.19: On this day I continued to see clients for their weekly therapy sessions. The picture above shows a mother supporting her child through parent-child interaction strategies that aim to promote language development. The mother was focusing on following her child’s lead and using 1-2 key words to comment on her play. Videoing was used as a therapeutic tool to empower the mother to continue using those strategies that she used positively to support her child.

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31.07.19: How was it Wednesday already?! (the weeks fly by!). I travelled to the EARC centre and continued seeing clients for their weekly therapy sessions. The photographs above show parents interacting with their children and supporting the use of low-tech augmentative communication. For these children, they were unable to communicate successfully using only speech and therefore a total communication approach has been adopted where we are using speech, gestures, key signs and a communication board to help them express their wants/needs/interests etc. Parental education is fundamental to the success of therapy as parents have to feel invested and motivated to use the strategies advised by us in order for therapy to have positive outcomes. Fortunately, both parents are open to learning to ways to communicate with their children and they are now aware that the belief ‘signing/pictures with stop my child from talking’ is only a myth!!

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This week has been empowering and also eye-opening. It has been lovely to see parents and families so invested in supporting their children as ultimately, they are the experts on their child and have the opportunity to make the biggest impact - I have found videoing a great way of supporting this! However, the policies and procedures within the care system are very different to those we experience in the U.K. and it has required me to adapt a very flexible way of working to continue supporting children with the limited access to resources and early interventions.

My second week working for Yellow House

By Catherine Clancy, Speech and Language Therapist

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19.07.19: On Friday I said goodbye to Maggie, one of the volunteers who has spent 10-weeks working with Yellow House Health and Outreach Services as a Speech and Language Therapy student from Torono University. It is great when students complete their clinical placements with Yellow House as it is a fantastic opportunity for clinical development, not only for the students but for the team themselves.

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23.07.19: David (one of the Senior Speech and Language Therapists employed by Yellow House) and I spent the day working in the Speech and Language Therapy clinics situated within Russia, a hospital in Kisumu which is government funded. Here, I was working with children and their parents with a focus on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). This is about supporting children and their families to implement other forms of communication which is building on the child’s strength. An example might be using key word signing alongside speech as well as supporting the child to communicate through symbols on a communication board. Parent education plays a critical role here as it is vital for parents to be invested in the therapy for it to prove beneficial for the child!

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The team work alongside other professionals in the hospital including occupational therapists who support patients in their own clinic (see picture above).

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24.07.19: I travelled from Kisumu to the EARC (assessment and resource) centre on a matatu (local mini bus) which takes around 45 minutes. Here, I saw more clients for therapy, again focusing on the use of AAC. I incorporated the use of videoing with parents to support their interactions with the children and it was lovely to see parents getting down on the floor and supporting their child in the best way they knew how. After a busy morning, Duncan (one of the Speech and Language Therapists employed by Yellow House) and I enjoyed a local lunch of chapati, skumowiki (green vegetables) and green grams (lentils) – it was delicious!

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26.07.19: After another busy day supporting clients from Russia, I went back to the office and caught up on paperwork and resource making. This is the office for Yellow House and where the team carryout all the administrative duties, including planning for communication camps – this is when they invite children and their families to a 2-day training camp where they learn all about different diagnoses, the impact on communication and how to support their child using a total communication approach.

My second week on working with Yellow House as a speech and language therapist has really allowed me to get ‘stuck in’ and see clients and their families for therapy. However, it has been essential for me to collaborate with the therapists working for Yellow House to support their clinical development and to ensure the interventions I am suggesting are realistic and functional for this setting. It has been great to learn from the team working here and I hope that I have supported them to feel more confident using AAC within their own practice!

My first week in Kisumu, Kenya

By Catherine Clancy, Speech & Language Therapist

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14.07.19: Just before I flew out to Kisumu! 

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23.07.19: My first day! I visited Russia, the hospital in Kisumu where Yellow House support clients with speech, language and communication difficulties. This is where I had a lunch of chapati and cooked greens during my lunch-break.  

