Stay in my head or say it instead?

3x3 blog pic think vs say cover

Using a social filter, keeping some thoughts in our heads and saying some thoughts out loud, is a tricky concept for my students.  Heck, it’s a tricky concept for most adults these days!  It is a social language idea that I circle back to practice with my students.  It is not a once and done skill, so I am always looking for different ways to address the idea.  I use video clips from movies and commercials, great teaching videos from Everyday Speech, fantastic free activities from Jill Kuzma’s website  ,and the teaching materials from Social Thinking .

For my younger students, they need a concrete way to visualize this concept.  As with other language concepts, adding a motor component helps my kids to gain another way of connecting and remembering the ideas, rather than just talking about it.   Here is a cheap and fun way to add this teaching concept to your therapy closet!   I save containers, like the tall oatmeal cylinder boxes.  They tend to be sturdier and I like that the plastic top makes it an activity container as well, keeping the cards together when I am not using it.

think vs say blog pic

Make sure the container is empty and  clean (you don’t want any buggy friends joining your speech party).  I print off blank faces using fabulous clip art that I purchased from Educlips and Sarah Pecorino, as well as rainbow brains from Hidesy’s Clip Art .  I have my students draw a face to look like themselves on the blank templates.  If fine motor is a concern, you can use googly eyes, stickers or magazine photos cut apart to make a face (or what a great co-treat idea with an Occupational Therapist).  If you have the time and a color printer, you can even enlarge and laminate actual pictures of your student’s face for their container.  I like the idea of personalizing the faces to help connect the social idea we are using to the students.  Once your face is complete, help your students cut out the mouth to make an opening.  I cut out the same shape on the side of the box and cut a large slit on the container lid.

Next, after talking through the concept of a social filter, we draw pictures to represent topics or write out scenarios to sort what we should keep in our head (think) vs. what we can say.   Then we take turns putting these cards into our brains (top of the box) or into the mouth. I have several of these social filter scenario activity cards, like these , in my TPT store , but you can always make your own! After the activity is done, the cards stay in the box for easy storage.

If we need to focus on just the concept of keeping thoughts in our head (because they might make people upset if we say them out loud), then we can make a cute little brain box out of sugar packet container, with a brain on the front (see picture above).   Open the lid to put the thoughts inside the box, without a mouth for them to escape!

What do you use to teach the social concepts to your kids?   Share here!

Social language, with a cherry on top!

3x3 blog pic cherry

I work on the concepts of emotional identification and regulation in therapy with my kids a LOT! I love finding different ways of working on these skills, particularly using games. I also love the Zones of Regulation program for teaching and supporting these concepts. So when I find a way to combine the two, it’s a win!  If you have ever played Hi Ho-Cherry-o! ™, you might have noticed that the bucket colors correspond to the primary colors (red, green, blue, yellow) that are also used in Zones.  I know!!!

hihocherryo 1

How do we use the game to work on emotional regulation?  I am so glad you sort of, not really asked!  Once you have introduced the Zones curriculum to your students and they have a good understanding of the concepts, then you can start to generalize the skills with this game. The spinner has cherries 1-4, a dog, a bird, and a spilled cherry basket icon.  Each person’s tree holds 10 cherries, but we start the game with ten cherries in each bucket.   Before we start the game, we talk about how each bucket color represents a category of emotions that correlate to Zones of Regulation.  For example, the blue bucket can represent emotions such as sad, disappointed or tired.   One the things I really like about the Zones program is that the authors help us understand that there are no bad emotions, it’s okay to experience them all in the right time and place.  The Zones also teaches us how to regulate and match our reactions to these feelings.

