Tuesday 7 February 2017

This blog has closed

It's taken me a while to get back to this, but I'm closing this blog.  There is a great initiative by Dorothy Bishop and RALLI to get more awareness https://www.youtube.com/user/RALLIcampaign

and they are running a crowd funding campaign to raise awareness.

My daughter is now in mainstream secondary school, she still has barriers to learning and the usual battles but she's a happy person and doing ok - and it's ok to do ok!

I'll leave it up here so any visitors looking for information can use it for themselves.

best wishes

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Why it takes a year to write a blog

I joined a facebook group a while back, to finally have some support and meet other parent's whose children had SLI. I thought this would help others, as I often feel the information you get should be shared and I hope I can help others.  However it, like so many other groups, became more about politics than support, became more about terminology than anything else and I had to leave.  It feels sad when this happens, when the 'support' you're supposed to get from others turns negative, so it put me off blogging. Who's to say what I say helps? I don't know, so with that in mind I will share my personal experience and if that is a ripple, if that resonates then I'm happy. 

Why it takes an hour to boil an egg.

For breakfast you want egg
You say ‘e’ and stand hands together in prayer
Around the ‘o’ to show

‘What kind of egg?’ I ask
Scrambled, fried, boiled, poached?
I mime, you nod. I repeat with whisking whirring palm.
You nod.

And when egg arrives
Golden whisked with love
Gleaming like a fluffy snowfall
You cry

You scream
And tears and fists fly out
I try to calm with anti-intuitive whispers
In the roar of a storm

We make signs to each other
Hands throwing shapes
Ravers bouncing against
Walls of misunderstanding
Please let this be it
Hands in prayer around an O

Tears dry as the new egg arrives
It is boiled egg that is normal egg
And another attempt at communication
Begins with a hug.

 Rae Sambrooks 2016

Tuesday 7 July 2015

SLI on Radio 4 with Dorothy Bishop

Wonderful programme on the The Life Scientific with Dorothy Bishop

Just a fantastic description of the research into Specific Language Impairment and all of Dorothy's work. Follow the blog!

 Dorothy Bishop Dorothy Bishop Blog

After struggling away in the dark, it's so wonderful when someone switches a light on!

Transitioning to Secondary part 2

So we have had a meeting, the year 5 parents of kids with SEN and the LA. They seem very accomodating and I hope it all pans out because I'm really looking for getting SLT at the local school, which would be brilliant. I hope the right support will be there.

But my experience is that of a child who has progressed enormously, not every child will and with potentially 2 children in every classroom with an SLI, surely it is time to consider how many children in secondary school are getting the support they need. What is the impact on adults and our society of not address language needs?

Saturday 28 March 2015

Statements, Statements, EHC Plan, Blah Part One

Well we've gone to the year 5 Transition Annual Statement Review and it's all looking fairly good for my daughter, she is progressing well, though her expressive language doesn't reflect her excellent knowledge. As usual the policies give me a headache and I'm a bit at a loss as to what I should be doing right now.

It took so long to even get noticed, by now we have cosily entered the world of supported learning through a language base and the statement reviews have been a reiteration of progression and how she is doing well etc. etc. but as the leglislation has changed so has the cosy safety net of the statemented legal requirement for her SLT.

Now come the problems again. We are switching to an EHC Plan, which has a whole load of question marks over it, not least of all is - will her languege needs now be overlooked, F's chronic condition of Specific Language Impairment, becomes 'manageable' now she is in mainstream. Yet again instead of wanting to look on the positive side, I'm going to have to delve into the 'what's wrong with her' psychological circle of hell.  Yes, she is academically catching up, yes, she copes in a mainstream class with support now, but no, you wouldn't mistake her for a child without a problem if you met her. Because she still talks with a babyish cadence, with slow sentences as she tries to find the right word, gaps in her grammar that come out weirdly. She can't follow the class at the speed they go. She doesn't have a 'normal' conversation with children of her own age and in the two mainstream activities she does (Brownies and Youth Theatre) she has no buddies and is often conversing with adults rather than children. And if you take away her help, she still has an anxiety reaction that ranges from constipation, through to panic attacks and night terrors. Even the change in her routine last weekend (we had a long journey and I had picked her up early from her Dad's) started her 'needing the toilet when I don't need the toilet' anxious reaction.

And my fear is that as I approach having to justify all this to get her the SLT she needs in secondary school, I'm having to focus on the negative again. Just like when you do the DLA form and it makes you cry, because I am yet to do a DLA or help anyone with one without it becoming an emotional trauma.

I find it hard to cope with the jargon and policy, too much information seems to shut down my understanding. I feel helpless in the sight of all the timelines and pushing for support. I may be looking into getting a personal budget for the SLT needed in secondary school and first step I am told is to call Parent Partnerships who are now Information, Advice and Support. Except I invariably have to talk to the same woman who is far from supportive.

