SaLT, EP & an Assembly

It has been a busy week at Bear HQ for meetings with professionals and thinking about Little Bear’s needs. On Wednesday we had our second session with his Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT); on Thursday Grizzly and I met with school and the Educational Psychologist (EP) and today Little Bear had an assembly and his first taste of public speaking. Each event has been thought provoking in its own way.

SaLT Session 2:

This week’s session consisted of further assessment and rapport building. The Therapist is continuing to impress me. This week she gave me the assessment findings from the previous week as she said she would. I find it is all very well professionals promising things but it is the actually doing them that earns brownie points.

The results are interesting, with scores ranging from the 5th to 75th percentiles. For those not familiar with percentiles, a score at the 5th percentile means that if you took 100 children the same age as Little Bear, he would score better than only 5 of them but at the 75th percentile, he is scoring better than ¾ of them. It is an unusual and atypical scoring profile. You would usually expect children to have a cluster of scores round about the same level across all of their skills. As all of these scores relate to his comprehension (understanding) of language it is even more unusual but nevertheless it is as I had expected for him.

Little Bear scored well on his understanding of basic concepts such as hot/cold, same/different, in/on/under. We have worked on these concepts so I would expect his knowledge to be fairly good. The longer or more complex an instruction became, the more difficult Little Bear found it to follow. Instructions containing more complex concepts such as before/after and ‘all except’ were also tricky for him. This fits with our feeling that he can understand a lot more than he used to but that we still need to simplify our language and that the more complex an idea is, the more repetition Little Bear needs.

His grasp of different sentence structures was at the lower end of the expected range and was impacted by his lack of awareness of pronouns.

Despite all that, the scores do also reflect positive progress as at first assessment (when he was seen briefly by a private provider in his pre-school) all his scores were at the 1st percentile. That shows me that his attention and ability to be assessed has improved as well as SaLT input having being effective. Working on language really does make measurable differences in performance. It will be  interesting to see how his scores change over time, especially now that he is having formal therapy alongside the things we do at home.

The Therapist gained more brownie points as she had evidently reflected on Little Bear since our last session. She had noted the unusual quality of his speech and had suspected his vowel sounds might be distorted. This is not a typical pattern of errors and is not a part of “normal development” i.e. most children make speech errors when they are first learning to speak. The errors usually follow a pattern e.g. back sounds such as ‘k’ are made at the front of the mouth instead sounding like ‘t’. This is an expected part of development and it usually rights itself as children develop. However, making vowel distortions is not a typical developmental process. In fact it is fairly rare and neither Little Bear’s Therapist nor myself have ever tackled it in therapy before. Little Bear’s Therapist could have pretended to me that she did know what to do and could have just made up some therapy as she went along. However, she identified that she needed to know more and discussed Little Bear with a colleague who specialises in hearing impairment and would be more knowledgeable about vowels. Consequently she now has a more targeted assessment that she is going to try next week. I find this honesty and seeking of support reassuring. It is important to know when you don’t know. In my view, it makes her more competent, not less. There is nothing worse than somebody who doesn’t know that they don’t know (“unconscious incompetence”) and just blunders on anyway.

The other thing this conversation did for me was provide me with relief that finally another professional (who isn’t me) has identified that Little Bear does not have run of the mill SaLT difficulties and that between his spiky language profile and his dodgy vowels, he does have a Speech and Language Disorder not a straightforward language delay. For any SaLT’s reading, she has not used the new terminology of “Developmental Language Disorder” yet, a term which I do think applies. It will be interesting to see whether she does as we go forwards.

Meeting the EP again

We first met the EP a few weeks ago when we had a consultation meeting. You can read about it here: Seeing the Educational Psychologist

Since then he has spent a morning in class with Little Bear. He observed and played with him and took him out of class for some formal assessment. His teacher told me on the day that Little Bear had been exceptionally well behaved and she wasn’t sure the EP would have seen all the things we had been worried about.

Interestingly the first point that he raised at our feedback meeting was that he had noted Little Bear playing well and interacting appropriately but mostly minding his own business. He had observed on a number of occasions that some of the other boys were quick to blame him for various things when in fact he hadn’t done anything wrong at all. We have had our suspicions about scapegoating and other children exploiting Little Bear’s difficulties with communication but it is different to have that confirmed by a neutral professional. Obviously it is completely wrong and worrying because nobody wants their child to be victimised. I am glad that school are aware of it but I do understand their difficulty in policing everything that happens as they can’t be everywhere or see everything. We shall be keeping a very close eye though.

