Just one friend.

just one friend 2

I was observing at a high school this week when an eleventh grader entered the room. Friendly and unswervingly polite, this young man with ASD and some cognitive challenges, said hello and took a seat.  Soon after, another young man followed, giving him a high-five, and settling in at the table.  Over the course of the next hour, I found out the second young man did not have an IEP or the need for speech, he just accompanied his friend during their lunch period to the speech room.  Voluntarily.

I asked how long they had been friends and he responded, “Since 7th grade.¬† We hang out all the time.”¬† When the speech student left the room to get his lunch, his friend confided that he worried for him,¬†¬†“He doesn’t really seem to know that not everyone is his friend.¬† He high fives people in the halls, but sometimes I think the others only do it out of guilt.”¬† He went on to ask if we thought he should talk to his friend’s mom as his friend¬†had started a Twitter account and he was concerned there was potential for him to be bullied.¬† I had to fight the urge to ask him a million questions.¬†¬† This young man was MENSA smart, involved in a million academic clubs, and articulate.¬† He was a rare combination of incredible intellect and¬†deep empathy.

Why were they friends?¬† I mulled that one over and came to the conclusion that he really liked hanging out with this young man.¬† As someone who also may be on the fringe of the social pecking order for entirely different reasons, these boys found common ground.¬† Sometimes kids find each other in their commonality, making¬†their own peer groups. I wished I could clone this young man for all the kids I see that need that one good friend.¬† The good friend¬†who will look out for them when the adults who love and protect them aren’t around.¬†I wanted to hug him and tell him what an amazing human being he is, but instead I just smiled and told him his friend was lucky to have him in his life.

He¬†embodies what parents dream of when they imagine a friend¬†for their child, not just the¬†kids that struggle with social weakness or cognitive challenges,¬†but all children.¬†¬† We want someone who knows them and loves them almost as much as we do.¬† Someone to laugh with them and be silly.¬† Someone to talk to when they can’t or won’t talk to us about Twitter or girls or what worries them the most.

We need to figure out how to help kids become peer mentors, people who look out for one another and yes, even friends.¬† Empathy and kindness are highly undervalued character¬†traits in this¬†Selfie culture.¬†Michelle Garcia Winner talks a lot about peer mentoring and how effective it is for¬†kids with social language challenges (read a great article by her¬†about Peer Models versus Peer Mentors HERE ). Speech Therapy¬†can be¬†great but we can’t travel with them through school.¬†¬†Neither can their teachers or their parents,¬†but their peers are there, we just need to connect them. ¬†Life is hard, but it can be a bit easier with the help of¬†just one friend.

Deconstructing the Franken-goal.

Franken goal coverI read a lot¬†of IEPs during the school year as I supervise CFs and mentor new¬†hires in my large county of almost 200 SLPs.¬† I support all areas of communication with my speechies, but social language is the area near and dear to my heart.¬† Because of this, I¬†see a lot¬†of goals written regarding conversation and turn taking.¬† Turn taking in and of itself is¬†an important skill, both verbally and non-verbally.¬†¬†We can’t¬†function as a¬†“me first/all about me” community…unless you have a show on the E! network.¬† However, I cringe a bit¬†when I come across a goal that looks like this:

The student will participate in 4-6 turn taking cycles, maintaining the topic of conversation and appropriate body orientation, with appropriate¬†greeting/farewell, on three trials each session with no more than one cue.”

To be fair, most of these¬†Franken-goals come with the student from another county or state.¬† The poor SLP usually looks at me with terror in their eyes when they realize that they will have to take data on this goal (in addition to the many other goals that are also in the IEP).¬† I suspect an advocate may have been involved in the construction of this mash-up of many different goals into one.¬† I try to reassure the SLP that we are going to dismantle the goal piece by piece and we will¬†build it back into¬†more functional, measurable and understandable goals.¬†I also include the parent in this conversation so that they are reassured that we are still going to address the areas of concern, and that they are part of our team.¬† Michelle Garcia Winner’s Think Social materials have a wealth of well written goal suggestions if you need some ideas.

Most¬†of the pieces of this goal are not¬†wrong or bad,¬† in fact they may be necessary for the student to progress not only socially but academically as well in class discussions.¬†Keep in mind that for our kids with social language impairments, we are measuring their progress against themselves, not necessarily what their neurotypical peers are doing. Let’s start to deconstruct and take a look at the separate areas embedded¬†in the goal:

4-6  conversational turn taking cycles:   Do most adults continue a topic through 4-6 turns?  Not often, but a first grader?  Nope.  Maybe 2-3 at most before the topic changes in natural conversation and definitely not 4-6 cycles, three times in a thirty minute session. We need to break down the steps to having a conversation, practice often, start small and build from there! I have a free conversation football game that includes these steps in my TPT store HERE .

