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Sunday, November 22, 2020

10 weeks to 40 core words preview

I've been playing with some video introductions to some of my resources for AAC implementation.  Here is a video I just made for a resource that gets a lot of praise from buyers. 
While I am a "reluctant marketer" and hate being "salesy," I do love solving problems for busy SLPs who struggle with constantly creating or finding new ideas for core word implementation.  
I really like that this resource covers a lot of ground for SLPs and teaches 40 core words over a period of time from Aided Language Stimulation through fun contextual practice and into decontextualized carry-over.
Check it out here. It just might save you some time and sanity.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Could You Use a FREE Digital AAC Resource? Sure You Could!

 Distance learning; a term that conjures a variety of reactions in parents, speech pathologists, teachers, even students. One thing that is certain, though, is that it will be around for a long time.

Even before this pandemic, many SLPs were providing teletherapy, in part to battle the shortages of therapists in many areas of the country and also to provide more balance in their own lives.

I had begun creating some digital therapy activities last year and even as far back as 2016, but without a lot of consistency. But then came Spring this year and BAM!  There was a sudden need for more distance learning resources, and especially for AAC users.

Now, while I have always argued for creating contexts and playing with children in therapy, I know there is a need for decontextualized practice and for paper-based types of materials, but I wanted to try to keep an aspect of communication board use in as many of the materials as I could.

Last month I created this free resource that's just a taste of what I've been doing and wanted to offer it here for anyone who reads my blog. Just click the link here, sign on up for my newsletter and get it delivered straight to your inbox.

Just to let you know, I rarely send out newsletters, they are not salesy, usually contain a free resource or an interesting tip or strategy, and you can always hit unsubscribe!

So, enjoy.

And…. stay healthy!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Barrier Games from Afar - an Old Trick in the New Distance Learning

 I recently suggested to another SLP that barrier games are perfect for telepractice and received a sort of questioning look.  But when you think about it, distance is an ideal barrier.  With very little effort, you can make it impossible for students to see over to each others’ papers or to yours. And if it is just you and a single student it is even that much easier.  Concentrate on either side of the skill set - listening or formulating - or both and have fun. I have always found students to be engaged with very little effort!

When I first started using barrier games I had been a SLP for a while, but hadn’t worked with students who could actually speak very much up until that point. So it was a novel experience for me!  My first introduction to barrier games was with basic geometric shapes of different sizes and colors.  I don’t know about the students, but I got bored pretty quickly!

Then I found some fun cling-film sets. Boom!  The kids were hooked.  I had sets for the zoo and park, grocery store and house, and several other environments. These allowed me to throw in some other vocabulary, too. I got many, many hours of therapy out of these sets.

Now I just make my own with some fun clip art! Or cut up magazines and hit the copy machine. Another fun idea is to tie the barrier game to a book you’ve read and create vocabulary tie-ins that way, as well.

Barrier games are easy to do. Both people have identical sets of materials; a background (which can be a plain piece of paper or a fun scene) and picture pieces to be placed on the background. In a pinch, you can go back to the blank copier paper and geometric colored shapes.

One person is the listener, who must process the directions and descriptions and create the scene as the other person directs. 

The “narrator” gives directions using precise vocabulary  and good descriptions, making the scene they describe as they go. 

At the end, the two scenes should match.  If they don’t, mediate discovery of where the breakdown occurred. 

Were the directions too vague? The descriptions imprecise or vocabulary incorrect? Did the listener choose the wrong items or misplace something?

The errors can give you good insights about your students and where their difficulties stem from.

If you’re looking for some easy themed barrier games, try these in my store. Or have fun making your own. Tell me what fun themes you come up with!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

How Did We Come to be Here? Adventures in Speech Pathology

 While this blog has been around for about 7 years now, I have to admit to being largely absent for the past couple of years. Life does have a habit of getting in the way.

This year I have managed to write a few posts, and I hope that families, in particular, have found it helpful to see the reprisals of posts about daily routines and the benefits of just “being” at home with your nonverbal child.

I thought, however, that I would take the opportunity to re-introduce myself to those of you who are newer here, or who haven’t hear my story before.  I took a rather circuitous route to speech-language pathology, although always with a laser focus on children with nonverbal autism.

