The Masks We Wear

mask blog template

My school has a self contained program for students with significant autism and emotional/behavioral disorders embedded in a general education elementary school.  We are lucky enough to have fantastic adaptive p.e., art and music for our students and these teachers come up with some amazing activities for my friends!

This past spring Mr. Rob, our adaptive art teacher, started making these cool masks with our kids.  They picked a color palate of tissue paper and created the masks using forms.  These got me thinking about the figurative masks we all wear.  How do we want the world to see us ?  For my kids on the spectrum or those who struggle socially, this is a hard question.  Emotionality is often what others see first in my students, but this isn’t all of who they are, just a tiny piece of them.   I adapted this great art activity to put a social spin on it.

For my late elementary kids (on up), we talk about the characteristics that define people: personality traits, physical characteristics, etc..  We use cartoon and movie characters to walk through this process together as they are often over-exaggerated personalities, and this is an easier way to start.  You can use movie or video clips for this as well.  I have a social videos board on pinterest that you are welcome to look through for some ideas.

Next, we make our masks.  If you don’t have the forms, you can make your masks flat on paper or let your kids brainstorm ways to give their masks shape (party stores have plastic masks that you can use as well). You can even take pictures of your student’s face (with parent permission) and print them out.  We label all the positive characteristics that we want others to see in us on the mask itself- you can write on the paper along the edge of the mask, use tape, stickers, draw pictures, etc..

With my older students, we also talk about the difference between being fake and what it means to “put your best foot forward” with others. No one is happy all the time, no one has it all together and definitely, no one is perfect!  This can be a pretty difficult concept to grasp, so this may extend your prep time and therapy discussion beyond one session, but that’s okay!  This can lead into making a plan on how your students are going to help others see the best in them.  Partnering with materials from Social Thinking and the Zones of Regulation curriculum is really helpful in formulating how to do this successfully (and what to do when things don’t quite go your way), but that’s another post for another day!

What are your thoughts on talking about the masks we wear socially?

Puppies, Prediction and Cars…

puppy blog pic

I am a dog lover, so when puppy commercials come on TV, I get drawn in immediately. Subaru has a series of car commercials airing now that just suck me in. every. single. time.  They feature a family of Golden Retrievers (The Barkleys!) and their adventures in driving. There are no words in the commercials (duh, they are dogs) BUT they convey a message in each one very clearly. For my students with social language impairments, too much language muddies the processing waters, so these are perfect!  I have downloaded the series onto my social language Youtube channel playlists HERE .

Beyond the complete cuteness overload, they are fabulous tools to work on the social language concepts of predicting and inferencing for my students!  The eight commercials convey social scenarios (for example: the mom getting her hair done) and are great to use to identify emotions, prediction, point of view and humor, all in about thirty seconds. Don’t forget about expected and unexpected concepts too (a puppy in a car seat-whaaaat?). These would be great to use with Playposit (you can read my blog post on how to create your own therapy activity by embedding questions into video clips HERE ).

Do you use commercials to teach inferences or other social language concepts?  I love using Dorito’s Super Bowl ads  and kid’s movie previews!  Please share your favorites here!

Use Your B.R.A.I.N.S!

8x8 BRAINS cover

I spent the past week at a fun crossroad; posting on the SLP Materials Club facebook page as a guest AND enjoying a hot, fun week at the beach with my family!  It was the perfect respite after a long school year and I even got to read a WHOLE BOOK with my toes in the ocean (“A Man Called Ove”, a fabulous funny/sad summer read that I highly recommend). As we were walking along the Sebastian Inlet, I saw this little piece of coquina rock that frequents the coast where I grew up:

rock brain.jpg

The words “rock brain” popped into my thought bubble immediately! Do you see why I needed a vacation?!  Anyway, as part of my SLP Materials Club week, I posted a new freebie from my TPT store.  I created it to use with my students to work on how we engage other people and show that we are thinking about them.   It includes a flip book for an interview of another person to practice the skills, teaching cards to talk about how we use our brains to think about other and a teaching poster to review the acronym B.R.A.I.N.S. (we SLPs do so love our acronyms). The poster would be perfect to enlarge and hang up in your therapy room, classroom or as part of a fun bulletin board!  What does this acronym stand for?  I’m so glad you asked!

B- Be present in the moment

R-Remain on topic

A-Actively listen

I-Interpret Accurately

N-Non-verbals are important

S-Seek information

You can download this social language freebie HERE .  I know you want to give your brain a rest too and not think about school for a bit, but go ahead and file this away for the Fall now!  Happy Summer!

Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.

do for one

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone” is one of my favorite quotes from Andy Stanley, my church pastor.  The message was delivered during a series on community service, but it’s just as apt for the students we serve.  Working with students with social communication disorders can be time-consuming and frustrating, as therapists and teachers.  To watch your student fall into the same emotional minefield even after reading social stories, making visuals, implementing behavior reinforcement systems in the classroom and working on multiple sessions of practice, can be disheartening to say the least.  My heart hurts for them as they are often their own worst enemy.

