Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Handy Social Skill Acronym

I've noticed a lot of references to "Say it, Think it" activities on social media as well as at workshops, recently. While it's gone by different names, this is not a new concept. Say it, think it activities are really helpful for helping students with social-pragmatic difficulties become more aware of blurting tendencies as well as putting that social filter into action.  So many of our students just say the first thing that pops into their heads, which leads to breakdowns in communication, problems with teachers and parents, and misperceptions by peers. Activities that help our students access the impulse control switch in their minds will serve them well in both school, social arenas and the workforce (as much as we might like to, we can't tell our bosses what we really think). As SLPs we use whatever is motivating and works;  wind-up mouths, squishy brains and mouths, sticky notes, and thought and speech bubble signs.  I really like these thought bubble and speech bubble sticky notes found on Amazon. I found the pictured squishy toys at Walmart.  There was an eye as well, but at $6.88 a toy, I exercised some purchasing restraint. These seem to be all the rage with the kids and they are super satisfying to squish.

I introduce the concept of a social filter by explaining the difference between thoughts and spoken words. That's easy enough, the former are quiet, known only to the student, and can be memories, ideas, words, or pictures.  Words are spoken and heard by all around the student. They have power and can make others feel a certain way or think certain thoughts.

We then practice. I present either a picture or a verbal scenario and give kids the opportunity to "blurt" the first thing they think of in the privacy and safety of the speech room. In doing so we can look at the impact of what they said on them personally and those around them. True story; I showed a video from the Everyday Social series to a student in speech therapy. It featured middle school students. My student's first thought (said aloud, of course) upon seeing the video was, "Well, he's never gonna get laid." This opened the door to the notion that a lot of what we think should not be uttered. In the context of speech therapy it is much easier to engage the social filter than when a student is emotionally triggered or trying to fit in socially.

Enter O.T.M. About twenty-five years ago, I was working in Hillsdale, NJ and I worked with an exceptional SLP. Geri, had created the aforementioned acronym and I use it to this day. O.T.M. stands for "keep It on The Mind, not Out The Mouth." I pair the acronym with the gesture of my index finger moving from forehead along the side of my face and out from my mouth. I like practicing this concept while doing in-class lessons. The whole class benefits and the teacher has some common language to reinforce the skill.

I can also dovetail using a social filter with plain old kindness. I really like the acronym THINK; is it true; is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary, is it kind? Here is a little poster freebie for you highlighting the THINK  strategy. Click the picture or the link to be redirected to the download.

Well, I hope the O.T.M. strategy is something you bring to your speech programs and that you and your students find it productive. I'd love to hear if you use it!!

Monday, January 15, 2018

One Little Word 2018

For the past few years, I have participated in the One Little Word® project. Ali Edwards, the originator of "One Little Word," sums it this way:

A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting or rich and soft and slow.

In 2006 I began a tradition of choosing one word for myself each January – a word to focus on, meditate on, and reflect upon as I go about my daily life. My words have included play, peace, vitality, nurture, story, light, up, open, thrive, give, and whole. These words have each become a part of my life in one way or another. They've been embedded into who I am and into who I'm becoming. They've been what I've needed most (and didn't know I needed). They've helped me to breathe deeper, to see clearer, to navigate challenges, and to grow.

The task in focusing on a word, as opposed to a resolution, is to encourage meditating on one concept that can have far reaching effect in my (and your) life. That concept can permeate how I view my relationships, my job, my past and my future. Becoming intentional with decisions after viewing them through a consistent lens allows me to interact with my story as I write and create around a theme.

After much contemplation, I have chosen the word discipline. I don't mean discipline in a legalistic, unyielding, have to, need to, must, sort of way. I mean discipline in a "I choose to be disciplined in this because it will bear out results or I will feel temperate, accomplished or strong afterward."  

Pondering this word should be fairly straightforward. Applying the concept to my life is going to require discipline. One thing I have learned over the course of 56 years is, in order for me to grow I need to practice another little word. Can you guess which hand is mine?

I encourage you to find your word.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

It is Definitely Winter

Winter has arrived! In fact, it has arrived all across the country. There is snow in states that rarely see snow. In NH we have had 3 snow days already. January 2nd was our scheduled return to school. We had a two-hour delay due to cold (it was -22)! Last night it was -100 atop Mount Washington. That's some frosty weather. Yes, winter has arrived and in NH, it sticks around into April. This video captures the trip to my car yesterday!

