Category Archives for "School Success"

Chewing & Eating Problems Middle School & High School

Chewing and Eating Problems in Middle and High School.

eating, high school, middle school

If a child has had a chewing and eating problem or won’t eat lunches in primary school, the issues may well continue on in the middle school or high school years.

​Sometimes the issues become more of a concern as children enter high school when large growth spurts are expected and peer reactions become more important to the child. If they are only eating soft foods or have sensory feeding issues it can be hard for them to socialise or fellow students may “tease” then how long it takes for them to eat anything. This is why many high school students with eating problems will see a speech pathologist that works with this age group. Older high school children with history of disability or diagnosis (e.g., Down’s syndrome or autism may in fact be in a readier state to benefit from oro-motor or eating therapy.

“Eating disorders” can be something different.

A Speech pathologist generally works with eating problems as opposed the more commonly known “eating disorders”. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These are serious mental illnesses with onset commonly during the early high school years. They require specialized treatment and a Medical consult is strongly recommended if any such concerns arise.

Eating Problems in High School can be sensory.

Sensory issues can include strong reactions to tastes and smells that can reduce a person’s ability or willingness to eat foods. Even noisy or disruptive environments, such as eating malls and school yard areas in impact on some high school students making eating a problem for them. Moving from primary to high school environments may be stressful for some children. Some children that have been able to stabilise their sensory issues in the known primary environments may no longer be able to cope in the new high school environments. If there are other stresses (social and learning) their sensory issues may also heighten.

​Children on some medications (e.g., hyperactivity medications) can lose appetite and this coupled with slow or restricted sensory food choices may make it difficult for them to consume sufficient nutrition to maintain health and growth.

Eating Problems in High School can be related to Oro-motor or Chewing Concerns

High school students have reported that it can take them up to 1.5 to 2 hours to complete a meal. High school students frequently have large study and extra curriculum commitment. Meals that are taking extra-ordinary amounts of time to consume (to meet the growth spurts of an adolescent) can cause stress on the family and impact on achievements.

Persistent Immature Chew

If a child or high school student is taking a long time to eat they may not be chewing effectively. This results in what is called a delayed oral phase of the eating process. If an up-down movement of the jaw is still being used then it can be impossible or very difficult for a child to grid up food in order to eat it. In this vertical chewing pattern, the jaw moves up and down in a vertical motion. Since the tongue and jaw are connected, the tongue will follow suit, also moving up and down (“tongue pump”). They may not have established the more mature a rotary chew movement. This is where the chew moves slightly side to side as well as up and down to grind foods.

Reduced ability to form a food bolus

Another issue often seen in older high school students with feeding problems is restricted tongue movements. They may not be moving their tongues to side (later tongue movements) to gather food into a small ball (bolus) to get it ready for a swallow. The food remains scatter all over the tongue and mouth requiring several swallows to clear every mouthful. This can extend mealtimes to the point that it is not functional for the student or family. They may also just say the like a particular food. These foods may be the ones that are easy to eat.

SpeechNet Speech Pathology within the Brisbane Feeding Clinic is experienced in working with the older high school student with feeding problems. They can provide assessments to determine if there are any underlying sensory or oro-motor difficulties that can be addressed to assist with meal-time management.  Contact us today we're here to help!

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eating, high school, middle school

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Educational Toys: Bop It Developing Speech & Language Through Play

Educational Toys: Bop It Developing Speech & Language Through Play

educational toys Bop It play
Focus: Bop It!
Speech                Therapist           Dr Sandra McMahon PhD

As you are probably aware Bop It toys are a range of educational toys that requires the player to follow a series of commands issued through speakers by the toy.   Take a look at a video of me letting you know why I think bop it toys are a toy parents should keep in their parenting kit to help assist or develop several speech and cognitive (thinking) skills.   Watch the video for a full explanation on how you can play with the bob it! toy to help develop and boost your child's language development.  I will include our FOCUS explanations in the video helping breakdown each step of the process.

educational toys Bop It play

               What is "Processing Speed" & how is it important for learning?

Many believe that “thinking skills” can impact on language skills.