hihocherryo 2

Next, we spin the spinner and if we land on the cherries (1-4), we identify a situation that might make us have feelings in the zone we choose (example:  identify 3 situations that might put us in the red zone- someone cutting in line, being yelled at or your brother taking your bike without asking).  Then we put the corresponding cherries from the red bucket on the tree.  If you land on the bird, you have to listen to a social-emotional scenario and decide if the reaction matches the level of emotion.  Hello working on size of a problem and identifying the size of a reaction!  If you land on the dog, you have to identify a strategy to help you move from red, yellow or blue zones back to the green zone (calm, happy).  If you land on the spilled cherry bucket, we have to clear a tree of all the cherries on it (just one tree).  This is a real time lesson on emotional regulation and dealing with frustration and disappointment!  The goal of the game is to fill all the trees, empty the buckets and “grow” our social emotional learning.  It’s emotional regulation with a cherry on top!

What other board games have you adapted to use for social language therapy?  Share here!

Judging a book by it’s cover…

3x3 blog pic book cover

We have all heard the old adage, “Never judge a book by it’s cover.”   This gratefully comes to mind each time I run into someone I know when I am in my grubbiest attire with no makeup on!  This is also a social concept that we work on to talk about how our appearance on the outside doesn’t always match what we have on the inside of us!  This is a pretty challenging concept cognitively and it is not a once and done lesson.

This discussion can lead to the related concepts of how we want others to see and think about us, why our words and actions matter, and how we need to be thinking of others as well.   These topics can open up painful and difficult discussions, so don’t be tied to your lesson plan.   Instead, take these teachable moments and go deep with your students, especially in the middle school years.  I know it teeters on the edge of counseling in social language groups, but these concepts are rough waters that our kids need to talk about in a safe place, with someone they trust.

One activity that you may want to try to illustrate these social concepts is to make an actual book cover (hello literal interpretation!). I grabbed some old books at Goodwill and use the original jackets to help the students make a prediction or good guess about what the book might be about, to introduce our activity.  We then make our own book jackets to represent ourselves.  You can go old school and use a paper grocery bag, use legal size paper to make into a book jacket or even craft paper to make a template using an actual book jacket.  I picked up some composition notebooks for next to nothing to use and they double as a journal for my students too!  I found this great visual tutorial  on Pinterest from Terri Mauro, or you can order these paper jackets on Amazon, if you only need a few and are a little type A, with mad SLP money to burn.

book cover blog pic

Next, we brainstorm ideas of how we want to be seen.  There are so many related concepts and activities, you may have your social lesson plans for an entire month!   What do we want others to see when they are around us?  Those words and images are then illustrated (or glued, painted, written) on the book cover by each student.

It will be interesting to see if they would choose the same words and pictures at the end of the year versus the beginning.  The beauty of this concept is that you can totally change the cover anytime you want! These covers are also great illustrations to use throughout the school year to address different social topics (perspective taking, judging others, how I make people think and feel, etc..).   So maybe we can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but we can sure learn a lot about ourselves by it!



Trust is a two way street.

3x3 blog pic trust 2

This past school year brought an unusually large amount of contentious speech meetings my way, involving attorneys and advocates.  I traveled our large county to support my fellow SLPs in these long, stressful meetings.   It began to feel like these meetings were becoming the norm, at least in my former school system, without the parents first communicating their concerns directly to the SLP and/or teachers.  To be fair, I have worked with some fabulous advocates who really had what was best for the student at the heart of their agendas, and I was always happy to be part of those meetings!   The bottom line is that this is what all of us should be aiming for, right?  I have also been the mom of a child with an IEP, so I have been on both sides of this table.

What is alarming to me is the tendency to jump over the social protocol of talking to someone they have a concern with directly.  Instead, they immediately call a meeting, armed with legal representation.  This leads to a lot of miscommunication, frustration and anxiety between the team members and the family.  Trust is a two way street.  I watched families demand the school pay for summer services, private tutors and camps for their children, even when the student had made steady progress all year.  As a parent, I knew it was equally my responsibility to provide support at home for my child, so I hired a tutor, spent extra time working on what my son’s teachers sent home and attended conferences with them to better understand his strengths and weaknesses.  Yes, it was expensive and time-consuming, but it was what I felt I needed to do to help him succeed.  It cannot all fall on the school, it has to be a shared responsibility with the family.

