Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Can You Have Fun Building Language Skills? Games in Therapy


When I worked in a school district with students with language disorders, my therapy sessions tended to work in language skills in one of two basic formats: children's literature and children's games.  I still have a box full of my favorite games that I just can't give up.
I work now primarily with students with complex communication needs, who are nonverbal.  Even then I tend to play a lot with toys, or interact with fun activities that motivate them to communicate.
I used a lot of Ravensburger games (I am not receiving any consideration from them - they don't even know about this post), because they offered a lot of opportunities for language skills development, emory, or other processing skills.  My two favorites were Mystery Garden and Enchanted Forest.

In Mystery Garden, a special object is chosen by one player and, as students move around the board to get to the castle, they ask questions in order to figure out what the item is. It takes some strategizing and good language processing to determine the best question to ask to get the most information. It also takes some memory skills to remember what clues have been given so far.
In Enchanted Forest, players move around the board, peeking under trees to find the secret item.  Players have to remember which trees they've been to, and what item was under each, in order to move strategically around the board.


Both games are great fun while still being difficult enough to tax the skills of students with language learning disabilities.  My students loved to play these games, and never even realized that they were really "working."
Some days it's all about the motivation.  Have fun in your therapy sessions.

SLPs used games in therapy for lots of different purposes.  See more of them in this link party.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Partner Strategies for AAC: What Can You do When Interacting with Your AAC User?

Interestingly enough, the answer to this question is the same as it would be for any child with a language delay or disorder.  We don’t really need to do a lot very differently for students who use augmentative communication, except to add picture communication models to our speech (otherwise known as Aided Language Stimulation, about which I've posted before).


Turn-taking is the basis for communication engagement.  One person does something, the other person does something to respond or follow.  This is how conversations are built.  So how to start building the foundation of turn-taking long before our kids are ready to engage in conversational interactions? Take turns.  Start by doing the same thing as the child.  Scaffold a response from them, then you repeat the pattern.  Say a message and make an action for your turn.  Continue to model messages and actions and you go back and forth.  Resist the urge to say “Your turn” and “My turn;” rather make your message match the action.  Wait a reasonable time for your child to take a turn, but then prompt or scaffold as necessary to make it happen.  If you can, keep the back and forth going for at least 3 turns.  If the child isn’t actively participating, then stop, but otherwise try to keep it going through modeling and prompting.  You can end the interaction by saying, “All done.”

Waiting is a good cue all by itself.  It helps to decrease the child’s dependence on other prompting.  Use your body language and facial expressions to indicate you are waiting for the child to do something.  Look “expectant.”  After a few seconds, point to the activity or item.  If necessary, help him to take his turn, but without speaking.  
Waiting also serves to foster initiation rather than responding.  When we stop filling in all the quiet spaces, we allow time for the child to make a message.  And when we stop asking questions, we stop creating interactions where the only thing for him to do is to respond.  

Match your child’s communication.  Do what he does, say what he says.  Then you can add just a little bit more.  In this way the child sees messages at a level with which he is comfortable, and then at the next level he can try.  If your child isn’t interacting - for example if he’s only banging or throwing a toy - try showing him one thing he can do with that toy.  Then add one word or picture to go with it.  Adding a message to the action begins to build communication.  Gradually, you can begin to add two word or picture phrases.  Don’t ask that the child do anything at this point, just continue to match his actions and model simple messages.
By putting the focus on actions rather than labels we introduce more meaning into the interaction.  A label isn’t necessarily communicative.  It doesn’t indicate what the message is, unless the message is simply, “This is a ___.”  That is rarely what the child really wants to say.
Try making a comment.  This is a model of something he can say, and precludes simply responding to a question.
Remember, too, to carefully attach meaning to what you are saying to the child.  Make the words you use have a meaning that is clear to the child and to the context.  Many of the teachers and parents I know want to teach the child to say “Please” and “Thanks you” and often use terms like “Good job” or “Good boy” or even “That’s good.”  These words don’t have meaning attached to them, and may even cause the child to attach the wrong meaning. Be specific about the words you use and make sure they are meaningful.

Engineering the environment provides multiple opportunities for communicating that might not ordinarily arise.  Changing the environment to change the need to communicate increases the opportunities for the child to learn to use his messages.  One of the easiest ways to do this is to make it more difficult for the child to access the desired items and activities.  Be careful not to do this so much that you frustrate him.  Just enough to provide increased opportunities for him to need to communicate to get what he wants.
One part of engineering the environment can be to create scripts to use in an activity beforehand.  Think about the activity and the items and actions involved. Make sure you know where the words are located in the aac system.  Create an activity based page if it is appropriate and is a repeating activity.  For example, I play a lot with bubbles as that is often a preferred activity for kids with whom I work.  So, on my toys page, where I have my bubbles button, the bubbles button links to a bubbles activity page.  There I have the pronouns involved (you, I, it), the actions (blow, catch, pop, wipe), more and again and all done.  I also have descriptive words like high and low, big and little to direct and describe.  Now you have a plan and the tools needed for interacting in a given activity.

