I am very excited to serve as featured contributor for the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s online publication, ASHASphere. I was asked to write an article about the groups I facilitate at Towson University for adults with autism. Here is my article, featured today on their website:
Interested in some new therapy supplies? Take advantage of Teachers Pay Teachers HUGE Cyber Monday and Tuesday Sale! Every single LiveSpeaklove product will be on SALE for 28% off! Now is your chance to stock up on all of the LiveSpeakLove goodies you need. Holidays are our specialty– and we have LOTS of holiday-themed goodies that will give you a December to remember. Keep your prep work to a minimum and target a variety of speech and language goals using my theme-based activities. Fun, engaging activities that allow for differentiation and are aligned to the CCSS…take advantage of this HUGE event and you will have the best, easiest holiday season ever! Don’t forget to check out my FREEBIES!!
Happy November from LiveSpeakLove! As we polish off the last of the Halloween candy, many of us are gearing up for the next big holiday…Thanksgiving! November is typically a blur for me with the ASHA convention, American Education Week and anticipation of the ever popular Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa holiday season. But I always make it a point to very purposefully and carefully appreciate the moment that we have for Thanksgiving. I hope you do, too! To help get you get ready for Thanksgiving in the speech-language therapy room, here are a collection of Thanksgiving activities I made targeting comprehensive skill sets from the CCSS. These activity sets allow for differentiated instruction in individual, small group or whole class settings. Everything you need for this month in one spot…Enjoy!!
One of my personal goals this year is to increase the use of technology in my therapy sessions. Much of my “free” time can be spent compiling lists and exploring possible resources, applications, Universal Design for Learning strategies and interactive programs. I do plan on purchasing an iPad in the near future to use in my private practice, so I have been bookmarking lists of apps and other resources that the iPad offers. Though the school district for whom I also work has not yet authorized the use of iPads for instructional use, I feel quite fortunate to work in a setting that does offer a variety of additional technology resources — flipcams, smartboards, the ActivPanel I now have in my therapy room, and more. I have developed a few favorite tools that students really seem to enjoy, and the opportunities for engagement and interaction have increased immeasurably. I like to think I am pretty engaging all by myself, but there is something to be said about therapy that includes music, color, sound, movement, and electronic modes of presentation. Children today are wired for the technology (read more about this thought in my Signs of the Times post.)
One therapy tool that is quickly marching its way into first place is the use of video to target speech-language goals.For students whose performance is greatly enhanced with the use of music and visual stimuli, videos help to secure focused attention and engage their minds for interactive learning. I often insert a video into a smartboard lesson, designed to reinforce a theme or idea. Below is a video I found recently on Youtube, which I used in a caterpillar/butterfly seasonal theme. I used the video in a smartboard lesson that reviewed the lifecycle of the caterpillar/butterfly, and reinforced the recently presented story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The video helped to help model use of descriptive concepts, and we used colorful scarves to incorporate motor movement and sensory input as we pretended to fly like the butterflies. Students were absolutely mesmerized by this tranquil video! They readily formulated their own phrases and sentences to describe colored butterfly pictures following the video:
I’ve also posted recently about using Animoto to create videos using music and selected images. I made another video today with a group of students to target expressive language, descriptive concepts, theme vocabulary and answering wh questions. To introduce summer theme vocabulary, I created a folder of Google images showing kids enjoying a variety of summer activities. Students took turns selecting the pictures they wanted to use in the video, and we practiced individual speech-language goals as we selected the pictures. Here is a visual I created to highlight the sequential directions for this video-making activity:
After we selected pictures, we uploaded them to Animoto, added the music track, and reviewed our objectives/progress while we waited for the video to finish “production” (a process that only takes a couple of minutes.) Then we were ready for step 4 — watching the video! I just loved seeing how connected and animated my students were when they saw the video and recalled the images they contributed. I noted increases in attention, participation, spontaneous verbalizations and use of targeted concepts in ALL students in the group. Here is the video that we made:
With so much success, I plan on using video as a therapy tool as much as possible — flipcam video and mobile device image uploads to star students themselves, interactive video clips in smartboard files, youtube videos that highlight concepts or themes, and other educational videos from sites like BrainPop, PBSKids, and more. I still reserve time and energy to create hands-on activities using games, toys, concrete objects and pictures; but the use of video as a therapy tool is clearly a winner in my book…er, umm– electronic reading device. 🙂
