Mandy Grist2

Highlights from I CAN’s Q and A with Mencap

On Wednesday 24th August our speech and language therapist Mandy Grist took part in a live Q & A on Mencap’s Facebook page and we received some really interesting questions. Find out what our responses were below.

Question 1:

Hi, my son is 3 years old and has been under SALT since he was 8 weeks old due to being fed by tube. He has severe language delay and I have had to defer him going to school for another year. We’re no closer to a diagnosis or reason for the delay and he has issues with social interaction, confidence and anxiety. Any tips or pointers to help move him forward would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

I CAN response:

Hi Wendy, really great to hear from you! There are lots of things we can do to help our children’s communication skills, and most of them we can build into every day activities. I’d start by making sure you keep your language short and simple with him – that way he will be able to pick out words more easily. So stick to 3-4 word sentences, and make sure you give him lots of time to process and respond. Sometimes it can take children a really long time to make sense of what we say. I wonder, does your son say any words at all? Help him to learn words by giving him choices. Offer him 2 things to choose from whilst giving him the word, for example “do you want milk, or juice?” as you hold them up in front of him. Questions like these are better than ones that only require a yes/no response, like “do you want juice?”. And if he tries a word, repeat it back the right way – it may be that he doesn’t say things as we would yet, so by hearing it back the right way he’s learning. Listening and attention skills are also really important so practise some listening games, simple things like finding a noisy toy, or copying an instrument that you play can help children to tune in their listening. They need good listening to support their language so these are really good skills to practise. Attention can be helped by playing ‘ready steady go’ type games with bubbles, push along toys – anything that they find fun! How about turn-taking too – another really important skill. You might need to help him quite a lot at the beginning but practise taking turns in games and activities as this will help him as he starts to develop his skills for conversation. If you’d like some more ideas why not book a free chat with one of I CAN’s speech and language therapists – they will be able to give you some more ideas if you tell them more detail about your son’s communication skills and will be able to send you some free resources that can help. 0207 843 2544. Thanks for your question – all the best.

Thanks for your response, a lot of it sounds familiar. He’s roughly about 18 months behind but making steady progress with his speech but has some pronunciation issues as well. I’m just conscious that I have 12 months to try and get him ready for Reception at school and a EHCP is looking doubtful. Do you think a private therapist would be beneficial?

Hi again. It’s good to hear he’s making some progress, well done. Some people do work with a speech and language therapist privately; you can find a directory of therapists near you on the website. If you book a call with one of our therapists or drop us an e mail to I CAN Help, we’ll be able to send you a copy of Toddler Talk, it’s full of ideas and activities for supporting children aged 18 months to 3 years. It’ll give you some activities to do whilst you wait to see a speech and language therapist. Have a look at our factsheet on communication supportive primary schools too (free to download from I CAN Help) – it will give you some pointers of things we feel are good, communication supportive practice in a school, hopefully useful for when you start to talk to his school. All the best!

Question 2:

How do I encourage a child to use their words instead of going straight to tantrum mode when they feel they can’t make themselves understood?

I CAN response:

Hi Marion, great question, thanks. I’m sure you’ve tried lots of things already but these things might be helpful. Does the child have another way of communicating – sign or symbols maybe, as they struggle to be understood? If not, that’s definitely something to think about – having as many ‘tools’ in the communication toolkit as possible is really important. Talk to a speech and language therapist that knows them to see if there is a good system that can help. Have a look at the ACE centre and Communication Matters websites too, they might give you some inspiration. Other things that can work (depending on how old they are, what their language skills are like etc) are: see if they can tell you about the word they’re struggling with – what does it look like, where do you find it, are there other words like it – almost like 20 questions. You could make this into a game at a time when stress levels are lower, and you can demonstrate by joining in. See if they can gesture or mime to help them get their message across. Try giving them choices – do you mean x or y? that way they don’t have to keep repeating the same thing. Make sure there are as few distractions as possible, keep background noise low – give them as much chance to get their message across as possible. I know none of these are easy fixes, and you’ll need to do some practise at the beginning I’m sure, but it will help them to know that you’re listening to what they have to say and are going to try to help them as much as possible. I hope that’s helpful, and thanks again for your question!

Question 3:

Hello my son is 8 years old he has a language delay that was only told what it was a year ago through a EP however the speech therapy he was receiving since the age of 5 was very few and far between approx 2 or 3 appointments a year!!! And his progress over the years was small, in that time my son has struggled at school & therefore fallen behind over the years. I had to fight for a EHCP for support for him at school, now he has one and finally receives a lot of support in his classroom with a quality speech therapist visiting him regularly at school giving him very specific structured work and we as parents can now see the progress he is making, my concern is will he go on to have a “normal” life? Will he eventually catch up? What else can I do to help him? What causes a delay in language? I feel extremely isolated and don’t even know if there is anyone else out there who is going though the same thing… What else can I do? He struggles with friendships and is left out when it comes to birthday parties. It’s very sad. He himself is a very happy child and doesn’t always see his difficulties naturally lead to frustration .Do you make them aware? I don’t want to ever make him feel different or lose confidence his happiness is always number one. I have joined him up to a lot of activities outside of school as he has a lot of confidence and I’m a true believer in if a child struggles at school then don’t make their whole life about school they can also show strength in other things!! Not only that, more importantly, have fun!! If you have any advice then that will be greatly received. Please help.