In addition, the most important thing we can do for our aac users is to be the model communication partner.  Using the/an aac system to communicate TO the child when you are talking to him will provide the best models of how someone uses aac effectively, of how to find needed vocabulary in the aac system, and of what kinds of word to use for what purposes.  I’ve spoken before about Aided Language Stimulation - also called Partner Aided Input.  But I think it cannot be said enough.
What else can you do? Try parallel talk and self talk. Describe what is going on right now. What are you doing? What do you think about it? What is the child doing? Comment on it.  Break down the messages.  Provide a message and then repeat the key words only. This is called breaking down the message.  Building up the message is done by providing key words, then repeating the message with more elements to clarify the meaning.  For example, “Snack time.  It’s time to have a snack.”  Provide input at the child’s level, but also at a step above.  And remember, provide this input verbally, but also on the aac system.

Also try looking carefully at what the child is doing.  Often communication attempts are missed because we are not paying careful attention to what the child is doing.  Be sure to respond to those attempts, and, if necessary, ascribe meaning to them.

I've posted a free handout "Being a Good Communication Partner to an AAC Users" here before. This time I'm giving you a link to a free strategies handout here.

Have a safe and happy New Year.



Monday, December 22, 2014

Moving Beyond “I Want…” in AAC; What do You Want?

Time after time I see students whose only use of augmentative communication is for requesting.  For many, this is perpetuated by PECS boards and books that only offer them the “I want..” sentence starter and a choice of concrete items and activities. In this case, the requisite means to communicate effectively is restricted by the limited vocabulary available.  For others, their teams just seem to be stuck on requesting, without a clear idea of how to move forward.



As SLPs we know just how many communicative intents there are, and the different kinds of messages that can be produced, given the vocabulary, the skill, and the motivation.  When I speak to teams about IEP objectives for these kids, I try to focus on increasing the variety of communication functions that students use consistently.  
Janice Light (1988, 1997) lists 4 main reasons to communicate: expressing needs and wants (usually we have this one covered), developing social closeness with others, exchanging information (too often the only other function in classrooms), and fulfilling social etiquette routines.  Students communicate to indicate a preference or desire, to make a choice, to request an object or activity/action, to comment, to share, to request information or escape or attention.  They might also use language to make up stories, to assert their independence, and to express feelings. Too often, in classrooms, the majority of their opportunities to communicate is limited to providing or requesting information - asking questions about and responding to the curriculum.
Ways to expand the range of communication functions used can include introducing thematic units and conversation starters, and adding interactive and engaging activities.  Thematic units provide a long-term (a week, maybe longer) of attention to a specific topic with organization and cohesion.  They allow for exploration of and lots of practice with a set of vocabulary words, many of which may be localized to a specific area of the student’s aac system; such as ocean animals.  They can also offer lots of opportunity to practice describing, comparing, and contrasting language skills.  They should also provide sufficient time for lots of commenting and conversational interaction, since there is less urge to move on to the next subject.
Introducing conversational topics into the classroom allows for increased motivation.  Allowing students to talk about topics of interest often can open up willingness to engage beyond the monosyllable or one symbol response.  With a little bit of planning and thought you can cover a wide range of language objectives while allowing the student(s) to focus on topics that interest him/them.

Adding interesting activities that are interactive can be a way to provide structured opportunities to communicate while engaged in activities that differ from the usual classroom routine.  Adding cooking activities, storytelling and joke telling, game playing and other activities the students find “fun” can mean adding multiple opportunities to increase interactive language; especially commenting and expressing feelings.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Processing Pow - an App Review: How Do Students with Autism Process Language?

ASD is a neurodevelopment disorder.  It’s wonderful just how far we have come in discovering what autism is and is not, and how it impacts those who have it.   When I first started working with kids with autism back in the 1970’s autism was still considered childhood schizophrenia.  When I first thought about changing my graduate pursuit from psychology to special education (no, I did not always want to be a SLP) there were only 5 graduate programs in the country with a specialty in emotional disturbances, into which autism was lumped.
Now we know a lot more about it as a developmental disorder, and we’re learning more each day about possible genetic components, brain chemistry differences, and more.  Part of what we now know is that there are differences in how the autistic brain works.  These differences show up as observable differences with language and communication and other social behaviors.

One of those differences is in how the brain is able - or not - to marshall attentional resources to sort out all of the incoming stimuli to determine which are important.  The brains of kids with autism can’t automatically sort and differentiate the important stimuli; their brains are missing this ability. So, processing what is coming at them becomes very very difficult.  In particular, they cannot preferentially process human speech.  They have difficulty separating out the words from environmental sounds.  They don’t know where the word boundaries are, and which sounds should make sense.
So, we know we cannot change their brains.  What we can change is their environment. How we support them, what we do to create an environment in which they can cope and learn.
What does this have to do with an iPad app, you ask?  Well, recently I was given a promo code to try out the iOS app Processing Pow  from PocketSLP.  This company has a variety of apps for speech and language; including specific speech production apps, some story book apps, and a couple that focus on language concepts. 



