Engaging Young People through Animation

Speech and Language Therapists recently used animation and anime to improve attendance and engagement at a Hackney Ark Therapy Community group. Twelve local teenagers with social communication difficulties attended a 6 week programme where they learnt to share and respect opinions, work together as a group and give and receive constructive feedback. The teenagers also learnt how to use animation software and make a short stop-motion animation clip each week. This group of young people are often difficult to engage in therapeutic support but the animation provided a motivation as well as a real-life scenario in which to practice their social skills and teamwork. Parents were invited to the film premiere at the end of the group and therapists, parents and young people were immensely proud of the animations they had made and all the skills they had learnt. We hope you enjoy them too!
[The therapists most involved were Emma Whittingham and Clare Minton].

Communicating with deaf children

Hi! My name is Martina Curtin and I am the lead for deafness in the trust. I started in November 2018 and have been working with babies and young deaf children in the borough as well as supporting other therapists who have deaf children and young adults on their caseload. I use spoken English or British Sign Language (BSL) in my therapy sessions, whichever language works best for the child. I have BSL level 3 and hope to do level 6 very soon!


‘In May we have seen two very important weeks: deaf awareness week (6th – 12th May) and mental health awareness (13th – 19th May)’.These are two very important initiatives and probably more closely linked than you think. There is a higher prevalence of mental health difficulties in the deaf population (Pertz et al., 2018), with 40% of deaf children experiencing mental health problems compared to 25% of hearing children (DH, 2005).  


As a speech and language therapist I am incredibly passionate about communication. Like many of my colleagues in Hackney, I support parents and carers to boost the quality and quantity of their interactions with their children, helping them to expose their children to lots of language throughout the day. If not addressed, poor interaction between parent and child, and reduced exposure to language in general, can lead to lifelong difficulties in communication and cognition (Morgan, 2015; Hall et al., 2017). We want our deaf children in Hackney to be confident and competent communicators and we understand the value of working with parents to achieve this. In Hackney, we are very lucky to work alongside a fabulous Teacher of the Deaf team who also value the importance of empowering parents to be skilled communicators, whether that be in Spoken English and/or BSL.


So what can you do? Well, negative experiences of communicating with people who are unfamiliar with deafness can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and frustration in deaf children and young people (NDCS, 2015; Theunissen et al., 2014). So why not check out this video I was involved in making with BBC journalist Hannah Gelbart for some helpful tips on how to communicate with deaf children: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-40794990/some-people-are-shocked-when-i-say-i-have-a-magnet-in-my-head Information on where to learn BSL can be found here: https://www.signature.org.uk/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3Mq4yqCi4gIVmLPtCh2eVAH5EAAYASAAEgLnbvD_BwE


See you around!





Developmental Language Disorder

On 19th October it is Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) Awareness Day. This week the Speech and Language Therapy Team are holding stalls with information, stickers and enticing sweet treats around the borough to raise awareness of DLD. We are at Hackney Learning Trust on 16th October, Hackney Ark on 18th October, and we are holding stalls in a number of schools and children centres all week, look out for us!


DLD is the diagnosis given when a child has problems with language development that continue into school age and beyond. The language difficulties impact on everyday functioning such as learning and social interactions. It can only occur in the absence of a biomedical condition. DLD affects 7% of the population (that’s roughly 2 in every class of 30 children).
For more information take a look at these factsheets:
DLD for primary schools
DLD for secondary schools

Also, check out the RADLD website for more info.


Sweltering heat did nothing to deter our incredible young people from attending the launch of the Hackney Captains at Dalston Curve Gardens last week!


Five students signed up to be part of the Hackney Captains youth council, committed to giving a voice for their peers and supporting change and improvement in Hackney in the area of health.  The launch was supported by a multidisciplinary team including occupational therapy, physiotherapy, clinical psychology, and speech and language therapy.

The day started with some icebreakers and a hands on pizza making session, facilitated by the lovely Kiram Chahal from the People’s Kitchen.  Soaring temperatures aside, young people braved the heat of the pizza oven and made some delicious lunch for us all to share, as well as taking some entrepreneurial initiative and selling pizzas to the public, making a small profit which will then support future meetings.


We had the privilege of having a young person already represented in a youth council at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who was able to share her experiences and explain what the role of such a council could include.

We had fun dreaming up our ‘dream health service’ and started providing feedback on our experiences at Hackney Ark – from ideas on how to spruce up the reception and make it more teenage friendly, to best ways to communicate with young people and gaining their views.


We are extremely grateful to the Dalston Curve Garden to providing us with the space to launch out council, and provide a safe and green oasis that supports community projects in Hackney. We also enjoyed helping out by watering plants in the garden before and after the launch.


We are really looking forward to our first ‘official’ meeting – where we will be designing our logo, and starting to provide feedback on the health stuff that matters to young people accessing services at Hackney Ark.


