Research News

Lego Therapy MSc Project – Blog update

We are undertaking a Masters level research project at City University London. This project is a novel piece of research which looks at whether LEGO® Therapy can support children with language difficulties in repairing communication when it has broken down. Children with speech and language difficulties frequently experience communication breakdowns both in the classroom and in social settings. This may be that the child has not understood something or that the person they are speaking to has not understood him/her. Children who have a range of strategies to repair communication breakdowns are less likely to experience frustration and more likely to successfully clarify something they have not understood in the classroom.

LEGO® Therapy has historically been used with children on the Autistic Spectrum to develop social interaction skills. However, the nature of this therapy lends itself particularly well to developing a range of other language and communication skills, including developing communication repair strategies.

Check back later to find out the results of our research!

Caitlyn Chandler and Shelley Parkin

Attention and Listening Skills

This month we are thinking about attention and listening skills.

You’ve probably met a child like this. The one who can’t sit at the table at lunchtime and keeps running off to play with toys. The one who wriggles around on the carpet at story time. The one who is so engrossed in making a Lego car that he doesn’t answer when you call his name. Children like this all have something in common: they have difficulties with attention and listening.

When we think of a child with attention difficulties, we often think of that wriggly child who can’t sit still. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Attention skills typically develop through certain stages. A child that is younger than 4 years old will typically have something called single-channelled attention. This means they can only attend to one thing at a time. If you ask them a question when they are doing something else, like playing with a toy, they will not be able to answer! A child that is between 4 and 5 will typically start to show integrated attention. This means they can play a game and listen to someone talking, without needing to look up. Beyond 5 years, children typically demonstrate integrated attention for longer and longer periods.

Why does all this matter? It matters a lot to a child’s speech and language development. If a child’s attention and listening is delayed, they may not tune in to speech as much as a typically developing child. This may mean they miss out on all the input that is so important for speech and language learning.  It also matters a lot to how a child gets on at school. If a child does not have integrated attention, they can’t hear the teacher call them to carpet time when they’re playing a game with friends. They can’t hear the teacher ask them a question when they’re reading a book. Children like this might look as though they’re being ‘naughty’, and not doing what they are told. This is not true. They simply didn’t hear.

So what can we do to help? You can’t teach a child to have integrated attention! But you can support them to make the most of the attention skills that they DO have.

  • If a child is having difficulty with their speech or language, then a referral to speech and language therapy can help figure out whether attention difficulties are at the root of the problem.
  • If you think a child is still at the single channelled stage, you can help them by using gentle touch, calling their name, or moving into their field of vision when you want to talk to them.
  • Keep your instructions simple, and break long instructions down into chunks, e.g. ‘Where are your shoes? OK, great. Now let’s put them on’.
  • Check that the child has heard you and understood, by saying ‘What did I just ask you to do?’
  • If a child finds it difficult to maintain attention for long periods of time, you can help them by giving them a movement break, e.g. ‘We’re going to sit at the table for 5 minutes, then you can get down and jump on the trampoline.’
  • You can also use visuals, such as the timer on your phone, e.g. ‘You can run around for 2 more minutes. When my phone makes a funny noise, it will be time to sit down.’

You may also have heard talk of the term joint attention. This is a bit different! We will talk about joint attention in a later blog, so keep checking in.

Lucy Pollard

Speech and Language Therapist

Research News

Accurately repeating a sentence can be hard for children with language difficulties… Is this task more complex than we first thought?

Many researchers have noted that children with language impairment have great difficulty accurately repeating a spoken sentence that they have heard. Why is this? What exactly is the child required to do during this task? These are the questions that I am looking to investigate in my Master’s research project. This type of repetition task is called sentence repetition or sentence recall. It turns out that this task doesn’t just rely on a child’s ability to remember the sentence, but it also draws on his/her memory for language that they have already learnt. A child cannot repeat a sentence accurately if they haven’t learnt and stored the language previously! This is a useful tool for identifying children with language difficulties, however, there are still unanswered questions about what exactly this task is testing. A greater understanding of this task could help with early identification of language difficulties and is a simple, cost-effective way of screening children for any difficulties. I will have to see what the results suggest… watch this space!

Becky Harrison

Speech and Language Therapist

Research News

The team at SBT are committed to keeping up to date with current research related to all aspects of Speech and Language Therapy. Research keeps us up to date with new therapy approaches and helps us to do a better job in supporting children with speech, language and communication needs.

Some members of our team are currently participating in their own Masters research projects in association with City University, London. Watch this space to find out more. As always, we welcome any questions or comments!


What’s in a question?

This month, we are looking at the subject of questions- why are some questions trickier for our children to answer than others? The answer to this particular question is a subject studied in detail by Dr Marion Blank, a leading educator and researcher.

Marion Blank determined that there were four basic levels of questions typically used by teachers in the classroom, ranging from the simpler levels one and two, to the more abstract levels three and four.

Level one questions are the most basic, and usually ask your child to name a thing or an action that they can see or hear.

e.g. ‘What is that?’ or ‘What is he doing?

Level two questions still refer to subject matter that can be seen or heard by your child, but ask them to look a little more closely, e.g. ‘Who is that?’ ‘How many legs does it have?’ or ‘What shape is it?’

Level three questions now move away from what your child can see, and require the use of their thinking skills. The child can no longer rely on a picture for the answer, but instead needs to link the subject to what they know about the world, e.g. ‘What does ‘share’ mean? ‘What might the boy be saying to his friend?’ ‘What could be in the girl’s bag?’

Level four questions are the most abstract, and require your child to think carefully. They cannot see the answer in front of them, and must use reasoning, inference, prediction and problem-solving skills. ‘Why do people wear hats on sunny days?’ ‘How do you think Joe felt when the teacher asked him that question?’ ‘What will Sam do now instead?’

What you may notice is that level four questions sound like the kind of questions children are asked when they have misbehaved in some way. ‘Why did you do that?’ ‘How do you think Ravi feels?’ ‘What should you do next?’ If your child is not yet able to understand questions at this level, then they may not be able to provide with you with the answers you are expecting.

Children’s understanding of different question types develops over time along with their general language and learning. Children usually begin to answer Level four questions from the age of five to six years old- of course some children will develop this skill a little earlier or later than others.

What can we do to help our children develop this skill? The first thing we can do is give them some time to think! Children need a little bit more time than we do to think about what they’ve heard and plan their answer. Secondly, let’s link the answer to something they already know or something they have experienced. This will build their confidence and provide the scaffolding to learn new information.

One of the most useful tools to help your child understand questions is to ‘think aloud’. Let them hear how you worked out the answer! This way you are modeling the thinking process needed to reach the answer, and showing them how to link the information. For example, you ask a question such as ‘Why did Tom ride his bike to the shop?’ Now, talk through your thought process- ‘The shop is quite far from Tom’s house. It’s too far to walk. Riding a bike will be much quicker. Maybe that’s why Tom rode his bike’.

So, what’s in a question? Possibly more than we first thought!

Shelley Parkin

Speech and Language Therapist

Speech and Language Therapy ideas and advice

I am really pleased to introduce our speech and language therapy blog!

Every month, a member of the team will write an entry about one of the many speech, language and communication difficulties we work with. We are hoping to provide information, ideas and advice to help support children and young people to develop their communication.

Is there a specific area that you would like information about? If so, please let us know. Just leave a comment on our blog and we will add your topic to our list! We can’t give advice about individual cases, but we are more than happy to give general advice and top tips.