I spent 8 years working in a school district with kids with significant language learning disabilities who were in separate language-based classrooms.  I provided direct therapy services and co-taught with teachers.  I was also, for a number of years, the primary diagnostician for the district; that is, I administered all speech-language evaluations.   I can tell you how striking the difference can be if you are testing a student with processing issues in a quiet environment (I almost never had that luxury) or in a noisy one.  
I also provided intervention for that district’s classes for kids with developmental disorders.  Another group who present with a spectrum of language issues. 
So, where am I going with this?  I really like the concept of Processing Pow.  The app provides multiple levels of language input, from single words through 2 & 3 word phrases, longer phrases and sentences.  And it allows the user to control whether or not there is competing noise, for how long, and at what volume.  This gives the SLP a lot of control in both assessing and intervening with language processing.
The student listens to the auditory cue at the determined level and is given a choice of 4 pictures to identify what has been heard.  There is also a barrier game, where the student is given a scenes and directions to move items within the scene.  At the end there is a check to see if the user’s scene matches the app’s.   This is a great activity for processing skills.  I love barrier activities.  If you’ve seen my TeachersPayTeachers store you already know this, as I have quite a range of barrier games and activities; including these:
a bundle of my first 5 barrier games; which includes fun build-a-robot and build-a-face activities, and some thematic barrier games for pirates, princesses, Fall and Winter, and Halloween.






Friday, December 12, 2014

What's In Your Early Intervention Kit? A link-up post

I am linking up with Simply Speech along with some other speech-language pathologists to talk about favorite items in our early intervention therapy bags.


It's been many years since I have done early intervention therapy, but it's an age group I've always found to be tremendous fun to work with. My experiences currently with the very young are with evaluations - usually for use of augmentative-alternative communication (aac).
I'm thrilled that I am seeing more and more little ones come in to be assessed for aac.  It always makes me sad - and a little crazy - when I don't see kids until mid-elementary or later.  Fortunately, I'm having fewer and fewer experiences with kids coming in as they're transitioning out of high school!  Early intervention for aac users is crucial to eliminating the frustration that comes with the inability to communicate.
But, back to the little ones.  One of my absolutely all-time favorite activities is bubbles. Almost everyone loves bubbles - regardless of the age.  I use Gymboree bubbles (I have no affiliation).  I found them when my kids were little (they're now in their 20's and 30's).  They are non-toxic and have no soap.  So there's no problem when they get into eyes or little mouths. They also last forever.  Except for the ones you purposefully pop or catch, they tend to hang around once they land.  You can have a lot of fun going on a bubble hunt; trying to find all the little bubbles hanging out on the floor, under the table, on top of the toys.


I also love play sets.  I still have one of the old original Sesame Street houses, although I've lost track of the figures.  I also have some of the Fisher-Price sets as well.  They're terrific for working on vocabulary, particularly nouns and verbs, prepositional concepts.  And if you're working with an aac user, lots of great core vocabulary: I, you, more, put, have, help, go, finished, here, in, mine, of, on, out,  that, want, what can all be worked into playing with play sets.






So, that's what's in my early intervention bag.
















Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Does Your AC User Want for the Holidays?

Holidays continue to be a great conversational topic.  Families and classrooms continue to talk about traditions and customs, plan activities and visits, and, of course, ask about what gifts children/students want to get.  Christmas and Hanukkah have both become holidays that revolve around giving - and receiving.  For many kids it’s all about the presents. 
So, in the spirit of offering communication boards for your users to talk about the holidays here are two communication boards for the holidays.  I apologize to anyone whose holiday celebration I have missed.  I just don’t know about them all.  



These boards do not have sufficient vocabulary to talk about the historical and religious events of these holidays.  Rather, they provide means for basic discussions between friends in class.

(If you missed my Halloween and Thanksgiving communication boards you can grab them anytime.)


Saturday, December 6, 2014

#SLPMustHaves for December - What Must You Have?

In conjunction with other SLPs on TPT, I am once again participating in the monthly #SLPMustHave sale.  It's 50% off of one item each month, from each of the participating SLPs.
It's a great time for SLPs and teachers to grab some great resources at unbeatable prices.



