A Season for Everything..

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I have always loved this passage in the Bible about seasons of change (Ecclesiastes 3). These past few months have brought that into sharp focus for me, both the good and the bad.  My school recently lost our principal, a smart and amazing woman, leaving our community heartbroken.  My youngest son is graduating from high school this month.  I sold my home and am starting a new job next school year.  I really don’t like change at all, but it is part of life.

Many of my students are not fans of change either, but time will still bring these shifts, ready or not. I am reminded in my own season of life of all the lessons I have tried to share with my students:  mindfulness, being flexible, thinking about other people, recognizing all of our feelings instead of pushing those uncomfortable ones away.  The best I can do for them, and for myself, is to try and remain present and calm.  Embracing the feelings that change brings is not only healthy, but crucial in helping us to move forward instead of getting stuck.   Remind yourself to enjoy being in the moment, not wishing time away or worrying about what tomorrow might bring. No one is promised tomorrow.  Tell the people in your life that you love them, be brave and kind, and know the only thing consistent in life is change.

No more teachers, no more books….

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Summer is almost here and I have been sitting in IEP meetings for the last 137 hours (at least it feels that way).  Summer homework packets are always stressful for the SLP to create as we tend towards the tiniest streak of perfectionism as a profession.  We are bone tired in the homestretch of school and I have always dreaded putting these packets together, hoping that they will at least be glanced at before we come back in August. But with age comes wisdom (and memory loss, but that is a post for another day), and I no longer feel compelled to make these homework packs.

In the case of social language, there is very little in a worksheet that will help my friends truly carryover the social skills that we address during the year.  So what do I tell the families?  First, I try to help them let go of the need to “drill and kill” over the summer break.  As a parent, I felt the pressure to make sure I was doing something to keep my boys’ brains engaged when they were out of school, so they wouldn’t come back to class acting like they had never lived indoors or held a book.   This parental guilt is tricky for us all. When I worked in an outpatient clinic at a children’s hospital, I remember a mom of a little guy with autism being torn over missing therapy to go to the beach for a week.   I told her that language is everywhere and family time is just as crucial for her son as therapy.  I could see the relief wash over her and she let the mommy guilt go.   A few short weeks of summer is meant as a respite for us all.

What I do suggest is finding ways for my students to be socially engaged in a more natural setting.  Organized sports are often tough for my kiddos, but a few kids running outside in the sprinklers or in the park playing Frisbee golf are great opportunities to work on turn taking, whole body listening and language!  Growing a garden together or cooking as a family embeds tons of group work skills and language opportunities.   Letting the kids plan a weekly outing requires lots of social and executive function practice, including time management, thinking about what other people like (or do not like), and being flexible thinkers.

Now I know that my social friends aren’t always keen on moving out of their routine and comfort zones, so leverage what they do like!  For example, in order to earn screen time, a new Anime book or Minecraft© purchases, they pick one social activity to participate in per week, not necessarily joyfully but without wailing and gnashing their teeth.   Look for social clubs in your area that allow for a more relaxed participation around group activities for older kids with social language impairments (we have an amazing one here called E’s Club).  Suggest that your student get involved in causes that they care about such as volunteering at a local animal shelter.  Real life experiences will always trump worksheets, particularly in developing social competencies!

Happy summer! Let go of the homework packet guilt SLPs and let me know your thoughts on supporting social language over the break.

I feel appreciated!

appreciated blog

It’s the last one of the school year, the TPT Teacher Appreciation Sale!  Don’t forget to enter the code:  Thankyou17 at checkout to save up to 28% on all social language products in my TPT store, SmartmouthSLP ! I also have a couple of AWESOME social language items on my wishlist to share with you (and please share your great finds in the comments section):

I love Speech Paths approach to social thinking materials, and this new Red Talk/Green Talk is no exception:

Green Talk vs. Red Talk

Communication Blessings has this really cool emotions product that works on reading non-verbal clues, a tricky concept for my students:

Emotions: Descriptions & Body Language Clues

Jennifer Moses has a ton of great social language products, especially for older kids, like this fabulous Taking Perspective lesson pack:

Taking Perspective: A social-cognition activity to work on

Last, but not least, I love Peachie Speechie’s I Can Have Conversations Workbook

I Can Have Conversations: No Prep Social Language Workbook

How to grow perspective taking skills…

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Working on perspective taking skills and point of view can be tricky for my students.  It is not an easy social language concept to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and think about how they might feel.  This is a skill that is embedded in both the academic curriculum as well as in real life social interactions!  With Spring in full swing here, I printed these fabulous flower templates from Tracee Orman’s template packet that I have, but you could freestyle your own flower templates too.  My social thinking groups came up with different problem scenarios and wrote one in the middle of each template.  Next, we decided who the people are that would be part of the scenario and write them on the back of the petals (see picture below).  After that, we flipped the flower back to the front and on each petal, wrote what the person might be thinking or feeling based on their point of view in the scenario.

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You can also work this social activity backwards and write the perspectives on the petals and have the students come up with a matching problem.  You could also have them  identify who might be thinking or feeling the thoughts written on each petal by making smart guesses (inferencing).  When your flowers are finished, this would make a great Spring themed social thinking bulletin board too!

How do you work on perspective taking skills?  Share here!

The Social Dogtective.

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It’s been a bit chaotic around school this week with state testing, end of course testing and general spring fever!  It’s a bit harder to keep our friends engaged this time of year, but I came up with a fun activity that just might do the trick!   I searched google images (or you can use Pixabay or magazine images) for funny pictures of dogs.   Print, laminate and cut them out.   Voila’, you have a great social language activity to work on the concepts of what the dog might be thinking or saying, what they might be feeling, predicting what could happen next and determining what clues that the students saw in the picture to make their very smart guesses.

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I also have some thought bubble and word bubble sticky notes to extend the activity! You can write up different thoughts or words (you can draw pictures for your younger students) and then ask the kids to match the thought and talking bubbles with the pups in the pictures.  Working on social language concepts in different ways helps to build flexible brains!  If puppies aren’t your thing, use pictures of silly cats, guinea pigs, tropical fish or even llamas.

Of course, I always have that one friend who throws a wrench into the session by pointing out that, duh, dogs can’t talk.  This is usually said in a loud voice and in front of all the other kids in the group.  After I crawl out from under the metaphorical bus they just threw me under, I turn it into a teachable moment to talk about using our imagination, contrasting fantasy/reality, and having fun with social language!   And if they are still mumbling under their breath after this explanation?  You can always have an impromptu therapy lesson about the Unthinkables ©, Grumpy Grumpaniny or Rock Brain both spring to mind!!

What fun and easy ways to you keep your social language students engaged these last weeks of school?

 

Better late than never.

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I had the opportunity to work with a young adult who was recently diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.  Evaluation at this age is tricky, as some of the standardized tests that we use in the schools age out at 17-11.  It is not uncommon for my students who are on the autism spectrum to come to their diagnosis rather late, especially if they are higher functioning and doing well academically.  They are often diagnosed as having ADHD, sensory integration disorder, mood disorders, sleep disorders and/or learning disabilities first.  These can exist co-morbidly in some people with ASD and it is difficult to tease apart one from the other.  I ran across this great blog written by a woman diagnosed with ASD at age 36, that really spoke to me regarding the topic of later diagnosis.

After testing my student with a few standardized measures, the meat of the evaluation was done using a variety of non-standardized tools such as the Double Interview from Social Thinking ®,  direct observation, conversation with the parents, gaining feedback from the teachers, giving parts of the Informal Social Assessment from Super Power Speech and utilizing the Social Language Development Test-Adolescent for information only (as the student was older than 18 and norms end at 17-11).  A standardized test score from the supra-linguistic portion of the CASL or the social checklist and activities on the CELF 5 will yield some good information, however my higher functioning students can do these highly structured tasks well but still struggle socially in the fast, ever changing day to day applications.   I find that the non-standardized pieces truly give you a better picture of the person’s social skills and social competency, and the resulting narrative is much more descriptive than a standard score.

