Take a Seat, My Friend!

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The Buddy Bench has been in the news for a while, but if you missed it, here’s the gist.  A special bench (the “Buddy Bench”) is designated on the playground for kids to sit on if they don’t have someone to play with.  It is a signal to others that they should come and ask that child to play. I first heard about this idea on the news, when they picked up a story about a little boy named Christian (you can read his story HERE ) and his idea.  There is an entire website (www.buddybench.org) with ideas, a teaching video and a buddy blog with stories of the benches around the world.

My school installed one of these benches on our playground, but I heard one of the students say that he sat there, but no one asked him to play.  My heart hurt for him and I started thinking about why that may have happened.  Many of my friends with social language impairments struggle with the unstructured time at recess.  Too many hidden rules, social anxiety with initiating conversation or play, and the fast pace of social interaction outside are all hurdles that make it easier to wander around the periphery of the playground alone.   And just like any new concept in school, the kids have to be taught the rule of how to use the bench.

It made me so happy to walk down the hall a few weeks later and see that our counselor, Christina, had made a bulletin board (see pictures below) to do just that!  She had the kids make mini-posters of how to use the bench and even social scripts on what to say and do!  The information that I read about the bench also encourages schools to designate peer mentors (aka play pals) who will watch for kids on the bench and actively include them.  This is a strictly voluntary job, but oh how it warms my heart to see so many kids have empathy for others! In an increasingly academic focused environment, it is nice to see kindness and inclusion being fostered as well.

I love this teaching video and this one to share with a class, and prep the kids on how to use the Buddy Bench.  These videos really function as social teaching stories (and can be shared at home with families for carryover).  How great would these be in a public park to generalize a skill taught in school?  If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to call our local Parks and Recreation department and invite our Mayor to propose we do just that!

Does your school have Buddy Benches and if so how are they being introduced?

Slow and Steady…

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I happened to see this little snail moving along at its own pace, determined to get wherever it was going and not following a straight path.  It’s a fair representation of social language therapy from my experience.  Social language development isn’t like any other developmental acquisition timeline, such as language, articulation or gross motor skills. It doesn’t scaffold skills vertically like other areas of communication, one building upon another, leading to proficiency. I think that is part of the reason that it’s so difficult for parents, teachers and therapists to get a handle on what social language therapy is (and isn’t).

The students that I work with often have several preliminary diagnosis before they are identified as having a social language disorder (usually adhd, anxiety, or language delay). These diagnosis can and often do exist right along with social language deficits. Some of my students also have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, most often at the high end of the spectrum.  They tend to be identified later for social language intervention, as typically their academic grades are fantastic.  It is when behaviors start to occur that make these students stand out from their peers, that a referral is urgently made.    When I test these students (some as early as K-1, others not until high school), I find it’s really important to provide some good background knowledge on what social language skills are, and what the goal of therapy is for this student, to the family and the team working with them.  I love this visual of Social Thinking’s ® Social Learning Tree to help me explain the scope and sequence of social learning visually.  So many families will say their goal for therapy is  that they want their child to have friends, but there are so many prerequisite skills that need to be addressed before they are able to develop successful friendships (a very high level social competency)!

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A critical piece of this discussion is talking about how social skills are developing at each level of the tree (roots to leaves) but that students don’t necessarily move upwards through all the social levels to higher social competencies, regardless of their age.  This is a difficult conversation but so crucial in starting therapeutic intervention with realistic expectations.  Just as we cannot therapize an increase in IQ , we cannot therapize social cognition to increase beyond the person’s abilities.  What we can do however,  is deepen and broaden the skills, strategies and competencies within the abilities the person does have.  We do this through direct instruction (our kids are not incidental social learners), modeling, practice and lots of feedback.  I try to reinforce the idea that social learning is a life skill, and we need to work on these skills just like we would for sports, music or academics.

This is not a fast process and it’s often hard to understand a person’s perspective, motivation and deep understanding about how they fit and function in the social framework of their life.  It cannot just be the SLP working on these skills.  It has to involve the family, teachers (general ed as well as special ed), school staff, counselors, OT,  and peer mentors (read a great article about this here from Social Thinking).  Moving the skills and strategies from direct instruction in the speech room, to a structured and supportive setting such as a counseling group or small class, and then learning to generalize the skills across people, place and time is the long-term road map.  It may take several years to develop these social skills and successfully demonstrate social competency. There will be stumbles and mistakes, but that’s okay. It’s part of being human and none of us (even neurotypical adults) are perfect at this social life all the time! Social growth and success are possible, but it is slow and steady intervention that wins this race.

