Sunday, September 28, 2014

Apples, Pumpkins, and Leaves, Oh My

I love autumn! I think it is safe to say it is my favorite season. It awes my senses.  The crimsons and yellows, oranges and rust colored "foilage" (apologies to my SLP friends;
a nod to one of my autumnal mispronunciation pet peeves) blanket the ground like confetti.  I love the cool crisp air that snaps at my face. As I walk in the woods the song of the crickets and the pelting of acorns eases my addled mind.  And oh, the tastes; warm "cinnamony" apple crisp, savory stuffing, maple and buttery acorn squash.
With autumn comes some of my favorite speech and language activities, too.  I get some serious mileage out of apples and pumpkins and then of course there is Halloween.  It seems as my age increases my energy and creativity decreases.  I have the utmost respect for my incredibly talented colleagues who whip up some of the most clever and brilliant ideas.  I will say that now and again I have a little burst of creativity. Allow me to share few little items I'll be pulling out this month.
First of all, SquidjellySLP instagrammed the most adorable activity that I promptly "speech-lifted," (I think I may have coined a new term).  Look at this sweet apple craft!

After picking up some iced coffee last week I repurposed the cup carrier to be used for positive reinforcement with any speech-language activity. Add a little paint and some googly eyes and I have a fun and versatile game. Just bounce an EYEball and see where it lands!

It was still summer when I started thinking about Halloween activities.  I found these creepy hands at Michael's and thought they would be fun to hold cards or rake in little trinkets as reinforcement.
I love to use pacing sticks.  They are so helpful to my students with apraxia.  It's fun to have a variety of pacing sticks corresponding to the seasons and holidays.  What better way than to make Halloween pacing sticks than with googly eyes (they just keep looking at me).

Oh the dollar store; the wonderful, wonderful dollar store.  I recently found these pumpkin parts. They will be perfect for use with some foam pumpkins I purchased several years ago. They have applications for vocabulary development with my little ones, describing, following verbal directions, comparing and contrasting, sentence formulation and so much more!
I hope you enjoy these suggestions and if you have any ideas you'd like to share I would love to hear about them.  Please comment and let me know what you're planning this autumn!  Also follow me on Instagram (anniedoyle226), I'm sure to be adding some more activities as the season goes on.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Because I'm "Appy"

Over the years I have become increasingly dismayed about the state of mental health services in this country.  I come to this conclusion authentically after witnessing those with mental illness suffer in different ways.  Often diagnosis comes late, and then, rather than good treatment, experimentation with a series of medications ensues.  Medications  that either make one feel flat, cause them to gain weight, or even, cause panic attacks.  Certainly, I understand that in many cases medication is necessary and appropriate, however, in large part good therapy can be more effective than meds.  As an individual on a lifelong journey of improvement I have recently been acquiring skills that have not only allowed me to effectively deal with whatever life happens to throw at me, but have put me on the road to contentment.  It has also become abundantly clear that what I am learning and practicing are skills that I can also apply to my work with students around social.

Available here
In most instances we enter the world emotionally sound.  As we grow our experiences, both good and not so good, shape what we think and feel and thus how we respond behaviorally.  It's a fairly simple cycle: experience, thought, feeling, behavior.  I started to look at this cycle in terms of the students I see for social-pragmatic work. Sadly, I can't change their negative experiences and I certainly can't tell them to feel differently based on their experiences.  My goal is to help them learn to modify their behaviors and respond in a more positive and socially appropriate fashion. What's left?  The thought. What I can do is help my students to reframe their thinking before becoming emotionally heightened and acting out.  I have used the graphic on the left to depict the cycle and provide an easy visual for my students.  Previously I've written about a workshop presented by Erik X. Raj.  It was a fabulous presentation on how to use the iPad in our work with students. One of the apps he discussed has a perfect "application" for helping students reframe thoughts.  ChatterPix Kids allows you to turn screenshots or photos  into "talkies" simply by tracing a line on the picture and recording.
Download in iTunes

I've used ChatterPix in conjunction with Michelle Garcia Winner's Unthinkables (available here) to help students practice reframing a typical thought/response to a situation.  Using the ChatterPix Kids
App and a screenshot of the Unthinkable, students record a typical unthinkable-like response.  The Unthinkable comes to life! Next I have the students reframe the statement using a screenshot of a brain, emphasizing flexible thinking. The possibilities are endless.  Here are two examples of how we used ChatterPix Kids; one is a middle school student and one is a fourth grade student.

We have had quite a bit of fun using ChatterPix, particularly when addressing social language skills. Naturally, transfer of these skills requires consistent practice and reinforcement, nevertheless using a bent that is fun and different makes it all much more palatable.
How do you use the iPad for social thinking?  Let me know, I'm always on the search for new ideas and have fun!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

To Intervention and Beyond!

Wow!  There is so much speech-language merchandise available for purchase these days!  Most of the merchandise extols the superhuman qualities we as speech-language pathologists possess!  Some days I will admit, I feel the effects of the proverbial kryptonite and my powers are sapped.  Those are the days I seek out the superhuman strength of my amazing colleagues.  We joke in our family that "it takes a village to raise a Doyle," and that includes me!  My amazing colleagues generously provide me with professional information, comic relief, a shoulder to cry on, fashion and family advice, exercise buddies, companionship and so much more.

from L to R: Beth, PT extraordinaire,
me (on a bad hair day),
Allison, a very special, special educator
As a public school SLP I provide speech and language intervention. Intervention is defined as "action taken to improve a situation," and certainly that is what we do as speech-language pathologists.  Yet, it takes a village for us to do our jobs well and there are many "interventionists" who are in the trenches with us.  As I thought about the professional community that helps me each day, I wondered, "What would be possible if I tried to broaden my connections?"  Eureka! The New Hampshire Interventionist Collaborative was born. This really beats the original name: North Country Related Services and Special Educators Collaborative, (whew, that was a mouthful)!  Our group includes anyone who works together to improve the lives of the individuals they serve; SLPs, special educators, OTs, PTs, and SLPAs.

Our collaborative was initiated in April when we held our inaugural conference presented by the gifted and entertaining Erik X. Raj.  We were able to offer a full day workshop in beautiful Plymouth, NH. The workshop was close to home, affordable, and relevant.  The event was well received and the participants expressed a desire to continue our affiliation.  I am in the process of coordinating a fall speaker event that includes a discussion about the vision for our collaborative.

PK beauties Carol and Stacy
So do you ever feel professionally isolated?  Why not reach out to those in your area and start your own collaborative. The beauty of it is, it can be whatever you want it to be. It can be large or small. You can meet once a month or once a year. Pretty exciting, right?My hope is that our group can meet periodically, not just for continuing education, but to serve as a think tank, idea exchange, and volunteer network.  I know, lofty goals, but why not?  We're super powered!

(Thank you NoDo for the title)!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Un-Social Media?

I really have fun with social media.  My platform of preference is Instagram; it's fun, it's a quick share, and it doesn't afford opportunities for ranting.  I post to Facebook intermittently and I tweet infrequently.  It all can be fairly overwhelming.

While on the surface, it seems social media has connected us, in my humble opinion, it has disconnected us. We've all seen it; a family out to dinner.  The little one is watching a movie, as another is playing a game on the phone. The teen is texting a friend, and mom and dad aren't talking. In our family, we have an unstated rule, when we are out to eat, no media! We talk and we laugh (Annie Doyle likes this).

I know I am not alone in being concerned that media, in particular social media is negatively impacting communication.  I haven't grown up with social media.  In fact, I remember when we first went "online," I was terrified.  I recall chat rooms that could be pretty dicey. I also remember the thrill when I heard the classic "You have mail." Who me?  Today, I err on the side of caution. I make it a point not to have any online "friendships" with my students, their parents, the children of my friends, or my children's friends, so I really don't know what they are posting about. I have heard tragic stories of social media run amok and it is disturbing. We, as parents of teens, have access to our children's passwords and they know we DO check. We are steadfast in our roles as parents and know our children are not always happy about our "meddling," but it's a scary world.

I also am aware of the effect social media has had on me. I have made some wonderful connections via the Instagram and blogging world and I am so grateful for that. I have reconnected with friends from thirty years ago. There also have been times I've been consumed with social networking. Never has this been more apparent than since I have started blogging. I have asked myself: "Do I really have 15 followers? Woohoo!!" "How many page views today?" "Why won't so and so acknowledge my posts/efforts?" I have experienced emotional contagion whereby I have felt the emotions of others after viewing a posted video of the homeless or a mother singing to her dying daughter. I've read with disdain political rantings and ad hominem attacks made without the need for civilized discourse. As an adult I can choose to ignore these posts, block the author, or unfriend individuals who use Facebook as a sounding board. Middle school and high school students, whose social life incorporates social networks, may not have the wherewithal to to do the same.

What follows is just a brainstorm of the possible problems our students might "face" when using social media.
Over-sharing: Many people become turned off by posts documenting every moment of everyday.
Impulsive posting: Posts that are written when hurt or angry.
Confidence killers: So many gauge their popularity by the number of friends they have or the number of likes a post receives.
Misinterpretation of posts: This happens so frequently. We can't know the tone of voice without hearing it and we don't know the intent with which posts are written.
Misperception of our posts: Likewise others don't have the benefit of knowing our intent.
Bullying: The internet is rife with opportunities for harassment. Individuals are so often emboldened by the cover of anonymity.
Feeling alienated: What is it about that "like" button? We are all too aware of who likes our posts and who ignores them and many are easily hurt by the passive-aggressive nature of "not liking."
Macy's window:  When a post is out there, it is out there forever. It's like standing in Macy's window for all to see.
FOMO (fear of missing out): Kids often feel left out and alienated when they see posts of friends doing fun things and they aren't included. As a kid who wants to belong, there is often nothing worse than feeling excluded.
Ranting: Tirades are off-putting!
Attention getting: Kids are needy and social media is the perfect outlet for posting for attention. Positive or negative, attention is attention and meets the same need.
Not being in the moment: I have seen more people stop enjoying the moment to post a picture to Facebook or Instagram (guilty).
Time blackhole: Why waste time texting, waiting for a response, texting again...?
Disingenuous posts: Kids can post without honoring what they are really feeling. There have been sad stories of kids who have shared seemingly happy posts all the while hiding deep sadness.
What's missing: At least 80% of our communication is conveyed through tone of voice and body language, so while we may seem connected there is an awful lot we are missing.

As communication gurus we can help our older students not get caught in the social media quagmire. Let's collectively encourage our students to have a healthy relationship with social media. Let's work toward being models who use social media to improve the world we live in, to disseminate quality information, to learn, and to spread joy.
For instance, let's all consider the following, and teach our students as well, to...

  • Read and reread posts, text messages, and emails and if there is a nagging feeling that says, "Don't post," trust those instincts.
  • Don't put stock in the number of likes on a post; it really is meaningless and what counts is the sharing of a valuable moment or idea. 
  • Don't post controversial material: try to keep it happy, as social media is no place for political tirades.  If feeling compelled to make a point, do it respectfully and without profanity and hurtfulness.
  • Turn off notifications.  It can make you crazy.
  • Make efforts to engage in face to face conversation or at least the telephone.  Allow yourself to key into tone of voice and body language. When firming up plans, how about a real conversation? Just pick up the phone for Pete's sake!
  • Don't over-share.  People don't really want a play by play of your day by day.
  • Be sure that what you post is a reflection of what you truly believe or feel.  Be genuine and if you need help ask for it. In this day and age no one should suffer alone.
  • Learn to take posts at face value. Without a conversation you can only guess what the intent or motivation of another is.
  • Don't post when you are emotionally charged, you will regret it.
  • Live in the moment: when doing something fun don't stop what you're doing to post. Wait until the activity is finished and then share.
In addition, SLPrunner has a wonderful product I've used with great success targeting online safety, judgment and perspective taking.  You can find it here.

I would love to hear your thoughts on social media and communication.  Please share any of your awesome ideas for encouraging safe social media practices.