I had the chance to set up a social communication program for a fifth grade student who was struggling socially and academically, because they could not work with their peers at all and constantly argued with their teachers.  The student could, outside of the moment, tell me exactly what he should have done or said, but just couldn’t translate it into real-time.   The emotionality of the situation seemed to erase all of the strategies we had been working on over the year.   He was tired and frustrated, as were his teachers, peers and parents.  We had a session that ended up being just he and I after a particularly difficult week.  “I know what I need to do, I just can’t make my brain do it.  I know everyone is always mad at me.  I don’t want to be this way,  I just don’t know how to change.  Are you going to kick me out of speech?”

My eyes filled with tears, but I pulled it together before reassuring him that no, of course I wouldn’t kick him out of speech.   I was there for him, and we would just keep working on ways for him to learn to survive (and even flourish) in a confusing social world.  Did he magically become a social whiz that year?  No, but he did make a friend who had lunch with him and hung out on the playground.  I count that as huge success.  I still get emails from his mom once in a while letting me know how he is doing.

I see more and more students struggling with the impact of social communication impairments.  Our society is affected by isolating technology and unbelievable social pressure, a combination that is wreaking havoc with our kids.  My heart is absolutely drawn to those who don’t quite fit in and those that stand out.  As SLPs, our fatal flaw is that we want to fix all of the kids we work with, every last one.  It’s one of our best and most frustrating qualities, but it’s not realistic.   What I can do is work my hardest for those I can reach, and do for one what I wish I could do for everyone.

Off to see the Wizard…

It’s spring break here (finally!) and even better,  it actually feels like spring too. Harry Potter is in my near future ( yes, my geek flag is flying proudly on this one) and I couldn’t be more excited!  Before we head off to see the wizard, I wanted to share a great idea from one of my friends at school.   She took the problem/solution page I created and blew it up on a poster maker and hung it inside her classroom door.  It looks like this:


problem poster

She taught the parts of the process:

 identify the problem,
figure out who can help you
what can you do on your own?
what’s the size of the problem 
the solution you decided on  
This version also includes a question to ask, “do I know what to do next time?” and
a feeling chart before and after the problem/solution was identified.

But the best part?   The students now manage their issues on their own or together!!   They lead each other to the poster and through the process (particularly the size of the problem) successfully.  The teacher is now a teacher and not a referee (although she will step in if needed) and the daily drama has been dramatically reduced. Yay!!  The goal is for the kids to internalize this thought process and be able to take it with them through life.  Awesome job Ms. Burns!!

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…

Labels, Clues and Hipsters


Our family is fortunate to attend a really creative church.  On a recent high school retreat, my son came home with this bingo board (see above).   My social language brain lit up like a Christmas tree! Hipster bingo was played as part of a discussion on what people perceive others to be based on what they see.  In the age of ever-present social media, right or wrong, labels and perceptions often define this generation.   While the social commentary on what a hipster is (or isn’t) is interesting, I thought of how this could be used in a variety of ways to connect the clues we see in others to make smart guesses about who they are.

Students with social communication impairments often miss the big picture.  They may notice individual details, but to pull those details together and make a prediction from that information is a huge leap.   A smart and creative colleague of mine was working with a young lady with ASD and showed her an advertisement of a young woman rollerblading in a park.  When she asked the student what could she guess about the person in the picture, the student commented that she must be a mom about 35. When she was asked about the specific details of the picture, the student could identify them appropriately but kept referencing a mom with kids but not the target idea of exercising or being healthy.  Puzzled by this response, the therapist probed further and soon realized the student was making guesses based on what she knew of her own mom, not on what she saw in the picture  (a healthy, exercising, young woman).  She was missing the forest for the trees.

These connecting ideas are difficult and weakness with this translates academically into students having a hard time summarizing, identifying main ideas, predicting and being able to talk about a ‘big picture’ idea in literature/history/science in the classroom. It also causes kids to misread social situations with their peers and adults.  Here are a couple of ideas to work on this skill:

You can use a concrete visual (this would also be great with cause and effect and turn taking in conversation too), for example links of paper:  paper links

The student could look at a picture like this:

boy hurt

+ identify important clues on each link of the chain: basketball, doctor, sports jersey, bandage on arm, sad face on boy  = smart guess?

                                              CONCLUSION he was hurt playing ball                        

Another concrete option is to look at a picture together and talk about what information you know from what you see. Then cut the picture into 4-6 puzzle pieces and write down an important detail you talked about on each piece. Next, your group could make a guess about what the big idea/theme will be when you put them together.  Assemble the clues and see if they were right!  If not, it’s a great way to review what they misinterpreted and talk through the process together.

Last but not least, the bingo board is a way to work on making a smart guess about a big picture idea.  There are several bingo boards here on Pinterest that allow you to create your own.  I have found Nerd bingo, selfie bingo and Macbeth bingo on this site!  You could create one for your students with pictures of how they would like to be perceived by their peers (happy, smart, athletic, kind…) or with character traits/nonverbals for how you wouldn’t want to be perceived (angry, sneaky, selfish…).  For your older students, you can use it for themes in literature, for example the key theme of hate in Romeo and Juliet and how each character was affected by or contributed to it.

That’s my big idea today social language hipsters, what’s yours??