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!

 

 

 

Calm, there’s an app for that!

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We had our Best Practices GOSSLP conference for school based SLPs in Georgia last week. It is a conference I look forward to for many reasons, including meeting new friends like the great OTs who created Lucy the Lap Dog , catching up with old speechie friends that I don’t get to see very often and the great speakers the conference brings.   I went to hear Terri Rossman speak on Zones of Regulation, Sarah Ward talk about executive function skills and Julie Weatherly discuss special education law (that will keep you up late at night!!). These courses offered great table discussions during lunch among my fellow SLPs!

One of my takeaways was the seemingly increasing need of our students, particularly the students that I see with social language impairments, for self-regulation and calming strategies.  One of my colleagues in our county is establishing mindfulness classes for both the students and the staff at her middle school!  She has done a lot of training on her own and like me, sees an increase in the stress and anxiety levels in our students and our peers. I think it’s the teach to the mandated test culture, social media pressure and the message to “do more/be more” that we are inundated with in our world today. I feel it as an adult, do you?

So with this in mind, I stumbled across an app called Calm (it’s available on iPhone and Android).  While the app is free, there are paid options within the app that you can choose as well.  Some of the free features include a visual breathing circle, seven days of calm meditation program, soothing visuals and sounds of nature,  and sleep stories for bedtime (for adults and children) that are read in a calm voice.  The app is easy to navigate and has good explanations of each feature. It is packed full of great options that are useful in a variety of settings, to help provide an external cue for self calming.

I had the opportunity to try the app with one of my little after-school friends. He was in the “yellow zone” during our session and was a giggly, wiggly mess last week!  We have been working on whole body listening but those cues and visuals were not enough. So, I popped up the app on my phone, showed him the breathing circle and we did this together for a few minutes.  He did calm down enough to attend to our activities and regulate back to the green zone for a little while before we needed to get up and MOVE to get the wiggles out. There isn’t a one size fits all therapy tool that works all the time with all of my kids, but this app is a nice addition to my skill set.  I may just use it myself the next time I am stuck in two hours of Atlanta gridlock!

What other apps do you use to target calming, reducing anxiety or self-regulation skills? Share here!

Slow and Steady…

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I happened to see this little snail moving along at its own pace, determined to get wherever it was going and not following a straight path.  It’s a fair representation of social language therapy from my experience.  Social language development isn’t like any other developmental acquisition timeline, such as language, articulation or gross motor skills. It doesn’t scaffold skills vertically like other areas of communication, one building upon another, leading to proficiency. I think that is part of the reason that it’s so difficult for parents, teachers and therapists to get a handle on what social language therapy is (and isn’t).

The students that I work with often have several preliminary diagnosis before they are identified as having a social language disorder (usually adhd, anxiety, or language delay). These diagnosis can and often do exist right along with social language deficits. Some of my students also have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, most often at the high end of the spectrum.  They tend to be identified later for social language intervention, as typically their academic grades are fantastic.  It is when behaviors start to occur that make these students stand out from their peers, that a referral is urgently made.    When I test these students (some as early as K-1, others not until high school), I find it’s really important to provide some good background knowledge on what social language skills are, and what the goal of therapy is for this student, to the family and the team working with them.  I love this visual of Social Thinking’s ® Social Learning Tree to help me explain the scope and sequence of social learning visually.  So many families will say their goal for therapy is  that they want their child to have friends, but there are so many prerequisite skills that need to be addressed before they are able to develop successful friendships (a very high level social competency)!

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A critical piece of this discussion is talking about how social skills are developing at each level of the tree (roots to leaves) but that students don’t necessarily move upwards through all the social levels to higher social competencies, regardless of their age.  This is a difficult conversation but so crucial in starting therapeutic intervention with realistic expectations.  Just as we cannot therapize an increase in IQ , we cannot therapize social cognition to increase beyond the person’s abilities.  What we can do however,  is deepen and broaden the skills, strategies and competencies within the abilities the person does have.  We do this through direct instruction (our kids are not incidental social learners), modeling, practice and lots of feedback.  I try to reinforce the idea that social learning is a life skill, and we need to work on these skills just like we would for sports, music or academics.

This is not a fast process and it’s often hard to understand a person’s perspective, motivation and deep understanding about how they fit and function in the social framework of their life.  It cannot just be the SLP working on these skills.  It has to involve the family, teachers (general ed as well as special ed), school staff, counselors, OT,  and peer mentors (read a great article about this here from Social Thinking).  Moving the skills and strategies from direct instruction in the speech room, to a structured and supportive setting such as a counseling group or small class, and then learning to generalize the skills across people, place and time is the long-term road map.  It may take several years to develop these social skills and successfully demonstrate social competency. There will be stumbles and mistakes, but that’s okay. It’s part of being human and none of us (even neurotypical adults) are perfect at this social life all the time! Social growth and success are possible, but it is slow and steady intervention that wins this race.

Have you Shmooped?

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No, it’s not the latest dating site or an ill-timed bodily function, so what exactly is it?  According to their website,  “Shmoop is a digital publishing company with “a point of view.” We seek to empower and broaden the range and depth of choices students have in life. Our teaching method revolves around the basic notion that learning is often too hard, so we carry gallons of academic WD-40 that we squirt on the tracks whenever we can.” Who doesn’t love academic WD-40????  Shmoop is also a website that is chock full of fabulous curriculum related materials that have social language application!  There is a free version of the site, as well as a paid version, and it has separate offerings for teachers and students. Take a few minutes/hours/days to wander through the site and check out all the resources available to you (click on the picture below to be taken to the magical land of Shmoop….)

