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Speech and Language Department
Treetops School has communication specialist status. Effective communications between a child and their family, friends and teachers is often a number one priority for parents. Treetops has addressed this by developing its own Speech and Language team, which is integrated across the school, and has been an integral part of training staff in how to work with a child’s communication needs in the classroom.
The team aims to promote ‘Total Communication’ in the Treetops environment. This allows each and every pupil to communicate to their full potential with each and every member of the school. We do this by providing visual aids, high-tech aids, using sign language and implementing classroom strategies as well as training teaching staff to a high standard. Treetops School offers training to parents and also has an outreach service to offer Elklan and Signalong training to other schools in Thurrock.
This page will set out to outline in more detail how the Speech and Language team operates and what the department offer at Treetops School.
The Speech and Language Team
The team consists of four full-time qualified speech and language therapists and two part time communication assistant. Each speech and language therapist/pathologist is experienced at working with a variety of speech and language difficulties and has a background in linguistics and/or psychology or another science before obtaining their undergraduate/post graduate and masters qualifications. Each therapist is registered as a clinical practitioner with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and the Health and Care Professions Council.
Why are Speech and Language important?
Communication is about people exchanging messages. For it to be successful, people must be able to understand the meaning of these messages in order to be involved and to participate in the communication process. Almost everything that we do in life involves communication. Throughout our education we rely on speech and language to make our needs known, interact with other people, express ourselves and understand what is happening around us.
If a child has difficulties in speech and language then this can impact on
- Being able to understand what’s happening and taking part in lessons
- Making friends
- Managing feelings and emotions
- Ability to problem solve
- Being able to communicate wants and needs
Who Do We Work With?
We offer indirect and direct support throughout the school. We carry out individual assessments and observations as well as blocks of individual intervention. We also carry out small group working sessions depending on an individual child’s needs.
We support the pupils indirectly through training staff and supporting teachers in the classroom. We provide visual aids support and provide training in using high-tech devices such as the iPads for specialised communication activities.
Our group sessions run as blocks of therapy and pupils can receive the following group intervention:
Narrative groups are designed for the more able pupils and allow pupils to create and develop their own ‘sensory stories’. The pupils are also able to engage with stories and retell the stories through sensory activities and simple narratives. The sessions are made up of a series of sensory elements which cover tactile, auditory, movement, visual and smell stimuli. The pupils are encouraged to think with all their senses to create a story or narrative.
Social Communication and Functional Life Skills
For our secondary school pupils, we carry out classes that focus on developing social skills and then applying these skills as much as possible to real life. The therapy programme involves pupils videoing each other and feeding back on communication skills used in natural environments and then setting up situations that are as real life as possible. For example, we arrange interviews with a real police officer and make visits to the local retirement home. These exercises enable the participants to practice those social skills and communicate.
We carry out new creative and innovative language groups using techniques developed by the Treetops speech and language team. The activities are functional and designed to motivate the pupils and encourage their active participation in creating or constructing a final piece of work at the end of each block of intervention. For example, this could involve creating a narrative board game as a group, hosting a tea party, or making a sock puppet with a characterisation that they have to present to their friends.
Attention Autism aims to develop natural and spontaneous communication through the use of visually based and highly motivating activities. The programme which was devised by Gina Davies explains that the primary objective is that the sessions are fun and “offer an irresistible invitation to learn”
Aims of Attention Autism
- To engage attention
- To improve joint attention
- To develop shared enjoyment in group activities
- To increase attention in adult-led activities
- To encourage spontaneous interaction in a natural group setting
- To increase non-verbal and verbal communication through commenting
- To build a wealth and depth of vocabulary
- To have fun!
Non Verbal Story Telling
These groups are based on Louise Coigley’s Lis n tell programme where all behaviour is taken as communicative. The sessions involve spontaneous and intentional communication where pupils use music, rhyme, rhythm, props and iconic gesture to tell stories. The pupils develop peer interaction skills and work together.
Sensory stories are carried out with our pupils who have severe learning difficulties. These sessions allow pupils to develop their early communication skills such as anticipation and joint attention through sensory means. The Speech and Language department has created its own sensory stories which involve the team telling stories and using items that tap into all the five senses. Each week the pupils are given an opportunity to taste, touch, see, listen and smell items, to help them to explore different stories as well as developing their sensory awareness skills. These stories are also used to work on turn-taking, listening, expanding vocabulary, and developing early communication skills such as eye contact, body language, facial expressions, vocalisations and gesture. We explore themes such as The North Pole, May Day, The Park, The Zoo, The Three Little Pigs, The Swamp, Camping, Shopping and The Beach.
Social stories were created by Carol Gray in 1991 to help teach social skills to people with autism. They are short descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why. The team uses social stories and encourages their use in the classroom and at home to prepare our young people to face a difficult personal situation (e.g. moving house, going to a wedding, meeting a new relative or going on holiday).
