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

Tell me a Story

Becoming a good story teller

The art of being a good story teller is well regarded across many cultures.

The stories we tell help us to connect with one another, to develop our relationships and friendships, to engage in conversations and to reflect upon past events (both real and imaginary).

Story telling happens frequently in our day to day interactions with others.  Take a moment to reflect upon this the next time you meet up with friend for coffee or catch up with a work colleague after the weekend!

Some stories are brief and may contain only short episodes relaying or recalling  ‘who did what, why, where and when with what resulting consequences’.

Other stories may involve communicating multiple causal and temporal relationships between ideas with the use of a variety of sophisticated, complex and precise language that is required to paint a detailed picture for the listener.

For our children, the stories that share have social importance.  Parents often want their children to tell them about their day.  Teachers need information about events that have happened and peers want to be engaged. Good storytellers are more accepted by peers and become more adapt at solving social problems as they grow older.

It makes social sense to encourage all children to not only listen to stories but to tell stories and share these with others.

Children’s story telling abilities in the early years are also very closely related to listening comprehension, receptive vocabulary and writing.  The links between narrative or story telling skills in preschool and later reading comprehension ability 10 years later are particularly strong.  Becoming a good story teller also requires refinement of other core skills that are important foundations for a range of academic and social abilities including attention, cognition, memory, inferencing and theory of mind.

Start by helping your child to understand and use story structure

Before you can help your child to develop more complexity in his or her vocabulary, sentence structure or grammar, it is helpful to firstly make sure that your child can tell and retell basic stories that include the following structural components:

Setting      (When does the story take place? Where does the story take place?)

Character    (Who is the character in the story)

Problem or Initiating Event     (What is the problem)

Plan     (What did the character decide to do in response to the problem)

Attempts     (What did the character do first, next, and then…)

Consequences     (What happened at the end?  How did the character’s feel?)

Ideas for teaching Story Structure

Parents and Educators can prompt / model and ask questions about story structure when sharing books with children.  Stop to model some think alouds e.g. “I wonder what he is thinking to do about this problem?”  “Where did this story start?” “How did the girl feel after she solved her problem?”  Being read to is wonderful but we can really increase the benefits when we direct our children’s attention to the narrative structure of the story.

Children, even those still very young, can be encouraged to ‘tell’ their favourite […]

2024-04-14T05:18:28+00:00

Let’s go for a Walk!

We can nurture the language development of our children by doing something as simple as going for a walk

Physical movement engages multiple senses.  It stimulates brain connections and has also been linked to increased creativity and wellbeing.

Going for a walk is easy, fun to do and is also a lovely way to connect with your child.  Often when we are side by side, engaged in an activity of joint focus or attention, our children open up to us in ways that they might not if we are sitting face to face or asking direct questions.

We really shouldn’t need any further convincing that physical activity is good for us but did  you also know that something as simple as combining going for a walk with language facilitation techniques can also boost your child’s language development?

Follow your Child’s Interests

Slow down!

Not as easily said as done…particularly for busy parents and carers with hectic schedules and lengthy ‘to do’ lists.  If we can find the time to slow down and go for a walk with our child, we will never regret it.  If you can’t add this to your day, think about how you might incorporate it into your day e.g. park a little further from the school gate, walk up and down the aisles with your child when grocery shopping, walk around the oval whilst waiting for the coach to arrive for soccer training, or walk the family pet around the block together.  Even if your child is in a wheelchair or pram, they can still go for a ‘walk’ with you accompanying them.

Watch out for what your child is noticing and engage with these interests by commenting, labelling and modelling ‘think aloud’ statements such as “I wonder why there are so many butterflies today?” OR “I think it might rain soon.  Those clouds look very dark and gloomy.”

Copy Back and Add on

This is one of our favourite language facilitation techniques.

So simple to do!

When your child says something….simply copy it back and add on new words, more information or new ideas.

For example:

Child:  Look….truck

Carer:  Yes, a big red truck over there

OR

Child:  Noisy!

Carer:  That motorbike was very noisy!

WAIT!

Resist the urge to encourage your child to share information with you during your walks.  Silence and pauses work wonders.

Any perceived pressure to talk is released.

Your child can tune into the sounds in the environment and develop his or her mindfulness by noticing the birds, rustling leaves, traffic noise, crunching gravel beneath his or her feet etc…

This will help your child to develop important emotional regulation skills and will often result in more communication with you than if you jump in with a barrage of questions.

n.b. This also works wonders with adolescents who often go through a period of saying less than more to their parents and carers!

Enjoy yourself

Make the most of being outdoors walking with your child.

Notice your surroundings and perhaps take the opportunity to offer some gratitude for the lovely opportunity you have to share such precious moments […]

2024-03-27T02:51:19+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

‘Comfortable’ is not always best for us….or our children!

Most of us like operating within our comfort zone.

The comfort zone is a cozy space where we feel safe and familiar. While it provides a sense of security, staying within its confines is not necessarily good for us.  In the short term it can give us that dopamine hit that feels lovely but it doesn’t always serve our long term goals well to always choose what is comfortable.

This is true in many areas of our life.

Choosing the most comfortable, cushioned running shoes doesn’t tend to result in strong feet that can walk along a beach easily when you are older.

Choosing to lie on the lounge to watch TV of an evening is rarely as good for us as going to bed that little bit earlier.

We are told that choosing to sit rather than stand doesn’t support our long term health and posture.

Choosing the less healthy food options can feel great in the moment but not so great if we do this for a lifetime.

Both children and adults can fall into this trap; fearing change and avoiding new experiences.  No one likes to be uncomfortable so we naturally tend to avoid putting ourselves into these situations.

As parents, we rarely want to see our children experience tricky emotions when out of their comfort zone as we ourselves know how challenging this can be.  It is essential however that we recognise that true growth and learning occurs when we stretch ourselves beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone.  This is true not only for us but for our children.

For children who need to learn new speech and language skills, the capacity to move beyond their comfort zone is often required.  When working with younger children, we can often weave facilitation of their development into play and everyday routines.  Children may not even realise that this is ‘intervention’ when adults do this well.  However, as children get that little bit older and move into their preschool years, speech therapy often requires repetitive practice and speech drills in order to change existing speech patterns and encourage new skills to develop.

Learning new speech sounds can be difficult for children as can learning new concepts at school or learning to read and spell.  It can feel uncomfortable when learning new skills.  This inevitably requires us to support our children to stretch beyond their comfort zones.

We all react differently when we feel uncomfortable.  If children can be supported to process rather than avoid these emotions then we are much more likely to see steady progress towards achieving therapy goals as well as the development of other important skills that will set your child up for a lifetime.

The Power of Taking Risks

Trying to do something that feels difficult involves taking a risk.  A risk that many children find difficult to take is that of risking failure but needing to try multiple times before achieving a goal helps children to learn resilience and problem-solving abilities  Developing the confidence to face challenges head-on is a skill that will certainly […]

2023-07-23T23:15:48+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

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