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?

Light It Up!

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This weekend we are celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks and sparklers everywhere!  I love the contrast of the bright, sparkly lights against the sky as it finally gets dark around ten p.m. The deep thumps you can feel in your chest as the fireworks cannons launch sent my poor dogs scurrying to hide somewhere, anywhere, to get away from the scary sounds!  And of course our family tradition is to make s’mores to celebrate the occasion, because who wouldn’t want have a handful of sugary, sticky deliciousness on a 90 degree night, right?

We are working on a patriotic theme in speech this week to get ready with this light it up craftivity!   First, we brainstorm things that we like about our friends, discussing character traits vs. physical characteristics vs. “cool stuff they have”.  We talk about the idea that when we use kind words and tell others what we like about them, this makes them feel really good. I use the words “lighting people up” to describe this feeling, or even feeling sparkly inside!  Check out my post last week for a shark themed craftivity to make “shark bites”, to contrast this activity and talk about words that that hurt.

When we get that sorted out, then we write the positives on thin strips of construction paper that I have cut ahead of time.  We used white with red markers, but you can pick any color that suits you.  In addition, I cut strips of tin foil into thin strips to add a little sparkle

.Next, we fan the paper and foil strips gently together at the bottom and staple them together, then wrap blue tape around the bottom of the fan, attaching it to a straw.  And there you go, a safe sparkler of words that make people feel good, so go ahead and “light it up”!

How are you celebrating the Fourth with your family?

 

 

Use Your B.R.A.I.N.S!

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I spent the past week at a fun crossroad; posting on the SLP Materials Club facebook page as a guest AND enjoying a hot, fun week at the beach with my family!  It was the perfect respite after a long school year and I even got to read a WHOLE BOOK with my toes in the ocean (“A Man Called Ove”, a fabulous funny/sad summer read that I highly recommend). As we were walking along the Sebastian Inlet, I saw this little piece of coquina rock that frequents the coast where I grew up:

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The words “rock brain” popped into my thought bubble immediately! Do you see why I needed a vacation?!  Anyway, as part of my SLP Materials Club week, I posted a new freebie from my TPT store.  I created it to use with my students to work on how we engage other people and show that we are thinking about them.   It includes a flip book for an interview of another person to practice the skills, teaching cards to talk about how we use our brains to think about other and a teaching poster to review the acronym B.R.A.I.N.S. (we SLPs do so love our acronyms). The poster would be perfect to enlarge and hang up in your therapy room, classroom or as part of a fun bulletin board!  What does this acronym stand for?  I’m so glad you asked!

B- Be present in the moment

R-Remain on topic

A-Actively listen

I-Interpret Accurately

N-Non-verbals are important

S-Seek information

You can download this social language freebie HERE .  I know you want to give your brain a rest too and not think about school for a bit, but go ahead and file this away for the Fall now!  Happy Summer!

Recess Rules!!!

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I don’t know about you, but with two weeks of school left, we are all a bit squirrelly!  You can feel the end is near and it’s making everyone a bit crazy and cranky, kids and adults alike.  Recess is a saving grace and the promise of EXTRA recess will motivate even the most active kids to focus and work a little harder.  I sit in a LOT of IEP meetings throughout the year, and recess comes up often for my friends with social language issues.  Unstructured times, like recess, are often the wild west of hidden rules for these kiddos.  You will either see them walking the perimeter of the playground on their own or trying to join in, but in unexpected and unwelcome ways.

I found several videos on Youtube that explain the rules of recess, from the teacher and student point of view.  You can find them on my Youtube channel under social play modeling  or on my social videos Pinterest board.  Many schools have adopted PBIS  (positive behavior intervention and supports) to address the “rules of the schools”.  PBIS often addresses recess and playground behavior specifically, so how great would it be to make your own school video or school posters to talk about the rules of recess?  You could brainstorm with your students about the rules (both spoken and hidden rules) of recess and then have them teach their peers through a video.  Talk with your administration and media specialist about sharing the videos at school; we have morning announcements that show on TVs in all the classrooms.  Bonus:  it’s a great way to work on tone of voice, volume, orienting your body towards to camera, thinking with your eyes and more social concepts that your student may be working on, as you film them!  Don’t forget to get parent permission first!

To further this concept, what about making videos to show how to join into games, ask other kids to play or even how to play certain games, like rock, paper, scissors ? Remember, our kids are not incidental learners, so breaking down the steps to play may seem too basic, but it’s often where we need to start!  We also know there are students that could benefit from this visual support that don’t have IEPs , but still struggle socially at recess.  I bet you could get a LOT of buy in from your counselor, other special education teachers and therapists in your school for a great project!  Think about tapping into Donor’s Choose to apply for funds for a great video camera and editing software too.

