Where have you been all my SLP life?!


Two of the smartest SLPs I know, Lydia Kopel and Elissa Kilduff, have recently become published authors!  The process to publish IEP Goal Writing for Speech Language Pathologists has been daunting, but our county has had the benefit of being the guinea pigs of the draft version of this fantastic resource!  Now before you roll your eyes and dismiss this as just another goal bank, think again.  This little orange treasure chest takes state common core standards (and the Early Learning Standards for PreK) and aligns them to the associated speech-language skill.  The PreK-12th grade resource includes the communication areas of: vocabulary, questions, summarize, main idea and details, critical thinking, pragmatics (YAY), syntax and morphology and articulation/phonological processes. Then, you look at the associated speech-language skill and it further breaks it down into steps to mastery in each area AND the prerequisites needed!

So what can you do with all of this amazing information?  Well, let me share with you how I have used it! It allows me to look at the grade level common core standards that my students are working on, what area of the core it addresses and the related speech-language skills for each standard.  Then, it also allows me to look at each area of communication (see list above) and the pre-requisite skills needed to achieve a goal.  For example, in the communication area of Summarizing (which is embedded throughout the grade levels in reading/literature/listening/speaking standards):

Skill:  Summarize # of details from a story.

Pre-requisite skills: answer questions, sequence concepts, identify narrative elements, retell, identify important/unimportant details.

This helps me identify the baseline of where my student is functioning with this skill, setting the goal and then being able to see how to scaffold backwards to fill in missing skills if my student isn’t progressing, or scaffold forwards to write higher level goals when they meet the initial one.  It is basically a SLP road map to navigate communication skill acquisition in a logical and sequential manner,  with the bonus of facilitating student success educationally!

There is even a section on Pragmatics (hallelujah!). These skills are a different animal of sorts, because social language acquisition is not necessarily linear. Michelle Garcia Winner notes that social language skills are often broadened across time rather than acquired in a progressive, vertical timeline like other areas of language.  Our students may not move on to higher level skills necessarily, but we can deepen and grow the skills that they do have within that skill set.  I love how this book breaks down the social skills into distinct areas with the embedded skills in each area. This is very helpful in talking with parents (or advocates) during the IEP process along with the visual of the Social Learning Tree from Social Thinking®.  I also share with my teachers, to help them understand what we are working on socially and how it may be related to what they are working on in the classroom.   This is a valuable tool to keep me focused and write specific, measurable goals for my students with social language impairments, an area that is often nebulous as compared to language or articulation.

If you make one purchase for yourself in the new year, consider making it THIS ONE as it will more than pay for itself in giving you a clear, well organized road map to making your goal writing and IEPs easier!  You too will be flipping through the pages saying, “Where have you been all my SLP life?!”

*No money or materials have been provided in exchange for this review.  It is simply my heartfelt endorsement of a fantastic product for SLPs!


Recess Rules!!!

recess rules blog

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!

Social Graces


This week is holiday break for Thanksgiving and boy, am I thankful!!  The year has been a roller coaster of meetings, trainings and learning to be a problem solving ninja.  I was having lunch with my fellow speechies this week during a brief lull in my schedule.  As we were sharing dessert, Dove dark chocolate peppermint squares (I know it’s not Christmas yet; don’t judge, they are delicious), a topic came up that got me thinking.

We were sharing our week, and I mentioned a meeting that I attended with the most lovely parents.  Kind, engaged and asking great questions, they were a family that was an absolute joy.  It was a breath of fresh air!!  It woke me up to the fact that these interactions have become far and few between. Social graces are apparently becoming a rare commodity, not just for our kids, but in the adults as well!  An aggressive mentality was evident in several meetings I have attended this year, with an adult screaming at the teachers and therapists.  It is always shocking to me, so when it started happening multiple times, I thought long and hard about why it was occurring.  And yes, I realize I was doing a mental FBA (functional behavioral analysis), it’s a job hazard.

When did shouting, swearing and threatening people become an accepted way to  advocate for a child?  I have been on the parental side of the IEP table too and it is stressful.  It is our job as a mom/dad/grandparent to try and do what is best for our children.  However, I tried to communicate positively how much I appreciated the effort by the people helping my child and asked questions to clarify the IEP when it wasn’t clear.  I gave my input as well, especially when I didn’t agree with something.   I was in turn. treated with respect and kindness throughout the process over the years, and it benefited my son.

It is not just a parental issue either.  I have seen poor social skills in teachers, therapists and school staff as evidenced by them checking their phones and texting, having loud side conversations unrelated to the meeting or demonstrating “unwelcoming” body language in meetings.  I am thinking of subtly hanging a Whole Body Listening Larry poster on the wall.  Seriously, how can we expect to teach our kids successful social skills when the adults in their lives aren’t modeling or using them as well?

Human beings are involved in this process, so we aren’t going to be perfect.  We will make mistakes and misunderstand things.  We should take ownership when we mess up, apologize sincerely and try to do better moving forward. We should demonstrate common sense and graciousness (thank you for your wisdom and handbags, Kate Spade!). When there is a problem, we work together to solve it.  We, as a team, are all working for the greater good of the child, no matter which seat you occupy at the IEP table.

Do you see this trend as well?  How do you diffuse or handle these moments?




An Attitude of Gratitude.


This time of the school year, we are up to our necks in IEP meetings, progress reports, data collections and lesson plans.  We SLPs are powered by strong coffee in the morning and sugary treats stashed in desk drawers during the afternoon energy slump.  The weeks will only go faster between now and the holidays! As someone who has been working in this field a long time (+20 years), I can forget how overwhelming this time of year can be for new grads and my fellow speechies who work from sun up to way past dark most days. This week is ending in a teacher work day and a Monday off for Columbus Day. Everyone is so looking forward to a little break to regroup!

Before we head out for the long weekend, I wanted to make an effort to let the people around me (in person and on email) know how much I appreciate them.  I see their hard work, even if they think no one else does.  Working with students with social language deficits has given me an appreciation of perspective and emotional reciprocity. Like I tell my students, I may be thinking about what a great job someone is doing, but if I don’t tell them, they won’t know!  We tend to get bogged down in our own little worlds and forget that community and connection are just as important and energizing as coffee and chocolate (well, almost).  It’s easy to point out what people are doing wrong and gripe about how unappreciated we feel.  An attitude of gratitude is a little more work,  but equally as contagious!

So here is my challenge to my fellow SLPs this week, talk to someone, send them an email or *gasp* a hand written note to let them know that you noticed all that they do and that you appreciate them. It’s such as simple gesture, but so powerful!  I have a cork board at home that I pin notes from parents, students and co-workers to remind myself on the bad days that what I do makes a difference.  It’s like sunshine to a flower, we flourish with an attitude of gratitude!

How do you encourage others?

Just one friend.

just one friend 2

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.

Why IEPs don’t have to make you cry…


A friend of mine posted on facebook a few weeks ago that she was dreading her son’s IEP.  I have heard this from many moms (and a few dads), and it always frustrates me.  While I am a speech language pathologist and a creator of said IEPs, I have also been on the other side of the table as a parent.  It is an interesting experience to have the perspective of both sides of the coin.  Why is the very document that is supposed to be an individualized road map for everyone working together, often an anxiety producing fear-fest?

The SLP side of me really tries to engage my families in creating goals that are meaningful, will move their child forward in functional and academic ways, and most importantly, are realistic and achievable.   I cringe when I see a list of 59+ goals for one kiddo; I am exhausted just reading it!!  All of them may be great goals, but when you have so many at one time, you dilute the efficacy of what you are trying to achieve and end up over-therapizing the child, leaving everyone frustrated.  What happens to teachable moments that occur throughout the day? You can’t tap into them because you are so data driven (don’t even get me started on the “rigor” of the core that is moving at the speed of light).  Yes you have data which is important, but therapy is sooo much more.  It’s also about building trust and relationships that lead to growth.

Switching to my mom hat, I felt a lot more supported and engaged when I was included in the process, not just handed the draft with the goals already done.  I know my child the best, just like most parents, and I had important input that was appreciated and considered.  I also had a realistic view of what he could achieve and was okay with taking baby steps in the right direction.  If he made leaps and bounds, fantastic, but I understood that language and learning is a complex road that takes time.  As long as the teachers and therapists were communicating the good, bad and ugly with me,  I could trust that we were moving in the right direction.  When my son got older (heading to middle school), a smart special education teacher suggested that he become part of his IEP team.  It was wonderful medicine for him to hear positives from his teachers and it added a level of personal accountability when he realized the adults in his life would be partnering with him with his progress.

I have made checklists here for parents and therapists to use in the IEP process.

Hopefully it will help make the process a more positive experience for everyone!  What are some great tips for IEPs that you have?