Better late than never.

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I had the opportunity to work with a young adult who was recently diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.  Evaluation at this age is tricky, as some of the standardized tests that we use in the schools age out at 17-11.  It is not uncommon for my students who are on the autism spectrum to come to their diagnosis rather late, especially if they are higher functioning and doing well academically.  They are often diagnosed as having ADHD, sensory integration disorder, mood disorders, sleep disorders and/or learning disabilities first.  These can exist co-morbidly in some people with ASD and it is difficult to tease apart one from the other.  I ran across this great blog written by a woman diagnosed with ASD at age 36, that really spoke to me regarding the topic of later diagnosis.

After testing my student with a few standardized measures, the meat of the evaluation was done using a variety of non-standardized tools such as the Double Interview from Social Thinking ®,  direct observation, conversation with the parents, gaining feedback from the teachers, giving parts of the Informal Social Assessment from Super Power Speech and utilizing the Social Language Development Test-Adolescent for information only (as the student was older than 18 and norms end at 17-11).  A standardized test score from the supra-linguistic portion of the CASL or the social checklist and activities on the CELF 5 will yield some good information, however my higher functioning students can do these highly structured tasks well but still struggle socially in the fast, ever changing day to day applications.   I find that the non-standardized pieces truly give you a better picture of the person’s social skills and social competency, and the resulting narrative is much more descriptive than a standard score.

I came across a treasure trove of articles on the Social Thinking® website, including a three part series on transitioning into adulthood for people on the spectrum and another about including the young adult as part of their planning team when working on social language competencies.  Explaining what social language is and how having ASD impacts our social relationships with others is so important for the family as well as the person with ASD, especially when a diagnosis has come later in life after many challenges.  I also really like the website Wrong Planet , as it is created and hosted by 3 young adults on the spectrum.  It has great content that connects with many young adults, such as finding and keeping a job, dating, and post-secondary education options.  I also love the blog series by Autism Classroom News on teaching the Hidden Rules curriculum and how understanding these rules are crucial to keeping our students and young adults with ASD employed and even out of legal trouble.

We need to consider how to support our students exiting public school with later diagnosis of ASD and help them transition successfully into early adulthood.  What resources have you found to help with this transition?  Share here!

 

 

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!

 

Blogging at Autism Classroom Resources this week!

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I am very excited to be blogging on Autism Classroom Resources this week with Chris Reeve!   Click on the image above to hop over and read all about ideas on how to integrate social language into a preschool setting. Don’t forget to follow her blog while you are there for TONS of fantastic information on supporting your students with ASD!  I always learn something new from Chris. and you won’t want to miss out!

Stuck Thinking

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I had the misfortune of walking into a spider’s web the other morning.  I was caught up in my own thoughts and didn’t see the web draped across the hedges until it was too late.  There’s nothing quite like a spider web freak out, and I am glad no one was nearby to witness it (or they would still be on the ground, laughing).  It took me a good twenty minutes to untangle myself from the sticky webbing, and at least another twenty minutes to calm down.

This experience made me think of my students who get caught in their own thoughts but can’t get “unstuck”. Mental health is a big issue in our society, especially with our older kids. Many of our students with social language impairments, anxiety, and ADD struggle with managing their focus internally and externally.   It’s easy for someone who doesn’t struggle with these thoughts to say, “Just stop thinking about it!”, but it is harder than it seems.   Negative or perseverative thought patterns often upset our students, keep them disengaged in learning and conversation, and make it difficult for them to establish friendships if they become stuck in a chronically negative mindset.

This is one of those gray areas that overlap speech therapy and counseling’s scope of practice.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other, as our students can benefit from the support of both specialists.  From a social language perspective, helping our kids connect the concepts of keeping their “brains in the group“, taking the perspective of others, connecting how their choices might make other people think or feel, and emotional self-regulation  are all valuable tools in their coping toolbox. Using a five point scale to talk about the size of a problem and matching the size of a reaction to that problem, are also helpful strategies with our kids. We need to make sure that we are working on these skills  outside of the moment, as our students are often not available when they perseverate.  They need to hear the message that they don’t have to do this on their own,  and there are supports all around them!  If the anxiety or compulsive thoughts are overwhelming for the student, then we need to dialogue with the family and encourage them to involve their pediatrician or psychiatrist in the conversation.

A friend once told me that she can’t be in her head too much because it’s a bad neighborhood to linger in.  What she meant was that she can get stuck in dark and negative thoughts when she thinks too much on her own.  She needed to talk through her worries with others who could put her concerns into perspective when she couldn’t. This is a similar  premise of cognitive behavioral therapy .  CBT is a “short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.”  This sounds like an approach that aligns with social thinking concepts and emotional regulation strategies, doesn’t it?

I created a TPT product for my older students to work on strategies and problem solving to get unstuck in their social thinking.  It walks them through the steps to learn to “change the channel” in their mindset from negative to positive! Want to check it out?   Social Skills: Change the Channel from Negative to Positive .

 For your younger students, I really love the book by Kari Dunn Buron,  When My Worries Get Too Big , or Julia Cook’s fantastic book,  Wilma Jean the Worry Machine .

How do you work with students who are chronically stuck in an internal or negative mindset? Share here!

The Masks We Wear

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My school has a self contained program for students with significant autism and emotional/behavioral disorders embedded in a general education elementary school.  We are lucky enough to have fantastic adaptive p.e., art and music for our students and these teachers come up with some amazing activities for my friends!

