Moving beyond ‘Eye Contact’

Eye Contact – What do we mean by this term and is it ever appropriate to work on?

The term ‘eye contact’ is often referred to as an important skill that children must acquire on their way to becoming social participants in interactions.

‘Demonstrates appropriate eye contact’ often appears on child developmental checklists.

A lack of ‘eye contact’ has been also sometimes been associated with a range of developmental difficulties and differences including Autism Spectrum Disorder.

So what do we mean by the term ‘Eye Contact’ and what does ‘Demonstrating appropriate eye contact’ look like?

Let’s pause for a moment to consider how we use our eyes to help make sense of social situations.

We look at our conversational partner’s face to gauge information about their emotions, topic of interest and for hints of when it might be our turn to contribute to the conversation.

Much can be learned from noticing a partners’ facial expressions and, by following our partner’s eye gaze, we might better understand and tune into what they want to share with us.

Often our eye gaze will shift from our conversational partner, to an item of joint interest and back to our partner again.

Many of us feel slightly comfortable when staring intently into our conversational partner’s eyes for any length of time and the experience for our conversational partner when we do so can be equally awkward!

Eye Contact should perhaps be re-phrased to mean ‘thinking with your eyes’!

Here are a few reasons why:

 

Instead of teaching our children to ‘look at us when we or they speak’, we might try encouraging our children to notice what is visually meaningful or of significance to the particular joint situation we find ourselves in.

We can encourage our children to look more often and tune into what is important.

We can also provide our children with a warning signal that it will very soon be time to ‘tune in’ to a conversational partner.  Saying your child’s name to seek their attention is a good way to do so and, even more so, if you are within your child’s visual field when you state their name.

Say your child’s name.

WAIT for your child to look in your direction.

THEN provide the instruction, make the comment or start the conversation.

Encouraging your child to notice what is visually important in the environment will also help to prompt your child to understand what is expected of him or her. For example, instead of saying “Oh! You are sitting on the puzzle pieces.  Move away so we can finish the puzzle”….try…. “Oh…your body is on top of the pieces” and WAIT for your child to LOOK and then use this new visual information to solve the problem independently.

This tiny little tweak in how we interact with our children helps them to better understand what they see and to use this information to develop social, conversational and behavioural skills.

My child really does struggle to direct any eye contact towards me!

Some children really do find any eye contact (even very fleeting eye contact) emotionally dysregulating.

It is important […]

2024-04-28T07:33:41+00:00

Screen Time and Toddlers

The Average Australian Toddler spends 2-3 hours engaging in screen time each day

Did anyone see this rather startling headline in last week’s news bulletins?

At the outset it certainly makes you sit up and take notice.

The results of a long term, large scale study of Australian toddlers linked screen time to toddlers being exposed to 194 fewer conversations or missing out on hearing more than 1000 words spoken by adults each day.

The study then went on to say that, for every extra minute of screen time, our 3 year olds were hearing 7 fewer words and speaking 5 fewer words.

Yes, this finding needs to be acknowledged and, most definitely, addressed if we are to provide our children with the best start in life but let’s not use this as evidence to prove ‘all screen time is damaging’ or to make carers and parents feel guilty for allowing or even encouraging their young children to engage with screens.

Let’s use this information in the following ways:

Create Language Rich Environments for our Children

We know that being exposed to a language rich environment is critical in supporting the development of language in the early years.  Early language development predicts outcomes for children in later life including academic, social and emotional outcomes.

Screens are here to stay so, instead of demonising them, let’s accept that fact and really make efforts to engage our children in language opportunities that boost vocabulary development, engagement in back and forth interactions and play.  We can do this at times where screens are out of sight and out of mind.

The simple act of adults also putting away their screens (phones, laptops and televisions) and consciously following the lead of their child’s interests, getting down to their child’s level and playing will also work wonders in setting children on a path of language development.

Make conversation, story time and play with your child a daily habit and think about how you model the use of screens in your own life! Language rich environments and screens can live harmoniously side by side but we need to make a concerted effort for that to happen.

Remember that no programme, App or youtube channel has as much value when it comes to language development as YOU!

Children rely on the adults in their lives to provide opportunities for back and forth interactions, communication of new words and thoughts that match a child’s interests and children look to use for cues about what new words might mean.

There is no digital programme out there that can tune into your child’s interests as well as you nor is there an App that can provide true interactive experiences with another human in that way that you can!

Our young children are sponges!

Children don’t have ‘off’ waking hours when it comes to their potential to learn.  They are constantly absorbing new words and meanings as long as they are awake. Engage your child in conversation to stimulate this learning during your everyday routines, play and during car trips.  This […]

2024-03-20T06:28:12+00:00

Settling into a New School Year

Transitions can be tricky for many of us.  Starting a new school year can be a particularly challenging time for many children.

After a lovely summer holiday in Australia, children are now well and truly into Term 1.  Most have settled in well but several may still be struggling to make a successful transition.  Here are few ideas for you to consider if this sounds like your child, a child you care for or perhaps a child in your classroom.

Acknowledge your child’s emotions

We all appreciate being heard and understood.  It is really important that you firstly accept and acknowledge your child’s emotions and try to see the challenge of starting or going back to school through your child’s eyes.

Label these emotions…give the emotions words to start helping your child to process what they are feeling.

For children who are very young or who have challenges such as Autism or Language Disorders, you might also need to ‘SHOW’ your child the emotion using your facial expressions and tone of voice very clearly.

Pausing to reflect and acknowledge what our child is feeling offers far more support than expecting our child to ‘get over it!’  Yes, school is a few weeks in now but transitions can take weeks and sometimes even months for some children.  Don’t try to rush them through.  Instead, support your child where he or she is at by providing an understanding and accepting response.

Create Positive Memories

Children learn when they are regulated, comfortable and secure.  If your child is working with an Occupational Therapist, encourage your child’s teacher to work closely with you and the OT to develop a regulation plan to support your child especially during those tricky transition periods to and from school each day.  If something has worked in the past, don’t hesitate to bring back that specific strategy and use it again. We often need to revisit strategies from time to time that we thought we would no longer need.

Help your child’s teacher to understand and read your child’s specific signs of dysregulation and work together to create a plan to support your child.

Ensure your child gets plenty of physical movement, fun and ‘down time’ when at home if at all possible over the next few weeks to allow their body systems to adjust to the new daily routine and expectations.  It is also important for these moments to be infused throughout the school day if at all possible.

Remember that many of our children learn and understand best when they ‘see’ as well as ‘hear’ what it is you have to say.  Instead of relying upon verbally explaining changes, routines and expectations only using spoken words; maybe use social stories with lots of photos and visual schedules to assist your child to understand and then eventually feel more relaxed about.

Finally, all of our children benefit from the adults in their lives being reliable and trusting.  When a child trusts you, they feel safe and you can’t regulate your emotions unless you have […]

2024-02-12T03:10:32+00:00

The Opposite of Anxiety is not Calm

We all face stressors in our lives.

Some of us are lucky enough to be equipped with a well-developed prefrontal cortex which can support us in managing or regulating our emotional responses to these stressors.

Young children require the assistance and support of trusted adults in their lives at times when their emotions are in overdrive.

Children do not have well developed areas of their brain that allow them to reason, problem solve and reflect upon their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

As the school holidays are now here in Australia, it is timely to remind ourselves that many children but particularly those with Autism are vulnerable to increased stress and anxiety when faced with

Uncertainty or a lack of Predictability.

 

The school holidays involve much uncertainty.  Routines are changed as are environments, people and food.  Large family and other gatherings take place.

Whilst most of us enjoy a holiday…Not many of us enjoy uncertainty or a lack of predictability in our lives.

Young children who are yet to fully develop their reasoning and emotional regulatory abilities are more vulnerable than adults to feeling stressed by a lack of certainty and predictability in their lives.  They may respond well however to trusted adults in their lives supporting them during these moments.

