It’s just behavior…

3x3 blog its just behavior

I follow several Facebook speech language pathology groups and have seen over the past few weeks many threads of discussion debating how we discern social language impairments from “just” behavior in our students.  It’s a question I get often from my SLP peers during my social language trainings and from my CFs too.  I will say right up front that I don’t have a magic checklist or one determining factor that will help answer this question quickly and definitively (sorry).  But don’t give up hope just yet as there are tools we can use to help better understand this chicken vs. egg process!

When students are referred to the RTI process in my school system, often the reason is that something has happened (usually multiple somethings), making the student stand out from their peers.  The teacher is usually quite frustrated and concerned that their usual bag of tricks isn’t working with this particular student.  The first step is to collect information and observe the child not only in the classroom, but less structured environments such as recess, lunch and transition times during their day.  Often our kids with behavior issues AND social language impairments  hold it together better in highly structured environments and have more difficulty in free range settings, like the hallway or playground.

Talk to the teachers who see this child on a daily basis.  Next, ask questions about what the concerns are and what is happening both before and after the situations they are concerned about with the student.   It is basically doing a bit of ABC (antecedent,behavior, consequence) analysis, which is very helpful in teasing apart this issue.  We also ask our teachers and parents to fill out a social language checklist AND a behavior checklist as part of our RTI process.  It is not unusual for the parents to report a very different child at home.  There are far fewer structured social expectations at home than during the school day, and families naturally adjust their behaviors, supports and reinforcements to keep the peace in the home.

It’s always interesting to me to look at the information and see if the student is consistent in their behaviors or inconsistent.  If the student is cursing at only one teacher who constantly sets them off but not anyone else, then it may be a setting (or person) specific behavior.  Can they pick and choose where and when they are using the spoken and hidden rules of school?  That is another clue that it may be a behavior and not necessarily a social language impairment.  Our students with social language impairments are fairly consistent in not understanding or being able to apply social rules, especially the hidden ones!!

The occupational therapist (OT), counselor,teachers and parents need to all be part of solving this equation as well.  We need to tease out the underlying pieces that may also be contributing to what we are seeing in the classroom.  Is it difficulty with sensory or emotional regulation?  Is it significant anxiety? Is it a mood disorder or attention/impulse control weakness? Is the child getting any positive behavior rewards?  It’s easy to get caught in the “No David” cycle with tough kids, so we need to really try hard to catch them being good and reinforce the heck out of those moments!  Are we reinforcing negative behaviors by giving them attention? Both positive and negative attention from an adult can inadvertently feed the attention monster! Are the behaviors working to help the student escape a non-preferred activity?  We once had a student that was a runner. The administrators decided that having the student hang out with the principal and play on her ipad after he ran away was a good calming tool for him. Ummmmm, nope.  It was totally a POSITIVE reinforcer to chat with adults and play before heading back to class. Needless to say, it was not an effective deterrent.

Chaos in the classroom is not the friend of any student, but especially our students with social language impairments or emotional-behavioral challenges! Is there a clearly defined, positive reinforcement behavior system set up for the class and does the student understand it? What works for one doesn’t always work for all.  As I tell families that I work with, when we start to put a plan in place to address a behavior, that behavior often gets worse before it gets better.  Teachers and parents will throw up their hands and say it’s not working about two weeks in when this happens, but really the plan just needs a little more time. The kids are trying to figure out how far they can push things before the boundary or rule changes, so they up their game before understanding that it won’t change (it’s called an extinction burst in ABA terms).

Are there visual supports in the classroom for transition and work stations?  Less language and clear, consistent directives work for both social language impairments and behaviors.  Truly, this is best practice and works well with most kids.  Do the adults try to reason and talk to the student in the midst of a meltdown?  This often just makes our kids even more overwhelmed and upset, so wait until a calm moment after the event to talk it through.  As students get older, we need to help them integrate calming and regulating strategies from external sources (parents, teachers, environments) to internal strategies (deep breathing, taking a walk, journaling). Implementing The Incredible Five Point Scale and The Zones of Regulation curriculums in general education classrooms are genius tools to teach these life skills to all students (and it aligns with PBIS beautifully).

Ultimately, we need to remember that identifying the label isn’t really the goal of this process. Behavior and social language are often tightly intertwined. The goal is figuring out how we serve the student with the appropriate level of support to be successful academically AND emotionally in school (and in life). This can be in the special education setting and/or the general education setting. Many of my students who are served through an EBD classroom also have social language impairments and many of my students with social language impairments also have behaviors!  We don’t “fix” these students, we provide strategies and supports to help them figure out how to function in a social world more successfully.  This is not a quick process and in some circumstances, it is life long work. Lastly, it should NOT fall on just the SLP to be the only go to person in the building to figure out these friends or to provide services. It has to be a team approach to be successful and has to begin in the general education setting way before the student enters special education!

Share your thoughts here on how you discern behavior vs. social language impairment…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down, Set, Think!

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My Atlanta Falcons are in the Super Bowl this year (WOOHOO!!), and to celebrate I made this fun social freebie! It includes six templates including a helmet, football, cheerleader, field goal, penalty marker and a water bottle.  All the templates are related to a social language concept that I work on with my students.  For example, the water bottle represents ways that we can cool down when we get upset and the helmet is to brainstorm ways we can keep our “head in the game” or stay on topic.

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You can print for each of your students to complete in a social skills lesson, counseling group or SEL (social emotional learning) in class lesson!  It would also be fun to create a banner to hang up in a room or on a bulletin board in your classroom as a reminder of the skills you are targeting with your kids!

You can also check out my other football themed freebie to use after the Big Game !  It’s a template to identify the social concepts in the amazing commercials that air during the game.  I even have one more freebie HERE for football themed conversation skills.  Can you tell that both of my boys played football and it’s my favorite sport? You have a whole week of therapy materials right here,  ready to download and go!

The concepts in Down, Set, Think! include:  maintaining topics, conversation, encouraging words, what makes a good friend or warning signs of someone who wouldn’t make a good friend, and ways to cool down when we get upset.  You can leave them black and white or color them in your favorite team’s colors for year round use!  As for me, my pictures will be black and red for my Falcons next weekend!   If you aren’t cheering for my team, that’s okay, we are all on #teamsocial !!

Where have you been all my SLP life?!

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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!