Stuck Thinking


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!

It was just a little lie…

lie blog

Some of my students have a problem, they don’t always tell the truth.  They not only fib, tell whoppers and embellish, sometimes they straight up lie to my face.   Telling the truth vs. telling a lie is a pretty black and white concept; it is a rule we are taught from the time we started talking.  However, lying can fall into the gray area of social rules and it’s a difficult thing to explain to kids with social language impairments!

For my younger elementary students, I really like  “Howard B. Wigglebottom and the Monkey on His Back” and Julia Cook’s book, “Lying Up a Storm” to start a discussion.  It’s often so much easier to talk about difficult subjects in the frame of what someone else did, rather than addressing it directly with the student’s behaviors.


howard b wigglebottom lying


Julia Cook Lying up a storm

As a general rule, people should not lie.   There are times however, when what is often called a “white lie” might be necessary to protect someone’s feelings.   This discussion requires an understanding of perspective taking and being able to put yourself “in someone else’s shoes”.  My older students will often try to excuse a rude or blunt comment with “I’m just being honest” or “But it’s the truth!”,  regardless of how what they said made someone feel or think.  To steal a phrase from them, not cool, not cool at all.  As you can see, talking with our students about lying can be a slippery slope!

I really like these TPT activities to start a discussion on the concepts of thinking about others and how not being honest impacts them (and what they think about us when we lie):

Types of Lies Town (a teachable game for late elementary students)

Half Truths Social Skills Conversation Starter (freebie)

Truth Monitor (classroom poster and teaching tool)

What other resources do you use to work on honesty and lying?   Share here!


When Aretha Franklin pops into your head, don’t sing.

respect Keep Calm

In working with students on the spectrum (and I also include my kiddos with attention challenges, LD, EBD and all the other alphabet soups that are part of people), one of the areas we seem to bump into over and over again is the idea of respect.   Respect is simply treating others the way you would want to be treated. People work together often in school, at home, in communities and at work, and respect is the key to doing this successfully!  The topic of respect can open up discussions about feelings and situations that can take you down some pretty involved roads.  I often think our speech therapist identities are part counselor, part teacher and part researcher (with a dash of comedian/mad scientist/referee thrown in)! While it may veer off the lesson plan, sometimes the most wonderful therapy sessions come from these teachable moments!

One of the important concepts to help students understand the idea of respect is talking about who, what, where and when.  While there are several ways that we treat people the same when it comes to respect (tone of voice, using kind words, listening what is being said before responding), there are also clues that help us figure out how we treat people differently.  I have noticed that what often appears as disrespect from students is not necessarily just naughty behavior.  If a child doesn’t understand the hierarchy of relationships and thinks that everyone is their peer, their responses to unfamiliar adults or teachers may come across as rude or disrespectful (or sassy if you are from the south).  Talking about the rules of relationship and the use of visuals can help them get a better understanding of how people think about other people.   Visuals,such as a target, are helpful to talk about relationships between the child and other people in their life( like this one I created as part of a five page mini-lesson/activity here at TPT  ). This is hard for many students, especially those with ASD.  Respect goes way beyond just the words that are said!  Other facets of respect include:

  • volume of your voice (too loud or too quiet) * Decibella from Julia Cook is a great teaching tool for this concept!
  • personal space (too close or too far away)
  • tone of voice (do you sound mad or frustrated?)
  • gestures (arms crossed, eye rolls, pointing fingers)
  • timing (can you interrupt someone or should you wait?)
  • people (do I talk to my friends the same way I talk to my bus driver?)
  • things and places-important to show respect to these as well

There are many video clips to illustrate the concept of respect.  While I have an abiding love for Disney, I have noticed that most of their kids programming demonstrate significant disrespect to adults from kids (I am talking to you Zack and Cody) and offer lots of teachable moments. If your kids get stuck on the words people are saying, turn the sound off of the video and have them watch all the non-verbal clues that are going on!

Keep calm and respect on!     Share your ideas on respect here…