I CAN response:

Hi there Suzanne, thanks so much for getting in touch. It sounds like you are doing so many good things already to help your son, well done. I’m so pleased to hear he has an EHCP and some regular speech and language therapy and is starting to make some progress. There are so many different reasons why a child can have language difficulties, and every child’s needs are different – but it’s not unusual, more than 1 million children in the UK struggle because of language difficulties. I’m hoping his speech and language therapist is giving you some specific ideas of things that you can do to help his language develop – if not, it’s worth asking them if they can suggest some activities for you to do at home. It’s a tricky decision about how much to make a child aware of their difficulties – sometimes it can help them to know what situations they find tricky because you can then help them with some strategies to use. So for example if talking to new people is tricky, and your son is aware, you can help him learn some conversation starters to use. Again, I’d discuss this with the therapist that knows him as they’ll be able to give you some more specific things to practise with him. And i absolutely agree, children have all different strengths and they come in all different guises so it’s great that your son enjoys so many outside of school activities. There may be some of our activity cards that would be useful for your son – our Communication Cookbook has lots of ideas in it, and although it is aimed at children up to the age of seven, it might be that the activities are still helpful for you. If you drop an e mail or book a free call back with one of our I CAN Help therapists we can send you a free copy ( There’s one last thing you might find useful – there is an organisation called Afasic that supports families and children with speech and language difficulties and they have local groups for families. If you contact them they might be able to put you in touch with people in a similar situation to yours. Get in touch with them and see what they can do. Thanks again for your question, all the best 🙂

I CAN thank you so much for your advice, the book sounds great!

I have seen a big difference now he is receiving support at school and I will ask the speech therapist for some conversation pointers, he loves to talk that bit is not a problem and he his actually very well spoken it’s just if it’s relevant or makes sense to another person that’s what we need to coach him on which is a life skill .. Thanks so much for your time. I would love to help others and share my story of how I achieved a EHCP as my journey has been very painful & challenging but we are finally on a road to help him correctly to give him the best chance of having a bright future and more importantly help him reach his potential!! Would love the book thanks so much.

Question 4:

My five year old has ASD and there is a huge gap between her expressive and receptive language. Receptive is much better, expressive tends to consist of the odd single world if motivated, or two words that she repeats from another context, or pecs. What can we do to help close that gap? She already attends a specialist setting where she gets great input from staff and where she spends most of her cay due to us both working. Thank you.

I CAN response:

Hi Eva, thanks for getting in touch! It’s actually very common for children’s understanding to be better than their expression as they start to learn to talk, although that gap typically closes before five years old. You can use your daughter’s good understanding to help her with expression – i mentioned in another post that giving children choices can be really helpful, particularly if they relate to something they want or are interested in. So, for example, hold up two DVDs and ask ‘do you want to watch Jungle Book (push forward) or Peppa Pig (push foward)?’ If she points or takes the thing, then you can give her the words, ‘ah, Jungle Book’ or juice, or bubbles or colouring – whatever it is she chooses. That way she hears the word, experiences it being used for a purpose (to make a request) and you can give her a good model. This will probably take some perseverance but give it a try. Keep your language quite short and simple, even if her understanding is good – she’s more likely to learn new words or phrases if she can pick them out of short sentences. I CAN have lots of activities packs that you might find useful too – we can send them to you free of charge as part of our I CAN Help service, if you’d like more ideas you can book a free call back from one of our therapists (02078432544). Thanks again for your question 🙂

Question 5:

Hi, my daughter has Worster-Drought syndrome, which affects the messages from the brain to mouth area. She is 4 and only says 2 words. I’m in Norfolk and would love to get her a place at Meath school but not sure if we can make the move. We hope to visit them in October. I’m having real trouble finding another speech disorder based school for her. She’s repeating another year at her nursery, rather than reception. Her Education Health and Care plan is being drafted. Can I CAN  help with EHCP content? Does anyone at I CAN know about schools? It’s so difficult knowing what to do. No one to advise us! It’s great to find this chat forum. Well done! Thanks, Vicky

I CAN response:

Hey Vicky, good to hear from you! I CAN’s speech and language therapists on the I CAN Help service would be able to talk to you about schools – give us a call 02078432544 and we can arrange a call back. It’s quite tricky for us to help draft an EHCP as we don’t know your daughter, but we can offer advice about best practice for supporting children with speech disorders. And we can also signpost to other organisations that may be able to help. You could also try looking at the NASS Schools website, you will be able to search their database for specialist schools that support children with specific speech and language needs. I hope you enjoy your visit to Meath, they have loads of experience of working with children who have Worster Drought! Thanks for getting in touch and all the best!

If you have questions or concerns about a child’s speaking, listening or understanding contact the I CAN Help Enquiry Service free of charge. Call us on 0207 843 2544 to book a free call-back or Skype call with a qualified speech and language therapist, or email to receive an email response to your query.