After the frenzy and inconsistency of December, school-based SLPs are contending with more of the same because of weather and student absences. Next week I will be getting a little help from my friends who have authored some fun and therapeutically effective winter-themed materials. I decided to do a therapy week round up in order to "snowcase" these wonderful therapy activities. Since I will be using these activities next week, I don't have pictures of the products in action. Sorry. (My husband did get me a beautiful new camera for Christmas, so my pictures should be improving) All of these items can be accessed by clicking the respective images.

The first is Gold Country Speech's All Around a Winter Wonderland. Tracy's candyland-based game is perfect for mixed groups and more. She has included cards targeting problem solving, describing, wh-questions, multiple meaning words, following directions, articulation, AND a design your own option. Click here to grab this amazing product.

Laura, of All Y'All Need has created a series of jokes that are so fun to use in therapy. I've used her jokes for articulation, social pragmatics, fluency, and targeting ambiguities. They are "snow" punny and offer wonderful opportunities for discussion. Winter Jokes can be found right here.

Are you "yeti" for this one? Sparklle SLP's materials are the carrot for my snowman. She always includes a variety of materials that are perfect for mixed groups. "Mixed groups" seems to be the term du jour for how my groups have been for 35 years.  Homogeneous grouping is extremely difficult in our line of work, so I've always had to tailor my activities for multiple targets. Sparklle's Yeti packet targets "snow" much including: describing, comprehension, tier 2 vocabulary, informational text passages with QR code links, grammar and syntax practice, analogies, conjunctions, spatial concepts, positive reinforcement, AND recipes for snow and snow paint. To add an extra element of fun, this packet can be used as a complement to the game Yeti in My Spaghetti. Sled on over here to find it.

If you haven't used Small Talk SLP's Find it on the Go materials, ski, don't snowshoe, to get one. They are perfect for younger students and the format is easy to use and motivating.  Add to that a plethora of speech and language targets and you've got a winner. Pam has included multiple targets in three areas: concepts, receptive language and expressive language. While I don't laminate all my seasonal materials (I am trying to consider the environment before I wrap everything in plastic), I have laminated this one. I give my students a wipe-off marker and they draw right on the pages. It can be found here.

Mary of Old School Speech has put the "bomb" in "bomb cyclone" with her Joke Dominoes.  This game is played like traditional dominoes, which is fun because kids will then know how to play traditional dominoes! Joke Dominoes is a wonderful way to address articulation, fluency, social-pragmatics, multiple meaning meaning words, and more. It is easy to prep and easy to use and the price is right at $1.00. This winter staple can be found here.

I "met" Mia many years ago, as a TpT customer. I have files on my computer named Mia. I remember a snow day many years ago, when I received an email from her, whereby she sent me her most recent winter product for free. She wrote something along the lines of, "You've been such a good customer, I want you to have this." It was the start of a lifelong friendship. Mia has created a wonderful series of interactive books that encourage true language interaction. Each interactive book comes with cue cards explaining what each wh-question answers. She then provides information about the theme and targets various questions along the way. I like her interactive books because they create a very naturalistic context for language therapy. Grab this Louisiana girl's All About Winter Interactive Book here.

I hope you see this post is about more than winter-themed products; it's about friendships and support. It's about how we all can try to make life a little easier for each other in a very demanding job. Oh, and for your wintry viewing pleasure here is the video of my return trek up the mountain to home.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Star Wars, Stuttering, and Stereotypes

June 18, 1977 was the day before my sixteenth birthday. Three weeks earlier, on May 25th, the movie phenomena, Star Wars was released and we decided to go see it for my birthday. We developed a strategy in order to save time on serpentine lines that coiled around buildings, half of us holding a place on the ticket holders line while half waited to purchase tickets on the ticket buyers line. Once the tickets were purchased we would reconvene on the ticket holders line. Our intent was to watch the 9:00 p.m. show. That show sold out before we got our tickets and we remained on line finally getting tickets for the midnight show. When I left that theater, I was sixteen and a Star Wars fan for life.

I love Star Wars, although, I love some episodes more than others. The Empire Strikes Back was my least favorite. I also find their adherence to a plot format tiresome. This post, however, is not a movie review, per se, so I'll spare you the particulars of my opinion on the Star Wars dynasty, because love an episode or hate an episode, I'll go see every single one and I'll watch them again and again. This post is more of an observation from The Last Jedi and the introduction of one of the most villainous Star Wars characters, I think has been developed.

Enter Benicio Del Toro's code breaker, DJ. DJ, it appears, is an enigma. One initially wonders whether he is a rakish, yet ultimately heroic character, like Han Solo or Lando Calrissian. At the conclusion of the movie, it would appear not. He is amoral, sidling up to, not necessarily the highest bidder, but the party that will ultimately allow him success in his machinations. DJ is really someone who we might know or meet. He could be our neighbor, a coworker, or a guy on the bus. He is self-serving and arrogant AND he stutters.

