Special Needs Friendly Summer!

As the summer holidays are upon us, I thought I would make you aware of a couple of special needs friendly summer activities that are on offer in East Lothian and Edinburgh. Please feel free to send me a comment or a Facebook message if you know of anything else I should include! This is by no means a definitive list!

  • Odeon Cinemas offer monthly autism-friendly screenings for children, you can find the schedule on the Odeon website – CLICK HERE
  • If you have a family member who is a wheelchair user, did you know you can access the beautiful beach in North Berwick with a special beach wheelchair loaned free of charge from North Berwick Beach Wheelchairs? You will find them at the Beach Hut on North Berwick Harbour, just behind the Scottish Seabird Centre or CLICK HERE to visit the website.
  • Sticking with the beach theme, Coast 2 Coast Surf School welcome special needs groups to their surf school. What a great opportunity to get your kids accessing the sea safely! CLICK HERE to visit the website.
  • The Scottish Seabird Centre also welcomes children with special needs of all kinds and provides an interesting day out for children and adults alike. CLICK HERE to visit the website.
  • If animals are your child’s thing then a visit to East Links Farm Park is always good fun, CLICK HERE to visit the website for more information.

Have fun and stay safe!

Summer Sunset North Berwick, East Lothian

 

Donate your Voice!

Donating your voice to help Motor Neurone Disease sufferers

Did you know that you can ‘donate’ your voice for the benefit of adults who suffer from Motor Neurone Disease? The Voicebank Project has been set up by the University of Edinburgh in conjunction with the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research. This research project aims to create a library of voices that can be used to ‘reconstruct’ patients’ natural speaking voices, including accent, for voice output communication aids.

Why is the Voicebank Project necessary?

Perhaps the most famous voice output communication aid (or ‘VOCA’) user and MND sufferer alive today is Professor Stephen Hawking. I think most of the modern world is familiar with the very synthetic and unnatural voice that his VOCA, The Machine, produces. Whilst professor Hawking’s device has been upgraded over the years, it seems that he has come to see the synthetic voice it produces as his own and has refused an upgrade to more natural sounding speech. In fact, I believe he has even copyrighted his synthetic voice, that means if you hear his voice on anything from The Simpsons to Big Bang Theory, yes, it really is him! You can find out more about Professor Hawking’s voice and The Machine on Professor Hawking’s website if you are interested.

Although Professor Hawking has come to accept his synthetic voice, the vast majority of people are devastated by the prospect of losing their natural speaking voice and having to replace it with something so robotic. Being diagnosed with MND or another neuro-degenerative disease is devastating enough without the indignity of having to ‘speak’ with a voice that you don’t feel belongs to you. After all, as I have described in a previous post right here on this website, Your Voice is your Auditory Face.

This is where the Voicebank Project comes in. The aim is to create a database of natural male & female voices with a variety of regional accents which can be used in conjunction with recordings of the patient’s own voice and those of their close relatives so that  VOCA users can choose a voice for their communication aid that they are comfortable with and that they feel reflects their own identity. You may wonder why the patient’s own voice can’t simply be recorded and used in the VOCA. Well, the fact is that for many people, one of the first noticeable symptoms of a neurological condition is in fact changes to their speech. By the time they are diagnosed, the patient’s speech is often significantly affected which is why a degree is of voice reconstruction is usually necessary. Do be aware though that at this stage, Voicebank is a research project only and not a fully-fledged and widely available service. Hopefully it will become part of the standard service for all VOCA users before too long!

I’m interested! What do I do now?

If you are interested and are over 16, have no reading or speaking difficulties and are a first language speaker of English, email info@smart-mnd.org to find out how to donate your voice. In particular, the project is needing male speakers from all over Scotland and from the areas shown on the leaflet here:

Leaflet from Voicebank giving details of accents requiredRecordings take about one hour and are done either at the New Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh or via the mobile recording team (Scotland only). You will need to wear a set of headphones and a little microphone and you will be asked to read a selection of sentences from a computer screen. Don’t worry, the text is big and easy to read! I recommend bringing a bottle of water as you’ll get a dry throat from all that talking. Go! Donate your voice!

If you would like to find out more about Motor Neurone Disease, visit the UK’s MND Association.

Music for Children in Edinburgh & Lothian!

In previous articles (Music & Communication Development and A Further Note to 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.