If you are a young person aged 13 – 19 years and are accessing services at Hackney Ark (currently or in the past), we would love to hear from you.  Please get in touch by emailing huh-tr.hackneyarkcaptains@nhs.net, tweeting at @HackneyArkOT, or phoning 02070147025.

Monday 16th April 2018 is World Voice Day

Each person’s voice is individual to them in terms of quality, pitch, volume and tone. Voice is used to effect communication and reflects an individual’s emotions, mood and self-image, while listeners draw inferences about a person from the way they sound (Mathieson, 2001).

The stats show that:

  • adult women are found to be at a higher risk of voice disorders than men
  • Voice problems impact on the work of professional voice users, affecting their ability for employment and are related to increased time off work (Epstein et al 2009, Trades Union Council 2009).
  • Teachers have been identified as a group where voice disorders occur, particularly in the early years of teaching practice (Kooijman et al 2007, Roy et al 2004, Morton & Watson 1998, Bufton 2000

This year to honour World Voice Day, Freya Brett, one of our talented Speech and Language Therapists has put together a Teacher voice care leaflet that we would like to share with all teachers to help them look after THEIR voices.

Happy World Voice Day

World Autism Awareness Week


In celebration of Autism Awareness Week, we thought we would share information about Autism and show how some of the Speech and Language Therapists in Hackney support children with Autism




Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. Autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured‘.

 There are around 700,000 people with autism in the UK. If you include their families, autism affects 2.8 million people.

 Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need different levels of support. All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing.


In Hackney, we have Speech and Language Therapists working in nurseries, schools, special schools and colleges, supporting children with Autism. Here are some examples of work we do:

One of the speech therapists at the Garden School has been facilitating a Games Group. This group teaches students how to ask their peers to join in games with them. The visual supports allow the students to independently verbally ask peers to play with them and then guide the students so they know how to play the game appropriately e.g. taking turns and waiting. The children are learning a new skill, whilst enjoying fun games!




Children at Shoreditch Park ARP have been learning about emotions. They are learning to recognise how they and other people are feeling and they are learning how to sort those feelings into different ‘zones’.  We have been practising using a range of tools to help us feel calm and happy and ready to learn.  This is their classroom display which they refer to throughout the day.




If you would like more information on Autism or Autism Awareness Week, please go to the National Autistic Website: http://www.autism.org.uk/

If you would like more information on how to support your child’s social communication skills, please look at our leaflets: https://gethackneytalking.co.uk/parents/leaflets-and-ideas/


Written by Nicola Chamberlain, Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

14th March 2018 is Swallowing Awareness Day

Like breathing, swallowing is essential to everyday life. Humans swallow at least 900 times a day, around three times an hour during sleep, once per minute while awake and even more during meals. Swallowing problems can occur at any stage of life and one in 17 people will experience some form of dysphagia in their life. Dysphagia is the medical term for swallowing and can include any problem with sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, controlling saliva, taking medication, or protecting the lungs from food and drink ‘going the wrong way’.

Swallowing Awareness Day is happening on the 14th of March and is an opportunity to bring attention to swallowing disorders and to connect people with speech and language therapists, who are one of the professionals who can support.

For some children or adults swallowing difficulties may mean they need changes like a modified diet (with softer foods and thicker drinks), have difficulty feeding themselves, or find it hard to get the nutrition they need through their mouth.

Mealtimes are such an important part of our day so what are they like for a child or person with dysphagia? Have a go at these activities at home and you can start to have an idea of the impact.

  • Allow yourself to be fed by a family member or partner rather than feeding yourself. How did it feel not to be in control?
  • Challenge yourself to eating only puree foods all day! What was the texture like for you?
  • Try and swallow a marshmallow with your mouth open. Was it possible?
  • Let someone else brush your teeth. How did it feel to have someone else in your mouth?
  • Try and eat a biscuit whilst your head is tilted back (facing the roof), then facing to the left, right, and finally straight and looking ahead. What was the easiest position?

Tweet or post your feedback to @hackneytalk or #swallowaware2018

Witten by Aria May, Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

8 Ways to keep the Home Language Going

It seemed so easy to start with.

Knowing the many benefits of raising a bilingual child (improved brain flexibility, greater employability, connection with family and heritage) you decide to embrace the opportunity and make your home a non-English zone. You tell your family, agree on a plan (who speaks what, where and when) and await the day your lives are joyfully turned upside down and baby arrives.

It starts well; ‘mama’ and ‘milk’ are easy to remember in your home language, and you celebrate as baby says their first words. Then they start nursery; after an initial quiet period, they start to chatter away in English with their friends, then come home and talk to you in the home language.

But after a while, you start to slip. When you’re tired, and you’ve had a long day, you find yourself increasingly using English at home. What will this mean for your child’s bilingualism?

Firstly, there is no need to feel guilty. Switching between languages is a normal feature of being bilingual, and if it feels natural then carry on. Your child will be able to separate the languages out after a while. But, as we know, having a bilingual child confers so many benefits that it is worth persevering.

