About Blethers

Blethers is a an Independent Speech & Language Therapy Service working in Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders. It was set up by Isla Davies in 2011 and offers a unique mobile speech therapy service providing assessment and treatment for children and young adults who have speech, language and communication difficulties. In addition Isla offer specialist services for people who have Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and learning difficulties.

High Praise Indeed!

I really should be writing a report just now but I felt the need to share a positive review from a 3 year old customer of mine! As anyone who works with children will tell you, pre-schoolers are a tough audience to please so it’s always nice to know when you’ve got it right. The mum of the child in question emailed me toady to say that she had asked him what his favourite thing to do at nursery is and the answer was ‘play with Isla’.

Another happy customer then! πŸ™‚

Sleep is Key to Learning

Here’s an interesting bit of research about the importance of sleep for learning. There is a growing body of research which shows that sleep is essential to human learning although no-one really knows specifically why this is the case. The University of Sheffield recently published the results of their latest study on the topic of sleep and learning which focused on babies of around 12months old. They found that the babies in the study were much more likely to learn a new skill if they had a nap soon after their first attempt at it. Clearly this has many implications for how we work with our children and teach them new things. For one, it really underlines the importance of doing things like reading (or indeed your child’s speech therapy homework!) just before bedtime.

Quite rightly, the researchers were keen to point out that their finding was that sleep soon after learning is constructive for learning new skills. No-one is saying that you should learn new things when you are tired, more that ‘sleeping on it’ may be more helpful than we might first assume.

You can find the full article on the BBC website by clicking on the following link: Regular naps are ‘key to learning’ and now I’m off to consolidate my learning….

Isla doing some on the job learning!

Isla takes time out to do some ‘on the job learning’!

World Autism Awareness Week 2015

March 27th – April 2nd will be 2015’s World Autism Awareness Week and various events will be taking place across the world in recognition of this. To my mind, autism is a state of being that you cannot recognise from the outside and brings with it disabilities that are not obvious simply from looking at the person. Our society is getting better at recognising and accommodating disability but I feel very strongly that ‘invisible’ disabilities like autism, Asperger’s and ADHD are still very poorly accommodated by society. This is our opportunity to change that!

Ready for Onesie Wednesday Autism Awareness WeekI shall proudly be wearing my onesie on Onsie Wednesday on 1st April (no, that’s not an April fool!) and I’ll be making an effort to make more people aware of autism spectrum disorders and what they are. Let’s start with some interesting facts!

  1. Autism comes in many forms so no two people who have a diagnosis are the same. Most now agree that autism is a spectrum rather than one distinct condition. The best description I have heard is that autism is a bit like a 100 piece jigsaw. To get a diagnosis on the spectrum, you would have 80-100 pieces of the puzzle but everyone has at least 15-20 pieces! People who have many of the piecesΒ  but not enough for a diagnosis might be considered to have an ‘asperger’s personality’.
  2. According to current estimates, there are about 700 000 people in the UK who have one form of autism or another. That’s one in every hundred people! (Source – The National Autistic Society)
  3. While many people on the autism spectrum have special interests (anything from volcanoes to Thomas the Tank Engine!), only a very small proportion (about 10%) have what society calls a ‘special talent’. That means 90% of people with a diagnosis ARE NOT like Rainman!
  4. Unfortunately there is an unacceptably high risk of bullying for people on the autistic spectrum. The National Autistic Society quotes a figure of over 40% of children with autism being bullied at school but I have seen much higher statistics such as 70% of people with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of high functioning autism) experiencing bullying.
  5. You can’t tell that someone has autism from looking at them. It is an invisible disability. The next time you meet someone who doesn’t look at you, stands to close or seems socially awkward, please don’t dismiss them as ‘weird’, ‘rude’ or ‘arrogant’ straight off. Take time to wonder “does this person have autism?”. Next time you see a child having a full scale tantrum in a shop, don’t judge and dismiss it as poor parenting, naughtiness or spoilt behaviour. Take time to wonder “does this child have autism?”.