One “thinking skill” is to be able to think quickly (or quick enough to learn) and this is referred to as PROCESSING SPEED. Reduced processing speed can impact on a large range of skills:

  • Vocabulary Development:  One study showed that the speed of recognising words at 25 months was related to the rate of vocabulary growth over the second year of life.
  • Reading Development and reading performance has been linked to   processing speed.
  • Writing skills – handwriting can be slow and laboured.
  • Starting Tasks: Children may not begin a task due to problems organising time or materials, or due to reluctance, uncertainty, lack of confidence, or anxiety associated with slow processing speed. Other children may take more time to complete tasks because of problems maintaining focus.   While time is passing, these students may be   distracted or daydreaming, drawn to other, more interesting stimuli.
  • Emotional Frustrations and Anxiety about tasks – When everything is an effort and taking time because of reduced processing speed, children can complain their “brain is very tired.” They might melt down when starting to work or encountering a frustrating task; or they may refuse to work, be argumentative, or have tantrums because it is all just such an effort to  “think about it all quickly enough”.
  • Memory Skillswhile the child is taking time to process or think about one part of an instruction or task they may “forget” the rest of what they need  to do.

Rose, S., Feldman, J and Jankowski, J. (2009)A Cognitive Approach to the Development of Early Language. Child Dev. Jan-Feb 80(1): 134-150

Marchman, V.,  Adams, K., . Loi, E, Fernald, A, Feldman, H. (2016) Early language processing efficiency predicts later receptive vocabulary outcomes in children born preterm. Child Neuropsychol. 2016; 22(6): 649–665.  

Let's Talk Play

educational toys Bop It play

We hear a lot about how Play is important to a child’s development.

How imperative it is for early childhood teachers and parents to foster children’s development through play.  

How language development through play supports early literacy and further school success!

But! How do you put it into practice? 

How can you actually boost and develop a child’s oral development while playing?  

The main thing is to actually interact with the child and the toy/s. Research is showing that adults interact with children and use less language when children are playing with electronic toys (e.g., ipads, toys that talk and flash lights, sing). However, the research is suggesting that these toys (including toys such as the Bop It) have value IF the adult continues to participate in the toy and the interactions. It is not the electronic toy in itself that reduces language learning, however the "way adults play with the child" when they are engaged with these eletronic based toys.

educational toys Bop It play

One way is for the parent or early childhood teacher to use - ask questions as part of the play.

But! Not any questions

The type or “Level” of question you use with a child needs to grow as their language grows. Blank Level of questions provides 4 levels of questions with each level getting harder and harder for children to answer. 

What are blank level questions?

Blank level questions begin by answering very direct, concrete questions (e.g., Where is the ball?)  and can be used in play with children from about 10-12 months of age. Blank Levels of questions then become increasingly more difficult until a child’s understanding and communicating abilities can deal with more abstract ideas like inferencing. This level of Blanks questions can typically become part of play at about the 4- 5 year of age level  (e.g., If we put a big block here what do you think might happen? Why would that happen?)

Blank Levels of questions is often a model used in many Speech Therapy Sessions in a play based approach.  

For your convenience, we have compiled lists of Blank level questions for you to use with specific toys and books.  These questions are broken up into levels with general ages for you to work through.  We have included Speech and Language information for you to use with these toys and books to help further develop speech and language.  By combining play and situationally appropriate questions you can help your child’s speech, language and learning development immediately & in the future.


Teaching & Talking Tips: Toys


 An Educational Teaching & Talking Tips PDF  jam packed full of ideas to help boost speech, language and literacy skills while playing with a Phlat Ball.  


 An Educational Teaching & Talking Tips PDF  jam packed full of ideas to help boost speech, language and literacy skills while building with a Magnetic Construction Kit.

Teaching & Talking Tips: Books 

BOOSTING SPEECH, LANGUAGE & LITERACY SKILLS WHILE Reading Books with Where's My Teddy by Jex Smith 

 An Educational Teaching & Talking Tips PDF  jam packed full of ideas to help boost speech, language and literacy skills while reading.

BOOSTING SPEECH, LANGUAGE & LITERACY SKILLS WHILE Reading Books with The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

 An Educational Teaching & Talking Tips PDF  jam packed full of ideas to help boost speech, language and literacy skills while reading.

educational toys Bop It play

Online Program

See how Focus on Toddler Talk can Start Boosting your child's Speech and Language today!

educational toys Bop It play

Contact Us 

Contact us and an experienced Speech Pathologist will answer. We are here to help!

educational toys Bop It play

Ideas for Home

Early Intervention Activities, Resources & Ideas for home. 

educational toys Bop It play


Developmental Milestones & Online Checklists 

educational toys Bop It play

Games & Toys 

Educational Games and Toys.  With Printables!

educational toys Bop It play


Educational Book resources with Printables 

Sandra McMahon Speech Patholgoist

About the author

Dr Sandra McMahon, Speech Pathologist, PhD is clinical and research paediatric speech pathologists that has worked as the Director of Speech Pathology at a major metropolitan Children’s Hospital, lectures at University in the area of early child communication and literacy development & disorders and a consultant to Kindergartens and Child Care Centres. Dr McMahon is currently the Founder, Director and Senior Speech Pathologist of the multi-disciplinary SpeechNet Speech Pathology & Learning Centre. Dr McMahon is frequently invited to present to parent groups, educational facilities, Speech Pathology Clinical Development events & conferences. She is certified practising member of the Australian Speech Pathology Association.