Topic maintenance:¬† is it a topic of the student’s choosing or a random topic assigned?¬† I don’t know about you, but I am willing to talk a lot more about something I am interested in.¬† Are they able to transition to related topics or change the topic completely?¬† Do they only talk about one topic all the time?

Body orientation can mean a lot of things.  Is the goal to turn your body towards the person you are speaking with?  Turning your face towards the person and engaging in eye contact? Adjusting personal space with other people in the conversation? Whole body listening skills are critical to participating successfully in a conversation.

Greeting/Farewell, ugh.¬† I really don’t like this¬†as a goal at all and would much rather use peer models¬†and reinforce natural ways to walk into and out of a room.¬† Very few of us always say “hello” when we walk into a room of our peers and “good-bye” every time we leave.¬† My teens tip their chin up and give a short, “s’up?”¬†and my fellow SLPS in the building give me a little wave as they walk by me in the halls. We tap into a lot of social skills during therapy naturally,¬†without having to write a goal for each and every one.

Cues:¬† what kind of cues?¬† Verbal, visual, tactile?¬† The goal is independence, so why write in¬†a generic “no more than one cue”?¬† Note¬†how you are cueing, modeling or prompting your students¬†in your data as you scaffold towards independence.¬† Don’t forget to share what works for¬†your kids with the¬†adults in their world for carryover.

I really think focusing on 3-5 clear goals is PLENTY, just make them understandable, measurable and functional for your student. An IEP is a fluid document, so I would rather set a few, reachable goals and then meet to add more within the year rather than try to collect data on a bunch of huge goals that may not help our students progress outside of the therapy setting.  No more Franken-goals, they are much too scary!

Why the Presidential Candidates Might Need A Lunch Bunch…

I was watching the Republican debate the other evening with my 16-year-old son. ¬†About ten minutes into it, he turned to me and said, “I cannot believe that no one has punched Donald Trump in the face.” ¬† After watching Mr. Trump’s posturing, antics and very purposeful lack of social filter, I had to wonder the same thing. Now I don’t believe for a minute that Mr. Trump is unaware of how he perceived or that what he says is unintentionally tactless. ¬†In fact, I think he very purposefully uses his communicative “style” as an attention grabber and knows the value of a shocking sound bite. ¬†His crass act has a communicative function to seek attention and start people talking. ¬†He also knows that his baiting comments and rude body language are going to engage the other candidates and incite emotional responses (interestingly, very much like many of the EBD students I work with).

As a SLP fascinated by social language, I started to watch the non-verbals going on with the candidates: ¬† Dr. Carson using his eyebrows to punctuate his very soft-spoken points, Ted Cruz’s laser eye gaze locked on the camera and not on the people asking the questions, Jeb Bush’s non-aggressive posture, and of course Donald Trump’s direct leaning in towards those he was insulting. ¬†I heard a snippet on the radio the next day by Dr. Patrick Stewart from the University of Arkansas. ¬†He is a political science expert and is a certified Facial Action Coding System coder specializing in reading facial expressions and emotional responses in followers and leaders.

Dr. Stewart looks at several different parts of non-verbal language which he noted accounts for 90% of communicative intent (words are the other 10%). ¬†He stated that non-verbals are how we influence others to do things we want them to do (I love that succinct description). ¬†The areas of non-verbals he analyzes include: ¬†facial expressions (including overt and micro-expressions*), body language, proxemics (how close or far away you are), haptics (touching) and vocalics ( verbal sounds, such as when your mom clears her throat to get your attention). ¬†Micro-expressions are the immediate feeling that shows up on someone’s face, even without them thinking about it, but are usually controlled quickly. Dr. Stewart often reviews video and looks frame by frame to see them, and finds these micro-expressions when the person is not speaking in a debate and the camera is not on ¬†them. ¬†Here is a link to a fascinating research article Dr. Stewart authored on Presidential Speechmaking Style¬†.

I think the debates are a fabulous way to work with older students on reading non-verbal language, identifying emotions and figuring out if what someone is saying matches the context of what they are showing.  Donald Trump is such an over the top persona it might be easier to start with him versus someone more controlled and practiced, like Marco Rubio.  I wrote a blog last Fall about campaign commercials and how to align the study of campaign ads to the common core (7th-12th grade) and questions to use to determine persuasion, bias, point of view, main idea and truth in context HERE.