I came across a treasure trove of articles on the Social Thinking® website, including a three part series on transitioning into adulthood for people on the spectrum and another about including the young adult as part of their planning team when working on social language competencies.  Explaining what social language is and how having ASD impacts our social relationships with others is so important for the family as well as the person with ASD, especially when a diagnosis has come later in life after many challenges.  I also really like the website Wrong Planet , as it is created and hosted by 3 young adults on the spectrum.  It has great content that connects with many young adults, such as finding and keeping a job, dating, and post-secondary education options.  I also love the blog series by Autism Classroom News on teaching the Hidden Rules curriculum and how understanding these rules are crucial to keeping our students and young adults with ASD employed and even out of legal trouble.

We need to consider how to support our students exiting public school with later diagnosis of ASD and help them transition successfully into early adulthood.  What resources have you found to help with this transition?  Share here!

 

 

Puzzle it out.

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This time of year is the perfect storm.  IEP season is in full swing, Spring break is just around the corner (woohoo) and everyone is feeling a bit squirmy and squirrelly (including the SLP).  I like to have a variety of therapy options to keep my kids engaged, but my budget is tight right now.  I looked in my magic cabinet of therapy materials to see what I could add to my bag of tricks that wouldn’t elicit groans of “no, not that.”   I spotted a shiny metal box that contained a 30 piece Star Wars themed puzzle and knew I hit the jackpot!

Really, a puzzle?  You put it together and it’s done, boring.  Well, yes, it can be if you use it exactly like that.  How about using the puzzle pieces as a therapy activity to work on gestalt thinking with your social learners?   Show a piece at a time (without showing a picture of the final product) and have them make smart guesses as to what the puzzle might be. Have any friends that focus on the unimportant details and miss the big picture?  Me too, and this is harder for them than you would think!  Add in a little group work razzle dazzle and your students will be working together to problem solve putting the picture together (without a model).  You are embedding the Social Thinking® concepts of turn taking, sharing personal space, regulating emotions (when the pieces don’t fit quite right), thinking with your eyes and sticking with a group plan!

Working on non-verbal skills? Have your students put the puzzle together without talking. They have to watch each other, use gestures and pay attention to cues that it’s their turn to put their puzzle piece in.  For our students with impulsivity or difficulty with emotional regulation, this might be challenging!  Start with short, easy puzzles to help them feel successful and build resilience in these skills.

With younger students or students working at an early social cognitive level,  you can use wooden puzzles with several pieces.  I use the puzzle pieces as a template to cut out pictures from magazines or google images that fit a theme. For example, I might cut out pictures of candy, pumpkins, costumes, October on a calendar and a bat.  Then I ask the students to take turns removing the puzzle pieces to reveal the clues and  make a guess as to what all these pictures are talking about (Halloween).  You can scaffold the picture clues from easy to more difficult as they develop this skill.

Reinforce conversational turn taking by giving each student a few puzzle pieces, with you providing a topic of discussion.  As each student adds a comment or connected question to the conversation, they get to add a piece of the puzzle.  Start with large piece puzzles at first (8-10 pieces) and as your students get the hang of this, add more pieces and change topics within the conversation. You could also choose puzzles that are areas of high interest for your students (Star Wars, Super Mario Brothers, Legos, Dinosaurs) and use the puzzle pieces as reinforcers for maintaining topic during therapy. They earn a piece of the puzzle each time you catch them keeping their brain in the group (or whatever social concept you are working on that day).  If you can’t find a puzzle that matches an area of interest (guinea pigs, for example) just find a google image of said interest, print, laminate and cut into puzzle pieces, voila’!  Make sure you leave a few minutes at the end of the session for the student to put the puzzle together.

Do you use puzzles in social language therapy?  Share your ideas here!