When I was 10 years old I watched a documentary on television about a group of children at a special private residential school in Chicago who had what was then called childhood schizophrenia.  They had autism. They were nonverbal. They displayed a range of “difficult” behaviors that were thought then to be the result of cold and uncaring or unresponsive mothers. “Refrigerator mothers” was the term used. 

Way to take a devastating situation and bury it in guilt.

But that  was the 60’s and, fortunately, we have come a long way in our understanding of autism since then.

But, back to the story.  I determined even at that early age that I wanted to work with these children. I was fascinated and absolutely hooked.  So, I set about finding what I thought was the best program in undergraduate psychology that I could and headed for college.

Somewhere along the way, however, school had lost its appeal for me.  Mostly, I was bored, and the thought of hanging around through a Ph.D. seemed….. well, tedious. So I hoped to find a school where I could spend some time working with these children for a while as a break in between.  I had done some of that in college and loved it.

Timing is everything in life, right?  Mine was off.  Just as I graduated from college we passed PL94-142, otherwise known as the special education law.  Private programs now fell under the purview of public school districts, all of whom had their own staff, none of whom was anxious to hire a 19 year old college graduate with a psych major and special ed minor.

So, while mulling my options I signed up to be a substitute special education teacher.  Unfortunately, in my big city home town, some of those classrooms were homes less to special education students and more to underprivileged students tired of being called “dumb.”  It was an eye-opener for sure, but not what I had in mind at all.

So, what to do? I thought I’d look at special education graduate programs instead. At the time, there were exactly 5 in the country that offered a specialty in autism.  My first choice turned out to be a poor location. As in, I couldn’t find anywhere to live that I could actually afford. Nowhere.

Second choice turned out to be absolutely awful. I spent a semester learning….. nothing. Not a single thing.  But I was not going to move yet again.  Both moves had sent me in wildly different and far-flung directions.

So this time, I thought about what it was I was doing with the children I was working with and what my options were for getting the education I needed.

Another school in the same city offered a program in speech pathology. What I was actually doing with these autistic children was teaching them to communicate. We spent a lot of time teaching signs for communication. So…. I knocked on the door and was actually invited in without fuss or bother.

And that is how I became a speech pathologist - a profession I hadn’t even heard of or considered before but now wouldn’t change!

How did you get here?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

I've Been Chosen: Top Homeschool Curriculum List Picks of 2020-21

Yes, it seems now every parent is now a homeschooling parent, every speech-language pathologist is doing teletherapy and teachers are Zooming away!  So, when the Homeschool Curriculum Guide asked me if I'd be interested in applying to be included in their guide this year, I said, "Sure!." After all, homeschooling is where it's at right now.

I know a bit about homeschooling, actually. I homeschooled one of my children for parts of middle and high school. I started out a bit uncertain, but we made it through. I certainly didn't do any harm. After all, she's now a lawyer.

You can find my mention in the guide under Special Needs Curriculum here. nI'm officially a "... 2020 Top Homeschool Curriculum List winner!"  
I can only hope that some parents who need my resources can find them this way.  I know how difficult this year has been for many parents, especially those at home with children with complex communication needs.

Here's hoping we can get to a new normal that works for all of our students!  
Have a safe back to school!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Communicating Made Easy for Parents at Home During COVID-19

So you’ve been cooped up with your children for more than a month.  Schools are closed, and you may not have your home therapists anymore. You might or might not have had school materials sent home or services provided in telepractice. You might be pulling your hair out.

What else can you do?  You can actually do a lot.  As a matter of fact, you probably are doing a lot that you don’t even realize.  And none of this will require any new materials, worksheets, or personnel.

I have been trying to provide parents with a variety of home suggestions over social media since social distancing began. Many of those suggestions have included AAC modeling plans and word suggestions.  All have revolved around daily routines or play.  Or books. Books are good, too! 

