Tag Archives: language & communication

Autism Awareness Month: Parenting a Child on the Autistic Spectrum # Story 2 : The Simpson Family–A Single Parent’s Perspective

autism awareness monthThe Simpson family are Leanne, Chloe (age 6) and Robert (age 3). Leanne separated from the children’s father before Robert was born. Robert received a diagnosis of autism when he was 2 years 4 months. The main concerns at this time were communication and social interaction. Leanne also felt that she needed a lot of information because she knew very little about autism. Robert attended pre-school for 5 mornings per week supported by a tutor, a tutor also visited at home.

Causes of Stress

Leanne felt that parenting a child with ASD wasn’t significantly more stressful than parenting any other child but different things caused her stress. The knowledge that he would always be autistic in particular changed the way she thought about things.  Once she knew that he was autistic she felt unable to allow him to be content to do his own thing, there was pressure  to ‘get him to do things’ so that he would reach his full potential’.

  1. Smearing

Robert as a very tactile child  often sought sensory stimulation, including tickling, walking on bricks and exploring paint, water and sand with his hands. Often, when he had dirtied his nappy he would play with the contents and smear it over the room. This usually only occurred when he was on his own. At night Robert wore an all in one pyjama suit with the fastenings sewn together so that he couldn’t  get his hands in his nappy. This worked well,  and Robert stopped smearing every night. Leanne felt that bathing him after an incident was offering him a reward because he enjoyed baths. Leanne avoided  this and instead made minimal fuss and put Robert in the shower (which he disliked).

The most stressful aspect of this behaviour was that it had to be dealt with alone. Leanne felt that school would help with other things, like communication but this was primarily a home problem.

2. Communication

On the whole the most stressful aspect of parenting a child with ASD was communication.

“Smearing is the most stressful thing day by day but communication is the most stressful thing on the whole”

Robert’s inability to communicate was less stressful than his inability to understand. It was often possible to guess what Robert wanted or offer alternatives.

Robert’s communication improved significantly since his home tutor first became involved. Initially Robert’s only form of communication was to push Leanne towards desired objects.   A picture exchange system (PECS) was introduced to enable Robert to exchange a picture for a desired object. Initially this was very difficult for Robert to grasp and although he was able to pass one card to an adult he could not make a choice between 2 or more. Eventually Leanne discovered that he was interested in fridge magnets, the pictures were mounted on magnetic strips and placed on the fridge. Desired objects were placed out of Robert’s reach and each time he would reach for something Leanne would ask ‘What does Robert want?’ whilst signalling to the pictures. Robert quickly learned to pass the correct picture spontaneously. Robert developed a wide range of vocal sounds and used some words in context including ‘go’ and ‘again’.

3. Going to Public Places

There were 2 difficulties when taking Robert to public places: –

  1. Throwing himself on the floor and refusing to walk .
  2. Grabbing things from shop shelves.

Robert had a large pushchair that was generally used when Robert went out. This enabled Leanne to visit a variety of places that would not otherwise be possible. However, Leanne was anxious that as he got older it would be less appropriate to take him out in a pushchair. When Robert was expected to walk even short distances (e.g. from the car to his sister’s school) he would drop to the floor and refuse to move. Leanne’s main strategy for dealing with this was to walk away and wave good-bye, Robert usually responded by following. When this didn’t work Leanne tried to make it into a game. Robert enjoyed playing ready, steady go games and running on the word ‘go’. The game was used to encourage him to walk.

4. Impact on Siblings

Chloe was old enough to be aware that Robert was autistic but Leanne found  it difficult to explain things to her in a comprehensive manner,

“Only the other day she said ‘if I was autistic Robert wouldn’t be’, which is quite hard.”

As a single parent it was also difficult to go to places that Chloe would like to visit. Leanne found it difficult to cater for both of their needs.

5. Diagnosis

The diagnostic process in itself was not stressful but Leanne felt that her health visitor/doctor did not prepare her for a diagnosis of autism,

“When they were asking me questions that I know now was to do with autism, nobody mentioned to me at all; it could be this, which meant that when I did go to the paediatrician and they said it probably was autism it shocked me”.

Leanne would have liked to have been prepared for the possibility so that she could have found more information.

6. Nursery and Schooling

Finding the right nursery place for Robert was stressful for Leanne. Robert was offered a place at a specialist nursery from September but in the meantime Leanne felt it would be valuable to attend a local pre-school to see how he would interact with other children. Many of the pre-schools she visited didn’t feel right, as it seemed they had no experience of autism and were less than enthusiastic about taking him. On the contrary Hawthorn’s pre-school had experience of autism and appeared very flexible in their approach.

After a few weeks at the pre-school Leanne became worried because nursery workers gave comments that they were unhappy about Robert attending without a support worker,

“Hawthorn’s was a complete nightmare that really did stress me out…knowing what I do now I wouldn’t have put him in that school”.

With time and negotiation Leanne felt more comfortable about Hawthorn’s but feels that it was an unnecessary burden.