How do you support your students at recess?  Share here!

Just one friend.

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I was observing at a high school this week when an eleventh grader entered the room. Friendly and unswervingly polite, this young man with ASD and some cognitive challenges, said hello and took a seat.  Soon after, another young man followed, giving him a high-five, and settling in at the table.  Over the course of the next hour, I found out the second young man did not have an IEP or the need for speech, he just accompanied his friend during their lunch period to the speech room.  Voluntarily.

I asked how long they had been friends and he responded, “Since 7th grade.  We hang out all the time.”  When the speech student left the room to get his lunch, his friend confided that he worried for him,  “He doesn’t really seem to know that not everyone is his friend.  He high fives people in the halls, but sometimes I think the others only do it out of guilt.”  He went on to ask if we thought he should talk to his friend’s mom as his friend had started a Twitter account and he was concerned there was potential for him to be bullied.  I had to fight the urge to ask him a million questions.   This young man was MENSA smart, involved in a million academic clubs, and articulate.  He was a rare combination of incredible intellect and deep empathy.

Why were they friends?  I mulled that one over and came to the conclusion that he really liked hanging out with this young man.  As someone who also may be on the fringe of the social pecking order for entirely different reasons, these boys found common ground.  Sometimes kids find each other in their commonality, making their own peer groups. I wished I could clone this young man for all the kids I see that need that one good friend.  The good friend who will look out for them when the adults who love and protect them aren’t around. I wanted to hug him and tell him what an amazing human being he is, but instead I just smiled and told him his friend was lucky to have him in his life.

He embodies what parents dream of when they imagine a friend for their child, not just the kids that struggle with social weakness or cognitive challenges, but all children.   We want someone who knows them and loves them almost as much as we do.  Someone to laugh with them and be silly.  Someone to talk to when they can’t or won’t talk to us about Twitter or girls or what worries them the most.

We need to figure out how to help kids become peer mentors, people who look out for one another and yes, even friends.  Empathy and kindness are highly undervalued character traits in this Selfie culture. Michelle Garcia Winner talks a lot about peer mentoring and how effective it is for kids with social language challenges (read a great article by her about Peer Models versus Peer Mentors HERE ). Speech Therapy can be great but we can’t travel with them through school.  Neither can their teachers or their parents, but their peers are there, we just need to connect them.  Life is hard, but it can be a bit easier with the help of just one friend.

Speaking the same language…

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In IEP meetings, I am finding that many parents have the misconception that there is plenty of time during the day for their children to meet new friends and establish social relationships incidentally.  While school is a social learning lab, we have to remember that many of our kids with ASD are NOT incidental learners.  A typical school day for students includes multiple transitions through academic subjects, with barely enough time to run to their locker, change classes and grab some lunch. Class time is packed with instruction, testing, and classwork. The easy, breezy days of chit chatting with friends in the hall are long gone, and have been replaced with back to back classes, remediation time, and the dreaded R word (rigor).  As a SLP, I can support the skills of friendship and the counselors may offer social groups, but it cannot happen only in school. That being said, there is quite a bit of additional social learning going on throughout the school day:

Collaborative learning and group work in the classroom:  Students have to work with peers, take perspective, listen to and accept differing opinions, and take responsibility for their work in a group project.

Social rules in class and throughout schools:  Students have to figure out the stated and hidden rules of the school, demonstrate emotional regulation, take turns,  demonstrate whole body listening, appropriate tone of voice, topic maintenance and timing for participation in classroom discussions.  They also need to be able to code switch in how they speak to their peers vs. adults.

Language arts/literature: Students need to be able to take perspective, understand differing points of view, understand figurative language concepts, make class presentations with appropriate volume, eye contact, and body orientation, and develop persuasive skills in writing and oral expression.

Transitions/lockers:  Students need to navigate hallways (body awareness, eye contact), wait for a turn at their locker and advocate for themselves if someone is blocking it or taking too long, demonstrate organization and awareness of what you need to do with this time efficiently and get to class on time and prepared.

What is more difficult to do during the instructional day:

Hang out with your friends in between classes and talk about your interests

Talk to others socially and build friendship skills at lunch (too loud, not enough time and you have to eat!)

Make friends and have social conversations during class

We need buy in from the home and community environments to build friendships.  This conversation has to start before we write goals!  Here is the free handout  that I created to bring to meetings/conferences.  It will be helpful when discussing how to support social language across settings and help manage expectations with families when you re developing goals as a team. We all live in a social world, so shouldn’t we be speaking the same language?

 

Social Thinking also posted this video today of an interview with the fabulous Temple Grandin.  Take a listen to her thoughts on social language across settings and how it has to change, very interesting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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