We racked our brains and came up with these ideas to help keep the home language going. Can you think of any more?

  • Start small: choose just 15 minutes a day (e.g. bath time) where you speak NO English, then once you do this consistently, add another time of day (e.g. dinner), then another…
  • Have a penalty jar- every time you forget to use your home language, put 10p in (or a slip of paper). Then once you’ve got enough, use it to buy a book in the home language (this site has lots: http://www.alien-languages.com/).
  • Find a radio station in your home language to listen to in the mornings as a reminder.
  • Label things in your house in your home language, then when you point to it, you’ll remember to not use English.
  • Change your phone’s settings to your home language, so you’re reminded when you look at it.
  • Try the books/websites here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bi-multilingualism/resources
  • Find children’s books, tv shows and songs in the home language.
  • Finally, enjoy speaking it! If it looks like a chore to you, your child will pick up on this; have fun with it, and your child will see it as something to be celebrated.

Good luck!

Written by Anna Sowerbutts, Speech and Language Therapist

International Stammering Awareness Day

The 22nd October is International Stammering Awareness Day. In Hackney we are marking this with our new stammering poster, designed to raise awareness and referrals to support children and young people who stammer. Click here to see our new poster which has details about how to refer to our service.

Stammering, stuttering, dysfluency? They all mean the same thing, and are used to describe:

  • repeated speech sounds e.g. “b-b-b-b-because”
  • repeated whole words e.g. “the-the-the-ball is red”
  • prolonged or lengthened sounds e.g. “yyyyyyyesterday I went shopping”
  • blocked sounds, where no sound comes out of the mouth when a person is trying to speak

A person who has a stammer may also experience muscle tensions in their face and body, disrupted breathing and reduced eye contact as a result of their stammer.


We know that stammering occurs across the world, cultures and socio-economic groups. The statistics tell us that around 5% of children will have difficulty with their fluency. This reduces to 1% of the adult population, which means that most children become fluent with or without help.


In younger children, nearly the same amount of girls and boys stammer. This changes as children get older, where we see around 4 boys to every girl who stammers. This means it is more likely that boys will need continued support with their fluency compared to girls as they get older.


There is always a lot of research being carried out, into the causes of stammering. Currently it is thought that 4 factors are linked to the possible causes:

  1. Physical e.g. genetics, family history, brain structure, development
  2. Speech and language skills
  3. Personality of the child/young person
  4. Environment e.g. school pressures

We know many famous people who stammer; people who have dysfluent speech and experience exciting achievements, such as Ed Sheeran, Samuel L-Jackson, Bruce Willis, Ed Balls and Tiger Woods.

It is widely recognised that experiencing a stammer is more than the disruption to the spoken language that can be heard. People who stammer can live in fear of speaking, which can affect how much they join in with learning and socialising.

A Speech and Language Therapist can carry out an in depth assessment of language and communication skills. They can then work with the young person, their family and school to identify strategies and make sure that all elements of their speech and communication are supported.

For more information, visit https://gethackneytalking.co.uk/, http://www.stammeringcentre.org, https://www.stammering.org


Written By Gemma Creek, Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist


A Day in the Life of…A Speech and Language Therapist

Tell us about your role?

My name is Laura Martin and I work as a Speech and Language Therapist in Hackney supporting children under the age of 5 to develop their early communication skills. I see children and families in Children’s Centres, nurseries, schools, at home or in health centres. And I work with parents, nursery staff and other professionals, including Psychologists, Social Workers, Family Support Workers, Occupational Therapists, Health Visitors… – the list is endless!

No day is ever the same as every child presents with a different profile of strengths and needs. I see children with difficulties understanding and using language, difficulties with speech sounds or stammering, difficulties with social communication skills and those children who have a diagnosis of Autism. I also see children who have difficulties with their voice and children with eating and drinking difficulties.

What did I do today?

This morning I saw a little boy who had a speech sound difficulty and his Mum, in a play room at a Children’s Centre. We played games to practice the sounds ‘f’ and ‘s’ and I gave his Mum some activities to try at home too.

After that I went to visit a nursery to have a meeting with parents and other professionals about what support we can put in place for a little girl with a hearing impairment. We set some targets together and all agreed on a plan on how to help her.

In the afternoon I ran a Talking Walk-In assessment session at a community centre. The Talking Walk-Ins are regular drop in sessions where parents can bring their children for a brief assessment and they can discuss any concerns they have. We make a decision about whether their child needs to have therapy with us and we provide advice and activities to try at home.

To finish the day off I wrote up reports from the Talking Walk In, liaised with some health visitors and got ready for my next day of therapy!

My favourite thing about my job?

Hackney is such as diverse community and I love working closely with children and families and really getting to know them. It’s nice to see the children improve.

The best advice for speech and language development?

It sounds so simple but talk and play with your children. Follow their interests and tell them all about the world around them using simple language.

If you’re worried, why not pop into a Talking Walk-In? Click here to find the Talking Walk-in nearest you.