Routines are one of the best ways to build language in your nonverbal or minimally verbal child.  It is also how you started teaching any of your children language skills. 
If you’re looking for ways to implement the 200 opportunities per day that are the minimum needed for your AAC user to become competent, look no further than the routines in his or her life.
So, what’s so key about routines?  Well, these are often the times when parents speak most to their children.  And what they say is often repeated over and over again, using the same words and in the same order every time.  This repetition and predictability helps children build their vocabulary and their schema for how their life is organized.
Typically developing children first learn a lot of early language based on the routines and familiar activities within their environment.  Routines by definition are predictable; they use predictable vocabulary, predictable sequences, and occur frequently.  They create a structure onto which children can build language; especially vocabulary words.
By taking a look at how the day unfolds, you can create simple scripts for routines that help build communication by thinking about the vocabulary needed for each step within the routine for a variety of communication functions.
  1. offering choices as often as possible
  2. using consistent vocabulary and sequences within frequently repeated classroom routines
  3. sabotaging the environment during a routine task so that children need to communicate

Typical children learn the meanings of words by having caregivers say the words within routines over and over and over again.   By having those caregivers respond when he begins to communicate (which may begin simply as pointing), he learns an appropriate way to ask for something rather than screaming or crying.
But when we want children to move beyond pointing, and they do not have verbal words to use, we must present an alternative mode of communicating.

By providing pictures for communication for the child, we put ourselves in a position of having to model that “different” language system, just as we modeled use of speech for our neurotypical children. 

For our neuro-atypical children; learning language takes a similar path, but perhaps a slower one that requires some modification of our planning interactions and modification of their expressive mode.

For example, break routines down into smaller component steps.  Help to ensure that the child understands the sequence of the routine.  And say the same things every time at every step.  In this way, the child becomes familiar with the words you use.

Be flexible. Follow the child’s lead, but rather than denying him some off-topic or off-sequence behavior, make it a contingency that he do what is involved in the routine in order to gain access to what he wanted to do.
Make sure to use appropriate language to label or describe what catches the child’s interest, as well as what is involved in the routine.  By naming and describing what caught the child’s interest, you provide input of vocabulary that is motivating.

Think outside the box.  While we want the child to learn the structure and attending language of the routine, we also want to take advantage of those moments when the child’s interest is piqued by something else in the environment.

Also consider that a routine can be made out of any repeated activity.  Think about the things that the child and caregiver do together.  No matter how small or extended, a routine can be a pivotal part of the child’s language intervention.

So, if you’re looking for ways to implement core vocabulary with your child, you need look no further than the everyday routines.

Play is the work of children, and we too often don’t let them do enough of it.  Particularly once they get to school age we’re so busy working on academic skills that we forget children need to play to learn.  The key here is to let your child choose the play activity.  And if that means lining up cars or spinning on a swing, so be it.  You can find a way to make any activity interactive.

When I work with children I play with bubbles, with Lego blocks, with play houses, with fun apps, with my portable DVD player that I would not be without.  I also have nail polish and eye shadow.  I have DVDs from Sesame Street to High School Musical to the Super Bowl and wrestling.

Because what happens during play and fun interactions is "real" communication.  

Reading is necessary for children to learn vocabulary, story structure (which is  also the basis for conversations, narratives, and more), and to gain background knowledge in areas/topics with which they don’t have personal experience.  And if your child won’t sit still for you to read him a book will he listen on an iPad to a story read to him through technology?

Reading aloud to our children is so important. Research says they should be read to at least 15 minutes per day.  Which doesn’t seem like a lot. My kids would rarely settle for anything under 30 minutes - and they could be happy for hours being read to. Even my hyperactive, inattentive one would stop for stories.

Reading to children opens up so many worlds.  For one thing, reading comprehension is based on understanding vocabulary.  Listening to stories with varied vocabulary in an illustrated context provides children with much-needed understanding of different words than they hear throughout their day.
Reading comprehension also requires a degree of background knowledge.  It is difficult to understand a story about a topic or event that you have no frame of reference for. But children can’t experience everything first-hand.  Reading a variety of books to them provides some background knowledge on a variety of subjects.

Screen time is a hotly debated issue, and we know we want kids to have quality screen time. What better way to harness their interest in technology than with the many quality book apps on the market.  The Nosy Crow apps have always been among my favorite; their stories are interactive and have some great humorous elements that keep kids engaged.
For students who want a bit more independence, the low reading level and high interest of the books are attractive to many of our students.
Dial in to your child’s interests and find a variety of books - both fiction and nonfiction - to keep them engaged. And make sure to keep their AAC systems accessible so they can talk about the books. Encourage comments and opinions, and make a game of retelling the stories.  Epic and Vooks are two other sources, and subscriptions to many sources are free during this unprecedented time.

Books are our window to the world and, for many of our children, the only way they will experience some things. Open the window, let in the light, and pave the way for literacy skills.