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24.07.19 The Educational Assessment & Resource Centre (EARC) in Vihiga, a 45-minute journey from Kisumu on a Matatu. Here, I supported assessment for new referrals to the service. 

I have had a busy but very eye-opening and rewarding first week with Yellow House! It was lovely to hear from families about how the use of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) has given them a new way to successfully communicate with their child. Recently, a client with cerebral palsy was taught to communicate using eye gaze with a symbol communication board and the mother has been overjoyed with how this has enabled her to talk with her son which for the past 8 years has not been possible. This mother is very proactive and supportive of her son and does her best to raise the awareness and acceptability of disability in her local community by ensuring her son is treated with respect, compassion and integrity. 

WARNING! The following blog will make you sing a song in the supermarket when you see a BUCKET!!!

By Wai Seng Thong (Speech and Language Therapist)

 

What is Attention Autism?

One of the things I love about visiting schools is the expressions of joy on the faces of the children I work with. When they know it is bucket time some children can barely stay sitting down. In case you have never heard about Attention Autism, it’s an intervention designed by Gina Davies, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, aiming to develop natural and spontaneous communication through the use of visually based and highly motivating activities for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Attention Autism is one of my favourite activities as it makes learning fun and memorable for children. Before I start, NO you don’t need to be an X Factor level singer, but you do need to be able to hold a tune as this helps the children sing along. You also need to prepared to collect strange and fun toys to make the activity differ from week to week. I tend to use eBay and pound shops to add regularly to my collection.

All you need to do is have fun, as it engages the kids with your activity. If you are engaged, they will be too. It’s all about engagement, fun, motivation and showing them something worth communicating about.

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Benefits of Attention Autism

Attention Autism is a regular part of my week. In the school I work in the children are always desperate to know what is in the bucket and jump up and down trying to look inside (this makes me think of children trying to take a sneaky peak in Santa’s toy bag on Christmas Eve!).

What is fascinating about this programme is that it sparks their curiosity and therefore creates reasons for them to communicate by asking questions, commenting and guessing what might be coming out of that mysterious bucket. From my experience of using this programme, it does not merely work on the children’s attention and listening skills, but also on their language skills (both receptive and expressive language skills). These can be a challenge for children with ASD. The sessions can be tailored to build on their vocabulary knowledge, for example, they can be themed around dinosaurs or superheroes etc.

 

What a session looks like and example activities

A myriad of themed activities can be incorporated into an Attention Autism programme. For example, bucket time can be filled with dinosaur toys (from sensory to wind up dinosaur toys etc).

I start with the song, ‘I’ve got something in my bucket, in my bucket, in my bucket. I’ve got something in my bucket, and I wonder what it is. Let’s look and see!’. The children sing along transfixed on the bucket, wondering what might be inside. Just a warning this song will take over your mind and at times I can hear it when I am mopping the floor or shopping! You then demonstrate the toys one by one and the idea is the kids watch, pay attention and do not touch. Hard to imagine, but it is surprisingly easy to achieve when following the attention autism programme.

The activities ‘Sleeping dinosaurs’ and ‘Roll the dinosaurs’ involve the children pretending to be asleep and rolling each other along the floor and more song singing. There are also more hands-on activities where children make dinosaurs with Play-Doh or arts and craft materials with big googly eyes. My kids love it all!

Useful tips when running an Attention Autism group

Always remember these useful tips when you are running an Attention Autism group:

•       Say less.

•       Use lots of pauses.

•       Exaggerate gestures and facial expressions.

•       Give time for thinking and stay quiet!

•       Show first then add words.

•       Have a clear idea of your objective.

•       Make sure your activity is the most exciting thing in the room! Cover up or remove distractions.

•       Turn disasters into ‘part of the plan’. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out, this is a great way to model ‘uh oh’ and ‘oops’ etc.

 

As Gina Davies says: ‘let’s create an irresistible invitation for learning’. Attention Autism principles can be generalised into curriculum activities, for example, literacy and numeracy to facilitate learning and skills development.

Let’s really think about the activities we plan for kids. Is the activity irresistible? Is our activity worth communicating about? Fun and engaging activities create good memories. Let’s create a shared experience that is memorable and share laughs with our kids to help them learn.