In general, the EP was pleased with Little Bear’s social and play development. He had carried out some assessment and that showed Little Bear’s non-verbal (cognitive) scores to be around the 10th percentile (below average) and his verbal score to be around the 38th (within the average range). This result is completely at odds with my hunch which is that Little Bear has good cognitive skills and significantly poorer speech and language skills. I think there are a few reasons why it may have come out this way:

  • We have worked A LOT on language and Little Bear has made a lot of progress. We have probably worked on the types of activity that were used in the verbal assessment but not on the ones in the non-verbal bit so he was essentially more practised at the verbal one
  • The verbal assessment used won’t be as accurate as anything used by the SaLT
  • It is difficult to truly separate verbal and non-verbal abilities when so many activities intrinsically rely on language knowledge. The EP talked about picture matching activities such as bird with nest and dog with ? This type of task relies on a child’s knowledge of vocabulary and the meaning of words (semantics). It relies on them having good semantic links between words, something I suspect Little Bear doesn’t have. He does have a lot of words now but I suspect they are stored in a jumble, not nice and orderly and therefore it is hard for him to find the ones that should go together. I feel this says more about his language ability than his cognitive function.

Although the EP is lovely and I have found him very useful, this just highlighted to me how pernicious language difficulties are and how difficult it is to get even very educated professionals to truly understand the impact of them. I am so grateful that I finally have another SaLT on side who really does GET IT. I hope.

The rest of the meeting was taken up with reviewing the strategies already put in place. I was very pleased that school were able to give detailed feedback so are evidently using the strategies and they seem to be working well.

We also discussed transition to year 1. Thankfully Little Bear’s teacher is going to move up with him which assuages a lot of our concerns but it is the jump from EYFS provision to more formal learning that is worrying us all. Little Bear is certainly not ready to sit at a desk all day or to complete learning tasks independently. School are absolutely brilliant at providing him with the specific intervention he needs but we have all agreed to apply for funding in the hope that this will secure ALL the right things next year, when a TA in the classroom is not a given. Next week’s job will be completing all the paperwork…

Assembly:

During the Easter break we were tasked with helping Little Bear learn his words for today’s assembly. I was a bit concerned as only a couple of months ago, Little Bear struggled to hold 3 numbers in his auditory memory long enough to repeat them back to me. Learning words was not going to be easy for him. Yet today he stood up in front of the whole school and a load of parents, walked sensibly to the microphone and speaking loudly, without any sort of prompt, said all of his words: “Every day we are running or walking a mile and its keeping us fit and healthy”. I don’t think everyone understood what he was saying but I don’t care because it was a phenomenal achievement for him.

I have just picked him up from school and he has the dreaded take home book. I absentmindedly flicked through it when he handed it to me and was shocked to see pages of children’s handwriting. “Oh God, look at this” I said, waving it under my friend’s nose. “Don’t worry” he tried to reassure me “they’ve had that for a week”. I didn’t like to tell him that it wouldn’t matter how long we had it for, Little Bear still wouldn’t be able to write more than a copied or dictated very tiny sentence. It is SO hard not to compare and not to feel disheartened. However, I know that my gorgeous little dude is working as hard as he can with every fibre of his being and in his language disordered world, learning 16 words off by heart is incredible. Writing or no writing, he’s still incredible.

 

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SaLT, EP & an Assembly

Living with Speech and Language Difficulties

As I was driving Little Bear home from preschool today we had a very frustrating conversation. It went like this:

Little Bear: I want that one Mum

Me: That what?

LB: That button.

Me: Ok. Which button?

LB: That one (pointing)

Me: I can’t see matey.

LB: That one (pointing).

Me: I’m driving. I can’t see. Which one?

LB: THAT ONE!!!

Me: Try to use a word to tell me

LB: That button.

Me: (Trying a different approach) ok. Is it on the steering wheel?

LB: No.

Me: Is it the radio?

LB: Yes

I switch from CD to radio.

LB: Not that!!

Me: You didn’t mean the radio?

I switch back to CD.

LB: I want that one.

Me: That what?

LB: That button (pointing)

Me: (Trying not to sound annoyed) we’re nearly home. When we stop you can show me.

It was the skip button. He wanted a different track on the CD.

It’s very frustrating because he knows what he means; he just really struggles to find the right words to explain himself. I think in this case he was struggling to understand why I couldn’t just look at where he was pointing (I had sneaked a peak but there are a lot of buttons in a car, all in a very similar place) and why I didn’t just know by the powers of telepathy.

Sometimes, Little Bear does know the word he needs but I still struggle to understand him because his speech is unclear too. The evening before the CD incident, we had experienced one such struggle. My brother and I had picked Little Bear up and he was very excitedly trying to tell us what he had been up to. “I find dasha” he said. “You found a dinosaur?” “no, da sha” “erm, dancer? Dasher?” “DA SHA!”. I’m not sure how many times he repeated it. In the end I had to say that my ears weren’t working properly and then e-mail his keyworker to try to get to the bottom of it.

Treasure! The word was “treasure”. As soon as we had figured it out it was obvious. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t clicked at the time. The trouble is that in the early days, Little Bear had so few words that I knew exactly how each one sounded. Once I had tuned in, I could understand probably 95% of what he said. However, since then, he has had such an exponential growth in his vocabulary that it’s impossible to keep up. His longer sentences and myriad of words mean that his speech sound difficulties have become more apparent. Consequently I can now probably only decipher 80 to 85% of what he tries to say, bless him.

