Speech therapy without words

Squid doesn’t talk; her brother doesn’t listen. I suspect they are showing sides of the same traits – somehow those brain connections that register words seem to form more slowly and be more fragile than the average.

I found an interesting article by Nina Kraus In Nature Neuroscience Reviews studying the effect of music training on listening skills. There is a logical link that the authors describe: “At the acoustic level, music and speech use pitch, timing and timbre cues to convey information. At a cognitive level, music and speech processing require similar memory and attention skills.”.  They substantiate it with convincing arguments about how longterm focussed music training changes the structure of the brain and its responsiveness to sounds.

A paragraph that I found to be particularly relevant for us was the claim that music training improved the ability to discriminate speech in a noisy environment. The argument is that musicians are trained to be tuned into discriminating accurately between ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ parts of their soundscape. So the skill for the conductor to hear one dud note in an orchestra is closely related to the skill of picking out the words of your friends against the background regular drone of a party.

The context of the article seems to mainly be classical music training. The same principles should apply to any focused musical development including singing and guitar. The results were much better if music training began before the age of seven and sustained over a long time in a focussed way.

Squids do music lessons. One benefit I’ve seen for sure is the verbal-lite social activity of sharing music with others. I’m thinking of the big kids in the orchestra – but I’m also remembering little Squid in her first year at school. Stuck for words and struggling to engage; dancing, twirling and bubbling as soon as the music came on.

My little pony 

Ponies work hard here. Their big eyes bring charm to the toy box. They’re a peer acceptable interest for a school aged girl. And every week they give a tutorial on an aspect of female friendships. 

Although the cartoons are at the top end of her comprehension – this hasn’t been a problem. One of her current speech targets are to improve her narrative speech (tenses, sentence length, connectives etc). We have a special box of mini ponies that we bring out after every episode, and replay the story together after we’ve watched the cartoon.

It has taken us a few attempts to get it working. First few times she loved the cartoons, but couldn’t tell me anything about it afterwards. I’d not stayed in the room, but I found this amazing fan site with full transcripts for the episodes, so I could prompt her with the actual lines from the show. Now I’ve got hooked on the little blighters myself  started staying in the room and keeping half an eye on the TV while I’m tidying, so that we can roll straight into the game and I know the story. My little girl is now  coming out with much more detailed information about what she’s seen. I’m presuming that she’s watching with more attention – or maybe it’s her overall narrative speech improving. One helpful thing is that since we both watched the same show, I can often guess what she’s trying to say even if her speech is unclear. I think that this is giving my daughter positive reinforcement to try more complicated narrative sentence forms. If she can even get a third of the words plausibly correct, I can figure out what she means and echo back with the correct grammar without breaking the flow of the play.

Thank you to the Bronies for putting me onto this! 

Cat bus

Listening game – which cats go on the ‘L’ bus?

This was something we did when Nursery gave ‘homework’ to find items from home beginning with ‘L’. There are a lot of words in that sentence that I couldn’t even begin to put across to my daughter at that stage – so this is our adaptation.

img_4056I told her lots of cats were going on the bus – but only L cats could go on the L bus. I printed out the pictures with the names underneath. This was because I couldn’t be sure to remember all the cat names. Also because I was happy for her to use the auditory clue of listening for the L sound together with the visual clue of the letter. OK, OK … the printed words were a tantrum dodger. She understood that they had to ‘match’ – whereas she would have got cross if Mum was just telling her which was L and which wasn’t.