Leanne was also worried about choosing the right school for Robert; she felt that ultimately it was her decision but that it was a huge weight on her shoulders,

“If you get the right school and the right help then wherever he goes in life that will help him get to the highest potential, because that will be the majority of his learning.”

Coping Strategies and Support

1. Professional Support and Information

The Support Leanne had from professionals was particularly valuable, the most notable of these being his home tutor and the Early Bird course. These helped share information about autism and suggested strategies for dealing with problem behaviour.

Leanne had a particularly good experience with her Early Bird group. The group of parent’s bonded particularly well and they continued to support one another and meet socially both with and without their children.

The most important contribution from the home tutor was the introduction of PECS. Leanne felt that she needed to be taught from scratch how to communicate with Robert and the regular contact with the tutor helped. They also helped Leanne to see what Robert was capable of,

“Before I used to say he is never going to do that, it’s taught me not to think that way”

Having someone to talk to on a regular basis, particularly someone with knowledge of autism and experience with other children was invaluable. The flexibility of the early intervention programme and informal relationship with the tutor meant that there was no pressure,

“You feel like you aren’t on your own”.

2. Support from Friends

Leanne’s close friend Helen had a child slightly older than Robert who was also autistic. They spent a lot of time together both with and without the children. Leanne often telephoned Helen when she was having a particularly stressful time. Helen had first hand experience of autism and the practical advice she gave was refreshing,

“I don’t want to hear ‘aah’, I want to hear ‘yes I’ve been through that as well’ ”.

A Wish List for the Future

Leanne would like to continue having someone help her develop strategies for dealing with Robert’s behaviour.

If Leanne could have any additional help the most useful thing would be to have a regular break.  Someone looking after the children for one night per week would give Leanne something to look forward to.  It would be important that she could trust the person caring for her children, being sure they were safe would help her relax.  Leanne felt  support of this kind was lacking, her parent’s would baby-sit but never have the children overnight.

“ If you don’t have anything to look forward to it is a constant thing. If you’re having a bad week, which you do, and your child’s having a bad week as well you can see no end to it.”

As a single parent this is particularly important. Single parents are more likely to require  respite care and support from other families.

Story 1 : Taking Time off Work Story 3: The Step Parent’s Perspective

Disclaimer: all names are pseudonyms.

Traditional Childrens’ Parties Promote Communication Skills.

Many of us provide elaborate parties for children under the age of 5 and then find that they are happy just ‘playing’.  I’ve adapted my parties over the years. I found that before the age of 3 my children were happy to have one or 2 friends visit to play games and eat cake. Even when they were a little older they mostly enjoyed a few crafts, games and dancing.

According to a recent study by I CAN the communication charity, my children are not unusual. In a survey of 1500 parents they found that the top 5 party pursuits for under-5’s were:-

  1. Dancing games like Musical Chairs, Musical Statues and Musical Bumps
  2. Party games like Pass the Parcel and Pin the Tail on the Donkey
  3. Playing outdoors with other children
  4. Eating party food
  5. Singing and rhyming  games like the Hokey Cokey and Row, Row, Row Your Boat

I CAN Communication Advisor, Kate Freeman said “The top five activities all involve communicating and socialising with their friends – from pass the parcel, which boosts turn-taking and listening skills to singing and rhyming games like the Hokey Cokey. This type of activity enhances children’s understanding of the structure and meaning of language – and there is no better environment for a child to develop their confidence than with a group of friends and adults in a relaxed and fun setting like a party”. Furthermore, mealtimes and snack times are a fantastic opportunity for young children to continue to develop communication skills.

Fun games to play at parties to develop children’s communication skills include:

  • Singing and rhyming songs – a great way to help children learn vocabulary and have fun making music together
  • Playing clapping games (Pat-a-Cake) –  to help children to develop their coordination, control and movement as well as learning vocabulary and social skills
  • Word Games (Simon Says and I Spy)  – to help to develop children’s vocabulary about the world around them and to listen to instructions  (These games can be adapted to easier versions for younger children)
  • Turn taking games (Pass the Parcel) – to help children to learn when to talk and when to listen
  • Games like musical statues to encourage children to listen carefully.   Listening skills can be developed further by saying ‘Stop’ in a quiet voice instead of pausing the music.
  • Imaginative play like toys’ tea parties  help children to expand their language.

When I was teaching in nurseries we often used to play ‘ring games’ like ‘Farmers in the Den’ and ‘Hokey Cokey’ if we had bad weather and it was difficult for the children to play outside. They were always a firm favourite.  The children also loved playing picnics or tea parties.

I CAN is inviting nurseries, pre-schools, childminders or community groups to take part in their annual fun and educational event . This year I CAN is partnering with Entertainment One to make its pre-school character Humf the brand ambassador. The 2013 Chatterbox Challenge: Mad Chatter’s Tea Party with Humf  asks groups to organise sponsored tea parties where children can join in with popular songs and rhymes to develop their communication skills in an enjoyable way. I organised an event years ago with my pre-school music group. We learned  new songs and the children were awarded stickers and certificates for their achievements.