The key word in that last sentence = TRUST.

Let’s remind ourselves that children who are autistic are at particular risk of experiencing stress and overwhelm when their world feels uncertain.   They can be left in a state of hyper-caution.

In order to feel emotionally well regulated, one most first feel trust and safety.  It can be so difficult for children to develop trust in people, activities and experiences when they are in a state of confusion and hyper-vigilance.

At these times, when we observe children to be shutting down, melting down, or engaging in repetitive behaviours, we do well to first chase the ‘why’ ….

Why is the child behaving in this way?  What emotion might be driving the behaviour we are seeing the child exhibit.  What triggers might be causing that emotion to arise? What can we do that will best support the child in this moment?

By taking that moment to reflect before we respond, we can better understand where a child’s behaviour is truly coming from. Then we can respond in a manner that supports the child to feel safe.

Our children will only respond to our efforts to support them if they trust us.

 

Barry Prizant (Speech Language Pathologist and author of my favourite text on ASD ‘Uniquely Human’) https://barryprizant.com/uniquely-human/provides some terrific tips that I often refer to.   I have summarised them for you below from an old article her penned for the Autism Spectrum Quarterly (2009).  Still as helpful today as it was then.  I hope these tips help you, a family friend or a colleague to better understand and support our children who face challenges associated with Autism:

Acknowledge Communicative Attempts

A core element of a trusting relationship is the feeling that others ‘hear’ or ‘get’ you.  It can sometimes be tricky to decipher the non-conventional […]

2023-12-16T05:34:52+00:00

Helping Children with ASD learn to greet others

Another Lesson Learned from Abroad

Children with ASD often have difficulty in interacting with others.  They can find playing with other children quite challenging for a variety of reasons and participation in exchanges that go back and forth across multiple turns can be difficult.

Greetings are often the first step in those back and forth exchanges.  All children but particularly those with ASD may really benefit from our support to learn this skill; a skill that so many of us take for granted.

Teaching children how, when and why to greet different communication partners can be the first step to help them develop more meaningful relationships with others.

Many of us with offer a friendly ‘hello’ as the first step in many of our interactions with others.  It may be a nod of the head, a raised hand, or a smile as you pass someone on the street or in the hallway at work.  It may be a more formal ‘Good afternoon…how are you’ as you greet a client in your waiting room or a ‘Hello….XXX speaking’ as you answer a phonecall.  Your greeting may be an informal ‘Hey…how are you?’ going to a friend or colleague.   Each generation seems to have different social rules and expectations around how to greet.

Yes, the ‘simple’ act of greeting is not so simple at all!

  1. How does your child with ASD communicate?

Let’s start from a strengths base.

Is your child able to use spoken words?

Can your child use eye contact to communicate his or her interests?

Can your child use gestures or key word signs?

Does your child use an AAC device to communicate with others?

  1. Is your child greeting others?  

If so, who does your child greet?

When does your child greet people?

If not, who is your child most familiar with?  Who does your child show a strong emotional connection to?  What people in your child’s environment does he or she appear to be comfortable around?

3.  What will I encourage my child to do and/or say to greet others?

We have identified how your child communicates?

If you are now wanting to encourage your child to start greeting others with greater success and frequency, start by modelling for them how you want them to do so.  Make sure you choose a method and style of communication that is within your child’s toolbox.  For example, if your child uses an AAC device, you can model how to use this device to say hello to people.  Your child will watch and learn.  If your child can use gestures, you can model how to wave and smile at people you greet.  If your child can use spoken words, you can model how to wave and say ‘hello’.  If your child prefers to give a High 5, then this is what you can model!

Choose moments and people when your child is well regulated emotionally.  We want your child to feel good at these moments so that they associate greetings with moments of positivity and human connection.

Don’t pressure your child to […]

2023-11-06T00:45:14+00:00

Roaring Fun: Extending Dinosaur Playtimes

Does your child love playing with toy Dinosaurs but the play doesn’t seem to be moving beyond ‘roar’?