For further information and more ideas on Attention Autism, take a look at these:

Facebook page - Gina Davies Autism Centre

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFYnc4xcZ6k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMEhkD0W5Z8

 

 

What's the effect of screen use on the development of children’s speech, language and communication skills?

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By Frankie Paterson - Specialist Magic Words Speech and Language Therapist

As speech and language therapists we are concerned with anything that could be affecting how children's speech, language and communication skills develop. We have been wondering about how lots of screen time is affecting children. We are keen to look into this issue as, with millions of children now using tablets for several hours a day from as young as 18 months old, we worry that this could be having an affect on how many of their early cognitive skills are developing, including language development and the development of their attention and listening skills.


I recently listened to a programme on Radio 4 called ‘Why Can’t Our Children Talk?’.

I was very interested to hear on this programme that many teachers across the UK are voicing concerns about screen time. This echoes the concerns that I am hearing from the teachers I work with in schools in Luton. Many of the teachers who are voicing concerns have been working with children of 4 or 5 years old for many years and they are struck by recent marked differences in how children of 4 or 5 are presenting in terms of their language and attention skills.  Here's what one teacher had to say on Radio 4 about her own experience with children and screens:

 “Our children.. over the past 3 or 4 years, if you’ve got the interactive whiteboard on in the classroom they find it impossible to do anything apart from look at the screen… If there’s you to look at as the teacher.. telling them a story or there’s a screen, even if there’s nothing on it, they’re naturally pulled to look at the screen…They.. struggle with making eye contact because often when they’ve been hearing nursery rhymes.. it’s obviously been on a tablet where it’s been a.. brightly coloured screen they’ve been looking at rather than looking at somebody’s face”- Lorraine Boothe, Reception class teacher and assistant head at Chaul Lane Infant School. 

The Radio 4 programme featured a study that has recently been carried out on 900 toddlers in Canada. A clear link was found between language development and screen time in children under 2. It was conducted by Professor Catherine Birkin, a paediatrician in Toronto. She said:

“Children who used mobile devices.. had a higher risk of an expressive language problem at 18 months of age”

Apart from this one study in Canada there is no other evidence as yet about whether screen time is adversely affecting children's development or not. Much more clinical research needs to be conducted into this question before firm conclusions can be arrived at. However I think this question is hugely important as it has implications that we need to take seriously as a society

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.

Glue ear. So, you have been told your child has this, now what?

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By Carolyn Fox - Service Lead for Hearing Impairment & Specialist Speech and Language Therapist in Hearing Impairment

What is glue ear?

Glue ear is also known as Otitis Media. If you have heard of these terms before, it is likely that either your child or a child of someone you know has suffered with it.  But what exactly is it, how does it affect your child and how concerned do you need to be? Well in this blog, we will be looking at this sticky subject and providing you with some answers and advice. 

Your ear is a clever little listening device that is made up of three parts; the outer, middle and inner ear. For us to hear sounds, the sound must pass from the outer ear, into the middle and inner ear and it then sends the sound information to the brain for processing. However, in a child with glue ear, the sound has a bit of difficulty passing through. It enters the outer ear but when it gets to the middle ear it meets an obstacle; sticky fluid, hence the name ‘glue ear’. A child with glue ear is therefore unable to ear all the auditory information that they should due to this trespassing substance in the middle ear. 


Glue ear is common in young children 

Glue ear is most common in children between ages 2 and 5, this is also an optimum sound and language learning period! Around 15-20 percent of this age group will suffer from it at some point (Peer, L, 2005). Older children can get it too, although this is less common.

Signs to look out for if you are worried that your child may have glue ear

Knowing what to look out for is very important as glue ear will come and go. This means that children with glue ear will at times have no problems hearing and at other times they will struggle.

Watch out for:

  • Lots of yawning?? Does your child seem more tired these days?

  • Complaints of ear pain. If glue ear is present it may be causing some discomfort. 

  • Is your child waking you up in the night (more than they usually do?)

  • Does your child seem like they always have a cold? Are they breathing through their mouth?

  • Does your child seem to ignore you when you ask them to do something? (More than they usually do?!) Do they generally seem like they are finding it hard to hear?

  • Is your child angrier? Frustrated?

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Will glue ear have an impact on my child’s ability to learn?

All children will respond and behave differently when they have glue ear. There are many ways it can impact upon their ability to stay focused. Look at the list below to get informed and if you notice any of these things, it may be worth getting your child’s ears checked. 

Your child may:

  • Need more repetitions of words and instructions or generally be slow to learn new information.

  • Get confused or mishear information. 

  • Have trouble staying on task or focused at school.

  • Have limited vocabulary knowledge or they may not be learning words at same rate as their peers.

  • Find it hard to join in games or follow the rules of a game.


What can I do to support my child’s hearing?

If you are concerned, the first thing you should do is get a hearing test for your child. From there, there are some things you can do to help your child focus and support their hearing potential.  

  • Talk about what it means to listen. Raise your child’s awareness to this e.g. the importance of facing the person, looking at the speaker, telling an adult when you don’t understand.

  • Obtain your child’s full attention when you are speaking to them

  • Where possible, reduce background noise e.g. mobile phones, television.

  • Talk to your child at their level so they can see your face and lips. This will give them invaluable extra information about the words and sounds that you are saying. 

  • Give your child the time that they need to process what you are saying. If needed, break down your sentences in to chunks. 


If in doubt, check it out

In some cases, the sticky fluid will go away without treatment, but it is best to get your child checked out just in case. 

Speak to your GP and tell them what you have noticed and what you are worried about. There are different ways forward in terms of treatment. Your child may be given antibiotics. If this fails to resolve the sticky issue, then grommets may be offered. These are placed into the ear and will drain out the fluid.

Early identification is always better. In the case of glue ear, the earlier the problem is identified, the sooner your child can be given treatment. Early treatment will decrease any adverse effects on language learning and general development.

For more information and support, contact one of our Magic Words therapists for a chat or take a look at the NCDS website: www.ncds.org.uk

Mummy-hood and Speech and Language Therapy

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By Hannah Heslam - Speech and Language Therapist

As a speech and language therapist and a Mum it can be handy to have all this knowledge about speech and language development. It’s been useful to be able to see where my children are in relation to the developmental milestones I have used so much in my role as a therapist. I felt absolute fascination when each of my little ones finally started talking which was a delight and a worry, as for any Mum. 

When I was 32 weeks pregnant with my second child I became concerned that my baby was not moving. I was encouraged by my other Mummy friends to seek advice, and by the evening I was in the hospital having an emergency C-section.  It was a scary time and I was presented with some challenging prospects for my baby, a beautiful boy.


My Journey

Having had a relatively easy pregnancy with my first little boy I wasn't prepared for or expecting to have my second child born early. It was a difficult time being swept into the delivery room and told by doctors it was going to be a hard journey ahead. He was born weighing 3lbs 4oz and spent just under 4 weeks in intensive and special care.  However, he has just turned 5 years old and is surprising us all the time with how well he is doing, achieving in line with or above expected levels at school and with his happy, cheeky personality. I’m sure he couldn’t have done so well without all the support of our family and friends.

At around 2 ½ years old, despite being able to put words together, his speech was at times difficult to understand. Wanting the best for my son and for him to be able to communicate as effectively as possible with other children, I started to carry out some speech activities through play. This really improved his intelligibility.  At about 3 ½ years old he did still make some sounds by releasing air through his nose instead of his mouth and he received some excellent therapy from a specialist speech and language therapist which resolved this issue.

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"Being a speech and language therapist and a mum, I'm extremely passionate about how early intervention really does work. I've seen the results in children I work with and in my own little one of course"


Some words of advice about speech and language

I feel that my speech and language knowledge has supported me with my own children and I know that not everyone will have this wealth of knowledge.  With Magic Words our goal is to support children with speech, language and communication needs. Below are a few key pieces of advice for you:

Repeat and Expand:

To help with your little one's language development, repeat and expand what they say. This helps to show them how they can build their sentences and to value what they are interested in communicating about e.g. Child: ‘I have car’. Parent: ‘Yes, you have a blue car’

Commenting is great:

As parents we naturally want to ask our child lots of questions to check how they are getting on. A great way to develop language is to reduce the pressure of questions and to model language to our children by asking 1 question to 4 comments. Think of a hand, 1 question (your thumb) to every 4 comments (your fingers). 

