Assistive Technology, Free Downloads, Language, Resources, Technology, Therapy Tools

Communication Temptations

Here it is…the NUMBER ONE question I get asked as a speech-language pathologist….

What can I do at home to help my child learn to communicate?”

A perfect question to ask! Speech-language therapy is important, but often people underestimate the importance of what occurs after little ones have left my room, when the speech supplies are packed away and I am at home resting (righhhhtt!) What occurs outside of the speech room that can help kids learn to communicate?  TEMPTATION.

Temptation is a pretty incredible motivator. Have you ever been tempted by a piece of chocolate cake? Or another few minutes of snoozing after the alarm yanks you out of a perfect, deep sleep? Maybe a more-than-accidental look at that reality t.v. show that adds nothing to your intellect but is so mindlessly enjoyable? Ok, clearly I am bringing my own background experience into play to illustrate a point, but nonetheless…temptation causes you to think. To act…to react. Temptation is motivating and at times pretty powerful (I admit, visions of that chocolate cake are lurking in my brain as I highlight this concept.)

For a child, communication temptations often bridge the gap between “I’m getting by ok with things the way they are” and “I need to let someone know I really mean business here!” Parents are often surprised and a bit embarrassed when they realize how many opportunities they miss to “tempt” their language-delayed youngster to communicate. As a mom, I recognize how easy it is to let these opportunities slip by us. We know our children better than any other people on the planet. We are in tune to their every need, mood, curiosity and disappointment. It’s only natural to anticipate what our child wants or needs, and help them get it. But communication temptations can provide gentle motivators to express those wants and needs, and have a huge impact on a child’s functional communication.

As an SLP, I regularly build communication temptations into therapy sessions, starting right at the door to my therapy room. The door stays locked, and “opens the door,” if you will, to allow some natural communication to occur. Requests for “open” and “help” can be elicited, or for higher-level students, answers to questions like, “What do we need to unlock the door?” or “Look through the window, at the table…what do you see inside?”

Once inside, I often employ a few favorite “tools” to tempt students to communicate. I love presenting therapy activities encased in a closed bag or box (I’ve even been dubbed, “Bag Lady” before, due to the bags I often use in therapy…usually accompanied by piggy-backed tunes with lyrics I “write” as we discover items and reinforce language concepts. Music, by the way, is also a great therapy tool and does not need to be sung well to be effective…I will save that topic for a different blog entry!)

Anyway, hidden materials invite children to make guesses, to make requests, to watch closely as items are revealed. My favorite items to create further temptations include containers with tight lids, wind-up toys, building-block toys and cause-effect toys.

Wind up toys are a great way of getting students to direct action and make requests. More, stop, go, my turn, and help are functional words that go hand-in-hand with wind up toys (that can be difficult for a child to wind on their own.) I even have a broken wind-up toy that is great for eliciting language in developing communicators (Uh oh! What’s wrong??  Oh no! It’s broken. The toy is broken!  Need help!) If we get the toy working, we can excitedly shout things like, “Yay! Go, Go, Go! Here we go! The toy can go!”) Simple? Yes. Effective? Definitely.

Containers are another great therapy tool. Clear, acrylic containers filled with colorful objects are very motivating when presented to a curious child. They can’t wait to reach inside and…oh, wait — the lid is stuck. They need help. They want you to open. They want the lid off.  Containers are very motivating when students can see what is inside but they have a hard time accessing it. Here is a fun container I recently discovered. It’s a Michael Graves container from Target that opens by squeezing a butterfly clip on the top of the canister (read: difficult for kids to do on their own!):

Other favorite therapy tools are things like bubbles (with lids tightly closed,) toys that produce sound or light when activated, and toys that have pieces that build/go together (e.g., train tracks, housed in tightly-sealed containers!) Throughout a play session, students get repetitive practice making verbal requests (help, more, turn,etc.,) directing other people’s actions, labeling actions (stop, go, pop, open, etc.) and communicating their ideas as they explore and play. Language modeling, expansion and stimulation is built into the play, with instant reinforcers for any communication attempts.

