Social skills and hard conversations

hard conversations blog

This summer has been a difficult one as the news has been full of upsetting images happening across our country.  I was visiting family in Dallas, Texas the week of the police shootings and like the rest of the country after an extraordinarily violent week, I was stunned.  I watched the peaceful protests in Atlanta on the local news when I got home the following week.  I had to turn off the TV for a while to process all I was thinking about, away from the rhetoric of social media. While I am not a mother to a police officer or an African American son,  I am a mom. My heart broke for these families and broke for us as a country. How can we begin to discuss these big issues-racism, trust, personal safety- in our homes, schools and places of worship, if we cannot begin to take the perspective of someone else?

To be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is hard.  It’s even harder when we define ourselves by how we are not the same, rather than what we have in common.  In social language therapy, helping my kids shift their point of view to at least try and consider what someone else might be thinking or feeling, is challenging.  All the lessons that we address in a social language framework , as Michelle Garcia Winner states, are life skills to help us work and live with others successfully.  Pause and consider this for just a minute. Understanding basic Theory of Mind, that my thoughts can be different from your thoughts based on our experiences and what we know, is a foundation to getting along with others.  Even the basic social rules we learn on the playground still apply in the grown up world; take turns, help someone if they get hurt, include others and play fair. Why is it so difficult for us to apply these lessons as we grow up?

It is critical that we teach the concepts of thinking about others and trying to consider another person’s point of view (even when you don’t agree with it) to all kids, not just students with social language impairments. It is equally as important as academics, in my opinion.  Self-control and emotional regulation are also necessary social skills that we need to teach, to get along with others in this world. Bullying people into listening to your point of view and screaming that you are right and they are wrong, are not going to solve anything, whether you are five or fifty. Like I tell my own boys, you have the right to your own thoughts and feelings, but you do not have the right to use them to purposefully hurt others.

I realize that this is simplifying a very complicated series of problems. I don’t have the answers, although I sure wish I did.  What I do believe, is that in a very “me” centered culture, we need to shift hard to thinking about other people, starting in our homes and in our schools.  We need to listen to and talk with people who think like us and those who don’t. These opportunities for difficult conversations are going to continue to present themselves to you and me, so how are we going to handle them moving forward?  I can take a step in the right direction by teaching children that I work with the life skills and social language concepts needed to think about other people, and practicing this myself.

Share your thoughts here.

Gotta catch em all!



If you have seen people walking around staring at their phones more than usual, it might be because of Pokemon Go.  This new app makes you a virtual Pokemon trainer able to “catch” all kinds of Pokemon in your own neighborhood using your phone’s GPS ( with the bonus of getting kids off of the couch and walking around outdoors)!  When they were little, my boys collected all the cards and forced invited me to watch Ash Ketchum and friends wrangle Pokemon.  But this app isn’t just popular with  kids, even adults are using it!

My brain started thinking about how to use this fun app with a social twist. If you are using this in a social language group, you can map out a whole month’s worth of therapy lessons using Pokemon Go! There are rules to playing the virtual game, both spoken and hidden, so that’s a great place to start.  Safety is a big one with this app- you wouldn’t believe how many people walk into the street or get injured from falling or walking into things in their pursuit of a prized Pokemon!   This is a great opportunity to talk about expected and unexpected behaviors too. I have heard news reports about people trying to play the game in places like the Holocaust memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.  Boundaries anyone?

Once your group discusses the rules, then you can divide and conquer into teams.  There are three teams (you can read about their descriptions HERE) that are part of the game, Team Mystic, Team Instinct and Team Valor, but you could let the kids pick their own names.  This is an opportunity to work on the goal of negotiating with others when working in groups.  Once you pick the team, no changes are allowed, so be prepared to be flexible!

Self regulation is a big skill set in this game, as it’s easy to get overly excited or super frustrated when that elusive Charizard (or any of the 151 Pokemon characters in the game) escapes your grasp.  Working in a group or with a partner on your team requires a LOT of self-control, executive function and future thinking (planning what you are going to do ahead of time).  One of the social language lessons could include deciding what strategies you can use in the moment for keeping your cool ( Zones of Regulation GO!).  You might even want to align each color of the Zones with a specific Pokemon to help you remember your strategies (for example:  Blaziken would be a great icon for the Red Zone).  To extend this idea further, have your kids make up their own Pokemon characters  or trainer names that would describe themselves, including their strengths and skills sets.  This can lead to a discussion about how we want others to see us and both positive and negative character traits.