Unfortunately, it is rare that anyone speaks up in these meetings with advocates and attorneys to ask what the parent is doing to support these skills too. I have seen parents and attorneys berate SLPs and teachers at these meetings in a manner that they would never tolerate being spoken to, and barely anyone bats an eye. Why? Fear keeps us quiet, no one wants to be a target in these meetings.  I wish I had been braver to speak up more often in these meetings.  It is a slippery slope to try to get the family on board with working together, when all they hear is “no” and their legal support labels us as bad teachers and SLPs, since we clearly do not want to help the child.   This is typically the point the meeting is at a standstill and everyone is feeling crummy.

My former boss has an amazing way of staying calm and refocusing the team on finding solutions to problems in these difficult meetings. Sometimes this resolved the issues quickly, sometimes not, but we always knew she had our back.  She took a lot of verbal abuse on our behalf with extraordinary grace in these meetings, and not once did I see her react or retaliate.  Attacking and disrespecting the people working with your child is not okay. Talk to us and help us understand your concerns and answer your questions, we really are on the same team and want your child to succeed!  I think it goes back to the basic social premise of thinking about how our words and actions make other people feel and should be the golden rule in meetings. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

How do you handle difficult meetings?  How do involve your families in carryover and support? Share here!

Watch your tone!

3x3 blog pic tone of voice

Voice is an area of communication that I have really had to step up my game recently. Many of my students with autism spectrum disorders struggle with the subtleties of understanding that it’s not just the words they say, but how they say them, that convey meaning.  I love using videos to teach many social concepts and tone of voice is one of these areas, but I also needed some step by step materials to explain the why of this skill. Have you had any friends that speak like a robot or a cartoon character, or use a loud, angry tone of voice all the time (even when they weren’t mad)?  Me too!

8x8 cover voxbots

I ended up making what I needed after looking around for months, and voila’, Voxbots (get it?) was born and you can find it in my TPT store!  I tend to be a linear thinker and know that my kids need to understand the steps and the why before we can practice and start to change these skills.   I begin with teaching cards to describe each clue we need to consider, in order to determine the right tone of voice. These clues include matching emotion to words, reading body language and facial expressions, determining the right place, time and people, and adjusting our volume, speed and inflection.  It always amazes me when I break down a skill, how complex each one is and how neurotypical brains work effortlessly when we communicate.  It also helps me understand and empathize at how hard these skills are for my students with social language deficits!

I then have task cards for each of the clue areas to practice the skills.  After we get the instructional understanding down in therapy, I give homework using a checklist of what to look for. I ask them to observe the clues in real time at home, across people and settings.  We also use video clips to look for the clues and to see if the tone of voice matches what is going on in the movie or commercial (you can look through my Pinterest board for social video clips HERE ).  Using an ipad or iphone to record the students is another great idea to generalize the skill. My students often have the most difficult time watching themselves, so I save this practice until last.  Remember, social communication in real time is a very fast moving, complex skill for all of us.  This is not a once and done lesson.  You may scaffold the skills over several weeks and then re-visit them throughout the year in therapy to probe for generalization or to see where the kids are missing clues.  You can even create a bulletin board with their Voxbots as a visual cue in the classroom or send them home as a reminder for carryover.

How do you teach tone of voice skills in therapy?  Share here!

Apples and Oranges.

blog pic apples and oranges

I attend a large church and we are fortunate to have a couple of classes for our kids with special needs to join while their parents go to services.  I volunteer in one of these classes, and I have come to know and love the children in my room.  Several of these friends are former students of mine as well, so it is a treat to see them changing and growing into young adults!  I am in the younger classroom, and we join a larger group of K-2nd graders for a whole group dance party/bible lesson for part of our morning.