This month - on Sunday Dec. 7 - I'll be putting my new Winter Preposition Practice on sale at half price.
So go ahead and grab it if you're looking for a resource for preposition practice.  And head over to TPT and find the #SLPMustHaves from all of the participating speech pathologists.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Where in the Standards are Referential Definitions? A Cautionary Tale

I spend a lot of time in mediation meetings and Due Process Hearings.  I did it as an administrator. I did it as a clinician in a district.  Now I do it as an "expert witness."  I have a lot of not-so-funny stories that come out of these things, and I spend a lot of my time shaking my head.
So, as I was hunting for a topic for this week's post, a memory came to me of a particularly nasty - and ridiculous - IEP meeting; one which was dominated by the lawyers on both sides.
So, I read my report and presented my findings.  Then the district's lawyer proceeded to try to pick them - and me - apart.
This is the part I hate about these things.  I feel under attack.  I don't mind my professional knowledge being attacked, because, frankly, I know I know what I'm doing.  But some of these lawyers get personal about it.
Anyway, this particular lawyer was running through my recommendations, wanting me to cite chapter and paragraph - or number, to be exact - of the standard to which each recommendation referred. Now, this was before the Common Core State Standards and, quite frankly, I couldn't have told him any of the numbers of any of the standards at that time.  It's just not something I ever memorized.  Like the ICD-9 codes or diagnostic procedure codes.  You look them up when you really need them.
So then he pounced on one recommendation in particular, in which I said that someone should be working on teaching this student how to define and describe and compare and contrast.  (If you know my TPT resources, you know I'm big on this skill - and for a reason).  Sounding masterful and triumphant, he defied me to quote the standard that required students to learn how to provide referential definitions.
He clearly didn't know what a referential definition was. Or is.  I attempted to explain that students in classrooms in every school in every state in this country are asked to produce referential definitions every day of the school year.  He wasn't listening.  So pleased was he that he had found what he thought was a weakness in my report, he tuned me out.
For most of the kids I work with these days, being able to tell that a chair is a piece of furniture made of wood or metal that you sit on is a long-term goal.  For most of the language learning disabled kids I've worked with - of whom this boy was one - being able to tell that Saturn is a planet in our Universe that has rings and - I think? - 3 moons and appears red when we view it and.... Yes, it's something we work on.  (I, too, should perhaps work on my science skills.)   Find me a Biology or Chemistry teacher
who can get through the year without referential definitions.  Find me an English teacher, for that matter.
As the Common Core State Standards work their way through our schools and down into our special education classes and speech-language therapy caseloads, the role of SLPs will become more defined and more focused.  We do know how to teach language. It's what we do.  A speech-language pathologist is  a person who..... 
You get the idea.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cyber-Monday Sale at TPT - What's in Your Basket?

In conjunction with Jenna Rayburn's post and linky for the Cyber-Monday sale at Teachers Pay Teachers, here is a link to the sale along with the sale special code and a link to Jenna's (Speech Room News) linkup party, with lots of great resources and posts to explore.


The theme is "What's in Your Basket?"
I try hard not to spend time on my blog selling resources, but the occasional  exception is ok, I suppose.


Some of my most popular items buyers might want to put in their basket include my Wh-Question Program - which is the paper version of my Question It app (find it on the iTunes store using the button on the side-bar).  It is by far my best-seller.  It's a program I used for years to successfully teach kids with autism how to answer Wh-questions.


An Adapted U.S. Geography - I Love the U.S.A.  informational text for special education is another popular item in my store.



I have lots of great augmentative communication resources - go check them out.

In terms of what's in my shopping basket, it's always clip art.  There are some fabulous artists on TPT making clip art that I use both to make resources fun - like my speech therapy materials - and to provide interesting visual cues or scenes to support language learning.

There are these great food photos I want to use in AAC materials.

I use a lot of Teacherscrapbook's kids in action clip art for my AAC materials, as well.

Awaywiththepixels always has clip art that I want. Her work is amazing. I've used lots of it in book adaptations, book companion resources, and speech therapy games.
Her compare and contrast sets look like I can use them, too.

I'll have to check the rest of my wish-list for more clip art.  It's going to be a great sale!  Come grab resources at a great price.

I'll be back for my usual weekly post on Sunday night.  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Is Your AAC System Organization In-Tact? Keep it Stable.

I hope everyone is ready for a good Thanksgiving (if you’re in the  U.S.), and I hope anyone who will be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with an aac user found and downloaded my Thanksgiving picture communication board.  I’ve been posting free boards a lot these past few months, both here in my blog and in my TPT store (http://teacherspayteachers.com/store/susan-berkowitzhttp://teacherspayteachers.com/store/susan-berkowitz  - or use the button on the right).  In the upcoming weeks I’ll be putting together and posting boards for Christmas and Hannukah.  I’m sure there are lots of other cultural celebrations I’m missing, so I apologize. I just don’t know them all.



I’ve also been sharing some stories and information about aac successes and ways to assess and implement.  I was reminded just this past week about just how important it is to have a single person who monitors and programs the aac device.
Over the years I have been called in to “fix” systems that have gotten out of control, either because the person doing the programing had no idea how to organize vocabulary in the system (or how to maintain the initial organization) or because too many people had added vocabulary willy nilly.