In The Star Wars saga, one is immersed in a world that exists long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away and a plot and characters who become friends and foes. While it is pure fiction, the writing and character portrayals draw on our biases and cultural mores and those are woven throughout the story and create a powerful subtext. Our personal experiences and background knowledge are fused with a story. Hence my struggle with Benicio Del Toro's DJ. A deplorable, disreputable, opportunistic mercenary who is portrayed with a stutter.

I broached this matter with my SLP friends and one shared a more optimistic view, Del Toro's portrayal offered the notion that stuttering is "universal," literally. I would agree if the characters Finn or Poe stuttered, but no, it was the villain. I would assert, that yes, stuttering is universal and so is the shame that has been assigned to it. Art imitates life and DJ's speech sent a clear and powerful message, that stuttering is a dark flaw attributed to villainous characters. I would have hoped that in 2017, with all we know about stuttering, that greater sensitivity would be offered when developing the persona of a character. Movie makers and actors alike do bear a level of responsibility when creating works that reach billions in perpetuity. Now when I see DJ on the screen, I will forever be struck by his loathsome behavior and the disregard with which the actor chose to portray his speech.

Yes, art does imitate life, yet I truly believe there needs to be greater awareness and sensitivity in how actors portray their characters. Del Toro's DJ would still be abhorrent without stuttering and an entire segment of our society wouldn't be, once again, having to explain "stuttering is what we do, not who we are."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Teachers

It has been four months since my last post. I just don't know where the time and my initiative have gone. The return to school this year was fraught with anxiety, palpable and exhausting anxiety. As much as I don't like admitting it, I let it get the best of me.

I started the new school year with massive workplace changes. Many of our special education teachers retired or moved on to other jobs. Missing the familiarity of my co-workers as well as the loss of my touchstone, was difficult. My daughter went back to college and left another gaping hole. My son began his senior year of high school and a year of lasts was looming. I had to center myself and that took some doing.

Fast forward to December first (rabbit, rabbit). On the first, we had a two-hour delay, which was glorious. I slip-slid my way to work and as is my norm, did a lot of thinking. My route to an idea is often twisty-turny! I began thinking about the Christmas season, which led to Christmas movies, that segued to A Christmas Carol. I moved on to Charles Dickens and his works. A Tale of Two Cities came to mind. I finally arrived at the inspiration for this post; A Tale of Two Teachers! (Disclaimer; I use the term "teachers" inclusively referring to those who work with children in a school setting and  mean no offense to SLPs). My thoughts turned to how what a child hears from a teacher is so powerful. I wonder if teachers realize how their actions, words, and even facial expressions make a lasting mark on children. I began to recall two very different teachers in my own story.

Here are my tales. Fifty years ago, I was a little girl wanting to be just like all the other children. I wanted the nice snacks and Buster Brown shoes and pretty bows in my hair. I wanted to be noticed by my teacher and looked upon with kind eyes. It wasn't always that way and one day in particular it was the complete opposite.

We were lined up by the back door of the classroom, from which we exited. This was our daily routine. Each day, someone would announce to our teacher, "Sister ____, the buses are here," and we would be dismissed. One day, before dismissal we were asked to sing The Lollipop Tree. I suppose our teacher was having a bad day, or perhaps we weren't singing to her satisfaction, or maybe she was just not a kind person. To a six year old none of those things mattered. What did matter, was that I announced the buses had arrived and she grabbed me by the ear, pushed me to the wall, and said with anger so rich, "If I want to know that the buses are here, I'll ask." I was stunned and terrified, embarrassed and confused. Typically my response to tricky situations is FREEZE. This day it was FLIGHT. I ran out that back door as fast as my six year old legs could go. I got on my bus and found my older brothers and wept. As a child, I thought my Mother did nothing to support me in this situation. She calmed me down and never said another word. As I grew, I surmised she must have advocated for me, because when I went to school the next day (full of fear), the event was not discussed. Apparently, my composition book had fallen from my blue vinyl book bag during my getaway. Sister _____ asked who it belonged to aloud (it had my name on it) and with trepidation, I raised my hand. She handed me the book and it was done. To this day I am convinced my Mother addressed the issue.