I must clarify that last paragraph though because obviously the improvement in his language is a good thing. Back at the start of life with Little Bear I had a few shock moments when I realised how profound Little Bear’s lack of life experience was and what a huge impact this had had on his language development. At 3 and a half years old, even with a recognised language delay, I still expected him to know basic vocabulary e.g. cow. But he didn’t. We saw a cow and he said “horse”. We saw a horse and he said “horse”. We had to teach him that they were two different animals with different names. We talked about a cow making milk. It was quite a revelation for him. We saw a train and he said “bus”. Every vehicle on the building site was a “digger”. I looked back to when Big Bear was a similar age and could reel off “dumper truck”, “bale fork”, “roller”, “teleporter” and I saw a word mountain towering in front of Little Bear.

The mountain wasn’t just made of nouns but verbs, concept words (big, same, hot etc), connectives, pronouns. And not just words on their own but words waiting expectantly to be ordered into sentences, preferably with some consideration for grammar. It was a big mountain.

Well, Little Bear would have said it was “bik” and he didn’t know “mountain”. In those days, everything was bik. “Bik” could mean “I want A LOT of ketchup” or “I want my water pistol FULL” or “that water is DEEP” or HUGE or MASSIVE or TALL. But Little Bear only had the one word for size or quantity so “bik” it was. “Bik” shows me how Little Bear has scaled that forbidding mountain, how he has clawed his way up it against all odds. “Bik” has gone now, replaced with its correct counterpart “big” and all the words in capitals are now part of Little Bear’s every day vocabulary.

Back when we were still in the foothills of vocabulary mountain, I found it hard to tell whether we were making progress or not. People would say “isn’t his language coming on?” and I would say “is it?!” and feel mildly ridiculous that as a Speech and Language Therapist I wasn’t a bit clearer about this. However, after a while it was patently obvious that we were climbing fairly rapidly upwards. Sometimes I’d leave him for a couple of hours (with grandparents or at preschool) and feel as though he had more language when I came back than I had left him with. The length of his sentences is increasing all the time, he is continuing to grow his vocabulary and I can see signs of change in his speech.

However, the mountain we are scaling is massive and as the CD example shows, there is some way to go yet. Amongst other things, we need to work on auditory memory. Like many children with Speech and Language Difficulties, Little Bear is much quicker to learn through his visual channel than any other way. He has a good sense of direction; he can remember where he has seen items so is good at finding things; he can learn a visual sequence e.g. the I pad code; he can solve visual problems e.g. how to open a lock. In comparison, his auditory skills are much weaker. It’s not really a surprise seeing as though less than a year ago he wasn’t really tuned in to language at all. He wasn’t used to paying attention or listening to the spoken word. Consequently his comprehension of language is also delayed. We have always needed to simplify instructions and be prepared to repeat them again and again to give Little Bear chance to process them. He has made enormous progress with this too but I am becoming aware that his auditory memory is not really providing him with the support it should. Auditory memory is meant to be a kind of holding pen for words that come into your brain from your ears. It should sit the words down on a virtual bench, all in the right order and keep them there for a few seconds until other parts of the brain have had chance to make sense of them. Little Bear’s bench is a bit wonky though, maybe it has a leg or two missing and the words can’t sit on it. They keep falling off before he’s had chance to figure them out and some of the words probably don’t even make it onto the bench at all. Repetition is crucial for him: it maximises the chances of the words getting onto the bench.

I think Little Bear’s difficulties with learning to count could be due to this faulty auditory bench. He has learned a few number names but he just can’t hold them on his bench for long enough or in the correct order to be able to retain the sequence.

Luckily, auditory memory is a bit like a muscle and can get stronger with exercise. This strengthening is hanging above us on the language mountain.

We also need to work on Little Bear’s sound awareness system. He finds longer words a bit tricky and misses syllables out so that “guitar” and “car” end up sounding the same. He needs to begin to understand that words start with different sounds. He needs to learn to make a “l” sound and that sharp and map end with ‘p’, not ‘k’ or ‘t’. He needs to learn that some sounds are noisy and some are quiet. He needs to learn how to say his name so that people can understand it. He needs to learn that “4” is not the answer to “what’s your name?”. That answer goes with “how old are you?”. “How old are you?” is not the same as “how are you?”.

It’s a big mountain.

Most of all, we want him to be able to express all of those thoughts and ideas and wishes that are currently held captive in his brain. We know they are there, clamouring to get out but the exits are currently blocked by inadequate language skills. It is upsetting to see him get frustrated and to try to chat with his peers but often fail at this because they cannot understand him.

We continue to scale the sheer rock faces though – so far there has thankfully been no plateau to wait around on. I cannot help but turn every activity into a language learning opportunity and I’m probably modelling words in my sleep! It’s a big mountain but we will reach the top. One day.

 

 

If you have any concerns about your child’s communication skills, or want to know more about the role of the Speech and Language Therapist, check out my Guide to Speech and Language Therapy on the Adoption Social: http://theadoptionsocial.com/blogless-blogging/speech-and-language-therapy-a-guide/

 

Living with Speech and Language Difficulties