I like to use a file cabinet analogy, although it’s not entirely accurate.  But it works for the purpose.  We all have all of the many words we know stored in mental filing cabinets in our heads.  Some words are in multiple file drawers because they can be used multiple ways, or relate to multiple topics.  We don’t consciously think about where to look for them when we need to use them.  For most of us, they just appear when we need them, once we’ve learned them. (Except for those of us getting older.)
Back when we were just learning a new word, we learned its definition, we saw it in context, we may have drawn pictures of it and used it in a sentence.  And once we knew it it got filed away.
For aac users, that filing system is concrete.  It is really there, it is the system, and they and their communication partners do need to think about where to find it.  Which page is it on?  What topic folder contains it?  Is it in more than one place?  How do I remember where it goes?
And because the filing cabinets - or folders - are there in black and white  (or high definition color, really) we need to be consciously thinking about where new words go.
As a part of the process of Aided Language Stimulation, we are modeling for the user not just how and when to use the words, but also how to find them in the aac system.  Our users can’t afford for words to keep moving around.  One  of the key factors in learning to use vocabulary in an aac system is its stability.  
So, when I see new folders popping up all over containing words that have been isolated into a folder for a specific IEP objective or ABA drill, I worry about how the users is going to learn - and why does he need to -  that when we’re sitting down at this task, these words are in this folder , and he doesn't have to learn where else they are.  But when he needs them for “real, genuine” communicating, they’re somewhere else.  It’s confusing.  
AAC users, like any other children, need to learn to use language in context.  They need to know where to find words for genuine interacting; not just for this academic drill.   As Lovaas himself once said, you can’t teach language in isolation.

I’m posting a link, here, to a free handout about IEP objectives for aac users.  I wrote it after hearing Gayle Porter and Linda Burkhart  speaking in a workshop about PODD and how to re-think how we wrote IEP objectives.  It sounds as if it’s much easier in Australia.


How are you writing goals for your aac user?  Do they represent genuine communication?  Share any ideas you have with me.  I’m always interested in your thoughts.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can Your AAC User Speak Up at the Thanksgiving Table? Here is a FREE Communication Board to Use.

I know Free Communication Board September is over, but I added a board for Halloween last month, and it felt like I should make sure there was one for Thanksgiving, as well.
Thanksgiving dinner tables can get noisy, especially if you have a large family with kids, or people who haven't seen each other in a while.  One of the problems many aac users have is that of not always being heard.   Using voice output devices has helped that a lot, but there are still so many users who don't have an electronic device.  And, for that matter, many who don't have comprehensive - or any - communication books or boards.
So, in the spirit of giving, and of making sure everyone can have something to be thankful for, here is a picture communication board for your aac users for Thanksgiving.

I admit, I did focus on the food when it came to the few nouns I add to these boards.  But, I did make sure there was a way to say that the user was thankful for family and friends.  And that, after all, is what many holidays are all about.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

More From the AAC Case Files - How Much Can We Expect?

One of my favorite student success stories is one I tell over and over again.  While you may have noticed I am a big fan of using and teaching core vocabulary, I am also a huge user of PODD communication books.  That is Pragmatic Organized Dynamic Display books, designed by Gayle Porter, a speech pathologist in Australia.  She has been using this system very successfully with children for decades.
I have been to trainings with Gayle, and with Linda Burkhart, when they have presented them here in the States.  A week with Gayle is mind-numbing - in a good way.  The first workshop I took with her was a week of 9 hour days and we learned so much it was amazing!  I don’t honestly think I could have absorbed one more idea by the end of Friday.  She is one of those rare people who are both a wealth of information and a master at transmitting it to others.  (Of course, you have to work your way around her accent). 

I have been using PODD books with my nonverbal students with autism for the past several years, and with great results.  Teachers usually get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look in their eyes when I walk in with a 125 page communication book.  I’m very careful to talk about taking it slowly as they get familiar with it and begin using it with their student(s).


I’ve taken to using this story.  The story of Aaron.  Aaron was a 16 (then) year old student with autism in a classroom for students with severe disabilities.  When I first met him, Aaron had a single page PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) “system” by which he could request his favorite reinforcers.  He had no other appropriate mode of communication.
What Aaron did have was a history of self-injurious behaviors.  He has done permanent neurological damage to himself.

On the day I arrived in the classroom with his new,  >100 page PODD communication book, both his teacher and aide regarded me with looks of …. outrage? amazement? overwhelming dismay?  I spent some time going over how the book was constructed and how it worked. I reviewed the navigation conventions and where and how vocabulary was stored.  I gave them examples and phrases to try.  We talked about Aided Language Stimulation and how it worked.  And I carefully explained how to begin with a single activity, gradually increasing use of the system as their comfort level increased.