You will find many, many more interesting facts and statistics on the National Autistic Society’s website. Go ahead, educate yourself!

 

Dunbar Science Festival

If you are stuck for a fun activity that will help build your child’s vocabulary and might well inspire him or her to a future career, why not pop along to Dunbar Science Festival next weekend? East Lothian’s science festival will be running over the course of Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th March from 10am until 5pm. There will be a variety of activities, workshops and shows running on various science topics across the weekend.

If your child has autism, you will be able to go along to the Early Bird sessions running from 9am-10am each day. These autism friendly sessions will be quieter than sessions later in the day and there will be no need to queue to enter. You can download a ‘Visual Guide’ or Social Story to help prepare your child from the website by clicking on the link below:

Dunbar Science Festival Social Story

Pop along to Dunbar, who knows, you may inspire the next Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking or Brian Cox!

Free Online Autism Training!

I am always looking to update my knowledge of autism and any evolving support strategies. As I was looking for online training modules and ‘webinars’ (much as I don’t like the word!) last week, I came across an excellent resource that I feel the need to share. It is called Autism Internet Modules (AIM) and it’s a free – yes FREE! – library of training modules on a variety of topics relating to autism. The site has been developed by Ashland University in the US. A very big thank you from Blethers to Ashland for this amazing resource!

Whether you are a professional working with people on the spectrum, a parent/carer or indeed a person who has a diagnosis of autism, you will find some high quality information on the AIM website. All you need to do is register with your email and a password and you’re off! You can access certificates and academic credits if you want to but you do have to pay for these. However, all of the information is free. So far, I have used the Pivotal Response Training module which took me about an hour and three quarters to read through. The information was presented as a combination of text and video clips. At the start and end of each module, there is a short (5 or 6 question) assessment quiz so that you can compare your knowledge before and after.

I know that I’ll certainly be accessing more of the modules as part of my ongoing commitment to continuing professional development and evidence based practice. What a great resource!

Merry Christmas!

I can hardly believe it’s that time of year again! Once again, I’d like to say thank you to all of my clients and their families for using my service this year and I’m very proud of all the wonderful progress my clients have made in the last 12 months. You’ve all worked very hard!

A very merry Christmas and happy new year to you all! I hope Santa brings you lots of nice things!

Merry Christmas from BlethersBlethers will close for the festive season on Tuesday 23rd December and will re-open on Tuesday 6th January 2015.

Music for Children in Edinburgh & Lothian!

In previous articles (Music & Communication Development and A Further Note toΒ Music & Communication Development) I have talked about the many benefits of exposing your child to music from a very early age. Singing and being sung to helps to develop the following fundamentals of communication:

  • Maintaining concentration – singing is very engaging and therefore easy to pay attention to for a long time.
  • Anticipating what’s coming next – music and songs lead the brain to expect or look for the next notes in the melody. Songs, especially nursery rhymes and the like, often have a predictable, repeating pattern of words and/or actions which makes it easy for a child to learn to anticipate what’s coming next as well as supporting maintenance of concentration.
  • Taking turns in communication by learning to listen and then respond within the song.
  • Using non verbal communication and eye contact – many children’s songs have accompanying actions which encourages the development of watching another person, copying them and co-ordinating gestures with spoken language.
  • Vocabulary development through repetition of words and use of rhyme.
  • Sentence development – hearing the same sentence structure over and over again is essential for learning to say new and longer sentences.
  • Phonological awareness – awareness of alliteration, rhyme, syllables and rhythms are essential skills for later learning to read and write as it supports the ability to break words down into sounds, work out what those sounds are and put them together again to make new words.
  • Sequencing – Like music, all language follows a sequence whether it’s the order of sounds in words, words in sentences or information in a story.

Experimenting with musical instruments and melodies is just as important as singing and adds extra sensory dimensions to the experience of music through the senses of touch, proprioception and vision. Like singing, playing instruments supports the development of many fundamental communication skills like:

  • Concentration – listening to music and sound is fun and children will often manage to maintain concentration for longer to an activity if music is involved.
  • Listening – to sing the right words at the right pitch or to copy a tune or rhythm with an instrument, you need to listen carefully and discriminate between the sounds you hear.
  • Self expression and creativity – music is inherently creative and making up songs and melodies is a fun way to express yourself without necessarily using spoken words.
  • Memory – remembering tunes and rhythms exercises auditory memory which is essential for learning new vocabulary and language structures. When we hear new language, we need to hold what we hear in our auditory memories so that we can analyse it and commit it to long term memory.
  • Pitch awareness – intonation in spoken communication is made up of variations in pitch and different ‘tunes’ have different meanings. For example, a rising ‘tune’ in a sentence usually means that it is a question. Music helps to develop awareness of pitch variations.
  • Rhythm – like music, all spoken language has a rhythm to it. Within words, we have rhythms in the form of syllables and stress patterns. Sentences also have rhythm in their stress patterns. Being able to recognise and repeat rhythms is essential for natural communication. Being able to break sounds into smaller chunks using rhythm as we do with syllables, is essential for learning to read and spell. Music helps us to learn these skills.

Above all, music is FUN! It’s easy to engage in a bit of music at home even if, like me, you are not the most talented singer. If you feel you’d like to add a more social dimension to your child’s musical experience, there are a variety of excellent children’s music classes available in Edinburgh and Lothian from organisations like Monkey Music and Caterpillar Music.

 

New Resources!

As I have recently started working with more clients who need support with thinking & reasoning skills, I decided it was time to splash out on some new resources. In previous jobs, I have used Super Duper Learning Fun Decks from the US a lot, so I decided to get a selection from the lovely people at Taskmaster (the UK distributor).

A selection of Fun Decks to develop reasoning and social skills.After a good road test with some discerning clients, I can say that all of the packs have been a great success but particularly ‘That’s Silly’, ‘What’s Wacky’ and ‘What Are They Asking?’. Children love the bright, funny cartoon drawings and there are a variety of simple card games that can be played with each deck. Instructions are included with each set and the cards come in a hard-wearing tin for safe storage. The cards are very versatile in that they can easily be used with a group or an individual. The only slightly negative thing I’d say is that some of the language and pictures are very American (eg Pictures of Thanksgiving or use of words like ‘daiper’ or ‘sidewalk’). However it is easy either to translate, teach your child some new vocabulary or simply take the USA-specific cards out of the pack when you play.

Take a look at the Taskmaster website to see the full range of Fun Decks!

The Smarties Tube Test of Theory of Mind

Just the other day, I did the Smarties Tube Test for the first time in ages. Understandably, the parent of my client was somewhat surprised when I duped her child with my Smarties tube full of buttons! As I was explaining the reason for the test afterwards (best to do it afterwards to avoid any bias), I thought it would make for an interesting web post about theory of mind. Before I go on, please don’t worry, the client in question got a tube of real Smarties afterwards!

What is The Smarties Tube Test?

The Smarties Tube Test is a really simple but effective way to test Theory of Mind. Please understand that it is not a ‘quick and easy test for autism’ although it is helpful in combination with A LOT of other information in the process of diagnosing autism and other developmental conditions. First I’ll explain what Theory of Mind is then I’ll tell you how you do the test and what it tells you.

What is Theory of Mind?

Theory of mind is basically ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’. It’s the skill we human beings use to ‘mind read’ other people so that we can figure out how others are feeling, what their intentions are, what they believe and what they are likely to know or not know. Theory of mind is what tells you how much background information to give another person when you are telling them about something that has happened to you. It is what makes us wince when someone we care about hurts him/herself. It is what helps us figure out when someone else is being sarcastic and it is what helps us to deceive others. Typically, theory of mind starts to develop about 3 and a half to 4 years old.

Who has trouble with Theory of Mind?

As theory of mind usually develops around 4 years old, you can expect that any child younger than 4 will not do well at mind reading! In addition, theory of mind is typically a core area of weakness for people who have a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum, so much so that it is widely regarded as an essential characteristic of autism.

How do you do the Smarties Tube Test?

