How to keep listening (even when they go on and on)

Super-listening is one the many superpowers I’ve been expected to develop as a parent of autistic kids.

This blog is about my baby who didn’t talk. I have other babies that did. And, oh my goodness, they talk. Easily thirty minutes without pausing on whatever is their ‘thing’ at the current time. Briefly throwing out a question like ” who is your favourite Pokemon” to check you’re listening, and then monologue again. Here are my top tips for how I surf it:

  • Whenever they get a new craze, invest twenty minutes to read a wiki on it this means that you can bring in a little bit of reciprocal conversation on the topic they’re interested in, to model good conversation skills. Also means that you can quickly come up with plausible answers to pop quiz questions, even if you tuned out.
  • Make listening face and noise It doesn’t actually matter if your attention wanders. I find that they don’t expect much of you beyond a chance to unspool their mental narrative
  • Mirror their reactions. Laugh when they do even if you lost track of the joke. Look concerned when they look concerned. It’s about nurturing joint attention and emotional connection – rather than the facts.
  • Give them thirty minutes to talk about their thing, and then insert the question you really want the answer to. For example “why were you upset after school yesterday”. The pay off for an hour of listening to Pokemon is that once they’re talking about one thing, they’ll be on a talking roll sometimes.
  • Take them with you when you have driving errands primetalkingtime without eating into your free time.
  • Enjoy the fact that they want to bring you into their world. It’s a compliment. And it’s setting up the idea that you care about their ‘stuff’.

Speaking parts for non-speaking kids

Sheep 3: “There it is”

That’s just made our Christmas! So chuffed the teachers trusted her to have a speaking part.

(Actually – it was

Sheep 2: “Where is the star”

*pause* *pause* *finger-twist* *pause* *pause*

Sheep 3: “There it is”

Next year’s nativity, I think the lesson learnt is to practice listening to the play and understanding it – not just saying her lines.)

Fussy eater food foto #1


This is what chicken noodle soup looks like here!

The recipe is basically all of the above in a chicken broth. Which I would eat alone.

New plan: they fill their bowls with their choice of trimmings, and then I pour over hot chicken stock (vegetable stock for the veggies).

The carrots are parboiled with a blast in the microwave and I fried the mushrooms. I might sneak a prawn or two from the freezer for my portion!

Language disorders at primary age

Squid has done marvellously well. ‘Just outside the range of normal’ for understanding, grammar and language. Her NHS speech therapist wants to move her onto only speech sound targets for the next block.

Apart from ‘just outside the range of normal’ means that on every test they administer she scores between 5% and 10% less than lower bound of the very wide range of normal for a child her age. And she still struggles. So I think it would be wrong to consider this the end of language intereventions. But possibly it might be the right point to view her as receiving support ‘in context’ – i.e. parents and school.

 

I copied the below from http://www.asha.org. Does anyone have any other thoughts to add for a good flight-plan to support a language disordered primary school aged child?

Intervention For Elementary School Children (Ages 5–10)

The focus of language intervention for elementary school children with language difficulties is to help the child acquire the language skills needed to learn and succeed in a classroom environment. Interventions are curriculum-based, that is, goals address language needs within the context of the curriculum where these skills are needed. 

Interventions may also address literacy skills (e.g., improving decoding, reading comprehension, and narrative and expository writing), as well as metacognitive and metalinguistic skills (e.g., increasing awareness of rules and principles for use of various language forms, improving the ability to self-monitor and self-regulate) that are critical for the development of higher-level language skills.  See the treatment section of the Written Language Disorders Practice Portal page.

For children who speak a language other than English in the home, it may be necessary to use the home language as a mechanism for transitioning the child to using the language of the school. Planning and implementing an effective language intervention program is often a coordinated effort involving the SLP, classroom teacher(s), and other school specialists. 

Areas targeted for this population typically include 

phonology 

  • enhancing phonological awareness skills, 
  • eliminating any residual phonological processes. 

semantics 

  • improving knowledge of vocabulary, including knowledge of curriculum-related vocabulary, 
  • improving depth of vocabulary understanding and use, including
    • subtle differences in meaning, 
    • changes in meaning with context, 
    • abstract vocabulary, 
    • figures of speech; 
  • understanding figurative language and recognizing ambiguities in language (e.g., words with multiple meanings and ambiguous sentence structures); 
  • monitoring comprehension, requesting clarification; 
  • paraphrasing information. 

morphology and syntax 

  • increasing the use of more advanced morphology (e.g., monster/monstrous, medicine/medical, school/scholastic); 
  • increasing the ability to analyze morphologically complex words (e.g., prefixes, suffixes); 
  • improving morphosyntactic skills (e.g., use of morphemes in simple and complex clauses, declarative versus questions, tag questions and relative clauses); 
  • improving the ability to understand and formulate more complex sentence structures (e.g., compound sentences; complex sentences containing dependent clauses); 
  • judging the correctness of grammar and morphological word forms and being able to correct errors. 

pragmatics 

  • using language in various contexts to convey politeness, persuasiveness, clarification; 
  • increasing discourse-level knowledge and skills, including
    • academic discourse, 
    • social interaction discourse, 
    • narrative discourse, 
    • expository discourse, 
    • use of cohesive devices in discourse; 
  • improving the ability to make relevant contributions to classroom discussions; 
  • improving the ability to repair conversational breakdowns; 
  • learning what to say and what not to say; 
  • learning when to talk and when not to talk.”

Baby Sid #1 

Baby Sid came to play today. Squid as Baby Sid wears a babygrow and does the craziest things. He climbs on the table. He pours sand in his hair. He sucks pennies. He likes to be settled down in a cot with a bottle of warm milk. Most of all – Squid as Baby Sid doesn’t talk. Baby Sid comes to play most days after school. 

Fido the doggie also comes to play. Squid as Fido eats from the floor and walks on a leash. Squid as Fido also doesn’t talk. Sometimes we get a cat to visit. Squid as a cat likes to be stroked and drinks milk from a saucer. Squid as a cat also doesn’t talk. Cats don’t talk (of course).

They’re quite fun – but I don’t think you have to be a psychologist to observe how hard she must be working at her speech every day. 

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.