Aaron was lucky.  His aide was extraordinary.  She did a wonderful job of learning and doing and being consistent.
TWO weeks later the teacher called me.  I could hear her jumping up and down.  The excitement was palpable. The day before, Aaron had been upset because A.P.E. had been cancelled and he needed some time to run off some of his energy.  He had started out, she told me, by starting to engage in his SIB.  But he stopped himself.  He looked at the communication system.  He pointed to “More to say,” and then proceeded to move from the feelings page (“angry”) to the people page (“no APE teacher”) to the activity page (“run" and "


outside”) to the places page (“baseball field”).  With a string of single word responses he told a perfect narrative, expressed his feelings, and told what he wanted - needed - to do.  The aide, of course, took him straight outside to the baseball field to run around.  I’m pretty sure she was crying most of the way.  I know I was when I heard the story.

Now of course, most students need more than 2 weeks of consistent teaching to learn to communicate so effectively.  But this certainly speaks to the power of appropriate aac intervention.

How are your students learning to use their aac systems?


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Using Books to Develop Language and Literacy: Gregory, the Terrible Eater

Here is another post that links up with  another blogger - Life Long Learning  for Book Talk Thursday.

If you follow my blog you've already heard how much I like using kids' books to develop language and literacy skills.  I'm a huge fan of good shared reading sessions.

Gregory, the Terrible Eater  (ages 4-8) has always been one of my favorite books to use in intervention with kids with language disorders.  It’s a fun story that kids get a kick out of, and offers lots of opportunities for working on some basic language skills. 


The story is about a little goat who worries his parents because he likes healthy food.  Real people food.  He won’t touch old tires or pants or tin cans.  Not a good eating goat at all.  They take Gregory to the doctor, who comes up with a plan that, of course, works for everyone.

The story has a fairly simple story line, which makes it good for having kids develop a simple story frame or Somebody-Wanted-But-So organizer.  
There are lots of opportunities to discuss categorization - health foods vs junk or edible vs non edible, things Gregory puts in a sandwich vs what you put in a sandwich, where you find different foods in the grocery store, you can even categorize the ‘junk’ that goats eat into recyclable categories.

I am always encouraging teachers in special education and SLPs to use literature in their classrooms and sessions with special ed kids.  There are so many ways you can build language skills through shared book reading (you might remember my previous posts about shared reading) that make the skill building activities meaningful and encourage enjoyment of reading.

Here is a link to one of my companion resources - for Gregory, the Terrible Eater - that demonstrates the kind of activities, the multiple days’ of purposeful readings, and the use of the Four Blocks reading strategy that have been demonstrated to be effective strategies for kids with special needs.
And here is a sample activity from the resource:



How are you building language through literature?


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Assessing Kids’ Needs for AAC (Augmentative-Alternative Communication) - How Do You Look?

So many things go into an AAC evaluation. And, while the format of most of those evaluations has changed over the years, the things that need to be taken into account haven’t.
Over the years, some of the device manufacturers and some software (and now app) developers have created formalized (though not standardized) assessment activities.  These look at the size, style/representation format, array size, location on screen, amount of contrast and color that the user responds best to.  These are all important factors that we have to think about.  
Some students have difficulty when there are more than, say, 6 buttons or symbols on a page.  Some users with cortical vision impairment (c.v.i.) respond best to specific color contrasts; such as the use of bright red, or use of a dark gray background.  Some students need picture spaces/buttons to be at least, say, 2” in size, due to motor issues.  There are lots of these functional details to consider.

Another thing we need to look at is the user’s support system and environment.  Who will be communicating with the individual?  Where do they spend their time? How consistent can those communication partners be with using Aided Language Stimulation, or with learning a completely new symbol language system; such as Unity?  How much support are parents going to get from other sources?

Recently, I did a consultation with a 4 year old boy with cerebral palsy who had no prior experience with using pictures at all.  He was unable to move any part of his body volitionally, except for his head.  He wore glasses, AFO’s, and sat in his mother’s lap during the assessment being completely supported.  He was unable to move his arm to reach without support/full assistance, although he was reported to be able to reach out and touch somethings sometimes.  His family said that they had an iPad that he could “touch.”  (His hands were fisted. After trying unsuccessfully to touch an iPad, I demonstrated 'Accessibility' features of the system and created a new gesture for him.)
I started blowing bubbles at him.  He smiled each time.  His mom said he likes bubbles a lot.  If he had been able to access a device I would have continued with the bubbles activity, using any combination of bubbles activities pages on a variety of systems.  I would have tried to get from "blow" to "blow more" to "blow more bubbles," and see where I could get him to go.


Right off the bat, without a way to utilize direct access to pictures through point or touch, I had to think about scanning in some form.  But this was a little boy who had no prior experience with using pictures to communicate.  He had no idea, yet, of the power of communication beyond the few gestures and vocalizations he had been using.  So, I want to get him a good, solid start with picture-based communication and picture aided input.
So I demonstrated the PODD (Pragmatic Organized Dynamic Display) communication book (designed by Gayle Porter) for them, and modeled how to provide Aided Language Stimulation.  I talked about how the pragmatic branch starters work; how finding words for different message functions was an important part of learning how to navigate.  And I modeled Partner Assisted Scanning.  