The benefits of imaginative play and the clear links between this type of play and early language development are well documented.  So many of our children love playing with toy animals and dinosaurs seem to be a crowd favourite in our clinics at the moment.

Imaginative play goes far beyond simply portraying dinosaurs as fierce creatures in battle yet many of our children seem to get ‘stuck’ on this type of play when playing with these toy creatures.

By modelling some new ways of playing with dinosaurs, we can encourage our children to  develop their play skills, learn important emotional regulation skills, interact cooperatively with their playmates and develop language abilities.

Here are some alternative ideas that you may not have yet considered that promote cooperative play, empathy, and creative problem-solving.  If your child continues to prefer the theme of rough, fierce play with dinosaurs…..don’t despair.  We have ideas for you to use that will involve both following your child’s lead and extending his or her language skills as you do!

Dino Family time

Encourage your child to re-enact familiar routines with their toy dinosaurs.  Instead of requesting that your child follow your spoken instructions, you are likely to have far more success if you model this type of play alongside your child with your own dinosaur.  Try involving your dinosaur in taking a bath, going for a walk,  dancing to music, getting dressed with some dolls clothes, getting ready for bed, eating a meal, having a tea party etc…  The possibilities are endless and help your child to consolidate their comprehension of the steps involved in the routines that are already part of their everyday activities.

Dinosaur Superheroes

Why not combine two different types of ‘popular’ play for young children by having dinosaurs become stuck (in a box, in a muddy bog, at the top of a tree, on a rooftop, in a deep valley)… Each of these imaginary places can be easily created with a bit of imagination.  The deep valley can involve a dinosaur being stuck in the crevices of a large bean bag.  The muddy bog might be plush carpet and the top of a tree might be your bench top!  Have fun calling out out for help and labelling emotions such as feeling brave, worried, frightened, scared, worried, relieved, grateful. It is never to early to start exposing your child to these words that label our emotions.  Problem solving skills can also be explored when you both work out how the dinosaur is to be rescued.

Family Adventures

Once your child has noticed and is becoming interested in these new ways of playing with the dinosaurs, you can assign different family roles to different dinosaurs.  The family of dinosaurs might go to the beach, play at the park, get on a bus, do the shopping etc…  Have fun using different props to extend your play.  Remember to keep following your child’s lead.  […]

2023-07-31T21:02:32+00:00

When on a WAITING LIST for Speech Pathology….What you can do!

Have you been told that the WAITING TIME for your child to see a Speech Pathologist is lengthy?

Unfortunately the demand for Speech Pathology services continues to far exceed the demand in many parts of Australia.  You are not alone.

All over this country there are children of all ages waiting far too long for the support they need to develop speech, language and communication skills.

We all know that Early Identification and Early Intervention are both crucial if we are to help our children reach their potential.

So

….you can either throw your hands in the air and sit and wait

Or

….think outside the square and choose to be proactive in this waiting phase

This problem requires a few creative solutions but there is no reason why your child, a child you educate or care for cannot access support immediately.

Here are some ideas that you may have not yet considered:

Speech Pathologists are not the only professionals who can help your child!

Yes, that’s correct.  Everyone has a role in nurturing the speech, language and communication skills of children.

Start by building your own knowledge and skills around all things child communication by keeping an eye out on our Facebook and Instagram social media channels.

Take a deep dive into our WEBSITE where we share checklists, access to free texts as well as a weekly Chatterbox blog covering a wide range of topics.

Many speech pathology and allied health practices such as ours are employing and training non- Speech Pathologists with backgrounds in early childhood, education or disability to become Speech Pathology Therapy Assistants.  As Therapy Assistants come from a wide variety of backgrounds, it can often be easier to recruit them than qualified Speech Pathologists.  Therapy Assistants can deliver programmes to clients that are deemed suitable for such a service with close Speech Pathology supervision.

