A Further Note to Music & Communication Development!

Back in May 2013, I posted an article called Music & Communication Development which talked about the many benefits of learning with music. I was therefore very interested to read on the BBC website about some recent research which found a link between strong rhythmical ability and better language learning & literacy skills in teenagers. Click here to go to the article. Whilst I couldn’t necessarily see a causal link in the information presented on the BBC website, there certainly seems to be a strong correlation between performance on a rhythm tapping task and reading skills. Children who were better at the rhythm task were the best readers and those who struggled were the weaker readers.

As a speech & language therapist, this doesn’t really surprise but it is nice to see some concrete evidence of a hunch. Spoken language is just a continuous stream of sounds – imagine the last time you listened to someone speaking a language you don’t know. I’ll bet you couldn’t tell where one word ended and the next began. To be able to read and write our language down successfully, we need to break that continuous stream of sounds into words, syllable and individual sounds. How do we do that? Largely by using the rhythms generated by the stress and intonation patters of our first language to help us guess where the word & syllable boundaries are. It’s therefore no great surprise that enhanced rhythm awareness is helpful!

Top Tips for Pre-Literacy Skills & Phonological Awareness

What is Phonological Awareness?

‘Phonological Awareness’ basically means the awareness of how words can be broken down into parts and how sounds can be put together to make words. Phonological awareness is essential for literacy. Most young pre-school children are aware of words as whole chunks that help them communicate with others. They are not typically aware that each word is made up of smaller bits. As they approach school age, they start to become more aware that there are divisions within words and might start to experiment with syllables and rhyming (word endings). These broad divisions are the beginnings of phonological awareness for literacy.

Why do we need Phonological Awareness for Literacy?

Our spelling system is ‘alphabetic’ which means that there is a letter or sometimes a group of letters (like ‘sh’) that correspond to each spoken sound. To be able to match sounds to letters to read & spell, children need to be able to divide words up into individual parts, a bit like taking apart a jigsaw to see how many pieces there are. Because the first and last sounds in words are emphasised by virtue of being the first & last sounds you hear, children typically learn to pick these out first. They then go on to break the word down further and start to realise that there are more individual sounds in the middle too. There is now a lot of research which shows that well developed phonological awareness is linked strongly to later success in learning to read and write.

This sheet gives you some suggestions for some simple phonological awareness activities that should fit easily into everyday activities and routines. You will not need to find a ‘special time’ to do them.

Top Tips for Pre-Literacy & Phonological Awareness

Finding Speech & Language Therapy Work Experience

How can I get work experience with a speech & language therapist?

I am often asked if I can provide work experience for people who are planning to pursue a a career in Speech & Language Therapy. Unfortunately it is very difficult for me, and indeed most other independent SLTs, to provide work experience placements. This is down to issues of client consent, client confidentiality and the implications for insurance and legal business status. Sometimes it is possible to get some experience with your local NHS team but, again, these placements are very few and far between and are difficult to get.

While most of the higher education institutions understand that getting work experience directly with a speech & language therapist is very difficult, it does definitely count in your favor if you have some related practical experience under your belt when you apply. So what can you do about it? Well, I have highlighted the word ‘related‘ here because a little bit of ‘out of the box’ thinking can help you out significantly.

What sort of work experience is related to Speech & Language Therapy?

To get started, it will help you to think about the different client groups that speech & language therapists typically work with. Some examples are:

  • Stroke patients (usually adults but occasionally children)
  • Head injury patients (children & adults)
  • People who stammer (children & adults)
  • Children who have developmental communication disorders like Specific Language Impairment, Verbal Dyspraxia or Phonological Disorders
  • Children and adults who have communication disabilities related to conditions like Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

I’m sure you can see that a list like this will help direct you towards organisations that support these client groups. More often than not, these organisations are charitable and rely heavily on the support of volunteer workers – see where I’m going with this? Using my list above, which is not exhaustive, some (and there are many, many more!) related organisations that may be able to take volunteer placements are:

As you can see, with just a little bit of thought, we have generated quite a long list of organisations who support people with all sorts of communication difficulties and who work with volunteer staff. Time for you to get on the phone and make contact!