'Can I get a personal budget for SLT' I ask
'Not if it interferes with SEN support that the Local Authority has,' she says.

Now I know the school I want F to go to has no dedicated SLT and that is why I need to buy it in, so it would make sense to go down the personal budgets route. I wouldn't be asking if they did.

So I say 'Well what if they don't have it, can I get it then?'
'Not if the local authority does this and not if that and blah blah blah' she goes. She's lost me now, talking about all the 'not if the LA' things, none of which is going in. The information is irrelevant and unhelpful and I still have no idea if it is possible, how to go about it, what to do next, I ask but am just told about the timeline of the EHC Plan and how I might not get it anyway.

Finally she says, 'if all the criteria are there then yes, it would be possible.' But no practical help in actually what to do next. I will persevere, I will speak to the right people and find out, and I expect it will all be fine but I really really don't need the stress.   Sometimes it feels as if the people trying to help are merely putting blocks in the way so you don't ask for more money or defy the authority of the Local Authority.

What saddens me is the professional teachers and SALT I deal with are wonderfully supportive, I'm an advocate for my daughter and would never ask for help if I didn't think it necessary, I'm not a sponger of benefits or a squeezer of budgets, I just want what she needs in order to operate in the world and become a fully functioning adult. If she had a broken leg and I was asking for crutches I wouldn't be getting 'Not if it interferes with the wheelchair provision' off some 'helpful' nurse. I would get the bloomin' crutches!  (Mind you the way it's going with the NHS.....)

I think the worst thing of all of this isn't the condition in itself, it's the hoops and the politics you have to fight your way through in order to get the provision your child needs. I keep reminding myself, I'm lucky, I haven't had to go to tribunal, I got a statement, she is improving, she is finding her way in the world.

All I want to do is make it possible for my daughter to go to her local, very well thought of in SEN, school. That shouldn't really be that much of a headache should it? So I'm going to look into the personal budgets rigmarole and report what happens.

I have already looked at the Local Offer online for our area and yes it says on it that you can get personal budgets, it doesn't say how, it doesn't give you any info on what to do practically.  I'll have another look and see.

We will be having a talk at her school about EHC Plans, so hopefully that will shed more light as well, but for now it's back to searching for the information, objectively, and practicing my Zen meditation to not get too wound up in the process. And I'm not ringing up that unhelpful disinformation service again!

Tuesday 3 March 2015


I thought I'd put a few exercises that you can do as games down in this post today and hope I'm not repeating too many of them!

I've recently been concerned about my daughter's expressive language. Though she has progressed amazingly well, and I mean she surprises me daily with what she's learning, we go through phases where I feel like it's two steps forward, one step back.

That led me to get feedback on how she is developing well and to listen more carefully to her development. Yes, she is making more mistakes but that is because she is widening her vocabulary and communication, so it is that she is moving forward (and that I am a massive worrier!)

So I thought about it - what exercises/games can I use to help her to be listening more carefully and using her words in a more understandable way. I am a drama practitioner and an English as a second language teacher, I must have some ideas in my back catalogue on how to improve communication! I'm sharing them here - these have worked for us and I hope if you want to use them you will be able to adapt to your child's level.

Early preposition work for little ones -  Where's the toy?  On the table, under the table, behind the radiator. Turn it into a game where you chant 'Where's the toy?' 'ON the table, ON the table, ON the table', add clapping for fun and rhythm.  I try to get F to repeat a word at least 3 times to give her a chance for it to go in the memory box in her brain.

Nonsense repeats - a lot of SLI kids find it really difficult to repeat back nonsense words, I found out recently, which is really logical given the difficulty in repeating back sentences without nonsense words in (sequencing, auditory processing). So I reckoned by working on this area I could be really helping my child with auditory processing. I tried it this morning, it was a good one to do.  Supercalifragilisticexpelalidocious was the one we did today and it worked! By breaking it down and the fact it's a fun song, we got all the bits, counted out the syllables and there we were.

Use a nonsense word that your child will have a go at repeating (don't use the ones I did just because she's nearly 10 and is pretty much there with a lot of her words!) I did things like:



Funny words that sound funny when you do them, with your child really close when they are enjoying staring at you and mimicking, try the game where you say a word and they repeat, then slow it down so each syllable is really stretched out and make your mouth really wide and silly. This will encourage them to have a go too.

Tongue Twisters - Red Lorry Yellow Lorry is hard enough! And it's easy to describe so you can have a visual clue or use an actual red lorry and yellow lorry to model it, then speed it up as a game. This was very helpful for us as F still says Lellow on occasion.