Unusually, for me, they did not show disappointment at not walking out with a shiny, bells and whistles, communication device (or at least a recommendation for one).  They were happy to find a place to start, and one that would provide sufficient vocabulary for their son to communicate about lots of different things in his life.  He smiled.

How are you assessing AAC users?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Native American Link-up

I'm participating in a link party over at Comprehension Connections whose theme this week is Native Americans. 

For Women in History Month I created a series of adapted biographies; biographies of a wide variety of famous women each created with picture assisted text and including a few comprehension questions.  I have them individually and as a bundle of all 9 women in my TPT store.
Pocahontas is one of them, so I'll feature her here and you can find her adapted biography in my store here.



p.s. enjoy the books and ideas in the link frame above!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Leibster Award and a Thank you.

While I was out of town, I was nominated for the Leibster Award by Teaching with a Twist (Meredith).  This is an award given to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers, and yes, that's where I am.  It's tough getting a blog noticed these days - there are a million of us out there!
So, first a Thank You to Teaching with a Twist


Second, there are 11 questions for me to answer, so here goes:

I started blogging a little over a year ago, in the Summer of 2013.  I wanted to see if I could add to the information on the highway; especially since my area of expertise - augmentative communication - has fewer bloggers and websites than many other areas of language development or teaching.

The on word that sums up the heart of my blog is - LANGUAGE.  Or is it COMMUNICATION?  Probably the former.  I have worked for about 40 years with kids who have difficulty with developing language. And with communicating.  I work largely with kids with autism, although in my practice I saw adults with other reasons for why they need to use AAC, and I have worked extensively with students with language learning disorders.

Is there something I learned late in my blog journey that I wish I had known earlier?  Well, I think it's still early in my blog journey and I am sure there is a lot  don't know - and I wish I did.  Haha.
I subscribe to a number of social media newsletters that talk about ways to blog, things to do and not, and - frankly - I'm not always sure any of them are helpful.
I did subscribe at the very beginning to the Teaching Blog Traffic School run my Charity Preston, and that was worth a lot!  I think for those of us who are - at least partially - using our blog to market our curriculum materials - the most important thing to remember is that the blog needs to include real content that is meaningful and helpful to the readers without requiring them to buy anything.  I don't do much marketing on my blog.  I try to provide content that readers will find helpful.

My favorite pastime other than blogging?  Reading.  or Art-making.

How many hours per week do I devote to my blog?  That fluctuates, depending on what the topic is, how comfortable I am with the content without needing to spend a lot of time editing what I've tried to say. And whether or not I'm including some take-away that I need to create or have already created.  So, somewhere between 1-2 hours.

What category go blogs do I enjoy reading?  I read mostly professional category blogs - mostly speech-language pathologists or other assistive technology specialists. I also subscribe to a couple of app review bloggers.

My blog inspiration comes from areas of concern that are brought up to me by parents and teachers or other SLPs, or questions I've been asked a lot.  Sometimes it's just an area I think needs to be addressed, or information I think people want.
Every once in a while I pick a theme for the month (when I started out I was going to do this all the time) - like reviewing apps good for therapy, or making topic-based communication boards and giving them away.

One of the posts I'm proudest of is the core vocabulary communication board I posted.  I think it gives people some good information about aac and a place to start :http://kidzlearnlanguage.blogspot.com/2014/09/lets-all-communicate-teaching-core.html

I can't think of a post I've been meaning to do but haven't gotten around to.  There is a lot I want to share, and certainly a little bit of time and space to do it, but I haven't put any of those ideas onto a list - that should be the next To-Do.
My favorite aspect of blogging is the sharing.  Putting my ideas together, making them gel into something comprehensible and getting it out there.
Teachings with whom I work sometimes brag to other teachers that they "have" me. LOL I don't get to all teachers in a district or school; I'm only attached to specific kids whose IEPs I've been written into.  Those teachers get lots and lots of information, in the form of handouts and free resources I've made and the pain of me standing around in their classrooms making suggestions.  So, this is a place to share some of that with everyone else.

What project of Teaching with a Twist might I want to try?  I love the Halloween Flower Pot!  Easy enough for the kids in the classrooms I work with to do.

SO, I'll be back to my original/usual post schedule next week.  The week off was nice, but it's nice to be back.




Friday, October 17, 2014

Where Do I Start with AAC?

The question I probably get asked the most is, “Where do I start?”  Teachers, SLPs, and parents don’t always know what to do with the new aac system their child/student has been given.  As SLPs we know that you can’t just put the book or device in front of the student and expect them to just begin it use it.  Communication for these students is a skill that needs to be specifically and directly taught. 

Language needs to have a context. Usually it is a context that involves more than just the aac user. Communication is interactive.  If you listen to Janice Light talk about what students need, she lists social closeness, information transfer, social etiquette, and wants and needs.  For many of our students, the focus starts out on wants and needs and often doesn’t get much further.  In school, on the other hand, we start to spend a lot of time on information transfer - answering the questions posed by the curriculum.

