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Saturday, June 28, 2014

“Are We There Yet?” Taking Language Development on the Road.

Need a quick and easy vocabulary game to play anywhere? How about a vocabulary Tic-Tac-Toe type game?  The boards are a bit smaller than a BINGO-type game, so they can be useful in a short waiting or riding  time.

Vocabulary includes transportation (bus, train, plane, bike), fun and games (bubbles, skateboard, scooter, hopscotch), places (pool, beach, mountains, park, stream, lake, amusement park/ride, camping tent), and the all American bar-b-que.

I’m on my way to a much-needed vacation, too. Enjoy yourself while I’m gone, and keep on talking.  And tell me what you’re talking about!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Does Your Language Intervention Take the Summer Off?

If you have a child with a language disorder, you know that building language skills needs to happen all of the time. After all, natural contexts are the best place to build language skills.  And you don’t want to spend your summer vacation with workbooks or drills, do you?  Of course not.

So what can you do while your enjoying the summer?  My July posts will be all about finding language in some of the fun things you are doing.  I’ll have some activity ideas and a free activity for you to download.

So, let’s start the summer off with fun at the beach.  My children are children of both coasts.  Our pails and shovels saw the Atlantic and the Pacific.  So what can you do while busy building sand castles?

1. in the bucket
2. put it here
3. put it there
4. needs more
5. turn it over
6. dig down
7. down more
8. higher
9. put it on top
10.  not so much

Alternatively, “Tell me about what you’re building.”  “What do you want me to do?”  “Where should I put this?”
“What do we do first?”  “Now what do I do?” “What comes next?” “How do we finish it?”

Here are some images of Widget Symbols  you can print off and use. Cover them with clear contact paper or laminate them if you’re taking them to the beach.

What other summer fun activities are you using to build language?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Language Building with Apps: Part 2

In a previous post  I talked about some of my favorite apps to use in therapy and assessment.  These are not apps that were designed to be speech therapy apps or language assessment apps.  There are certainly some of those out there, and I even use a couple of them sometimes.  
But mostly, I’m looking for apps that are fun and engaging; apps that provide a context for interacting with the child. 

Just last week I used an all-time favorite with a young boy during an assessment.  Bamba Burger is an app that can be as straightforward - or as zany - as you want to make it.  (Please note, I have no affiliation with the maker of Bamba Burger and receive no financial consideration for this post

The premise is simple; enter a fast food restaurant and create your own meal.  You are prompted to make a burger, fill your soft-drink, and create your favorite type of fries (well, no, they don’t have curly fries).

This little boy is functionally nonverbal.  He does have a few words/word approximations that he can use. I always have one aac device/iPad with aac app that is separate from the “play” device if I am using aac.  Whether you are working with a verbal or nonverbal child is immaterial, however.  As I am always reminding speech pathologists and teachers - the process is the same.  Only the mode of expression is different.
Anyway, we proceeded to enter the fast food restaurant and were prompted to choose a burger.  

  • The first choice is a bun.  There is a standard burger bun and a seeded bun.  There is also a bagel, cupcake, cake, and assorted other items that can be sliced and made to be buns.  
  • My objective here may be as simple as having the child point and say “That one,” or as complex as asking for [the cupcake with white frosting and candy on top].  I try to get the child to tell me what they have to do to cut the bun [move the knife up and down] - or some version thereof.
  • Next comes the burger itself. And the toppings - talk about category exclusion.  What goes on a burger and what doesn’t belong?  Pickles, swiss cheese, mustard, bacon are some of the usual suspects.  
  • Again, I’m looking for basic determiners (i.e. that) or labels (i.e. bacon octopus), and anything from single word utterances through complete sentences.  
  • Whatever my language objective is, I can use this engaging activity to forward it.  Do you want candy corn? Do gumdrops go on a burger? How many pieces of bacon do you want? How do you feel about octopus on your burger?  Which do you like better; tomato or chili peppers? Why?  How are the lettuce and the pickles the same? How are they different?
  • The choices of fountain drinks and style of fries are a little less numerous, but still afford opportunities to expand syntax, increase use of core words, build prepositions or other concepts.
  • Everyone’s favorite activity comes at the end. Each time you touch one of the items, it makes a munching or slurping sound and the appropriate visual.  Kids love watching bites disappear.
Consider using fun apps to help build language.  The whole point to building language is to increase interaction and social engagement.  What better way to do this than through engagement in fun activities the child enjoys?  Drills are working their way out of interventions.  In language, natural interactions are key.

Have fun and keep talking.  
And tell me, what are your favorite apps for building language?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Are You Using Stories to Increase Langue Skills?

Story books are fabulous for building children’s language skills.  
Last week I talked a little about infusing your child’s play with language, no matter where they are in their language development. Modeling language constantly and consistently is key.  If your child is a picture based communicator, this is even more crucial. Using Aided Language Stimulation - or modeling -  is how they see others using pictures to communicate effectively, how they see which words to use in what contexts, and how to find the words they need for given messages.

For children who may be understanding or using a bit more language, I use a lot of stories in play.  My intervention has always been literature based, and I have long based my language activities around stories and story grammar.  

Acting out stories to retell them is valuable practice for building children’s language.  Carol Westby has done considerable research into how children’s story telling and retelling builds social language and conversational skills, as well as important literacy skills.  
Typical children use multiple opportunities to retell stories to their stuffed animals and dolls, to re-enact them with their dolls or action figures, and to “read” the stories to themselves long before they can actually read them.

However, many children with disabilities do not get these same opportunities for vital language practice.  They may not be read to often enough to learn the stories.  They often don’t interact with their toys in the same way.  They don’t get the same opportunities in the community to build background knowledge.  
So, we need to make sure that we give them as many opportunities to interact with stories as possible.

I try to provide props - even if they are just pictures - in my sequencing and retelling activities.  Copy  images from the book (this is allowed if you have purchased the book and are using the copies to provide access to a child who has difficulty accessing print). Laminate the images (the characters, pictures of setting, events) and staple them to popsicle sticks or tongue depressors.  These can then be used for children to respond during the story reading to a specific question, to let you know they’ve recognized a word or phrase, or to retell the story.  Who was in it, where were they, what did they do?

When possible, provide more 3-dimensional props.  Dig through the toy box, hit the 99 cent store, or check out the on-line novelty stores for small figures. You can create story kits that include the book and all the props, so that they can be used over and over again.

I’ve shared my thoughts on using guided and shared reading on other posts. You may want to refer back to them here and here.

 How do you share stories with your kids?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Increasing Language Through Play

A lot has been written about using a child’s play to build their language development.  There are formal intervention programs that guide parents and therapists.  And there are and have always been therapists and parents who know that engaging a child in what (s)he likes is the best way to interact with him/her.

The research - especially that of Carol Westby - has shown direct correlations between children’s language and their ability to play symbolically.  
Teaching language and play schemas go hand in hand.  We need for the child to interact with us, to become verbal/linguistic (for aac users) with us, to develop language, and- then- he will converse with us.

**Note here: Whenever I say “verbal” or “talk” please know that I am also including use of AAC as “talking.”  It will be too cumbersome to add that every time. 

A couple of key points to keep in mind: 
1. Don’t talk too much.  Make sure you are not talking all of the time. Make sure you give the child time to respond. 
2. Talk in  a way that matches what the child can do. Then model talking one small step above that. 
3. Reply to whatever the child is doing.  Is he making noise? Is he moving objects in a certain way or place? Make a response to it.  Ascribe meaning to what he is doing and act as if you are responding to some communicative intent. 
4. Enjoy yourself. This should not be work. It is play. For both of you.  Model without demanding.

Many of the kids I’ve worked with have been difficult to engage, and much of what they like to do is solitary and isolating. But even working parallel to a child can provide needed language stimulation.  So much of what we do involves being good models.  Providing the child with models of effective communication.  Providing those models just one step above their current language use.  Using symbolic or referential sounds to accompany their play.

Almost any one of us who has worked with young boys with autism has seen a child who can spend hours lining up cars or trains.  putting them in endless rows.  
Take a car or train of your own and start to move it purposefully, making appropriate sounds along the way.  “Beep,”  “CRASH,” “vroom,”  “chugga chugga.”  
Label them by color, or a simple determiner (that). 
Building with blocks - wooden or Lego - is another favorite activity of many of my kids.  It’s a great way to start to model color names, spatial locations.  I can’t count how many times I’ve simply sat and said, “On top‘ over and over. 
But none of this is fruitless.  And even if the child is not yet engaged with us, input is getting in.  The child is gradually moving from simple requesting to labeling, gaining attention with language, protesting, and even greeting. 
Many other children I’ve worked with engage easily, as long as it’s a preferred activity.  
And what else would I want to do to engage them?   Try providing communication temptations or need situations.  Hold onto an item they want or need, with a quick scaffold or cue for them to make a request (“I want_”), appropriate protest (“No!”), or comment (“I need that,” “Blue there,” - or even just “That” or “Help”). 

Modeling appropriate next steps is key to building language.  One sure fire activity I keep in my arsenal is the dreaded dvd pack.  It has a very convenient remote control, from which I can pause the movie at any time, reduce or increase the volume, or turn it on or off.  How far can I move the child?  “That” becomes “Want that,” or “That one.”  “More” becomes “More movie,” “Want more,” “More that,” “More go,”  Can I offer “Loud,” “No like?”  I can constantly modeling the appropriate language, simply and clearly.  Contextually.  Repeatedly. 

For more verbal and/or interactive children try role playing and integrating favorite toys and characters into games.  What would that character say or do?  Where is the doll going? How should she dress?  “Oh, no, there’s a fire in the block tower!”  Have the fireman put it out.  What does he say? What is he thinking? How does he feel?  

** Now another Note:  If your child/student is using AAC, you have some additional tasks to keep in mind.  Children who use aac frequently do not have the same experiences as other children.  They frequently have not had the same opportunities to access experiences in the environment. They may not have had access to many peers - especially typically developing peers.  Some may be unable to access toys or books. 
Those of us communicating and playing with these children need to remember  
1. to begin our interactions and interventions with these children as early as possible.  Do not listen to those who may tell you the child isn’t ready. 
2. to infuse our play interactions with sensory and language experiences the child may not have had exposure to, 
3. to make sure that the aac system is accessible and has sufficient vocabulary to interact with the child in a variety of play contexts, 
4. and to make sure that access to that aac system is provided all of the time, even when the child is alone, to allow for exploration and language practice. There are many opportunities to build language skills into whatever activity your child engages in.  Just start - or keep - talking.

For  a closer look at Dr. Westby’s developmental scale, see her chapter in this book: IW. O. Haynes & B. B. Shulman (1998) (Eds.) Communication Development: Foundations, Processes, and Clinical Applications. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins

For some more ideas for language in play for this summer, check out this page