Some of my friends can be a little loud and wiggly, and at first, it stressed me out a bit to try to make sure they were not distracting the other kids during our big group time.  But as I looked around, the other students were equally (if not more) loud and wiggly!  They are being kids, in all their silly glory that comes along with not being concerned about what others think of you.  I learned to relax and enjoy the fun of watching these littles worship with wild abandon and joy!

A few weeks ago, I noticed two little girls watching one of my students sing and dance. They stared at her and then looked at me.  I walked over and asked if they wanted to come meet my friend. They were shy but said yes, and walked over.  The girls chatted for a bit and soon were jumping and singing right next to her, three peas in a pod.  The world will tell us that we are different and separate, not enough and too much, apples and oranges.   But don’t listen to the world, fruit salad is delicious!

IMO (maybe that’s the problem)

IMO blog post picPlease note: this is not a political opinion post, but a discussion on applying a social learning concept in the real world.

One of the Social Thinking concepts that really resonates with me is how people, time and place change what we should say and do.  In considering who we are with, where we are and the timing of an event, we consider how our words and actions impact others and how others will think of us.  For example, you are with new co-workers (people) on the first day of work (timing) and you are in a meeting (place) with your new boss, and you tell your raunchiest joke. Your co-workers and boss are probably not going to have good thoughts about you! If you are with your college besties (people) in your favorite pub (place) watching your weekly Saturday football game (timing), you could tell that same joke and your friends might think you are the most hilarious person ever!  I try to teach my students to “read the room” before they speak, and think through the outcomes of these social choices as part of social language interventions.  Our kids typically live in the moment and don’t always think through the consequences of their words and actions first.  This often gets them into trouble with their parents, teachers and peers!

It is not only my students that struggle with the concepts of the right time, person and place. I have noticed this quite frequently in the news as well. Our political world has spun dangerously into a frenzied state of perpetual outrage and fury.  It isn’t new, but it is has become pervasive with 24/7 coverage on social media.  I have unfollowed (is that a word?) several friends on different media platforms because it was just too much rhetoric and constant posts on being offended/offensive. The words “in my opinion” seem to be used as a free pass to say whatever you are feeling, regardless of how it might make other people think and feel.   As an adult, I am still learning the fine art of considering and appreciating differing points of view without agreeing with them (you can check out my previous blog about the concept of agreeing to disagree here ).

This concept came into focus for me when I was watching coverage of Bethune Cookman’s college graduation ceremony a few weeks ago.  The embattled Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, was invited to be the speaker. In the storm of controversy leading up to the speech, the school’s President shared with the community, “I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices that we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community.” During the ceremony, several students chose to stand with their backs to Ms. DeVos in protest during her speech, and jeering from the crowd was heard. Mr. Edison Jackson, the school’s president, interrupted to tell the students that if this behavior continued, their degrees would be mailed to them.  While I understand the reasoning behind the protest and love the passion of students who are willing to stand up for their beliefs, it wasn’t the right place or the right time.  It took away from the focus of all who had worked hard to earn their diplomas and celebrate with their families that day. The message gets lost when you don’t consider the timing, place and people around you.   To be able to consider both sides of a conversation is a mark of maturity and social competency, especially when you don’t agree!

Protests and healthy discourse are essential pieces to our Democracy, but at what point does it become about more outrageous behavior and stunts to gain attention and less about the actual cause and social change that we care about?  I am much more likely to listen and engage in a thoughtful conversation about differing points of view with someone who is able to share their concerns and passions respectfully, than if someone is just shouting me down and calling me names because I don’t agree with them.  We are not a perfect country and not a perfect people, but if we are going to weather the storms of the times, we must learn to “read the room” and  consider how our words and actions impact others.

As I teach my students (and remind myself), you don’t have to attend every argument you are invited to.  Do you work on these skills with your students?  Share here….