The game also tailors which Pokemon you can find by the time of day and where you are looking for them.  For example, if you are out in the evening, you will find more ghost or fairy Pokemon. If you are near the beach, you will find more water Pokemon.  This is a fun way to work on inferencing, categorizing and compare/contrast skills with your kids!

Have you played Pokemon Go yet (be honest)?  How could you use it in social language therapy? Share here!






Self Regulation is in the bag.

zones blog template

I like finding different ways to work on social language concepts.  My kids (and I) get bored with flashcards or stories, so I want to shake it up a little.  Paper bag books aren’t new, but I thought it might be fun to put a social language spin on one for therapy.   My fine motor skills are not the best and my students also have some difficulty figuring out how to make something based on a visual model, so we walk through the steps together.  I start out with this tutorial from WhimsyandStarsStudio:

paper bag book tutorial

Now I also tell my boys there doesn’t have to be anything cute in their book and they relax a bit (but it’s definitely okay if they want to).  We practice making a book together first (begin with the end in mind) and then we get to work creating our personal strategies book to go along with Zones of Regulation .  If you haven’t checked out this amazing social language/self regulation resource from Leah Kuypers, GO NOW, you can thank me later!

Each page in our little book is color coded to the Zones curriculum.  We put in pictures (you can draw your own or cut out pictures from old magazines) or words describing the strategies we can use to stay emotionally regulated or get back to the green zone (calm, happy, self regulated).

Have you used paper bag books in therapy?  If so, share your ideas here!


Light It Up!

blog template light it up

This weekend we are celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks and sparklers everywhere!  I love the contrast of the bright, sparkly lights against the sky as it finally gets dark around ten p.m. The deep thumps you can feel in your chest as the fireworks cannons launch sent my poor dogs scurrying to hide somewhere, anywhere, to get away from the scary sounds!  And of course our family tradition is to make s’mores to celebrate the occasion, because who wouldn’t want have a handful of sugary, sticky deliciousness on a 90 degree night, right?

We are working on a patriotic theme in speech this week to get ready with this light it up craftivity!   First, we brainstorm things that we like about our friends, discussing character traits vs. physical characteristics vs. “cool stuff they have”.  We talk about the idea that when we use kind words and tell others what we like about them, this makes them feel really good. I use the words “lighting people up” to describe this feeling, or even feeling sparkly inside!  Check out my post last week for a shark themed craftivity to make “shark bites”, to contrast this activity and talk about words that that hurt.

When we get that sorted out, then we write the positives on thin strips of construction paper that I have cut ahead of time.  We used white with red markers, but you can pick any color that suits you.  In addition, I cut strips of tin foil into thin strips to add a little sparkle

.Next, we fan the paper and foil strips gently together at the bottom and staple them together, then wrap blue tape around the bottom of the fan, attaching it to a straw.  And there you go, a safe sparkler of words that make people feel good, so go ahead and “light it up”!

How are you celebrating the Fourth with your family?



Shark Bites.

shark week blog

With two boys of my own, Shark Week has always been a big hit around my house.  It’s coming around again this month for 2016 and we will be sure to watch!  I have seen some really cute craftivities on sharks that I will be using with my summer kiddos including these great ideas from Sunflower Storytime  and their free shark mouth template PDF !


shark template.jpg

I was thinking about how to apply Shark Week fun to social language concepts using the shark mouth pdf, and I came up with this:

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I printed the shark outline on cardstock and laminated it to make it more durable.  Next, I put stick on velcro dots along the edge of the mouth (you could use tape, glue or even lay it flat and just put the teeth along the edges.  I used Word and copied as many triangles onto the page as I could since the pdf only had one tooth that I used for sizing.  Then I printed the teeth out on card stock and cut them out before the activity.  This activity is appropriate for late elementary ages on up but could be simplified for younger kids too.