One struggling parent recently described her son’s speech to me as sounding “like nothing more than a robot.” This description spoke volumes about what it must be like as a parent of a child with autism or similar disorder. A child whose very personality is veiled by a mask of robotic speech — scripted sentences, drill-like productions, automated phrases to answer questions or label objects . As a mom, I can understand the ache that this mom was feeling for her child. She longed for a genuine conversation, a sweet moment to glimpse into her child’s mind and hear him speak with intention and meaning. Working in the public school setting and my additional private practice, I encounter many families struggling with this issue. A large number of my students are children with autism or similar disorders that include significant expressive language impairments. Many of these students are somewhat verbal, but their expressive language appears limited to verbal imitations of given models or simple, scripted sentences following a visual. Often, the presence of echolalia and/or attention difficulties further compound the expressive language issues. ABA or structured expressive language trials often increase verbalization of targeted concepts and scripted sentences, but the spontaneous language may still be very limited. As a trained speech therapist, I know that repetitive trials are often the key to skill acquisition, language memory and motor planning. But I also know that for students struggling with functional, spontaneous language, I need to move beyond the drills, repetitions and the neat sets of ten that convert easily into percentage scores. I need to create moments of intention and meaning that can be reinforced naturally, in the moment. There are a few tricks I’ve acquired that I consider very effective tools to create spontaneous language opportunities. I am pleased to share them with you here in my first official “Top Five” post. Many of these ideas may come naturally to you as a parent or clinician; maybe not. Either way, I hope these ideas will inspire you to think and reflect, and to seek genuine, spontaneous moments of language with your child or student.
Top Five Ways to Encourage Spontaneous Language:
1. Use Communication Temptations – I previously posted about lots of ways to “tempt” children to communicate. Temptation is a very powerful motivator. Though you may be finely in tune with your student and know exactly what they want or think, be sure to encourage functional communication skills as you interact. Offer activities that require the student to be motivated by something they want, need, love or desire. In my post, you can read some of the tools I often use and how to effectively create communication temptations.
2. Use Elements of Surprise – this tool is one of my favorites for increasing spontaneous language. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a quiet, hard-working but rather disinterested child suddenly come to life with exclamations of excitement, laughter and delight. The surprises do need to be varied and presented infrequently or they become, well, not very surprising. And some surprises might be startling or even scary for students, so you should closely monitor students’ reactions. But the right balance of surprise can be an extremely effective tool in fostering expressive language and meaningful connections with your student. Here are a few of my favorite surprises:
Surprise idea #1: Motion sensor toys – I have had very good success with toys that come to life in song, dance moves or cascades of giggles. These toys can be found just about anywhere they sell toys. My latest find is animals that roll and erupt in side-splitting, contagious, can’t-catch-your-breath fits of giggles. My students have all loved my new roly-poly giggling guy, who I first introduced as “my very kind friend who sometimes gets a little silly.” We enjoyed lots of laughs as we practiced language concepts. I have the alligator version of this toy, but it does the same thing as this little pig:
Surprise Idea #2: Planned “accidents” – Accidents catch people off-guard and create instant reactions. I love hearing students express their surprise, pleasure, or even worry as a train drives right off the track or crashes into another train. When a puzzle is “accidentally” knocked off the table onto the floor, I often hear complete sentences like, “Oh no, what happened? It’s ok, I’ll help you!” We work together to remedy the problem, and their spontaneous language is reinforced in a very real-word situation. (Photo courtesy of YummyDelicious.com.)
Surprise Idea #3: Hidden objects – Yes, it’s true, I am known as the Bag Lady in some parts around here. I often bring bags of interesting objects, toys or theme accessories with me. Admittedly born with a somewhat dramatic flair, I take pride in my ability to create an atmosphere of anticipation, mystery and eventual excitement/awe with a mere “something” hidden in a bag. Before the big reveal, I encourage students to guess what might be in the bag, accepting and reinforcing virtually any answer but also calling attention to the bag size and shape. Students can reach in the bag and pull out –whatever it is– which can be fun or even delightful to a curious child. Spontaneous language, as well as other targeted language concepts can be elicited as they react to what they have found. You can also hide objects buried in sand for students to discover as they dig, use the computer or smartboard to reveal hide pictures that can be revealed with the click of a mouse or stylus. Hands-on, interactive activities like these create opportunities for spontaneous language that traditional flash card or picture stimuli do not. (above photo courtesy of glamzzle.com.)