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Bop It! XT Black Bop It R2-D2 Game Bop It! Tetris Game Bop-It! Bounce Hasbro 07789 Bop It! Classic Game Bop It XT

High School Students Struggling with Language Difficulties

High School Students Struggling with Language Difficulties

high school language difficulties help

Is it too late to help struggling students with receptive language difficulties in the High School Years?

There is always a lot of emphasis placed on early intervention. However, this can lead to the widely accepted misperception that the benefits of support are less important in high school than in the early years. The concept of a “critical Language Period” indicates that language learning is potentially easier in preschool years, however it in not impossible in the high school years.

Academic success in the High School years is largely dependent on language ability and with the right learning supports students with receptive language difficulties can meet their full potential. The interaction between talking skills and written language becomes even further apparent in the high school years.

Many students do well in the primary school years, however find the escalating social and academic demands in Grades 8 and above are especially trying for students with language-based learning problems. Many have in fact undetected language problems that do not present themselves until the early adolescence period (e.g., when simple social scripts are not enough and students are expected to read, research and write assignments with less support than early schooling years required.)

high school language difficulties help
​There are general good teaching strategies that can be implemented within a classroom as well as when interaction or explaining things to a high school student with receptive language difficulties.

Contact SpeechNet for assessments and screens for high school students that can help tailor suggestions to your student specifically. General ideas include:

Ask students if they are really following the content and the speed with which instructions and new material is being presented. Remember high school students with receptive language difficulties might be embarrassed that they need help. It is important to frequently ask in a non-judgemental way.

​Remind students that everyone has things they do not understand. Ask them to write down one thing they do not understand each week.

​Ask them:

  • What was easy about a subject before asking what was hard?
  • ​To tell you in one or two sentences what was the main idea learnt in the lesson/ subject/ day.

​Repeat all instructions and say the same thing in more than one way. This will assist with understanding skills

​Encourage memory skills such as getting them to repeat back key steps or items 2-3 times to lay it down into their memories.

Reward those that seek appropriate help or ask appropriate clarification questions.

Recognise that inattention or avoidance may be masking reduced comprehension of what is expected of them.

Provide steps or information in chunks and feed the next step as one is completed rather than giving lengthy and complex instructions.

If new vocabulary is given ensure written definitions are provided and the words are overtly discussed.

Use visual as much as possible – diagrams, lists, picture prompts, dot points on white board, flow charts, screen shot steps,

​Be aware that abstract ideas and language may be difficult. Link the ideas where possible to ideas they students may already know or that are concrete links /examples of the abstract ideas.

Use direct rather than indirect instructions and avoid inferencing e.g. Stop talking rather than I didn't hear Johnny because everyone one is chatting!

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Signs of Language Difficulties in High School

Signs of Language Difficulties in High School

signs of language difficulties high school

Signs of Receptive Language Difficulties or Higher-Level Understanding Problems in High School Students

Language difficulties in high school are often masked or interpreted as other social, emotional or adolescent behavioural problems. It can be difficult to tease out an adolescent can’t complete tasks or are choosing not to complete tasks. This can be hard to distinguish as many high school students either overtly or unintendedly avoid language based tasks as they know they are going to find it difficult to listen and understand what is expected of them. They need help to correct, develop or manage language based difficulties so that they can learn and socialise sufficiently to participate in their community.

signs of language difficulties high school

The first step to assist high school students with receptive language difficulties is by being aware of the signs of receptive language

Receptive language delays and disorders in High School Students will generally have a few of the following signs if they present with Receptive Language Difficulties in High School:

  • Problems listening
  • Problems correctly following spoken instructions
  • They talk however what they are saying contains little real substance
  • Might be OK with concrete ideas that they can see and participate in, however, abstract language and ideas are very difficult for them
  • Taking a long time to respond
  • Problems processing or thinking about the given information
  • Doesn't follow jokes, sarcasm, metaphors.
  • Takes ambiguous language seriously
  • Can't follow conversation particularly in groups
  • Doesn't pick up non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions or gestures - doesn't know when people want to end a conversation or doesn't recognise the emotional content of people's talk.
You may also find:
  • Problems with school work
  • Can't complete homework
  • Participation in class discussion is badly handled or non-existent
  • Has trouble gaining information from class teachers and from books
  • Finds it hard to understand inferences
  • Following the rules of the classroom is inconsistent or does not understand them or the need to follow them
  • Poor at tests
  • Has trouble with the school routines - can't remember the timetable, loses the rooms, can't use a diary well.
  • Poor at working independently
  • Concentration and attention appear poor Behavioural Problems
  • Poor self-esteem
Or you may see:
  • Problems making and maintaining friendships
  • Lost motivation, cumulative sense of failure
  • Depression, anger, frustration, withdrawal, aggression
  • Reluctance to participate, including in remedial work
  • Inappropriate coping mechanisms, e.g. bullying, clowning, copying (cheating), delinquency and truancy

See Expressive language difficulties in High School students for further expressive language signs of Language difficulties.

​If you feel a high school student you know or work with may be presenting with some of these concerns, contact a speech pathologist, talk to a teacher or a special education guidance officer.

SpeechNet Speech Pathologist have experience working in high schools. We get that they are adolescents and all what this means. Our approach and supports will assist the with the underlying language difficulties.

It is never too late to seek help for a high school student struggling at school.

Contact Us Today - We're Here To Help!​

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signs of language difficulties high school

PHONE: 07 3349 9234


Opening Hours 

Brisbane SpeechNet is open Monday - Saturday


62 Nursery Road, Holland Park West QLD 4124 Australia 

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Your Name : *
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What is Speech Intelligibility?

What is Speech Intelligibility

speech intelligibility

Intelligibility of speech is the percentage of speech that a listener can understand. If you can only understand half of what a child is saying then their speech intelligibility rating would be 50%.

​Speech Intelligibility changes with a child’s age. Speech development begins with babbling and then speech matures until older children can say all the sounds in their primary language/s and everyone can understand them.

​Speech Intelligibility is Expected to Improve with a Child’s Age

Younger children are expected to be harder to understand then older children. Speech Sound Developmental Checklists and Speech sound charts can help parents, teachers and carers to see if the level of speech intelligibility is at expected levels for a child’s age.

​The graph below shows that an 18 month old child will have lower speech intelligibility levels than a 3 year old child. This does not mean that a 3 year old will not still make some speech sound errors. It means that they are only using a few speech sound errors and that most people will be able to understand what they are saying. Lynch, Brookshire & Fox (1980), p. 102, cited in Bowen (1998)

​Why does Speech Intelligibility Change with Speech Developmental Stages?

speech intelligibility
There are 3 main areas to consider when looking at speech intelligibility
1 Articulation
Toddlers do not have the fine motor control of their tongues and lips to be able to say all the sounds correctly and so their speech is characterised by speech sound developmental errors.

​These are called articulation errors. For example, sounds like the “r” sound can be difficult for toddlers. The “r” sound requires a fine curling of the tongue and young children often will substitute the “r” sound for an easier sound (e.g., w). You will often hear a 2 year old say “wed” for “red”.

2 Motor speech co-ordination 

​Young children also cannot move their tongue and lips fast enough to keep their speech clear as they try to say longer words and sentences. This is called motor speech co-ordination. It is a bit like doing buttons up. Young children may be able to do easy buttons but might take a long time. As their fine motor co-ordination increase their ability to dress becomes easier and faster.

3 Phonological Processes
​Toddlers use more phonological processes that reduces speech intelligibly than older children. As toddlers do not have the oral motor skills to say words 100% correctly, they use speech sound patterns that simplify words.

​One example of a phonological process is called “cluster reductions”. Speech sound clusters like “sp, sk, dr, bl” are very difficult for young children to say. Most young children reduce the cluster to one sound (e.g., “dep” for “step”, “back” for “black”). Young children use lots of phonological processes reducing speech intelligibility. As children get older they use less and less and so speech intelligibility improves.

​As speech develops children use less articulation errors, their rate & co-ordination of speech improves and they use less phonological errors.

​See the Speech Sound Developmental Checklist to see the ages speech sounds and phonological processes are typically present.

​Speech Intelligibility as a measure of Severity of Speech Delays and Speech Disorders.

speech intelligibility

Children with speech delays and speech disorders will often have lower speech intelligibility percentages than same age children.

​If a 3 year old child has speech delays they may be still making speech sound errors like a 2 year old would be making. This can reduce their speech intelligibility for their age.

​Speech disorders such as dyspraxia of speech (CAS) is characterised by significant reductions in speech intelligibility. Speech intelligibility may be one of the criteria used to determine how functional a child’s speech is in their community. If most people they interact with them cannot understand them, then it would be considered a significant speech impairment.

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