For your middle or high school students with high functioning ASD, identifying and practicing the areas that Dr. Stewart mentions, facial expressions, body language, proxemics, haptics, vocalics and tone of voice, is like learning a new language. ¬†It’s not learned incidentally, but step by step with a lot of repetition! However, by teaching these skills, the long-term goal is that we are going to help them figure out meaning in communicative context with their peers and gain understanding as to how they are being received based on what they are doing and by what they are saying.

Between the debates and campaign adds to come, you will have enough social language material to last several months. ¬†You could even work with your Social Studies/History teacher to turn this into a collaborative lesson plan! ¬†So search Youtube for video clips, turn off the sound on a debate video and let the students guess what the candidates are feeling. ¬†Have them make note of how they stand, the gestures they use, facial expressions, even the color of their face (Mr. Kasich tended to get very flushed and move a lot when he was frustrated).¬†We have a long Presidential season ahead with many more debates to come. I am looking forward to the gold mine of social language learning that comes with it!! ¬†As for the best candidate for President? ¬†Well, let’s just say that’s up for debate…

Books, Glorious Books!

book blog pic

Doesn’t this picture make you feel all warm and cozy inside?¬† I love books (coffee and cookies too)! In fact when I was pregnant with my first son, I laid down the law with my husband.¬† I could buy as many books for my children as I wanted, no questions asked, no arguments.¬† I think he agreed because he was smart enough not to argue with a pregnant woman.¬† But my point was that books are not just a luxury, they are a necessity for little (and big) minds!¬†¬†Over time I learned to¬†feed my¬†book¬†habit¬†in a more budget friendly way¬†at our local library, garage sales¬†and at thrift stores.¬† I still use many of those sweet books I bought years¬†ago,¬†in therapy today.

In talking with some of my CFs the past few weeks as we worked through scheduling and¬† therapy lesson plans, I brought up the idea of thematic planning and using book companions to address¬†a variety¬†of goal areas.¬† In the past few weeks, I have seen some¬†fantastic companions made by SLPs on TeachersPayTeachers (search book companions and prepare to be amazed), facebook, and Instagram.¬† I bought Speech Sanity’s “There Was An Old Mummy Who Swallowed a Spider” product last week during the #SeptSLPMustHave sale. (*BTW, there is a 50% off¬†sale on a¬†TPT product¬†for a select group of SLPs on the 7th of each month. Search #OctSLPMustHave on October 7th in TPT¬†for the next event).¬† It has enough variety to cover receptive language, expressive language, vocabulary, following directions, articulation, turn taking games, and more, already made and ready to print and go!

I struggle with the difference between a want and a need when it comes to TPT materials and clip art, but here are a few of my wish list book companions for Fall:

Old lady and leavespumpkin soup

While I don’t plan to do ALL of my speech therapy¬†around a book companion, it’s a nice compliment to have in¬†my arsenal of materials.¬† I sprinkle in benchmark and goal probes, games, curriculum based activities, cooking adventures and music/movement.¬†What’s your favorite book companion?¬† Share here!¬† Now excuse me while I go put on my jammies and curl up with a good book and some cookies on this cool Fall night!

“Talk Like A Pirate Day” is Dead Ahead….

Pirate Day graphic

Gold Country SLP set up this great linky to highlight pirate themed products for “Talk Like a Pirate” Day on September 19th! ¬†I love a good theme and this is a fun one! ¬† A whole week of articulation, language, fluency, and social skills with a pirate punch! ¬†If you are like me, I try to get my thematic materials together a week before (or sometimes the morning of, if I am honest) scouring my files from years before, Pinterest and TPT. ¬†Well, we have done the work for you here! ¬† Check out my pirate themed products from my TPT store and¬†products from some of my favorite salty SLPs (click on the pictures to link to the products in TPT)!

This social skills packet is perfect for preK through young elementary students!

This 50 page Pirate’s Guide to Navigating the Social Seas product is packed full of activities to work on social language skills with your preK, early elementary kiddos and students with mild cognitive impairments.

8x8 cover arr you using your words sss

This social skills squish product, “Arrr You Using Your Words?” is a fun play doh mat activity to work on expected/unexpected choices when using or losing words with BIG emotions !