If your child or a child you educate is waiting for Speech Pathology, it may be worth asking

‘Does your practice provide a Therapy Assistant service?’.

If so, this might be an option whilst your child is waiting for a Speech Pathologist!

Many young children under the age of 7 who are eligible for NDIS funding have  Key Workers who are early childhood intervention specialists.  If your child has a Key Worker but is still waiting for a Speech Pathologist, encourage your Key Worker to Contact Us us to discuss the possibility of some

Face to Face or Zoom Coaching

to build valuable knowledge, skills and confidence to support your child’s speech, language and communication skills during this interim period.

We now provide a range of tailored Professional Development packages to meet the needs of Parent Groups, Key Workers, Early Childhood Educators and Disability Support Workers.

We just love it when we get contacted to discuss collaborating to help more children.

Consider Tele-Practice

Whilst most families prefer Face-to-Face Speech Pathology services, there are several who decide to embrace  Tele-Practice once they have given it a try.

Tele-Practice can provides a great start whilst children are waiting for a Face to Face Speech Pathology appointment.  At Learn2Communicate as well as in many […]

2023-07-15T06:26:00+00:00

When children just don’t seem interested in communicating with us

Many children who struggle with communication find it challenging to respond to the topics, questions and interests of others.

The more we try to seek their engagement, the more it seems they try to disengage from us.  Some children will dip further and further into their own interests, topics and scripts.  Others will turn away from us and seemingly ignore or not even seem to hear our attempts to engage them in conversation.  Other will find our constant efforts quite dysregulating and may either shut down or exhibit challenging behaviours.  What to do when your child or a child you educate struggles to engage in back and forth conversation or interaction?

The Power of Declarative Language

The day a parent of one of my young clients suggested I read The Declarative Language Handbook by Linda K Murphy really turned things around for me.  This brief but incredibly insightful and helpful little guide provides adults with a range of simple tools that have the power to really transform the way we interact with children who some would describe as ‘disinterested’, ‘daydreamers’ or even ‘non compliant’.  Since making a concerted effort to implement the strategies that Lindy recommends I have seen incredible results.

It all starts with taking the perceived pressure to communicate OFF the child and establishing a lovely connection.

Declarative Language put simply means to make simple comments about what one can observe (see, feel, smell, taste) and what one thinks whilst interacting with a child.  Instead of asking questions, change your language into simple comments.

Using words that include 1st person pronouns such as I, We, Let’s, My and cognitive verbs such as “I wonder”  “I know”   “I am thinking that…” really does open the child up to considering different possibilities and ideas and tempt them to enter the world of their interaction partner and tune in even if just for a moment.

Interested in Learning More?

I would highly recommend purchasing the text of course but, to start, you can look no further than this lovely summary blog here where Linda provides a free to download Declarative Language Cheat Sheet. https://www.declarativelanguage.com/sunday-snippets-of-support/declarative-language-cheat-sheet

Speaking from experience, it does feel awkward at first when you start intentionally using this type of language, but stick with it.  It really does yield some pretty amazing results with many children and is a good reminder that sometimes it is not the child we need to change but the environment in which that child is growing and interacting.

Declarative Language techniques can be used with children of all ages.  Give it a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

2023-06-26T10:49:36+00:00

When Should I Seek Help for my Toddler’s Talking?

Have some questions or concerns about your Toddler’s Talking?  Not sure if he or she is on track?

We often have concerned carers contacting us with questions about their little ones’ development.  It can be an unsettling feeling to hear and see other little toddlers in your mother’s group meetings who are talking in sentences whilst your child is yet to say much at all.

When should I seek some Speech Pathology support?

What can I do if my child is late to talk?

Why is my child later to talk than others his or her age?

Should I be worried?

Does this mean that my child may be on the Autism Spectrum?

The list of questions goes on and on…let us answer a few for you now.

Speech and Language Delays are very common among children with Autism but also very common amount children without Autism

Autism seems to be in the back of many carers’ minds when they contact us with concerns about their child’s development so let’s address this early.