(photo courtesy of Vappingo.com) 3. Make Mistakes – Many times as I am working with a student, I purposefully insert mistakes to catch them off guard and create a reaction. Often, their reaction involves correcting my mistake, a task eliciting language targets without direct prompting. I may use the wrong word in my sentence and simply pause with a confused look on my face as I scratch my head and say, “Is that right?” Another mistake I often make is to hand them the wrong tool or object. If we have just decided to use a certain toy or game, I might hand them a puzzle instead, or maybe even the plant from my desk! A confused look from me usually elicits a reaction, and possibly a clarification of what I was supposed to get. One of my favorite moments using this “purposeful mistake” strategy was when a student remembered what I had done and spontaneously made a similar mistake in our next session. Before I could respond to his mistake, he burst into laughter saying, “I didn’t make a mistake; I tricked you!” Yes, REAL language, without structured prompts; a glimpse into his mind and heart.
4. Use Humor – Closely related to using elements of surprise and making mistakes, there is another skill I am proud to exhibit– the ability to be silly and often make a fool of myself! Whether it be acting out silly animal actions, donning a ridiculous hat or mask, or getting goofy during some interactive play, the use of humor can elicit focused attention, interactive smiles, giggles and of course, spontaneous language. One trick I tried recently came from an idea I found on Pinterest, originally from I Love 2 Teach. I modified the idea slightly and created a Boardmaker file of different voices to produce. I used the idea with a group of students working on following directions, and they each picked the voice they wanted me to use to give the direction. INSTANT engagement, amusement and focus on my verbal direction! I plan on using this tool in other types of activities very soon, encouraging the students to try out the different voices on their own. Here is the Boardmaker file for you to download:
5. Play – This Top 5 idea may sound obvious, as many clinicians, teachers and parents incorporate play into their time with language-impaired students. But play, REAL play, is essential for developing spontaneous language, social skills and creativity. Many children do not know how to play. They need experience and appropriate models. When I first began using play in therapy, I would bring out bins of fun toys and then initiate what I thought were interactions, but were actually play-based commands. “Okay, where’s the bear? That’s the bear! Ok, put the bear on the table. You say, ‘On the table!’ ” Sometimes my “play” more closely resembled correction…”No, that’s a chair; I said on the table, put the bear on the table. ” Looking back, I am pretty sure that the children to whom these commands were directed during their “play” time did not really have very much fun. These directives involved toys, yes, but the activity could hardly be called interactive play. Now, I realize the things I wish my much younger self had known. Specifically, real play should involve letting the child explore and choose what he/she wants to do, with interactions built-in to the chosen activity. Interactions are encouraged during moments of play as the child discovers what they find intriguing, amusing or just plain fun. I watch their behavior, and join them in their exploration. As we play, I initiate dialogue using characters or toys as the “speakers” As we play, I also model language production and elicit responses through play behavior, but I stay away from the commands. Throughout the session, I might encourage them to verbalize requests or imitate words and language concepts, but our play is child-led and consists of much more than a series of commands. Using true interactive play is an engaging activity that sets the stage for spontaneous verbalizations, comments, requests and engaging time to connect.
Okay, so there it is…my first Top Five list. Thank you for reading, and if you use any of these ideas, please let me know how it works for you. Thanks for visiting LiveSpeakLove!
I was trying to think of a clever title for this entry…some alliterative phrase that captures the essence of my theme. I quickly decided to stick with the matter-of-fact title, “Visual Supports for Behavior,” because matter-of-fact is what my message is intended to be — children often need visual supports for behavior. We know that certain students respond particularly well to visual supports. Research documents the need for visuals with the autism population, and there are many great options for visuals to use throughout these students’ school day. But what about students who do not have autism? Might they need visual supports as well? Absolutely!
Using visual supports in a school environment targets diverse needs across student populations. Visual supports can tap into the learning styles of students with a preference for visual presentation, assisting them in the processing and storage of information. Visuals can also increase comprehension in students struggling with auditory comprehension, providing a visual prototype that can hold meaning for them in a confusing world of fast-paced direction and instruction . Students with attentional difficulties often need visual supports as well. For a student overloaded with environmental stimuli in a busy classroom, visual supports can help capture their attention and give them a concept on which to focus as they process verbal information. In addition, many students with executive function difficulties (related to attentional difficulties) might appear to grasp a concept well during group instruction. Students can follow along with information as a teacher visually demonstrates a concept and walks the class through tasks in step-by-step fashion. However, when asked to apply that same skill to complete individual seat work, students with attention and/or executive function difficulties often flounder. But visual process charts and graphic organizers can help students complete tasks with independence as they practice the skill. A great site for graphic organizers is found here, but I often make my own to meet individual students’ needs.