Use modelling:

If your child has unclear speech, when they say a word that isn't clear, instead of correcting them, model it back to them so that they can hear a good model of how it should be said. For example, Child: ‘I have a dat’. Parent: ‘Yes, you do have a cat’.  This allows your little one to hear how to say the tricky word but takes away the pressure of having to say it themselves.


If you would like to get in touch for any support with your child’s speech, language & communication development then please contact us.

The wonderful world of Pablo!

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By Danielle Allen - Service Administrator

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is still a disorder that is vastly looked over. It is a complex disorder that has a variety of levels from mild escalating up to severe. Luckily today, although overlooked, people are becoming more aware of it and that it isn’t just a child misbehaving in the supermarket. As a mother I have found it hard trying to explain to my children why other people may act or look a little different to them and have found it such a relief that Cbeebies cover a wide range of disabilities and disorders in their TV shows or with their presenters. From previously working in an NHS setting providing paediatric training and now working in a Speech and Language Therapy setting for paediatrics, I have had some exposure to ASD children, but it wasn’t an area I was particularly knowledgeable in until doing my own research and then discovering the Cbeebies show Pablo which was released late 2017.


After work I often join my children on the sofa for a cuddle and to relax to the sound of the TV in the background whilst they tell me about their day at school. It has become routine now that once I get in we will put on Cbeebies for the 5.45pm show of Pablo. This is incredibly child friendly and explains in a simplistic way about the many troubles someone who has autism could be experiencing and why they react the way they do. Even with Pablo's autism being as mild as it is, the programme helps outline what autism is. Not only is it informative for the child watching but also for us as the parent or carer. In the show each character represents a different area of autism and although all those who have autism do not necessarily show all areas of it, it is a guide to and broad representation of autism.

  • Noa the dinosaur is great at problem solving but finds it hard to read others facial expressions

  • Llama loves to repeat things others say and has a keen eye for detail

  • Draff the giraffe loves to learn facts and is often heard saying “in point of fact”

  • Mouse doesn’t like loud noises or crowded places but is very organised and is also a perfectionist

  • Tang the orangutan is hyperactive but also isn’t good at reading social cues or other people’s feelings

  • Wren often is seen flapping her wings to calm down, she also lacks concentration and is easily distracted

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Many parents and others who have ASD have praised Cbeebies on social media since the premiere of the show in October 2017, leaving comments on Twitter such as:

 'My son Jaime is Autistic and I firmly believe that exposing children early to Autism and Autistic behaviour helps children become more accepting of their Autistic peers. Can't wait to watch the show with the little ones.'

 'I'm so happy you've done this there is hope for awareness :)'

‘I never thought I'd reach that point in my life where I started watching CBeebies again without kids. But, being like him, I am just compelled to watch #pablo. And after a few months, I just feel I have to say, @CBeebiesHQ, you done good. #ActuallyAutistic’

‘Pablo is the most moving, un-politically correct & realistic show 4 #Autism makes me cry!’

Another parent simply posted 'This is just so good I could cry’ with a variety of crying emojis.

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It is amazing that something as simple as a show can have such a positive impact on the ASD community and help spread awareness in such a creative way that is easy to understand and enjoyable to watch. What makes the show even more remarkable and relatable is that the young boy who plays Pablo is an ASD child himself! We have seen Cbeebies do this with many topics, Justin Fletcher’s shows for example, Something Special being a prime example for making children aware that everyone is different and special in their own way. Even though my children are still very young at the ages 3 and 5, I am glad they’re getting exposure to the disabilities and difficulties of others through the shows they see on Cbeebies, unlike my childhood growing up where there was very little exposure.

So as a mum of two, I applaud Cbeebies, they have a household of Pablo super fans! I’d also like to applaud them with their wide range of shows exposing children and families to the different cultures and disabilities that are in world around them, I’m sure I’m not alone with that thought!