Parent/Adult-Child Interaction (therapy or training)
Parent/Adult-Child interaction is an evidence-based intervention that supports parents and/or practitioners to develop skills to support language development. The way that adults interact with children plays a very important role in developing language and learning. The therapy programme helps the individual parent/practitioner to develop specific strategies to encourage language development in young children. It enables parents/practitioners to identify their own areas of strength as well as identify areas of interaction that they could develop. This is done by the adult watching a recording of a five minute interaction with a child.
Lego Therapy was initially devised for children with autism as a means to develop their social communication skills. For example, the children may work in small groups of three people, each taking on different roles such as engineer; builder and supplier. The aim of the activity is to build a chosen model through team work and negotiation.
It works like this:
The engineer – tells the supplier which bricks are needed and describes the way to construct the model to the builder.
The supplier – listens to the instructions given by the engineer and passes the requested Lego pieces to the builder.
The builder – builds the Lego model according to the engineer’s instructions.
As the session progresses, the roles are rotated so that by the end of the session, each child has had the opportunity of play each role.
The sessions last approximately 45 minutes – 1 hour, and include listening activities and lotto games to familiarise the children with the necessary vocabulary, particularly understanding how the bricks can be described. These sessions usually finish with some free play where the children are able to design their own Lego models. Once a model has been successfully built, a photo is taken of the team with their model. At the end of the Lego Therapy course, children are awarded certificates.
Speech Sound Work
We may help speech to develop by working on phonological awareness (being aware of speech sounds), discrimination (being able to discriminate between two speech sounds such as hearing that the word ‘tea’ starts with a ‘t’ and the word ‘key’ starts with a ‘k’. For some of our children, two sounds may sound the same) and production of sounds. We may also include programmes that are based on what is called the “Nuffield Centre Dyspraxia” programme. This programme involves one-to-one working, or teaming up in small groups, and using activities to develop speech sounds.
Cued Articulation is a system which promotes an understanding of English phonology (or sounds) and supports the acquisition of and production of those particular sounds that we use when speaking words. It was devised by speech and language therapist Jane Passy in the late 1970s, to help in her work with children who had severe communication difficulties.
Cued articulation uses simple hand cues to show where and how speech sounds are made. The cues are logical and based on linguistic theory. We have found that cued articulation is also useful to support a child’s written work and spelling.
At Treetops it is used during therapy sessions with children who present with disordered or delayed phonology. It is also used within class as a gentle prompt when a child attempts to generalise and consolidate their new speech skills.
Some pupils use alternative forms of communication which can include low tech and high tech devices as well as signing to support speech. We work together with the pupil, teacher and parent to encourage a consistent and functional approach when using these communication aids as the child’s voice as well as attending the CASEE hub in Addenbrooke’s hospital to ensure that needs are being met appropriately.
Some pupils use iPads as a form of communication. We work together with the pupil, teacher and parent to encourage a consistent and functional approach when using the iPad as the child’s voice.
As well as training the staff and parents at Treetops, we also offer a service to other schools in Thurrock and have assisted other schools in applying communication techniques in the classroom and developing strategies to help staff support individual pupils with communication difficulties.
This is a training programme that is delivered by speech and language therapists to education staff and to parents to enable them to be more effective in their support of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).
Elkan has a range of courses to suit individuals whether they are an early years worker, teacher or a classroom assistant working with children.
The courses are accredited through Open College Network South West Region (GB) or Open College Network Northern Ireland (Ireland). The Treetops team is certified to provide this training.
Signalong is the signing support system that is used at Treetops (and throughout the borough of Thurrock) as well as in many places across the UK. Every member of staff receives training in basic Signalong skills which promotes the use of sign language within the school and can be seen working in the classroom, signing at singing assemblies and at the Song Club.
Throughout the year the team carries out Signalong phase 1 and 2 courses for parents, professionals and other members of the community to help promote sign language in the home environment and the rest of the community which in turn leads to our young people being able to communicate more effectively with the people they come into contact on a regular basis.
How Do Children Develop Communication Skills?
Attention & Listening – As well as being able to have attention skills and listening skills, children also need to be able to hear the language that is being spoken to them. Children need adequate attention and listening skills before language can develop successfully.
For example: a child is able to look at a cat at the same time as an adult points to the cat and then they also hear the word “cat”.
Play and Interaction – Play is important to a child’s development. It is at this point that children develop early communication skills. Play is an important step in language development. For example, by understanding that the toy cat represents the real cat, a child starts to understand that words represent things, people, events etc. So through play the child realises that the toy cat in the farm set is “symbolic” of the real cat at Granny and Grandad’s house even though they may look different.
Understanding Language – Children need to be able to understand words before they can use them. Often young children can understand a lot more than they can say.
For example: the child understands that the sounds they hear from the adult e.g. “cat” relate to the object that they can see.
Expressive Language – Children begin to talk, or sign or gesture using words and then sentences. They start with single words and move on to join two words together then three, four etc.
For example: the child has a go at saying “cat” when they see or want the cat. They may then say ‘Furry cat’, and then when they are older ‘I want to feed the cat’.
Speech – Children develop their use of different speech sounds, so they can be understood by others. Some children continue to develop speech sounds up until the age of 7 years.
For example: they may say “tat” for “cat” to start with.