Have you Shmooped?

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No, it’s not the latest dating site or an ill-timed bodily function, so what exactly is it?  According to their website,  “Shmoop is a digital publishing company with “a point of view.” We seek to empower and broaden the range and depth of choices students have in life. Our teaching method revolves around the basic notion that learning is often too hard, so we carry gallons of academic WD-40 that we squirt on the tracks whenever we can.” Who doesn’t love academic WD-40????  Shmoop is also a website that is chock full of fabulous curriculum related materials that have social language application!  There is a free version of the site, as well as a paid version, and it has separate offerings for teachers and students. Take a few minutes/hours/days to wander through the site and check out all the resources available to you (click on the picture below to be taken to the magical land of Shmoop….)

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I love the video section ( over 5,000 videos on Shmooptube, of course) that include PBIS and life skills themes, like this one on cheating or this one on balancing interests with friendships.  These are about 2 minutes long and are great opening videos to use in social groups, counseling or speech therapy for middle school on up!

The summary units, like this one for Shakespeare’s  As You Like It,  are also great to use to help my students visualize an overview of the story. I love these “In a Nutshell” video summaries to teach the big picture concepts prior to reading the books.  From historical novels to the deeper meaning of Dr. Seuss books (including this 3 week online unit lovingly called Dr. Shmeuss, ha!), you can find tons of resources to support your students!

Within each unit’s text , you might find little orange-colored pins labeled WTFWhy’s This Funny? (not what you thought, be honest!).  Click on the pin and it explains why a statement is humorous based on context, background knowledge or word play.  For my literal thinkers, this is AWESOME!!  It also defines idioms, great for ELL students and for my literal friends, BONUS!

Along the side of the page, there are tabs for character descriptions, theme discussions, summaries, questions, pictures, flash cards, writing prompts and more!  My own high schooler has used this site often to help break down the often confusing or nebulous themes and vocabulary within literature and has found it extremely helpful.  The students that I work with, who have ASD or language processing impairments, often struggle with the indirect and figurative language concepts in novels.  Shmoop helps to make these concepts clear and direct, with visual supports that help them participate in class discussions more successfully, and better yet, understand the material!  If that’s not academic WD-40, I don’t know what is.

What are some other materials or websites that help your older students understand literature?   Share here!

 

Don’t change the channel!!

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While my team did not win (congrats, Pats fans!), the Super Bowl offered a dazzling and sparkly half time show with Lady Gaga and a few commercial gems I added to my Pinterest social video board.  There was a plethora of video game ads and upcoming TV show teasers, but not a lot of memorable commercials for me this year.  Anyone else think that the Humpty Dumpty ads were kind of creepy?

I love to use video clips in social language therapy to work on the Social Thinking® concepts of expected/unexpected behaviors, connecting what someone says to what others are thinking or feeling, making predictions/smart guesses and more!  Many of my kids can do this with a static picture or social scenario read to them, but in real time, not so much! Social language is fluid and fast, making it hard for my kids to keep up with the processing of language and non-verbal interpretation with their peers.  Video clips (keep them short) are a great stepping stone towards real time application of the social competencies you are working on!

I have shared some videos on the blog previously, so you can check them out here if you want to add them to your video repertoire:  Doritos in Speech? Score!  ,  That’s Awkward and Puppies, Predictions and Cars .  You can use my free football themed social language commercial freebie from my TPT store HERE to analyze the components of each commercial with your kids. You can also create your own lessons with video clips and embedded questions that you create using Playposit (read all about how to use that fabulous free resource)!

Here are a few more that you will want to check out from this year, if you missed them because you left to grab a snack….or cry (I still love you Falcons!):

Skittles at the Window boyfriend

Cam Newton Buick 

or this trio of Kia videos with Melissa McCarthy:

Hero Journey

Penguin Problem

Iceberg car

Gronk’s Cleaners

Hawaiian Rolls

 Any that I might have missed that you loved (or hated)?   Share here!

 

 

Will You Be My Social Valentine?

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Valentine’s Day is upon us, and I am reminded again that it is a holiday that can be quite tricky for my students with social language impairments!  There is a whole lot of indirect language, hidden rules and emotional regulation in this holiday.  I found this adorable “monster crush” mailbox at my local dollar store (score!) and started thinking of all the ways I can use it this holiday, in my social therapy.  Here are few that you might want to try too!