Have we forgotten how to play?

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

Looking back at my fond childhood memories of growing up in Macclesfield, Cheshire, us kids had a fantastic time playing with friends and family.  In those days it was safe to play on the streets in the neighbourhood; hide and seek, water fights, hand stands, chasing friends, chasing balls and annoying my older brother whilst he and his friends jumped over cans with their skateboards.  Those were the days... fun...carefree... days filled with happiness and laughter. We didn’t need mobile phones for our Mums to monitor our whereabouts, we would just run to the command “dinners ready!”.  When we were indoors we would eagerly wait for a knock on the door and a “is Suni allowed to come out and play?”.


Reflecting on these treasured days of my childhood I feel very aware of how much things have changed since then. Now that we are so governed by social media, tablets and technology.  It is not just the influence of this technology but also how safe we feel our children are to have the freedoms we enjoyed. I know that bringing up my own children in Harrow I would never even let them out the front door without me by their side.   

The question I really feel we need to ask ourselves in our modern world of tablets and consoles is whether we as a society have forgotten how to play. We are bombarded with marketing for so many different types of toys and games, but as a parent wanting to choose toys that will enhance your child’s development; what do you choose?  As a mother myself being exposed to the world of children’s toys I find that there can be such a pressure to choose toys that help my children’s learning of letters, numbers, shapes, colours, handwriting... the list goes on! I find myself wondering whether 3 year olds really need to know the names of all the planets in the solar system or all the names of the bones in our bodies? There seems to have been such a shift towards play being a tool for developing our children’s academic abilities that we have forgotten what is really important.  We need to get back to letting our children just be children! Let them play, get messy, have fun and use their imaginations!

How often do you actually just sit on the floor and play with your child? Are you able to switch off your urges to encourage your child to be focusing on learning and instead to simply let go, follow your child’s lead and pretend to be a fairy in a grotto with them or a wizard battling through an enchanting forest? 

I am not saying tablets and watching TV should not play a part in children’s lives. I know myself as a full time working mum arriving home late that there is that moment of peace you get when they are watching a favourite movie or playing on their tablets so you can just get all the household tasks  done!! Also in today’s technology focused world our children do need to be able to use t technology adeptly in order to be able to compete in the job market when they grow up.

We need to consider what we are exposing our children to. How much opportunity are we giving them to develop their social interaction skills, imagination and ability to communicate using language? To best achieve this, tablets and the TV need to be switched off and we need to play with our children and interact with them in a fully conscious way.  There are some great board games available which develop vital skills such as turn taking and interaction and children just love to win! Most importantly these games are about having fun together, about children laughing when their parents are silly, fun and play their games... Even if you’re not following the ‘adult rules’ of how things should be done.  It’s all about letting go and sharing the play experience with our children.

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Sometimes when I look at my boy’s playroom it looks like Toy-r-us has just thrown up in there!  The best thing I did last year was to put all my their toys in the garage in boxes and called this their ‘toy shop’. My elder boy aged 5 is allowed to go in there once a week with his little basket. First he returns last week’s allowance of toys and then he chooses a new selection of toys that he will play with for the week ahead.  This ‘toy library’ system has made him appreciate his toys more, encouraged good behaviour in return for treat days on weekends, and promoted much more  excitement about always having something new to play with.  Most importantly from my perspective this scheme has improved his concentration skills. He is far more engaged with the toys he’s playing with as he has fewer toys to flit between.

A helpful thing to remember to do is to take a step back and think carefully before spending money on expensive toys for your children. Instead use your imagination and think of activities you can do together to help develop your child’s imagination and interaction. Things like making dens, playing dress-up and magical tea parties with dinosaurs and fairies.  Take time out to bake cakes and cookies with them; it’s motivating, fun and can really bring on their language, confidence and life skills.

There is such an emphasis placed nowadays on parents needing to DO THINGS and SPEND MONEY with on children like taking them to various experiences and activity centres. It’s so important to find balance with this kind of thing.  You don’t want your child getting so used to always going out to be passively entertained that when they are at home you are unable to have fun as a family. Try having fun with music and books; using interactive story telling and acting out scenes using funny voices for the characters.

Research is showing that today’s children are developing their play and imaginations skills later than children in the past. Also children’s lung capacity is decreasing and there is a higher instance of asthma. No wonder really as we don’t go out as regularly in the fresh air. This winter let’s wrap the kids up warm and go and pay in the park or the woods.

Let’s spend time with our children. Let’s teach them and remind ourselves how to let go, have fun and use our imaginations. So that when they are adults they treasure the memories they had growing up with their friends and families, having fun and just playing... just being kids

5 signs your child might need speech therapy...

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By Frankie Paterson - Director of Magic Words Therapy and Specialist Generalist Speech and Language Therapist, Developing Specialist in Stammering


How to spot signs that your child might be struggling with speech sounds:

  • Your child is non-intelligible to adults who do not know them well

  • They miss sounds from the beginning or ends of their words

  • The child has a limited range of speech sounds

  • They get vowel sounds mixed up

  • They have difficulty with multisyllabic words

Early intervention is key, so as soon as you notice any irregularities, get in touch with us!

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”.


Magic Words Therapy - a mother and children reading a book

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.

Working with children and parents from diverse communities

By Natasha White


Are you currently working with children and families from a diverse range of communities? Are you a teacher or teaching assistant who wants to cater for EAL and bilingual pupils alongside a classroom full of children with other needs? Are you a speech and language therapist who needs to brush up on your bilingual CPD?

If the answer is yes, then you should consider our upcoming bilingual training days. 

Taking place in Sarratt (Hertfordshire postcode WD3 6AS) in February and June 2018, Sunita Shah will ensure that you leave with insightful and practical ways of approaching bilingual clients, pupils and their families. She has nearly 20 years experience of working with bilingual children-- so any questions you might have will be welcome! 

The aims of the day:

To understand the requirements to adapt practice to meet the needs of different clients groups distinguished by cultural or language.  This will also be applied to working within a multi-cultural society (paediatrics). 

The objectives of the day: 

  • Getting to know your patch, how to collate demographical information.

  • To develop and understand a true definition of “Bilingualism”

  • Bilingual language development.  Laying the foundations to the development and acquisition of one or more languages. 

  • To demonstrate a progressively deeper understanding of underlying theoretical concept and typologies of bilingual language development.

  • To able to identify what factors may affect second language acquisition.

  • Why a child may mix two languages, and if this is a characteristic of disordered language.

  • To identify tests suitable for bilingual clients

  • To be able to adapt and develop informal assessment to gain a base line of all the languages the child is exposed to.

  • To be able to identify though formal/informal assessment if a child presents with a specific language impairment or limited knowledge of the additional language used within their environment.

  • To be able to take an additional case history gathering more information on language use.

  • To be able to train and work with an interpreter identifying the skills required by both the therapist and the interpreter.

  • How to decide which language to be used during intervention.

  • To identify what the advantages of bilingual language development are.

  • To identify components of delivering a “cultural competent” service”

  • To have an opportunity to develop problem solving when working with a bilingual client using various case studies.

  • To collate reading list and reference to further develop skills when working with children and families from diverse communities.  

Alternatively, if you are a parent seeking therapy for your bilingual child and are living in the Harrow area, please contact us. Sunita is taking bookings now!

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

Brick by Brick

By Natasha

Those familiar little bricks are being put to extraordinary use.

Originally developed by Daniel B. LeGoff (a neuropsychologist), who saw the mighty potential of this humble brick, Lego® Therapy has grown into a motivational practice used by speech and language therapists, teaching staff and parents alike.

It is believed that the name Lego® was adapted from the Danish phrase for ‘play well’. Certainly for many children, the ability to play and interact within social settings seems perfectly natural: it is a skill we often take for granted.  Although, there are also children who find the strategies needed for peer interaction less accessible. Intimidating, even.


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How can a child learn to socialize in a safe and supportive environment?

Our method: Lego® Therapy!