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I love the video section ( over 5,000 videos on Shmooptube, of course) that include PBIS and life skills themes, like this one on cheating or this one on balancing interests with friendships.  These are about 2 minutes long and are great opening videos to use in social groups, counseling or speech therapy for middle school on up!

The summary units, like this one for Shakespeare’s  As You Like It,  are also great to use to help my students visualize an overview of the story. I love these “In a Nutshell” video summaries to teach the big picture concepts prior to reading the books.  From historical novels to the deeper meaning of Dr. Seuss books (including this 3 week online unit lovingly called Dr. Shmeuss, ha!), you can find tons of resources to support your students!

Within each unit’s text , you might find little orange-colored pins labeled WTFWhy’s This Funny? (not what you thought, be honest!).  Click on the pin and it explains why a statement is humorous based on context, background knowledge or word play.  For my literal thinkers, this is AWESOME!!  It also defines idioms, great for ELL students and for my literal friends, BONUS!

Along the side of the page, there are tabs for character descriptions, theme discussions, summaries, questions, pictures, flash cards, writing prompts and more!  My own high schooler has used this site often to help break down the often confusing or nebulous themes and vocabulary within literature and has found it extremely helpful.  The students that I work with, who have ASD or language processing impairments, often struggle with the indirect and figurative language concepts in novels.  Shmoop helps to make these concepts clear and direct, with visual supports that help them participate in class discussions more successfully, and better yet, understand the material!  If that’s not academic WD-40, I don’t know what is.

What are some other materials or websites that help your older students understand literature?   Share here!

 

Don’t change the channel!!

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While my team did not win (congrats, Pats fans!), the Super Bowl offered a dazzling and sparkly half time show with Lady Gaga and a few commercial gems I added to my Pinterest social video board.  There was a plethora of video game ads and upcoming TV show teasers, but not a lot of memorable commercials for me this year.  Anyone else think that the Humpty Dumpty ads were kind of creepy?

I love to use video clips in social language therapy to work on the Social Thinking® concepts of expected/unexpected behaviors, connecting what someone says to what others are thinking or feeling, making predictions/smart guesses and more!  Many of my kids can do this with a static picture or social scenario read to them, but in real time, not so much! Social language is fluid and fast, making it hard for my kids to keep up with the processing of language and non-verbal interpretation with their peers.  Video clips (keep them short) are a great stepping stone towards real time application of the social competencies you are working on!

I have shared some videos on the blog previously, so you can check them out here if you want to add them to your video repertoire:  Doritos in Speech? Score!  ,  That’s Awkward and Puppies, Predictions and Cars .  You can use my free football themed social language commercial freebie from my TPT store HERE to analyze the components of each commercial with your kids. You can also create your own lessons with video clips and embedded questions that you create using Playposit (read all about how to use that fabulous free resource)!

Here are a few more that you will want to check out from this year, if you missed them because you left to grab a snack….or cry (I still love you Falcons!):

Skittles at the Window boyfriend

Cam Newton Buick 

or this trio of Kia videos with Melissa McCarthy:

Hero Journey

Penguin Problem

Iceberg car

Gronk’s Cleaners

Hawaiian Rolls

 Any that I might have missed that you loved (or hated)?   Share here!

 

 

Will You Be My Social Valentine?

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Valentine’s Day is upon us, and I am reminded again that it is a holiday that can be quite tricky for my students with social language impairments!  There is a whole lot of indirect language, hidden rules and emotional regulation in this holiday.  I found this adorable “monster crush” mailbox at my local dollar store (score!) and started thinking of all the ways I can use it this holiday, in my social therapy.  Here are few that you might want to try too!

ESL websites are a great resource of figurative language activities that also benefit my kids with social language impairments!  Here is one from EverythingESL on idioms related to the heart.  You can write the idioms on a paper heart and the students have to take them out of the mailbox and explain what the idiom literally means.  You can extend the activity by having them draw or write the meaning on the hearts and make a fun bulletin board from them.

For my upper grade students, I have this Cupid Quandary freebie in my TPT store.

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 It has sixteen sticky social situations for your kids to talk through (you can use the mailbox with this as well for turn taking).  It includes some blank template cards to add your own scenarios too.

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I use the Superflex® curriculum from Michelle Garcia Winner, and she has created a group of characters called Unthinkables.  These characters personify some of the challenges my students may have, such as not being a flexible thinker (Rock Brain) or poor emotional regulation (Glassman).  I have seen a few other SLPs (like Speech Room News ) create Unthinkable Valentines from these characters and have the students guess who they belong to.  You could also give the student the Unthinkable and ask them to write a card from the Unthinkable’s point of view (much harder)!  Extend the activity by talking about how the person receiving that Valentine might think or feel.

You could even get a little crazy and buy 2 mailboxes to sort valentine’s cards or hearts based on things you would say vs.things you should think or expected vs.unexpected comments related to Valentine’s Day. These are also social language concepts from Social Thinking®, so check it out if you haven’t already!

Want some more budget friendly Valentine’s Day ideas?  Visit my Instagram page @SmartmouthSLP each day this week for dollar store ideas to target social language concepts!

It’s not a box of chocolates, but I hope these ideas make your Valentine’s day social language therapy a little sweeter!