ESL websites are a great resource of figurative language activities that also benefit my kids with social language impairments!  Here is one from EverythingESL on idioms related to the heart.  You can write the idioms on a paper heart and the students have to take them out of the mailbox and explain what the idiom literally means.  You can extend the activity by having them draw or write the meaning on the hearts and make a fun bulletin board from them.

For my upper grade students, I have this Cupid Quandary freebie in my TPT store.

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 It has sixteen sticky social situations for your kids to talk through (you can use the mailbox with this as well for turn taking).  It includes some blank template cards to add your own scenarios too.

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I use the Superflex® curriculum from Michelle Garcia Winner, and she has created a group of characters called Unthinkables.  These characters personify some of the challenges my students may have, such as not being a flexible thinker (Rock Brain) or poor emotional regulation (Glassman).  I have seen a few other SLPs (like Speech Room News ) create Unthinkable Valentines from these characters and have the students guess who they belong to.  You could also give the student the Unthinkable and ask them to write a card from the Unthinkable’s point of view (much harder)!  Extend the activity by talking about how the person receiving that Valentine might think or feel.

You could even get a little crazy and buy 2 mailboxes to sort valentine’s cards or hearts based on things you would say vs.things you should think or expected vs.unexpected comments related to Valentine’s Day. These are also social language concepts from Social Thinking®, so check it out if you haven’t already!

Want some more budget friendly Valentine’s Day ideas?  Visit my Instagram page @SmartmouthSLP each day this week for dollar store ideas to target social language concepts!

It’s not a box of chocolates, but I hope these ideas make your Valentine’s day social language therapy a little sweeter!

Down, Set, Think!

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My Atlanta Falcons are in the Super Bowl this year (WOOHOO!!), and to celebrate I made this fun social freebie! It includes six templates including a helmet, football, cheerleader, field goal, penalty marker and a water bottle.  All the templates are related to a social language concept that I work on with my students.  For example, the water bottle represents ways that we can cool down when we get upset and the helmet is to brainstorm ways we can keep our “head in the game” or stay on topic.

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You can print for each of your students to complete in a social skills lesson, counseling group or SEL (social emotional learning) in class lesson!  It would also be fun to create a banner to hang up in a room or on a bulletin board in your classroom as a reminder of the skills you are targeting with your kids!

You can also check out my other football themed freebie to use after the Big Game !  It’s a template to identify the social concepts in the amazing commercials that air during the game.  I even have one more freebie HERE for football themed conversation skills.  Can you tell that both of my boys played football and it’s my favorite sport? You have a whole week of therapy materials right here,  ready to download and go!

The concepts in Down, Set, Think! include:  maintaining topics, conversation, encouraging words, what makes a good friend or warning signs of someone who wouldn’t make a good friend, and ways to cool down when we get upset.  You can leave them black and white or color them in your favorite team’s colors for year round use!  As for me, my pictures will be black and red for my Falcons next weekend!   If you aren’t cheering for my team, that’s okay, we are all on #teamsocial !!

I love Lucy (the other one)!

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I have had the opportunity to work in my church’s special needs class for the past few years.  The kids can have significant sensory, cognitive or medical issues that make it more challenging for them to be in a larger group (as we are part of a BIG church).  Our class offers sensory activities (swings, trampolines) and a modified curriculum for the weekly bible lesson (thanks Boardmaker and Kathy E.!).  My friend and room coordinator, the amazing Karen, recently bought some new materials for our class, and Lucy the Calming Companion (see above) was one of them!

She immediately became the favorite class pet and the kids loved how soft her fur is and how the weighted body was perfect for a snuggle!  I cracked open the accompanying story and we read all about how Lucy uses her strategies to feel calm and offers ideas that the kids can use too. What a fun companion to add into your Zones of Regulation tool box or counseling sessions!  You can adjust the amount of weight via the zipper on Lucy’s belly, as needed for each of your student’s sensory needs (wouldn’t that be great if WE could do that too??).  There is even a tutorial of how to wash Lucy when she gets a little too much love, grime or drool.

Lucy was  created by  Christy Bennett, an OT, and Stephanie Tishgarten.  A kickstarter fund gave this little pup a way to be shared and you can check out the website and video (including the real Lucy) about how Lucy, the Calming Companion, came to be.  You can order your own Lucy at this site as well!  For my friends with sensory needs, the wiggles or just those in need of some hypoallergenic hugs, Lucy is the perfect addition to our room!  I know you will love her too.