At Magic Words, we use this play-based approach to facilitate children toward ''communicative competence'' (Ralph and Rochester, 2016), depending on their individualised targets. Whilst some might need to work on maintaining eye contact and attention, others might attend the group to aid understanding of prepositions, problem-solving or sequencing.  

The aim of the game is, of course, to build a Lego model. This can be a simplistic or as complicated as you need it to be, according to ability and attention span of the group. The roles that we use are:

  • Builder: constructs the model, listens to the architect

  • Supplier: selects the bricks at each stage, listens to the architect

  • Architect: holds the instructions, describes the bricks to the supplier, instructs the builder where to put them

  • Facilitator: identifies problems and supports the group with solution

If you have limited numbers you do not have to include every role. Pick them according to the child's targets. For example, if the child struggles with listening you may wish to encourage them by letting them be the builder; they have the motivational reward of receiving a brick and putting it in place. Alternatively, if you have a child who needs to practice describing and ordering key words, the architect role would be an option.

Magic Words Therapy - an infographic describing a brick analogy

In addition to the jobs, we establish a set of lego-rules to encourage 'model' behaviour. Depending on the age of the group, this could be a clear-cut as good sitting, good looking, good listening, and good talking. Lego® points can be rewarded to acknowledge their participation.  

Once the adult has explained each rule and role, they must aim to 'gradually step back and allow the participants to work out social solutions more independently as the intervention progresses' (Ralph and Rochester, 2016). It is hoped that at some point each child will become their own facilitator and navigate social interactions with the same skill they require to build a collaborative model.

One parent, whose child attended Lego® Therapy sessions at Magic Words, explained how her child began to generalise his new awareness:

“He has understood what good listening is for the first time. He now understands why we need to listen and what we need to do to listen well. This has really helped him access small group activities and to concentrate. His eye contact which was a major problem area for him has also improved as a result of understanding that looking is important as it helps people know you are talking to them. He has thoroughly enjoyed the activities and it has also increased his interest in Lego which he is playing with much more outside the group. I think it has also improved his social skills generally...” 

With the motivation of Lego® and the naturalistic setting of a play-based task, this child was able to access a level of social interaction, that he had previously not understood the benefits of.

It has certainly become apparent that this therapy is versatile and accessible approach for those with social, communication and language difficulties. Carolyn Green and Elen Wales, two of our very own therapists, remarked in their article 'Building Lego, building language': 'Several parents expressed that Lego Therapy offered intervention where the alternative would have been to not access sessions at all' (Bulletin, November 2016). 

Consequently, what does Lego® mean to the therapists at Magic Words? 

Lego® Therapy is a impressively straightforward and structured approach that allows for a great variety of skills to be modelled, practiced and repeated. It allows a therapist, teacher, teaching assistant or parent to incorporate a diverse range of targets under the guise of play. It allows the children who participate to have fun, to collaborate, to build their skill set brick by brick.

To learn more about Lego® Therapy, please contact us.

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

Lego® Therapy: Teaching Teachers to Play

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Over two very successful sessions, Magic Words provided training for Learning Support and Teaching Staff who were eager to understand how Lego® groups could be utilised in a way to support their pupils' needs. The group came together from various school settings based in Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas.

Amongst some enjoyable practicals and video examples of therapy sessions, we covered: 

  • History and research on the development of Lego®-based practices

  • The communication pyramid 

  • Language and Social Skills

  • Job-roles: Builder, Supplier, Architect, Facilitator, Examiner

  • Who should do each role?

  • Lego® rules

  • Discussion of how to facilitate a group

  • What a typical session looks like

  • Visual timetable

  • Evaluation of progress

  • Question-time with a qualified speech and language therapist

Magic Words Therapy - ladies discussing around a table with Lego on it

We received some encouraging feedback from several of the staff to the effect that they would be running their own Lego® groups as soon as possible. It would appear that Lego®Therapy is not only extremely accessible for our children, but is an inviting scheme for the adults facilitating social growth and communicative needs.

This particular continuous professional development training was arranged in association with PEP:MK, Primary Enrichment Partnership. For further dates, please visit their website here.  

Alternatively, we can provide direct training adapted to your needs. Please contact us to learn more.