Working in schools

Whilst it is helpful to have experience specifically with people who have communication difficulties, do not rule out the possibility of spending some time working in a mainstream classroom. Interacting with typical children, forming rapport with them and understanding how their communication skills develop is also an essential part of being a speech & language therapist. Even if you plan to work with adults when you qualify, you will have to do practical placements in paediatric settings as part of your training. If you plan to take a year out before starting your training or are going in as a mature student, it is definitely worthwhile looking around for temporary or short term contract teaching assistant or nursery assistant jobs in your local area. With that in mind, volunteer work with playgroups, youth groups & children’s clubs like Brownies or Cubs are also worth considering and are perhaps easier to fit in for future SLTs who are still at school.

What if I have a family member with a communication difficulty?

Many people come into speech & language therapy because they have some personal experience of communication difficulties. That could be because they have a friend or relative with a communication disorder, or indeed because they themselves have needed support with communication in the past. Whilst this is valuable experience, you should be aware that it is also a very narrow and subjective experience of the issue in question. It will certainly count in your favor if you seek to expand your knowledge of the communication disorder in question by seeking the type of work experience described above. Doing so will help you to broaden your understanding and gain a better perspective on the wide range of experiences that a group of people with the same diagnosis can have.

Well, I hope that this post has provided all of you budding speech & language therapists with some helpful and creative ways of getting some work experience that is relevant to speech & language therapy. Good luck and do feel free to contact me with any comments or questions!

Autism Related Training in Scotland

It’s nice to see 2014 starting off with a couple of high quality autism related training sessions in Scotland. The first of these is the Level 1 introductory Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) course which is running at the Novotel on Lauriston Place in Edinburgh on Thursday 6th & Friday 7th February. I can thoroughly recommend this training to anyone who is new to using PECS with someone on the autistic spectrum and also to people who have been using the system but haven’t had any formal training.

The course is suitable for parents, carers and professionals alike with reduced course fees for parents. The cost is £174 for parents and £315 for parents including VAT. Over the 2 days you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to use PECS and why the system is set up as it is. If you are interested in attending, please click here to go the event details on the Autism Network Scotland website where you can register.

The second event is the Autistic Intelligence Conference on 2nd May in Glasgow. The speakers include the world renowned psychologist Tony Attwood and Wendy Lawson who has autism herself and has done a wealth of research and written several books on the subject of autism. I have seen Tony Attwood speak on a number of occasions now and he has always got a lot of worthwhile information to share, I would highly recommend listening to him speak bout the autistic spectrum! I’ve got my place booked already. Click here to go to the conference webpage where you can register to attend. Again, reduced rates are available for parents/carers and further reduction for individuals who have autism.



The Tiger Who Came to Tea

I use stories all the time in my work as a speech & language therapist and I have to confess that one of my favourites is The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I was therefore most interested to see an article on the BBC website about the story and it’s author, Judith Kerr (click here to open the article). I had no idea that the book was first published in 1968 and has never been out of print since. I guess I’m not the only one who likes it!

We see these books around all the time in shops, schools, libraries, at home and rarely give a thought to the back stories of their authors. For instance, I had no idea that Judith Kerr grew up in a Jewish family in Berlin under the shadow of Nazi Germany and was forced to flee with her family to Zurich in order to escape persecution. The effect that had on her later work as a children’s author is up for discussion but some argue that the uninvited guest of the tiger in the story is a parallel with the uninvited and insidious knock on the door that many less fortunate families experienced during the Hitler years.

Still, dark undertones or not, The Tiger Who Came to Tea is still a profoundly engaging story and will remain a firm favourite with Blethers!