First and out of sight of the child, put some buttons (or some pencils) into an empty Smarties tube. When you see the child, show him/her the Smarties tube (you can shake it!) and ask ‘what do you think is in here?’. The child will most likely say ‘Smarties’. Next, you open the tube, show the child what is inside and ask him/her ‘On no! What is inside?’. Hopefully he/she won’t cry and will say ‘Buttons’. You put the buttons back into the tube and ask the child ‘Can you remember what is inside?’, most likely they will say ‘Buttons’. Now for the clever bit. Tell the child you’re going to play a trick on someone who isn’t with you, it could be a brother, sister, mum, dad, teacher, whoever. Ask ‘If we give this to your brother (or whoever!) later, what will he think is inside?’ If the child has theory of mind and understands that his/her brother won’t know the tube is full of buttons, he/she will say ‘Heh heh! Smarties’. If the child does not have theory of mind, he/she will not be able to put aside his/her knowledge that the tube has buttons in it and will say that the brother thinks there are buttons inside.

I hope that all makes sense but, by way of further explanation, this video gives a nice summary of theory of mind and how you do the Smarties Tube Test. It also explains the more widely known ‘Sally Ann Test’:

Theory of Mind Testing

I find that the Smarties Tube Test is a quick, unambiguous and easy way to establish whether a child has developed theory of mind or not.

 

New Study Suggests that Music Training Supports Self Organisation!

I came across an interesting new piece of research into the benefits of musical training the other day on a music teacher Isla's Guitarfriend’s website – click here to see the article. This functional MRI study suggests that there is a link between early music training and improved executive functioning in both adults and children. So what does that really mean?! Read on to find out…

What is Executive Function?

Basically, Executive Function is the brain’s system for planning stuff, controlling inhibitions, thinking flexibly and generating new ideas. I like to think about it as a wee ‘executive’ guy in a pin stripe suit who sits in the front of your brain organising things. Executive function allows you to do 4 key things:

  • Plan stuff – for example, planning ahead for a PE lesson and organising all the things you need to pack into your bag the night before, planning a shopping list or planning an essay.
  • Transfer your attention between tasks – so that you can finish one task then switch your attention on to the next task which might be totally different from the first.
  • Inhibit inappropriate impulses – Executive function is what stops you from reading a text that makes your phone vibrate in the middle of a conversation with your mother in law. It also stops you doing things like pointing out the massive spot on the end of your friend’s nose or telling your teacher that her new haircut looks like someone put a bowl on her head and cut round it with their eyes closed!
  • Be creative – for example coming up with a new recipe idea, thinking of a fun day out for your friends or writing a song.

Who has difficulty with Executive Function?

Probably the biggest groups of people who typically have issues with weak executive function throughout their lives are those who have a diagnosis of Autism (ASD), Asperger’s Syndrome and/or ADHD. Other groups are also affected though,for example, those with head injuries or degenerative brain conditions. Even without a specific diagnosis, you can still have weak executive function.

What Does the Boston study say about Music Training and Executive Functioning?

First and foremost, no-one is saying that if you get your autistic child into music training they will be cured of all problems relating to executive function! Do not misunderstand this as yet another ‘miracle cure’! What the researchers found is that adult musicians and musically trained children got better scores on tests of executive function than a non-musically trained control group. The researchers carried out functional MRI scans (also called fMRI – click here to learn more) on musically trained children & controls while they completed a test of executive function skills. The scans showed more activity in the brain areas associated with executive function in the group of musically trained children than in the brains of the non-musically trained control group.

While this study does show evidence of better executive function in musically trained people, it does not establish whether the improved skills are definitely due to the musical training OR whether people with better executive functioning are simply drawn to learning music. More investigation is required to clear this up! Whatever the outcome of this line of research, the benefits of music training for a whole range of cognitive skills, including language development, are well documented. So expose your child to music when you can. If they are interested in learning to play something, let them have a go. erhaps pay a visit to my friends at Morningside School of Music for some lessons. Apart from anything else, MUSIC IS FUN!