How Should I Know??

secret life of pets blog

“They can’t talk, so how should I know what they would say??” This is a quote from a young man I was working with when I showed him a picture of a dog and asked him to tell me what it might be thinking or saying.  He looked at me, arms crossed, with a loud, unsaid “duh!” hanging in the air between us.  Over the next few sessions,  we talked about imagining, wondering, and using context clues to make a guess about what something (or someone) might be thinking, saying or feeling.  I used a scaffold of materials to work on this, moving from pictures, to social scenarios, commercials  and short video clips from movies.  There are lots of great preview clips on Youtube that can be so helpful in working on these concepts!

My own boys are older, but I still enjoy a good animated movie now and again (I am not talking to you Sponge Bob Square Pants). Last summer,  I dragged my 16 year old with me to see Inside Out with the promise of unlimited popcorn (it worked like a charm)! We both ended up enjoying the movie, probably me more than him. There were so many great moments to use in therapy to talk about emotions, predictions, and how our actions affect others!  Is it wrong that I look at most movies like these as possible social language material?  I’d like to think that it’s equal parts brain bonus/occupational hazard, but I’m a glass half-full kind of girl.

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         The Secret Life of Pets           from Universal Pictures and Illuminations Entertainment coming July 2016

There is a new movie full of social language possibilities opening this summer, The Secret Life of Pets, from the same people who made the Minion movies.  They have started releasing previews that are hilarious and PERFECT to work on the concepts of thinking, feeling and saying using context clues.   Here is a link to a Christmas card themed clip . There are seven pets getting their pictures taken for holiday cards.  This would be fun to use when we return to school in the post-holiday doldrums of January!

One caveat about this clip:  it lasts 1:46 minutes but I would only show through the 1:15 minute mark.  There is a bit of an inappropriate guinea pig moment with a computer mouse after the 1:15 time that I would avoid!!  Consider yourselves warned!!

Each of the seven pets is featured for about 10 seconds. Show each clip, pause it and then have the students decide what kind of personality traits each pet has (goofy, hyper, clumsy, etc..). Talk about what clues might lead you to make these guesses. You might want to write out the choices on sticky notes for support or have your students brainstorm personality descriptors before/during the activity.  I talk about a time I have seen those personality traits in people I know, including myself.  Building connections between what we are practicing and real life experiences is so important.  Otherwise we are teaching skills that aren’t easily integrated beyond our therapy rooms!

The next thing to decide would be determining how the pet feels about getting their picture taken.  This is a great exercise in looking at facial expressions.  Animation typically over-exaggerates expressions and this is very helpful for our students with ASD! Talk about the eyes, mouth, body posture, all the non-verbal clues that help us determine how someone/something is feeling.  

If my students have pets, I ask them to try and think about these same activities with their own animals.  Again, connecting personal experiences to social language lessons really helps our kids gain a deeper understanding of these skills.  These clips are full of opportunities to talk about how and why questions. You can extend the lesson with your students who have basic perspective taking skills and ask them to guess:

What the pet owners might be thinking or feeling when their pets were getting their pictures taken?

What is the person taking the pictures of the pets thinking/feeling at the end of the clip?

What the people who receive this Christmas picture might be thinking?

They only show two humans in the clip, so this will take some out of the box imagination skills and making good guesses!  It’s much harder to make a guess about things we can’t see but must infer.  There are several other clips being released,  but I hope they aren’t showing all the funny parts now (I am always disappointed when I feel like I have seen the movie before I see the movie)!  You can check out the other preview here and work on related concepts over several weeks!

What the pets do when their people are gone:  (2:40 seconds) Fantastic for prediction and inferences (cat in the refrigerator with food, dog with squirrel),  predictable/unpredictable behaviors (a prissy French Poodle head banging to System of a Down) and comparing/contrasting what the pet owners think pets do all day versus what the pets actually do!

What other movie clips have you used to teach social language concepts? I really like The Dabbling Speechie’s Elf themed ideas for therapy!  Share your finds here!