This past spring Mr. Rob, our adaptive art teacher, started making these cool masks with our kids.  They picked a color palate of tissue paper and created the masks using forms.  These got me thinking about the figurative masks we all wear.  How do we want the world to see us ?  For my kids on the spectrum or those who struggle socially, this is a hard question.  Emotionality is often what others see first in my students, but this isn’t all of who they are, just a tiny piece of them.   I adapted this great art activity to put a social spin on it.

For my late elementary kids (on up), we talk about the characteristics that define people: personality traits, physical characteristics, etc..  We use cartoon and movie characters to walk through this process together as they are often over-exaggerated personalities, and this is an easier way to start.  You can use movie or video clips for this as well.  I have a social videos board on pinterest that you are welcome to look through for some ideas.

Next, we make our masks.  If you don’t have the forms, you can make your masks flat on paper or let your kids brainstorm ways to give their masks shape (party stores have plastic masks that you can use as well). You can even take pictures of your student’s face (with parent permission) and print them out.  We label all the positive characteristics that we want others to see in us on the mask itself- you can write on the paper along the edge of the mask, use tape, stickers, draw pictures, etc..

With my older students, we also talk about the difference between being fake and what it means to “put your best foot forward” with others. No one is happy all the time, no one has it all together and definitely, no one is perfect!  This can be a pretty difficult concept to grasp, so this may extend your prep time and therapy discussion beyond one session, but that’s okay!  This can lead into making a plan on how your students are going to help others see the best in them.  Partnering with materials from Social Thinking and the Zones of Regulation curriculum is really helpful in formulating how to do this successfully (and what to do when things don’t quite go your way), but that’s another post for another day!

What are your thoughts on talking about the masks we wear socially?

Fits to a T

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With the Presidential election around the corner, I have noticed quite a few slogans on T shirts that make me laugh out loud or cringe in embarrassment.  Whoever you are voting for, there is sure to be a T shirt to make a statement!  This got me thinking about T shirt slogans and the thoughts we have about the people wearing them (well, at least I do!).  What a fun way to talk about the social language concepts of inferences, conversation topics and being politically correct in today’s world (and the hidden rules that go along with this)!

I found this great freebie on TPT from Cara’s Creative Playground with a variety of clip art baseball style T shirts. You can make your own slogan activities for your late elementary through high school students to figure out the meaning of the slogan or guess who might wear these shirts.  If you don’t want to make your own, the internet is FULL of great examples (preview first my friends, preview first). On a related note, I also found a cool website, Stereotype Design, that gives a few sentences on a T shirt and you have to guess the movie ( well, hello figuring out the big picture from details!).

You can create a whole Pinterest board of t shirt slogans to work on these skills as well (or just click for my board here; it’s a growing work in progress, just like me).  Walk them through a few examples to practice together, then see how they do!

The questions you can pose with the slogans could include:

What do you think the message means/intent?  

Is this literal or sarcastic? 

Who might wear this shirt?  Who would NEVER wear this shirt?

What do you think other people might think or feel when they see this shirt?  

Where would it be okay to wear this shirt?  Where would it NOT be okay to wear this shirt? 

What first impression do you have of someone wearing this t shirt?  

What background knowledge might you need to understand the slogan?

Would you wear this t shirt?  Why or why not?

If you disagree or are upset with a t shirt slogan, should you say something?  Why or why not?

*Ask your students to take pictures of any other interesting t shirts they see to extend this activity.  You can call it “operation slogan sleuth”! I would clearly state the rule that the slogan can’t have any profanity, especially with your middle schoolers on up.

Any good slogan t shirts that you have seen recently?  Share here!

Start With the finish in Mind.

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There are BIG international sports competitions that are starting this month and while I am not watching all the events, I do love the moving highlights of the athletes’ personal stories.  The details differ a bit here and there, but what strikes me is the theme that their journey to reaching their goal usually started with the end, not the beginning.  Visualizing themselves winning an event, standing on the podium and receiving a medal were all part of the training process for these elite athletes way before they qualified for the first event.  This wasn’t daydreaming, it was purposefully envisioning what they wanted to see in their futures.

This idea isn’t just for athletes, it applies to our students too.  SLP Sarah Ward , of Cognitive Connections,  presented at our GOSSLP conference I attended earlier this year. Her focus was  on beginning with the end in mind when developing executive function skills, an “a-ha” moment for me as a SLP!  She shared a fun therapy technique of putting on our “future glasses” (any funky sunglasses you could find in a dollar store or even making and decorating your own paper versions) to visualize ourselves walking through a plan successfully. If you start with the finish in mind, it’s easier to visualize the steps you need to take to get there.  If you don’t know where you are headed, it’s easy to get lost.

It’s the beginning of a brand new school year for me and this visualizing technique is something I want to try for myself and my students!  Why not think about where you want your therapy sessions to lead ?  How do you see yourself developing new skills this year? What about teaching your students to “see” themselves in the future with clear articulation, strong social skills or participating in a class discussion successfully?  For my students with social language impairments, it is hard to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, including their own in the future! This visualization may help motivate us through the difficult times when we don’t see progress, have a set back, or we are just plain tired. This would be a great way to start your first few sessions this year when you are setting your goals with your students!

Would you use visualizing with your students or yourself in speech therapy this year?  Why or why not?  Share here!