Will You Be My Social Valentine?


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.


 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.


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!

Magically delicious ideas for March…


I am home from school today due to a sparkly and dangerous glaze of ice across north Atlanta!!  It’s hard to believe that Spring is just around the corner with temperatures in the 20s (and below!). As I sip my hot cocoa in my jammies today,  I thought I would share some packets and freebies from TeachersPayTeachers to get ready to tackle social language concepts as we March into the next month!

I created a social language packet with a St. Patrick’s Day theme   HERE   It’s more than 20 pages of figurative language, inferences, point of view and language activities that dovetail with Think Social concepts from Michelle Garcia Winner.

The Peachie Speechie has created this fun idiom activity for the popular Cariboo game HERE   Speech therapy is always more fun with a game, right?

I am loving this social conversation freebie from Nicole Ravettina  HERE  Great idea for homework!

One more freebie from the talented Jenna Rayburn is a cute leprechaun trap activity that aligns nicely with Michelle Garcia Winner’s Unthinkables and Superflex characters   HERE

Stay warm friends and with any luck, we will have springtime temperatures soon!!

From Social Detective to CSI….

social autopsy



I work with an amazing speech language pathologist in my school system named Suzanne, and she is a master of using the Think Social and Superflex curriculum (both from Michelle Garcia Winner)  with our kids who struggle with social language!  Suzanne mentioned she is using social autopsies with many of her kids, and while it rang a bell, I wasn’t familiar with the details. It sounded kind of interesting (and a tiny bit creepy).  After plugging the term into my dear friend Google, I found out it is definitely a very cool tool to use in therapy!!  Bonus: social autopsy dovetails nicely into the social detective theme too, don’t you think?

Social skill autopsy is a concept coined by Rick Lavoie, a special educator.  This video is a great insight into why he feels social skills are critical for children (in this example, kids with LD).  We often focus on just our friends with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) when we talk about social language abilities, but the continuum is much broader.   He also wrote a fantastic book “It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend” that continues the social conversation.  His understanding of why culture is so hard for kids to navigate socially and how we as adults (teachers, parents, therapists) can support positive social interactions is extraordinary.

A social skills autopsy is founded on three ideas:  most social errors are unintentional, punishing kids for unintentional errors is not only unfair, but inappropriate, and traditional remediation is not effective.  Can I get a hallelujah?!  You may think this is not new information, but for many people it is a paradigm shift.  If we think about it, we all have probably had experiences on the other side of this equation.  The difference is that we have enough social awareness and incidental learning strategies that we didn’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.  Once was enough!

For example, many years ago, I walked into a small museum in Europe.  I grabbed my camera and took a picture with a flash to capture all the beauty, and a security guard immediately grabbed my camera and made me leave the museum, yelling at me in French.  I did not understand (because I sadly don’t read or speak French) that flash photography is forbidden as it damages the paintings.  My error was unintentional and I was upset and confused as to what had happened.  I might do the same thing again in another museum if my social awareness was not intact enough to figure out what I had done wrong.  I might also incorrectly assume that all French museum guards are rude and angry people.   Was it my intention to do the wrong thing and upset people?  No, and for most of our students it isn’t their intention either.

Dr. Lavoie goes on to describe the intervention strategy in four steps:  practice, immediate feedback, instruction and positive reinforcement.  There is a fantastic article from LD online that gives details and examples of this technique.  I found a few free printables that you can use in therapy with your students for social skill autopsies from behaviordoctor.org   here . Dr.  Christine Reeve has a fantastic blog geared to the autism classroom that is full of great ideas btw, just search “social autopsy”.

Have you used social skill autopsies?  Share your experience here!



SMARTER social goals

smarter goals


Social goals are a bit challenging to develop.  In working with new graduates in our field, it’s become very clear that our college curriculum is coming up a bit short in discussions of how to write social language goals that are SMARTER:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (!), Timely, Ethical, Reasonable.  The newly minted SLPs are well versed in writing goals related to articulation, language, voice and fluency but the social piece seems to have been a bit vague.   I don’t blame them, the field of social language is relatively new and it is a paradigm shift to think about social cognition,  My brain often spins thinking about the many nuances of social language skills!

The first thing I will do is share this amazing article about the Social Learning Tree .  We need to understand the foundations of social language before we can write good goals.  Next, it takes time and experience (duh) with people who have social communication impairments.  Social language goals extend to people with ASD, TBI, ADD, EBD and all along the bell curve of communication disorders. And if I may step on my soap box for a second, our electronic society is cultivating a socially language impaired culture of people who don’t look or talk to one another, but that is another post for another day!

Talk to the student’s teachers, interview the parents, utilize language and social checklists, observe the child in several settings (structured and unstructured) and interact with them to find the strengths and weaknesses.  There are lots of moving parts to the social communication puzzle!   You do NOT need twenty social goals in an IEP!   Since the IEP is a fluid document start small and focused with 3-5 goals at most and build from there.

I see a lot of IEPS from seasoned therapists as well that write goals for greetings and farewells as the first goal.  Yes, It’s important, but can you build that into each session without it being a goal?  Absolutely.  You need to consider where the student is on the social learning tree skill wise and then prioritize the deficits that impact them the most.  It’s not a one size/one goal fits all approach.  Don’t forget that a lot of social language is already built into the core, particularly in literature and language arts , including perspective taking, inferences, and cause/effect.

Utilizing materials that are researched based and are practical and brilliant at the same time such as Think Social and Superflex,  will help you develop goals and therapy plans. I know materials cost money, so consider applying for mini-grants to fund your social bank of materials. Talk to your fellow therapists, and ask lots of questions!  Look into Pinterest and other sites that can spark great ideas for you such as Jill Kuzma’s blog.  Don’t recreate the wheel, but also look at this learning curve as an opportunity to grow your own creativity!

What helped you in writing goals for social language?