The cause of your child’s delay in speech, language and/or communication may be Autism or another underlying diagnosis such as Intellectual Disability.

Far more common, however, are children who are late to talk because of fluctuating hearing loss caused by Otitus Media (Glue Ear).  If you have any concerns regarding the development of your child’s communication skills, get a hearing test.  https://learn2communicate.com.au/tag/eustachian-tubes/

Irrespective of the cause of your child’s delay in speech, language or communication it is best to intervene early in order to get the best outcome for your child.  Early Intervention is super important.

So often we don’t know why a child is late to talk.  What is perhaps more important is knowing when to seek support and where to go to get the right advice.

When to Contact a Speech Pathologist

There is so much available now available via our keyboards and phones that it can get pretty overwhelming and difficult to sort fact from fiction.  Our simple checklists for parents are a great place to start https://learn2communicate.com.au/parents/

If you are wanting more detail, particularly for very young children, the HANEN website has some very good information for parents available here https://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/When-You-Are-Concerned/Warning-Signs.aspx

A few other red flags for when to contact a Speech Pathologist include:

Not combining words into short phrases by 2 years of age

Still difficult for others to understand by 3 years of age

Limited interest in responding to others and communicating

Be concerned but not alarmed if your child is late to talk or is showing signs of having a delay in their communication skills development.

Most speech, language and communication delays respond very well to early support and intervention.

Educate yourself about what ‘development’ looks like at different ages and stages and what the red flags are.

Contact us or your local Speech Pathologist if you have concerns.

There is plenty you can do to help your child and it sure beats sitting at home worrying about it!

2023-06-12T08:10:58+00:00

Debunking some myths when parents ask questions…..

Let’s debunk some common myths about children and speech/language/communication development.

As an early childhood educator, you will need to be ready to accept a range of reactions from parents and caregivers when raising your concerns about a child’s development.

Every response from a parent or carer is valid and can be accepted without judgement.  These conversations definitely flow more smoothly, however, if educators are equipped with knowledge and helpful information for families.

Unfortunately, there is much available at our fingertips that is not accurate.  Let’s dispel a few of these common myths now.

My child has a speech delay.  Does this mean that something is ‘wrong’ with my child or that my child is not intelligent?

There is nothing ‘wrong’ with a child who has speech, language or communication difficulties and a delay or disorder in communication abilities does not necessarily also correlate with a child’s cognitive abilities.  We see many very bright children who just happen to have specific areas of their development requiring support.  If your child has a delay in the development of his or her speech, language or communication skills….we now know that early intervention is really key and that we can help them to make great progress if we start early.

I was late to talk.  Won’t my child just ‘grow out of it’?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  We cannot know the answer to this question.

What we do know though, is that communication skills underpin academic, social skills and are crucial to one’s quality of life.

The earlier we offer support to a child who is struggling to develop these skills, the better the outcome we can expect.

Some children will ‘catch up’ on their own but we don’t know who will and who will not.  Children who will not just ‘grow out of it’ usually respond really well to the support that a speech pathologist can provided.

Have I caused my child’s speech delay?

Speech delays are not caused by poor parenting, a parent working long hours, birth order, parents not talking enough to their children or the provision of screen time.  Instead, delays in speech, language and communication are caused by a range of factors including hearing loss and genetics.  Parents blaming themselves for their child’s delays is simply not helpful in any way.  Working towards acceptance of a child’s difficulties and developing a plan to support a child is far more positive and will result in better outcomes for all.

Isn’t my child too young to be concerned about this?

No!  The sooner we identify children who are lagging in their development of these vital skills, the better our chance of supporting them to make terrific progress.  Significant gaps are apparent in the vocabulary knowledge and use by the age of only 3 years of age.  These discrepancies tend to persist and even widen across a lifetime with implications across academic, social and emotional areas.  Early Identification and Intervention is so important.

Prepare for your conversation with families and answer their questions honestly, accurately and confidently.

If you […]

2023-04-09T19:37:16+00:00

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