To support verbal language or for use with nonverbal students, I often use communication boards (made with Boardmaker)  using core vocabulary words that convey a variety of language functions. These same words are a focus when used on a voice-output device. The word combinations that can be modeled using these few words are quite numerous:

Functional Communication Board - Download

Helping students acquire functional communication skills is very rewarding. Progress can be made quite quickly with the right set of motivators and expectations. I may be the “Bag Lady” who plays with toys for a large part of my day 🙂 but what is more tempting or motivating than a bag of fun? And what is more fulfilling than helping a child learn to communicate their basic wants, needs and desires? Not even a piece of chocolate cake can top that experience!

Assistive Technology, Language, Resources, Technology, Thoughts and Inspirations

My New Present

Today I received a new present for my therapy room — a desktop version of a smartboard made by Promethean technologies. Information about this particular model can be found here.  This piece of hardware is a smaller, desktop version of the classroom-sized interactive whiteboards that many schools are using. I requested this piece of equipment for use in my small therapy room, to work with small groups and individual students. With the trend in education moving swiftly in the direction of incorporating technology and meeting Universal Design for Learning standards (in addition to enjoying benefits we savvy SLPs have already discovered about the application of technology in the therapy setting,) my somewhat lavish request for the ActivPanel was granted. Today, it arrived! Feeling a bit like a five year old on Christmas morning, I eagerly worked through my lunch and planning period to unpack, set up and install my new geeked-out therapy tool. Here is a picture I snapped with my phone:

 

Are any other therapists out there using equipment like this? I am interested to know. Prior to this wonderful purchase, I often used smartboards as a resource in classrooms when teaching whole-class lessons. Now this same resource can be applied to small groups in my therapy room. I am excited at the possibilities I now have for technology-based multi-modal therapy sessions, beyond what a touch-screen PC or iPad might offer.  It’s quite energizing to think about incredible advances in the tools we use for therapy. As I ponder the immeasurable impact of technological advancement on our world in general and specifically on the field of S/L therapy (visions of graduate school and hours spent cutting pictures out of magazines or photocopied workbook pages to create therapy games flash in my memory,) I end my day with renewed enthusiasm.  Yes, it is an exciting time to be an SLP!

Holiday Theme, Language, Resources, Technology

Valentine Video

Did you know youtube is a wonderful resource for educational videos that can be used in speech-language therapy? I am fortunate enough to work in a school with interactive white boards in most of the classrooms. Often, I will create a lesson with a youtube video embedded into the flipchart. The students love the multi-media presentation!  This video below worked especially well to increase attention and engage students in the lesson. I used this video to target  receptive/expressive language tasks for lower level students working on descriptive concepts and sentence formulation. The visual stimuli paired with the repetitive, scripted sentences served as a wonderful model to elicit imitation and spontaneous language from the students. As a follow-up to the video, we “re-enacted” the story using our own colored paper hearts placed around the room. Students chose a colored heart and then formulated their sentence using the model from the video. Lower level students filled in with the name of the color or produced/ imitated a two word phrase, e.g., “red heart.” The students also practiced receptive language skills as they placed their heart in a special bag when their color was named. Here is the video that built the foundation for this interactive, holiday-themed lesson:

Articulation, Caseload Management, Language, Organization, Resources, Thoughts and Inspirations

Pinterest Finds

Probably the best way to spread some SLP love is to introduce you to the wonderful resource known as Pinterest. For visual people like myself, Pinterest provides beautiful, engaging images of all things deemed clever, lovely and inspiring. I admit to being completely sucked in by the aesthetically and intellectually pleasing images, spending way too long on the computer “researching” things that I need/want/like/should remember for my house, wardrobe, dinner table or future holiday extravaganza. But did you know that Pinterest is a goldmine of speech therapy resources? Check out some of the resources I’ve discovered already: