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!

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….

 

A Season for Everything..

3x3 blog pic season for everything.png

I have always loved this passage in the Bible about seasons of change (Ecclesiastes 3). These past few months have brought that into sharp focus for me, both the good and the bad.  My school recently lost our principal, a smart and amazing woman, leaving our community heartbroken.  My youngest son is graduating from high school this month.  I sold my home and am starting a new job next school year.  I really don’t like change at all, but it is part of life.

Many of my students are not fans of change either, but time will still bring these shifts, ready or not. I am reminded in my own season of life of all the lessons I have tried to share with my students:  mindfulness, being flexible, thinking about other people, recognizing all of our feelings instead of pushing those uncomfortable ones away.  The best I can do for them, and for myself, is to try and remain present and calm.  Embracing the feelings that change brings is not only healthy, but crucial in helping us to move forward instead of getting stuck.   Remind yourself to enjoy being in the moment, not wishing time away or worrying about what tomorrow might bring. No one is promised tomorrow.  Tell the people in your life that you love them, be brave and kind, and know the only thing consistent in life is change.

No more teachers, no more books….

3x3 blog pic social homework.png

Summer is almost here and I have been sitting in IEP meetings for the last 137 hours (at least it feels that way).  Summer homework packets are always stressful for the SLP to create as we tend towards the tiniest streak of perfectionism as a profession.  We are bone tired in the homestretch of school and I have always dreaded putting these packets together, hoping that they will at least be glanced at before we come back in August. But with age comes wisdom (and memory loss, but that is a post for another day), and I no longer feel compelled to make these homework packs.

In the case of social language, there is very little in a worksheet that will help my friends truly carryover the social skills that we address during the year.  So what do I tell the families?  First, I try to help them let go of the need to “drill and kill” over the summer break.  As a parent, I felt the pressure to make sure I was doing something to keep my boys’ brains engaged when they were out of school, so they wouldn’t come back to class acting like they had never lived indoors or held a book.   This parental guilt is tricky for us all. When I worked in an outpatient clinic at a children’s hospital, I remember a mom of a little guy with autism being torn over missing therapy to go to the beach for a week.   I told her that language is everywhere and family time is just as crucial for her son as therapy.  I could see the relief wash over her and she let the mommy guilt go.   A few short weeks of summer is meant as a respite for us all.

What I do suggest is finding ways for my students to be socially engaged in a more natural setting.  Organized sports are often tough for my kiddos, but a few kids running outside in the sprinklers or in the park playing Frisbee golf are great opportunities to work on turn taking, whole body listening and language!  Growing a garden together or cooking as a family embeds tons of group work skills and language opportunities.   Letting the kids plan a weekly outing requires lots of social and executive function practice, including time management, thinking about what other people like (or do not like), and being flexible thinkers.

Now I know that my social friends aren’t always keen on moving out of their routine and comfort zones, so leverage what they do like!  For example, in order to earn screen time, a new Anime book or Minecraft© purchases, they pick one social activity to participate in per week, not necessarily joyfully but without wailing and gnashing their teeth.   Look for social clubs in your area that allow for a more relaxed participation around group activities for older kids with social language impairments (we have an amazing one here called E’s Club).  Suggest that your student get involved in causes that they care about such as volunteering at a local animal shelter.  Real life experiences will always trump worksheets, particularly in developing social competencies!

Happy summer! Let go of the homework packet guilt SLPs and let me know your thoughts on supporting social language over the break.

What’s a Popplet?

3x3 blog pic popplet

It sounds like a cute Saturday morning cartoon character or a yummy pastry, but Popplet is actually an interactive graphic organizer app! It’s available on itunes but I am lucky enough to have it as part of my Office 365 suite on my school computer!  This app is described on their  website : “In the classroom and at home, students use Popplet for learning. Used as a mind-map, Popplet helps students think and learn visually. Students can capture facts, thoughts, and images and learn to create relationships between them.”  My students, especially my students with social language impairments, ADD and/or executive function impairments, are definitely visual learners! I am too, so here is a link to a youtube video that shows how to build a Popplet organizer.  Here is a link to a fabulous education blog that outlines multiple uses for Popplet in school with a great step by step tutorial.   One of my SLPeeps (thanks Joy!) introduced me to this in a presentation recently and my mind jumped right to social language concepts (I know, it’s an obsession)!

popplet screen shot

How cool would this be to use for social mapping?  You could add a picture of the problem scenario in the middle (or even have the students role play problems and take actual pictures of them to use with the app).  Then, use the organizer to build out expected/unexpected pathways (you can color code them too) and tease out how their choices impact how others think and feel.  If your students have tablets in your school system as ours do, you can push out the Popplet to them individually and they have an immediate visual social map to refer to.

What about our friends who have difficulty with group work?  Building a Popplet together might be more enticing to my students who love technology and sneak in some collaborative learning skills at the same time in the therapy setting or in the classroom!  I can see this being used to work on expanding social language concepts such as perspective taking using a graphic organizer, connecting the concepts of think/say/feel and even linking shades of emotions using Popplet.  I want to try it out and have my kids look at a picture in the middle, then identify and connect the clues they see in order to make a smart guess!   It would be fantastic to be able to print a screenshot and blow it up to poster size to refer to in your therapy room or classroom too.

I am excited to try out this new therapy tool and see how it goes.  Have you used Popplet? Please share your thoughts here.  If not, how would you use it for social language therapy?

I feel appreciated!

appreciated blog

It’s the last one of the school year, the TPT Teacher Appreciation Sale!  Don’t forget to enter the code:  Thankyou17 at checkout to save up to 28% on all social language products in my TPT store, SmartmouthSLP ! I also have a couple of AWESOME social language items on my wishlist to share with you (and please share your great finds in the comments section):

I love Speech Paths approach to social thinking materials, and this new Red Talk/Green Talk is no exception:

Green Talk vs. Red Talk

Communication Blessings has this really cool emotions product that works on reading non-verbal clues, a tricky concept for my students:

Emotions: Descriptions & Body Language Clues

Jennifer Moses has a ton of great social language products, especially for older kids, like this fabulous Taking Perspective lesson pack:

Taking Perspective: A social-cognition activity to work on

Last, but not least, I love Peachie Speechie’s I Can Have Conversations Workbook

I Can Have Conversations: No Prep Social Language Workbook

How to grow perspective taking skills…

3x3 blog pic pov flower cover

Working on perspective taking skills and point of view can be tricky for my students.  It is not an easy social language concept to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and think about how they might feel.  This is a skill that is embedded in both the academic curriculum as well as in real life social interactions!  With Spring in full swing here, I printed these fabulous flower templates from Tracee Orman’s template packet that I have, but you could freestyle your own flower templates too.  My social thinking groups came up with different problem scenarios and wrote one in the middle of each template.  Next, we decided who the people are that would be part of the scenario and write them on the back of the petals (see picture below).  After that, we flipped the flower back to the front and on each petal, wrote what the person might be thinking or feeling based on their point of view in the scenario.

3x3 blog pov flower pic

You can also work this social activity backwards and write the perspectives on the petals and have the students come up with a matching problem.  You could also have them  identify who might be thinking or feeling the thoughts written on each petal by making smart guesses (inferencing).  When your flowers are finished, this would make a great Spring themed social thinking bulletin board too!

How do you work on perspective taking skills?  Share here!