The singing and rhyming activities for the 2013 Chatterbox Challenge: Mad Chatter’s Tea Party with Humf have been developed by I CAN speech and language therapists and teachers. Lesson plans, which include Humf and his friends in the activities and illustrations, link to key aspects of the new Early Years Foundation Stage including Communication and Language, Physical Development, and Personal, Social and Emotional Development. All the activities are aimed at supporting and developing children’s speech and language skills.

Being involved with the Chatterbox Challenge: Mad Chatter’s Tea Party with Humf encourages children to think about communication, whilst helping support those who find talking and understanding difficult.

Chatterbox Challenge week is 1st – 8th March 2013 and most groups will be holding their Tea Party with Humf during this week, though groups can actually take part at any time during 2013.

To register and get involved in this year’s Chatterbox Challenge: Mad Chatter’s Tea Party with Humf, go to www.chatterboxchallenge.org.uk

Activities to Build Children’s Language Development from Ages 3-5.

A few years ago I ran training sessions for early educators and parents on communication, language and literacy. Many of the resources we recommended, including the excellent dvd Chatter Matters, came from the Communication charity I CAN. One of the key messages of this training was that ‘reading and writing float on a sea of talk.’

Kate Freeman, I CAN Communication Advisor and experienced paediatric speech and language therapist says:

Given the right support, many children learn to talk without too much effort. There’s a golden age for learning to talk – this is before 5½ and so skills learnt at this age bring great benefits later on. Evidence has shown the early years to be a vital time for supporting all children’s communication, as well as a time to identify any difficulties and put support in place to improve a child’s overall life chances.

I was very excited to review I CAN’s latest resource Chatting with Children.  This is a really nicely presented set of 30 cards with activities for promoting speaking and understanding for children aged 3-5. The activities are simple and require no specialist resources. Some are copying or guessing games of the kind we often play in the car, some require household objects and a couple that I played with my 4-year -old and 2-year-old  used our musical instruments box . These games would be great for including in my music groups.

Each card has ideas for making the activity easier if your child is struggling or more challenging if it is too simple. The activities are equally suitable for large groups or one child. They are a great resource for families and could provide a wealth of ideas for small group times at pre-school. Many of the cards remind me of games I played with the autistic children I worked with, helping them extend their vocabulary and comprehension and categorise language. These cards would have been an invaluable resource for these families.

The cards focus on a number of skills, listening, developing vocabulary, social skills and understanding what is said. The games are varied  and can be played for a few minutes or half an hour or more.listening games My 4-year-old loved the listening games, playing hide and seek with our timer and listening carefully for the soft tick to help us find it and making sounds with household objects and guessing what they might be.

Chatting with Children is also available as part of a brand new boxset being launched this month by I CAN – the Early Talkers Boxset (£19.99). The boxset contains the original Babbling Babies and Toddler Talk as well as the new Chatting with Children, and has been created especially for parents and Early Years practitioners supporting babies, toddlers and young children in learning to talk.

The three packs between them, contain activities for children from birth to school age. I  was so impressed that I am going to order the box set for my brother to play with his one year old twins.

Chatting with Children is available in paperback for £7.99 paperback and hardback for £12.99 .

All proceeds go towards I CAN’s work with the 1.2 million children in the UK who have long-term speech, language and communication difficulties. To purchase Chatting with Children or the Early Talkers Boxset comprising all three activity card sets visit http://www.ican.org.uk .


This is not a sponsored post, a copy of chatting with children was received for review purposes

Kate’s Top Tips for Chatting with Children aged 3-5 years old

Be quiet Take time to talk to each other in a quiet room. Turn off the TV and radio, and shut the door to block out any other background noises. Children have to learn to block out background noises, so they need a quiet environment to focus on the sounds they hear.

Be face-to-face Help young children to see your face – make sure you’re at the same level as them. Sit or crouch opposite them as they play, or sit them on your lap. Sit opposite the child so you’re face-to-face with them. Being face-to-face means that the child can see you and your facial expressions. Also, you can see them and their responses and reactions to the games you play together or the conversations you are having.

Don’t rush – take plenty of time Young children take longer than adults to process what they hear – sometimes up to 12 seconds. They need plenty of time to respond to you.

Be patient Young children can easily lose interest in what you’re doing – this is perfectly normal, especially for 3-year-olds. Don’t worry – just stop the game that you’re playing together and try again another time.

Be prepared for anything Follow the child’s lead and adapt the game or conversation to fit in with what they’re doing. This can help maintain attention on particular games.

Ditch the dummy A dummy gets in the way of attempts to talk during conversations and games. Children of 3 and over don’t need to use a dummy.

Use the language you naturally use at home It’s important that you speak naturally to young children; this helps develop their language skills.

Enjoy it This is a special time together, so have fun playing, chatting and learning about each other.