The Language of Emotion



language of emotion

Last week, I talked about teaching point of view/perspective taking skills in therapy with younger students with ASD, ADD, and/or mild cognitive impairments.   This week, I am focusing on another social language concept, the language of emotions.  I use the emotion pictures from Super Duper Inc. (the scared lady in the picture above is my favorite!), characters in books and short animated clips with exaggerated expressions and role playing activities.  I like to work on broadening the skill far beyond labeling emotions to teach my littles how to be flexible thinkers!  You might want to also check out these previous blog posts for some other therapy ideas for emotions HERE and HERE .

We start by looking at pictures of facial expressions and labeling how we think someone might be feeling.  I point out the clues that help us figure out the emotion, such as the person’s eyes/eyebrows, mouth, body language, etc…  Teach the language first and practice simply matching to start with.  Yes, it’s very basic, but you want the kids to have the language of emotion in static pictures before they can move to more difficult interpretations of short video clips or real life interactions!  Don’t assume this is too easy for your littles!  Sometimes they have happy/sad, but not much more beyond that.

emotion hands


Next, I put the emotion pictures on headbands (the one in the top picture is from my Hedbanz (RT) game, but you can make your own).  I demonstrate that I want them to imitate the expression on my headband but not say the emotion label out loud (just copy the emotion with an expression). I then have to guess what the emotion is on my headband based on what they show me.  It’s a little tricky at first, but they catch on quickly.  We take turns and then look at our cards to see if our expressions and guesses match.  By the way, all of my kids try to see the card on their own heads the first few rounds.  It’s not going to happen buddy, you are going to sprain your eyeballs!

The ability to label emotions leads into more complex skills such as self-regulation.  Are you going to put your head down, cry and refuse to talk when something is hard or can you say, “I am frustrated.  I need help.” ? The language of emotion is critical for higher order thinking such as perspective taking and is ultimately a life skill, not just a language goal.

When my littles understand emotions and are able to use the labels consistently, then we are ready to move onto varied activities to practice this skill, such as my Oceans of Emotions packet in my TPT store.

Connecting how we feel to what we think and what we say, as well as learning to predict what others might be thinking and feeling, lays the foundation for social language success. The language of emotion is simply a stepping stone to be able to function in in a social environment more successfully!

What are some ways you work on the language of feelings?

‘Tis the Season for Thinking About Others!


The holidays are upon us, and I don’t know about you, but I could use some inexpensive therapy ideas to get me through these next few weeks and the post-Christmas let down known as “January”!   Between my ASHA dues, registering for my school conference, spending wayyyy too much on the TPT cyber sale and Christmas shopping for my family, my budget for extras is next to nil.  For the rest of this month, I am going to share some of my budget friendly ways to work on social language concepts here on my blog.  Ready? Let’s go!

I work on social skills with a variety of students including kids with ASD, ADHD, and social anxiety.  For some of my younger students or students with mild cognitive disabilities, my focus is on helping them to develop the language of emotion and beginning perspective taking skills. I  love these Webber photo cards from Super Duper , What Are They Thinking?   (I got a GREAT deal on Zulily last month!). Static pictures are a good way to start working on these skills, and as they become more accurate, you can broaden the skill into video clips, role play and real time interactions.

Here are some ways that I use the cards in therapy:


For my students who might not have the language to come up with their own answers, I will either give them two verbal choices or two picture representations to help scaffold their answers.  As they get better at this skill (and gain confidence in their abilities), I fade the support. Moving from one explanation of what might be happening or what one person might be thinking, to two explanations or points of view, is a big cognitive leap! Start with one and then add on as you develop flexible perspective taking skills.  If you can connect a picture to a personal experience that they may have had, that goes a long way in building these skills too!


Breaking down how to look for visual “clues” in a picture to make a good guess about what might be happening (either what the person might be thinking about or feeling) helps the student work on big picture thinking.  If you can identify details in context, then the next step is to put them together to make an inference.  Even when I get a really off topic guess from one of my kiddos, it gives me information as to where the disconnect might be in the student’s social thinking/perceptions!  This is not a one time therapy concept, so we have lots of time to practice and refine these life skills together.

What low cost ways do you use to work on perspective taking skills?