Before making our shark mouths, we talked about how “sharp” words can be (just like shark teeth).  They can cut and wound people when we are being mean or not using our social filters (think it vs. say it).  I asked the kids to share some words that would be hurtful to them or the people that they care about, and we called them shark bites. We brainstormed on a white board first to talk it through. I like to have a visual model (Sarah Ward’s executive function workshop opened my eyes to beginning with the end visually for our kids), but I don’t want them to copy exactly what I have written.  BTW, I always have that one kid who tells me, “I don’t care what people say about me”, so we talk about it from a cartoon character’s perspective instead (Sponge Bob and Squidward are great examples).  This is a little easier for some of my students with ASD, to talk about difficult subjects or feelings from someone else’s experience, not their own.

We also practice sorting out teeth that I have written on prior to the lesson, onto thought bubbles and talking bubbles.   This is a great companion activity to work on the concept of not saying everything that we are thinking, because it can be hurtful.  I extend this concept to include the idea that just because something is “true” doesn’t mean that it is okay to say it, if it hurts someone.

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That’s how we are diving in deep during social skills shark week!  How are you incorporating sharks into your themed therapy (social skills or otherwise)? Share here!




The Invisible Rules of School

invisible rules of school blog

I had heard about a fascinating social language teaching concept, The Curriculum of Hidden Rules, several months ago.  The authors proposed that in addition to teaching school/work rules, we also need to address the unspoken curriculum that helps us succeed socially.  For my students with ASD, ADHD or other social language and cognitive impairments, these unspoken or “invisible” rules are not learned incidentally and are often the reasons that they get into trouble!

One teacher asked me why my students didn’t seem to “get it” when all the other kids did.  I explained that neurotypical* students (* for this discussion, meaning kids who aren’t on the autism spectrum or diagnosed with social language or cognitive impairments) naturally pick up on the subtle social cues that my students often miss.  The simple answer is that my students are not incidental learners in their environments. We have to break down the skill and rules, answer questions (lots of questions!) and help our kids practice these non-intuitive social skills to help them succeed far beyond the walls of our school.

Dr. Christine Reeve, author of the fantastic Autism Classroom Resources, posted a series of blogs on teaching this curriculum with students and young adults. Her blog about the danger of the hidden curriculum in bathrooms was great and very timely!  I have an elementary student with Down Syndrome that I work with, and he got into a LOT of trouble this year by not recognizing the hidden curriculum of the bathroom.  He wasn’t being silly or purposefully trying to upset others, he just didn’t recognize the rules the other boys did in the bathroom.  It was a frustrating and upsetting experience for his family and a huge learning curve for the school (teachers all the way to the administration).

This coming school year, as part of my job in developing social language support in our county with SLPs, I want to start to integrate some of these lessons of the Curriculum of Hidden Rules (hello PBIS!).   I created a TPT product to use as a companion packet with this concept HERE  (the books for The Hidden Curriculum are not included).

Social City Sleuths: Understanding the Invisible Rules at School  includes templates for talking about the known and invisible rules in nine areas of school, a student planner for working on these rules, practice scenarios, interactive bulletin board sets for an entire school year, and extension ideas to push out these concepts school wide!  It’s made to work with students from late elementary through middle school (or those working at this cognitive level) and is perfect for social skills groups, counseling groups or PBIS lessons.

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Have you heard about the Hidden Curriculum? How are you working on the Curriculum of Hidden Rules in your school or therapy setting?  Share here!

Puppies, Prediction and Cars…

puppy blog pic

I am a dog lover, so when puppy commercials come on TV, I get drawn in immediately. Subaru has a series of car commercials airing now that just suck me in. every. single. time.  They feature a family of Golden Retrievers (The Barkleys!) and their adventures in driving. There are no words in the commercials (duh, they are dogs) BUT they convey a message in each one very clearly. For my students with social language impairments, too much language muddies the processing waters, so these are perfect!  I have downloaded the series onto my social language Youtube channel playlists HERE .

Beyond the complete cuteness overload, they are fabulous tools to work on the social language concepts of predicting and inferencing for my students!  The eight commercials convey social scenarios (for example: the mom getting her hair done) and are great to use to identify emotions, prediction, point of view and humor, all in about thirty seconds. Don’t forget about expected and unexpected concepts too (a puppy in a car seat-whaaaat?). These would be great to use with Playposit (you can read my blog post on how to create your own therapy activity by embedding questions into video clips HERE ).

Do you use commercials to teach inferences or other social language concepts?  I love using Dorito’s Super Bowl ads  and kid’s movie previews!  Please share your favorites here!