But, Light puts social closeness at the top of the list.  Isn’t that what communication is all about?  We teach conversational skills because it is so important to connect with those around us.  We need to be able to share experiences, feelings, and more.  Many of my teens who use aac love to joke. Telling jokes (or trying to) is their way of establishing that closeness.  
As students move into school, the time and effort spent on establishing social communication grows.  We spend time teaching students to engage in eye contact, to smile at others, and to participate in activities.  For them to do the latter, they need a way to communicate what they want to say to others.
So, where do we start?  We start with the student.  What engages him?  What do we say when we are engaged with him?  What are the things he wants to or might want to say?  Take a look at the activities in which he wants or needs to interact and begin to build the vocabulary for that activity.  Not just the names of things involved; but comments - both positive and negative,  actions, and descriptions.  Provide those words in his mode of communication (usually this means his aac device or communication book), and you use them.  The more you model using the symbols or signs for the words involved in that activity the faster he will learn.
As the student begins to use the system, acknowledge, reinforce, and expand on what he says.  Offer choices as often as possible. Ask open ended questions rather than yes/no.  Model use of those action and descriptive words consistently.  Make sure you are not overwhelming the student with too much language, but keep your language a step or 2 above his.  Don’t talk so much. Pause in interactions to wait for a response. Assume that he can and will respond.
Over all, make sure you are providing sufficient vocabulary, sufficient models of a wide variety of communication purposes, and constant access to the system.  I often tell SLPs, teachers, and parents that they are going to do the same things they do with their other kids/students.  Just add pictures to your communication mode.

Where do we start?  Start with the student.


A couple of weeks ago I posted a free core word communication board.  I have also posted boards for use in the library, the motor lab, and at snack time.  All of those boards are based on use of core vocabulary; adding additional vocabulary needed in that context.
If you are building boards or pages for activities, make sure that core vocabulary words are available, and focus on those.

Today I am adding a slightly different core word board for you to use.  How do you engage your student?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Busy October, Be Aware: Awareness Month for AAC, Dyslexia, Mental Health

October is a very busy month in terms of special remembrances and observations.  First of all, it is World Mental Health Awareness Month, and last week was Bipolar Awareness Week.  The International Bipolar Foundation repeated its #SayItForward Campaign aimed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

October is also National Dyslexia Awareness Month. I created a press release on this topic that was picked up by many news outlets, listing the major signs and symptoms of dyslexia, a language-based reading/learning disability.  I also put both of my apps - Question It and SoundSwaps on sale October 1-14 in celebration.  You’ve got a few days left if you want to catch them.  Here are the iTunes links:







October is also AAC Awareness Month worldwide.   If you follow this blog, you know that just about every month is aac awareness month for me.  The vast majority of what I do revolves around children - and adults - who use augmentative communication.


So, this month, I am going to post about some of these issues, starting with dyslexia.



Approximately 10% of the population suffers from some symptoms of dyslexia; including lack of fluency in reading, difficulty writing, confusing similar words, difficulty with spelling, and more.  Dyslexia is not related to an intellectual disability. It is not “reading backwards.”  It is a language-based learning disability found in people with average or greater intelligence; people who can learn to read if given appropriate educational strategies.


Signs of dyslexia can include:
  • Delayed speech and language milestones. 
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet and letter-sound correspondence. 
* Difficulty with pronouncing multisyllabic words, and with recognizing which words begin or end with the same sounds.
  • Difficulty memorizing number facts and ordering math operations.  Much of math is language based.
  • Difficulty organizing oral and written language.
  • Difficulty learning to spell.
  • Difficulty with reading comprehension due to the need to focus all of one’s attention on decoding the words.
* Difficulty learning a foreign language.

Children with dyslexia can learn to read.  If a child displays any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to his/her teacher, request a formal assessment, and read up on dyslexia facts.  Rule out any vision defects or cognitive problems.
There are places to get help for adults with dyslexia who are still struggling. The International Dyslexia Association has a newsletter and information to share.   Dyslexia cannot be cured, but its impact can be overcome. 

There are some great technology tools for students with dyslexia.  bookshare.org is a free resource for people who have difficulty with accessing print.  There are thousands - actually more than 250,000 - books on the site that can be read to the user, can have altered font size and some color modifications for those with vision issues.  It is a free resource - I repeat that because schools are not always aware that it exists and it doesn’t cost them anything to set up an account for a student.
tarheelreader.org  is another great free resource.  Begun by Karen Erickson’s literacy research and practices group at UNC-Chapel Hill, this website (and app) give students access to high interest low print books with great graphics. These books have been written by teachers, therapists and students.  It also allows for either reading on the computer oneself  or having the computer read to you.
A lot of software aimed at this population is also now available as iPad apps; including Clicker Sentences, Co-Writer, and iReadWrite. 


What tools do you use for your students with dyslexia?