Social Graces

grace

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?

 

 

 

Speaking the same language…

social language

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

S

What did you do today?

what did you do today blog post image

Sometimes these five seemingly innocuous words breed frustration, silence or worse, “nothing”.  As a parent, being able to connect with your child’s day at school is important.  Not in a “I figured out what I want to be when I grow up”  kind of day, but in a social connection way.  Understanding that people have different experiences and can share them is a powerful idea.  It leads to conversations and connections, both important milestones in communication development.  I don’t need the minutiae of bathroom details, but the meat of the day helps.

It is a tension point sometimes for teachers to add one more thing to their to-do lists, but your speech therapist (or OT or para-pro) can help.   My fellow speechies developed a simple checklist that went home once a week for our group thematic activities.  We would follow a theme calendar and then give feedback on the child’s participation, any verbalizations or new skills we saw (hurray!), things that worked well and things that didn’t go smoothly.  We also had some visuals for their emotional state and room to comment if we figured out new tricks to share with mom and dad.  A quick email from home on a Monday morning about the weekend activities is always helpful too!

For my older students, I often ask them to use their technology to share about their weekends or breaks (instagram pictures are a great prompt…teacher friendly please!) or to help them create personal blogs or storyboards.  They are often doubtful when I suggest sharing these with their families as their perception is that mom and dad won’t care.  Surprise, we do!!

Over breaks and summer, I suggest that my parents to get a cheap flip picture book like this one:  flip book

This one was from Walmart and was less than ten dollars.  You can also find them at Dollar stores for much less and build a library of memory books.  This is an easy way to talk about a vacation or what happened while the student was on break.  It also is a good visual prep for visiting family you don’t see very often (Look, remember when we went to visit your cousins?  We had so much fun swimming at their house!) to reduce anxiety.

For more tech savvy parents, you can use a site like Shutterfly to create permanent photo books for your adventures.   There is also a new app called Steller that you can take a peek at to create visual story telling on your iphone (it  has a save feature for future viewings).   Even Pinterest can be used to create secret boards all about your adventures and can be shared only with who you invite to view it (teachers, grandparents, therapists).    So next time you ask “What did you do today?”, you just might get more than you asked for!

What communication tools work for you?

Why IEPs don’t have to make you cry…

IEP

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?