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!

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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

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?

 

Egg-cellent Social Language Ideas!

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picture by Eric Britz

We are in the midst of Spring break (yay) and Easter is right around the corner.  I have been seeing lots of posts about targeting articulation and language using plastic eggs, so I thought I would add my two cents on ways to work on social language!   The colored eggs are perfect to work on Zones of Regulation ® with my students too.  The red(pink), yellow, blue and green eggs align to each zone, but just as there are no wrong emotions, there are no wrong colors either, so if you have a few orange, teal or white eggs, no worries. Ask your students to come up with what emotions they think might align with these colors. Don’t be surprised at how creative and insightful they can be!

We also prep by reviewing books or videos as a refresher to what each zone might look like.   I made an interactive book, Calm Down, that I use with my younger elementary friends as part of this prep.  We can then brainstorm ways to calm ourselves down when we are in the red, yellow or even blue zones.   My students can dictate or write down these strategies on pieces of paper and put them into the corresponding colored eggs.

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You can put different strategies in any colored egg and have your students choose one, read the strategy and then match it to the zone.   For your students who are comfortable and accurate with these concepts, you can extend this into a “good egg/bad egg” game and have the kids decide if the strategy in the egg is a good solution/expected one or an unexpected strategy.  For example, if you are in a red zone (angry, furious, out of control) and the strategy says to go take a walk and calm down, that’s an expected solution. However, if the strategy says to scream in someone’s face until you feel better, that’s definitely an unexpected solution.  How fun would it be to put the “good eggs” in a basket, and the “bad eggs” in a little trashcan? You can further tease out the social language concepts of consequences and how other people might feel or think about us when we have unexpected reactions.

Have you seen those cute emoji eggs in the dollar stores?  Me too, but if you can’t find them, just make your own with a sharpie!  You can draw different mouths on both sides of the bottom of the shell, different eye and eyebrows on the top of the shell and rotate to get more choices per egg.  You can give your students the chance to draw their own egg emojis and have their peers guess which emotion they drew and identify the clues they used to make those guesses.  Hello non-verbals!  If you give them an emotion, ask your students to identify scenarios that might elicit that emotion (write or draw a picture) and stuff them in the eggs.

You can also fill the eggs with tiny objects or picture clues that all relate to one concept or idea.  For example, a tiny cake, a candle, a ribbon, a deflated balloon=birthday party! This is a fun way to work on gestalt thinking and help our kids connect the details to the big picture ideas.  The quicker or the less clues they need to make a smart guess, the more “points” they earn (it doesn’t have to be a tangible reinforcer, my kids are competitive enough to just want to beat the previous number of guesses)!  I don’t deduct points for a wrong guess, but we do stop and talk about what made them make that guess, and it gives me insight to where the breakdown might be.

Lastly, you can use the eggs and a basket to work on conversation skills.  Each person gets two of the same colored eggs (one gets blue, one gets green, etc..).  I write a CC (connecting comment) or a ? (ask a question) on all of the eggs indicating what the student needs to add, and I tape a picture of the topic on a basket.  We go around the table until all the eggs are in the basket and we have maintained the topic so that everyone has asked a related question and made a connecting comment.  I’ll play too and throw in an off topic comment or ask a totally unrelated question to see if my kids catch me!

I hope you found some egg-cellent ideas to work on social language concepts with your students this Spring!  What are some other ways you use plastic eggs?

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!

 

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!