One way I frequently use visual supports is to address (or prevent) behavior problems. Many students with special needs have deficits that can trigger behavior issues. Students with language difficulties often have difficulty expressing how they feel, or what they want. Issues with impulse control may interfere with classroom routines and social interactions. Students living in poverty or unstable homes may have difficulties coping with the demands of a structured learning environment. Little three and four year-olds without any prior school experience are now attempting to navigate the social world of new people and new expectations. They long to interact with peers but do not yet know how to properly initiate that interaction. Sitting on the rug at circle time is a challenge when they are accustomed to free play and exploration. All of these issues can cause negative behaviors to emerge, behaviors that can interfere with the learning of others. SLPs are frequently involved in the problem-solving process and are uniquely skilled at developing materials to address such behaviors. Social stories, super pictures, behavior charts, incentive charts, picture schedules and communication boards are all strategies SLPs keep in their toolbox so that students can make progress in the classroom.
Here are a few of my favorite visuals, resources that I specifically designed for students needing visual input to assist with comprehension of expectations. I have experienced great success using these simple but powerful tools.
Visual display to help students express how they are feeling (sometimes they don’t even know until the visual seems to “match” what they are experiencing):
Another visual display that was made for a student to keep on his desk so that he could express the emotions he was frequently experiencing:
Often students need individualized prompting during instruction time to follow classroom rules and expectations. Younger students and/or students with impulsive behaviors need one-step verbal commands to remind them of what they should be doing. These pictures can be cut apart, laminated and placed on a key ring for portability and easy access, or they can be enlarged and cut apart to use as a super-picture presentation. I keep these pictures and other similar visuals in a pocket chart on the wall in my therapy room:
One of my FAVORITE, most often-used visual is the First-Then board. I am posting one template below, but I have many other styles I frequently use. I have also been known to grab post-it notes in a therapy moment when necessary, and draw pictures depicting the first-then expectation. I verbally use this terminology to communicate expectations, even with my own children. “First homework; then T.V.” The idea is to state the expectation, and when it is finished a more preferred activity can be completed. The first-then chart posted below was used most successfully with a high-functioning student with autism who could complete his classwork with assistance when he tried, but he often became overwhelmed and refused to attempt anything. The classroom teacher and I worked together with the student to identify a list of brief, preferred activities that could be used as a reward after he finished his assignment. The student chose pictures of the preferred activities to place on the bottom row of the chart each day (things like get a drink, color a picture, take a walk, say hi to people in the office, etc.) For each activity he was assigned, he chose one of his preferred options and placed it on the “then” spot. (e.g., First – math worksheet; Then – color a picture.) With a motivating goal easily within reach, the student was able to complete chunks of work and take mini-breaks for rewards throughout his day. His meltdowns literally vanished within a day or two of introducing this tool:
For students needing a visual reminder of how to make “happy” choices, I often use these supports:
A great tool to give (positive and negative) feedback to a student while you are teaching is a non-verbal signal or visual — no need to stop instruction and give negative attention to a child who is misbehaving. With older students, a simple thumbs up or down could work. With younger students, I like to use the happy face/ sad face flip visual. Just cut out the two circles, laminatend tape to opposite sides of a craft/popsicle stick. Present any student with nonverbal feedback as you continue with your lesson. I have witnessed more than a few students break their cycle of negative behaviors by experiencing confidence and success when they are rewarded positively with the “happy” side (catch them doing something positive whenever you can — it works!)
The beauty of visual supports is that they can be tailored to exactly fit the situation at hand. Programs like PowerPoint, Boardmaker, ActivInpire, MS Word, and many others allow for creative design and image selection. The internet hosts a wealth of ideas, templates and other resources to help in the process. The bottom line? Many SLPs and teachers encounter students who are struggling to meet curricular and behavioral expectations. Can we eliminate what is causing those issues? Unfortunately, not usually. But visual supports are a wonderful tool (and in my experience, sometimes the solution) to helping these students move beyond barriers that block their progress. Increased comprehension, independence and compliance result in better learning opportunities for students, and better relationships with those around them.