Watch your tone!

3x3 blog pic tone of voice

Voice is an area of communication that I have really had to step up my game recently. Many of my students with autism spectrum disorders struggle with the subtleties of understanding that it’s not just the words they say, but how they say them, that convey meaning.  I love using videos to teach many social concepts and tone of voice is one of these areas, but I also needed some step by step materials to explain the why of this skill. Have you had any friends that speak like a robot or a cartoon character, or use a loud, angry tone of voice all the time (even when they weren’t mad)?  Me too!

8x8 cover voxbots

I ended up making what I needed after looking around for months, and voila’, Voxbots (get it?) was born and you can find it in my TPT store!  I tend to be a linear thinker and know that my kids need to understand the steps and the why before we can practice and start to change these skills.   I begin with teaching cards to describe each clue we need to consider, in order to determine the right tone of voice. These clues include matching emotion to words, reading body language and facial expressions, determining the right place, time and people, and adjusting our volume, speed and inflection.  It always amazes me when I break down a skill, how complex each one is and how neurotypical brains work effortlessly when we communicate.  It also helps me understand and empathize at how hard these skills are for my students with social language deficits!

I then have task cards for each of the clue areas to practice the skills.  After we get the instructional understanding down in therapy, I give homework using a checklist of what to look for. I ask them to observe the clues in real time at home, across people and settings.  We also use video clips to look for the clues and to see if the tone of voice matches what is going on in the movie or commercial (you can look through my Pinterest board for social video clips HERE ).  Using an ipad or iphone to record the students is another great idea to generalize the skill. My students often have the most difficult time watching themselves, so I save this practice until last.  Remember, social communication in real time is a very fast moving, complex skill for all of us.  This is not a once and done lesson.  You may scaffold the skills over several weeks and then re-visit them throughout the year in therapy to probe for generalization or to see where the kids are missing clues.  You can even create a bulletin board with their Voxbots as a visual cue in the classroom or send them home as a reminder for carryover.

How do you teach tone of voice skills in therapy?  Share here!

No more teachers, no more books….

3x3 blog pic social homework.png

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.

What’s a Popplet?

3x3 blog pic popplet

It sounds like a cute Saturday morning cartoon character or a yummy pastry, but Popplet is actually an interactive graphic organizer app! It’s available on itunes but I am lucky enough to have it as part of my Office 365 suite on my school computer!  This app is described on their  website : “In the classroom and at home, students use Popplet for learning. Used as a mind-map, Popplet helps students think and learn visually. Students can capture facts, thoughts, and images and learn to create relationships between them.”  My students, especially my students with social language impairments, ADD and/or executive function impairments, are definitely visual learners! I am too, so here is a link to a youtube video that shows how to build a Popplet organizer.  Here is a link to a fabulous education blog that outlines multiple uses for Popplet in school with a great step by step tutorial.   One of my SLPeeps (thanks Joy!) introduced me to this in a presentation recently and my mind jumped right to social language concepts (I know, it’s an obsession)!

popplet screen shot

How cool would this be to use for social mapping?  You could add a picture of the problem scenario in the middle (or even have the students role play problems and take actual pictures of them to use with the app).  Then, use the organizer to build out expected/unexpected pathways (you can color code them too) and tease out how their choices impact how others think and feel.  If your students have tablets in your school system as ours do, you can push out the Popplet to them individually and they have an immediate visual social map to refer to.

What about our friends who have difficulty with group work?  Building a Popplet together might be more enticing to my students who love technology and sneak in some collaborative learning skills at the same time in the therapy setting or in the classroom!  I can see this being used to work on expanding social language concepts such as perspective taking using a graphic organizer, connecting the concepts of think/say/feel and even linking shades of emotions using Popplet.  I want to try it out and have my kids look at a picture in the middle, then identify and connect the clues they see in order to make a smart guess!   It would be fantastic to be able to print a screenshot and blow it up to poster size to refer to in your therapy room or classroom too.

I am excited to try out this new therapy tool and see how it goes.  Have you used Popplet? Please share your thoughts here.  If not, how would you use it for social language therapy?

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…

3x3 blog pic pov flower cover

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.

3x3 blog pov flower pic

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.

3x3 blog pic social dogtective

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.

3x3 blog pic dog pic

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.

3x3 blog pic better late than never

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!