Info gap. F was behind a door, I was on the other side. I described a picture and she had to draw it, then vice versa. Even if it's just a simple picture of a person next to a house, this is very challenging especially for prepositions.  This can be done with a book in between you and is also very good for lots of grammar work, such as counting (draw 3 eyes) or vocab in an area. It's very concentrated so keep it simple to avoid frustration, but it is a lot of fun. There are some good EFL books that do this kind of exercise, as well as listening games that we were given by our original SENCO. Elementary Communication Games  has a few info gaps in there.

If I had./If I was...
For more complex conditional structures the simple imagination game, If I had a million pounds I would..... is a nice drill to remember the structure. You imagine what you would do with all that money,
also If I was a superhero I would..... or anything else that is their interest (If I lived in Minecraft I would...., If I was a Creeper I would....) Usually this will spark interest and a lot of description that has less grammar structure in so is a good one for modelling back the structure (Really? Would you really buy a big house and fill it with beans? Instead of 'house, beans')

Counting/Memory with emotion....
This really is one that I stumbled across by accident. There are plenty of memory and key word memory games you can play but depending on your child, what triggers their memory? When you study memory tricks and remember stories you have to visual pictures and the most emotional content possible works best. If you've ever done a Paul McKenna CD you'll know he talks about making the colours brighter, the sounds, tastes etc. And that is because it stimulates the brain to remember things more clearly.
So I used this for counting. Instead of by rote, because my daughter at age 6 couldn't count to 10, me and my eldest daughter used ONE big purple elephant, TWO stinky penguins etc. and by the end of ten minutes she remembered up to ten but hadn't been able to do so by rote.
It depends on your child, if your child will repeat/remember by rote then please do drilling, but if it isn't going in  you could try a more lateral approach. I know F is a lateral thinker so she will remember Wednesday because I explained it was the day of Odin, or Woden and did a gesture and told a story about Odin. This won't work for everyone but it might be worth considering what kind of learner your child is.

I was told F couldn't remember more than two items in a list, so I constantly played My Cat went shopping and she bought... to improve her memory. (You go round and add a list, remembering what the last person said) This didn't help until the day I added the word 'Silly'. My cat went shopping and bought silly sausages, funny beans, silly television....etc. She remembered over 10 and I got stuck!

This may not work for your child at all, all children are different and I realised with my uniquely made daughter that she had lateral thinking that helped her learn. If you can find something that works for your child, use it. What do they like? How do they learn?

I hope this has been useful, it can be a lot of fun and lovely to see your child communicating and having fun at the same time. I've been using some apps as well that I hope to review soon and also follow up with some storytelling exercises. Please comment if you have other games that you use with your child and I will be posting more communication tasks soon.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Creative Communication

So what can we do as parents and educators to improve communication with children who have language barriers?

I have tried to be imaginative in my approach. I'm not a speech and language therapist but I have been an ESOL teacher, I am a creative storyteller to children and workshop facilitator in creative writing, and I can see how engaging language in creative context makes a huge difference to children.

And our children can teach us how to teach them. When my daughter was younger she could only understand a limited range of vocabulary. She took this to create a book called 'To the Zoo', where she drew pictures of animals and repeated 'I went to the zoo' - inspired by the book Dear Zoo.

So even when the language is limited a child can use it, use pictures to illustrate their ideas, and feel autonomous in that use.

One of the first things I did to encourage this was to give her some lovely 'Hello Kitty' notebooks and pens, to show I respected her attempts to write and she loved them. Over time her notebooks have become secret diaries, and she will draw lines between pictures to illustrate her understanding of narrative and connection. This way of expressing concepts is so important for her confidence in expressing language clearly.

Drawings are communication, stories and imagination games are communication. Anything that encourages the same action  as the action to use language in literacy or spoken, is a confidence builder. Because of the constraints on time, schools necessarily can't focus on those 'soft targets' but as parents we can.

Over time I have realised that I can't play the part of teacher, because she doesn't like me doing that for her! But I can give her the tools to practice those things by herself.

My daughter is an inspiration to me and I often practice my stories and poems for her to see what she finds engaging, but also because she is my biggest fan and critic. As role models we can do the things we love and also help the children we want to so much.

So pick up a pen and start doodling, read a story you have written, retell a traditional tale, sing songs, have fun, be creative! It's a great stress relief and encourages your child to have a go themselves.

Creative communication in all its forms builds confidence, builds language and is fun - what's not to like? Don't let people tell you it's a waste of time, Minecraft and Lego are great examples of how children can create and it's a great conversation starter too. A child might find it hard to express how they feel about their school day but much easier to talk about their Minecraft world.

Creativity is not a soft option, its sometimes an essential tool to reach children who are on the sidelines because of their barriers to communication.