Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.

do for one

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone” is one of my favorite quotes from Andy Stanley, my church pastor.  The message was delivered during a series on community service, but it’s just as apt for the students we serve.  Working with students with social communication disorders can be time-consuming and frustrating, as therapists and teachers.  To watch your student fall into the same emotional minefield even after reading social stories, making visuals, implementing behavior reinforcement systems in the classroom and working on multiple sessions of practice, can be disheartening to say the least.  My heart hurts for them as they are often their own worst enemy.

I had the chance to set up a social communication program for a fifth grade student who was struggling socially and academically, because they could not work with their peers at all and constantly argued with their teachers.  The student could, outside of the moment, tell me exactly what he should have done or said, but just couldn’t translate it into real-time.   The emotionality of the situation seemed to erase all of the strategies we had been working on over the year.   He was tired and frustrated, as were his teachers, peers and parents.  We had a session that ended up being just he and I after a particularly difficult week.  “I know what I need to do, I just can’t make my brain do it.  I know everyone is always mad at me.  I don’t want to be this way,  I just don’t know how to change.  Are you going to kick me out of speech?”

My eyes filled with tears, but I pulled it together before reassuring him that no, of course I wouldn’t kick him out of speech.   I was there for him, and we would just keep working on ways for him to learn to survive (and even flourish) in a confusing social world.  Did he magically become a social whiz that year?  No, but he did make a friend who had lunch with him and hung out on the playground.  I count that as huge success.  I still get emails from his mom once in a while letting me know how he is doing.

I see more and more students struggling with the impact of social communication impairments.  Our society is affected by isolating technology and unbelievable social pressure, a combination that is wreaking havoc with our kids.  My heart is absolutely drawn to those who don’t quite fit in and those that stand out.  As SLPs, our fatal flaw is that we want to fix all of the kids we work with, every last one.  It’s one of our best and most frustrating qualities, but it’s not realistic.   What I can do is work my hardest for those I can reach, and do for one what I wish I could do for everyone.

To the cloud (no, not that one)…

I ran across a cute idea on Pinterest the other day for a baby gift.  It involved Wordle and it got me thinking about how I could use a variation in therapy with my students.  Wordle is a program that allows you to pick all kinds of words and generate a visual representation, a cloud, using them:

character wordle

The Pinterest version took it a step further, shaping the words into images using another website, tagxedo.   Here is an example of one done of MLK;

mlk tagxedo

Pretty cool right?  So how can you incorporate these fun web tools into therapy?  I am glad you asked!  Here are a few ideas:

  • Create visual word clouds to describe a character from a story and have the students try to guess who it is.  You can use the tagxedo site to put the words into a clue form (example:  a horse for Black Beauty ).  This is an opportunity to talk about character traits as well as how people are perceived by how they act.
  • Have the students create word clouds/images of themselves and work through those perceptions (and misperceptions) of how we want others to think about us.  This would be a nice activity to pair with Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking lessons on perspective and inferences.
  • Have other students offer some positive character traits they see in their classmates, create some wordles and post these in the room.
  • Allow students to create wordles with important details they want others to know about themselves.  For example, likes, dislikes, siblings, where they were born, pets…   Use these in a game to pair with Michelle Garcia Winner’s lesson on building people files.  This activity focuses on learning about other people in order to ask questions and build commonality in conversation (instead of only talking about our interests)!
  • For our kids who perseverate on a topic, and might only include words related to, hmmm, Minecraft, I would let them go ahead and make that wordle.   Then have them look at other examples that include many interests. This could open up a discussion about how when we only talk about one thing, that limits conversation and can be a little boring to other people.  Visuals are powerful!

I hope you found a little inspiration today!  I’d love to hear your ideas on incorporating word clouds into therapy too.