Want more pirate booty to add to your therapy treasure trove? Don’t forget to click on the linky picture at the top of the blog for more pirate activities! Check these out from my speech mateys including pirate themed articulation cards from Gold Country SLP, ¬†pirate WH questions and stories from Peachie Speechie, and even some big kid fun with inferences and vocabulary for upper elementary and middle schoolers from SLP Runner!

pirate articwh pirate questions

pirate inferencing

#SeptSLPMustHave Sale


It’s baaack, the September version of SLP must haves! ¬†What’s that you ask? ¬†On the 7th of each month, a group of SLPs will discount one fabulous product 50% for that one day only. ¬†With Talk Like a Pirate Day (yes, it’s a thing) coming up later this month, I chose my Sailing the Social Seas product to discount today.

8x8 cover sailing the social seas pptx

It has black & white and color copies of activities suitable to work on beginning social skills such as expected/unexpected behaviors in friends, following directions with motor movement and pretend play, beginning inferences, prediction skills and more (all aligned to the GELDS). It’s perfect for preK-early elementary ages, and can be used with students with mild cognitive impairments as well.

I am excited to add to my cart these fabulous finds:

there was an old lady spiderThis fun book companion activity for the upcoming spooky season is from Speech Sanity!

#SeptSLPMustHave Idioms:  Go Figure!

Activity Tailor has created this great idiom packet that works well with games and activities across grade levels.

#septslpmusthave No Print Back to School WH Questions

This cool, no print WH activity from Speech Wonderland can be used with an ipad or Smartboard.

Hope you find something wonderful to add to your therapy materials at #SeptSLPMustHaves!!

Theory of Mind and Cognition

tom and cognition

My metacognitive skills have been getting quite a work out lately. Thinking about thinking is exhausting, but it’s one of the many things I¬†find amazing about our brains!¬† These past few weeks have been full of opportunities to talk about Theory of Mind with a variety of my favorite SLPs.¬†If you haven’t downloaded this¬†FREE ToM assessment, click HERE (you’ll thank me later)!¬† ¬†We have been chatting about how our kids with language impairments, ASD,¬†mild¬†cognitive impairments and Down Syndrome perceive sarcasm, tone of voice, perspective taking¬†and Theory of Mind tasks differently.¬† I started googling to see what research is out there, particularly in regard to children with DS.

I came across a few articles (including THIS one) that speaks to beginning research on Theory of Mind in kids with mild cognitive impairments vs. children with Down Syndrome, functioning in the same cognitive range.¬† The preliminary findings suggest there is a difference in perception, and that while¬†both groups have the desire for¬†social engagement, children with DS have a more difficult time taking on another person’s perspective and switching their behavior because of it.

I see four very verbal¬†boys with DS and feel that this¬†may be a piece to¬†some of the social behaviors they struggle with.¬† They understand that sometimes their choices are not making others happy, but have a hard time changing their behavior to affect others in a positive way.¬† They get stuck and often it’s written off as ‘stubbornness’ that people¬†assume¬†is part of DS, but I¬†suspect¬†there might be¬†more to it¬†than that.

I use a LOT of visuals and activities that center around emotions and problem solving strategies in our therapy sessions.¬† Giving language to feelings helps keep my boys from shutting down as often and gives them the tools to talk about what happened (after the event, not in the moment).¬† That’s the first step.¬† I then try to get them to connect other people’s feelings, what¬†others might be thinking and how what we say/do can change that.¬† This is a BIG cognitive jump and isn’t going to happen in a few sessions, it’s an ongoing goal.¬† I try to follow a visual template when we talk through an event, like this one:

DS social language template

*If it’s too much visual information on one page for your student, ¬†fold it in half or cut the steps apart to sequence one at a time.

I¬†also printed out¬†these cute¬†clip art¬†emotions¬†I bought from Whimsy Clips to use when working on¬†problem solving, emotion identification and¬†Theory of Mind activities. You can¬†find them¬†HERE or use actual pictures of your students.¬† A visual representation of someone¬†physically¬†leaving a social scene can help our kids connect the idea that when¬†everyone doesn’t have the same¬†information, you may have an incorrect perception based on what you do know.¬† I cut out the people and glue them to upside down solo¬†cups to make them moveable on a table, but you could put Velcro buttons and use a flannel board, magnetic tape to use on a white board or craft sticks to make a moveable puppet show.¬† As low tech as these are, you can use them in a million ways in therapy!

Do you work on ToM and social language with your students that are not on the autism spectrum?  Share your thoughts here.