This next story recounts a very different kind of teacher; a kind and sensitive young man who was highly in tune with his students. I remember so many details of my sixth grade year, for instance, when our teacher announced the end of the Vietnam War. I remember, thinking I was funny and putting guinea pig poop on his chair (and having to write an apology). I remember being shunned by the pretty and rich girls. At this point in my life, our household had changed significantly. It was not always terrific. My younger brother and I were often left to fend for ourselves and our clothes and hygiene reflected that. It was that dreaded time of year for many, the day we got our school pictures packages. I had tried to look pretty, putting my greasy hair in pigtails and wearing a smelly sweater vest. Mrs. ___ had come into our class and was fawning over all the girls' photos, all the girls that is except me. I saw my teacher look at her, establish eye contact with me, and look back at her. He then said, and I will never forget it, "Did you see Annie's picture? She looks beautiful." Mrs. ___ dutifully looked, gave a half-hearted nod, and continued her praise of the class beauties. I shrank into myself further, solidifying the poor self image I would carry with me for years. What I also carried with me, to this day, is the awareness that this teacher possessed of his students, the kindness he had expressed to me and to any others who were willing to recognize it. Many years later, I found him via Facebook and I recounted this tale, thanking him for his sensitivity. His response was as kind as it had been years earlier, "It was because you WERE beautiful."

You can imagine how I wept when I read that. I'll admit I still do, because what teachers say to their students matters. The sidelong glances, the absence of eye contact, ignoring a question, anger, belittling, and the most grievous, sarcasm, all matter. In my 35 years in the schools I have seen teachers gesturally mocking students, telling a student to stand in the trash can, ignoring them, and more. It matters. Those words will likely be remembered for a lifetime. I know I remember, the good and the bad, but for a long time the bad memories were louder.

Which teacher would you rather be? Both have influenced me, one who I strive to be more like and one I eschew. As we start a new year, I challenge every adult working with students to be mindful of what they say, how they say it, and the body language they use. I hope to be the "teacher" a student reaches out to 45 years later and says, "Thank you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When Students Feel Sad

Recently I experienced a deep sadness with someone I care about. It wasn't my sadness, but hers.  To see tears and self-doubt, a turning inside out was so incredibly difficult. I felt a strong feeling of helplessness when wanting to remove all the hurt from her heart. Of course, that is neither realistic nor helpful. Encountering and coping with sadness is crucial and I contend that the desire to not feel is why so many Americans are on antidepressants, but that's a different issue entirely. Sadness, hurt, grief are difficult emotions, yet passing through them gives us fortitude. Passing through them allows us to see our power within and the beauty in the world. While I wanted to tear the sadness from my loved one, I knew she had to navigate it herself, had to experience it, to find her moxie. The sadness is temporary, the lessons learned, lifelong.

As SLPs we often have students who are dealing with sadness, whether it is the loss of a parent,
being shunned by "friends," or family/economic concerns. We may find ourselves in positions to help assuage that sadness. As I shared my loved one's sadness I thought about my responsibility to my students' sadness over the years and I've learned a thing or two.

Be sensitive to my own emotional responses. 
When hearing of a student's trauma, my first response is, well,  to respond emotionally. I feel anger, sadness, disbelief, anxiety. I have to remember to keep my own emotions in check. If not, I could foment my student's response and that is not helpful. I need to be present, to be a compassionate listener. 

Practice the "art of the pause."
When confronted with a child's distress (or any difficult matter) I have adopted what I call the "art of the pause." I need to remind myself to stop and assess the stage and take in the circumstances. Pausing allows the rational mind to get footing and prevents responses that may be regretted later.

Be mindful of trust.
The fact that a friend, colleague, parent, or child has confided in me can be a source of comfort and a source of anxiety. Having information that has been shared in confidence can be burdensome. It is a blessing that the child trusts you with their secret, but it also presents challenges if I am called to seek help for the child. I am always forthright with students and tell them I may not be able to keep their confidence. Often these children find it difficult to trust adults, the last thing I want to do is give them more reason to doubt. Expressing at the outset, that the information may need to be passed on, gives a child the power to share or not share. It establishes an honest relationship.

I don't need to solve the problem. 
Another of my knee jerk reactions, is to try and solve the problem. This is frequently not possible and leads to my own place of paralysis and frustration.  I need to be cognizant of my role. My student doesn't necessarily need me to solve the problem. It serves us both better if I can be a sympathetic and compassionate source of support.

Make a realistic assessment of my role. 
Do I need to take action to help my student? There may be instances where steps are needed to help a child. Be realistic and cautious when discerning how to proceed. I always assess whether this is a place I should be involved and if not, who can I enlist to help the student?

Recognize the need for help.
Some situations require a larger team. If I think more professional help is needed, whether it's administration, a psychologist, or law enforcement, seek it. Being cautious not to betray a child's trust, get counsel from others if necessary. In the end, the child may feel more supported knowing there is a constellation of others who can help.

Be wary of judging. 
Being present for a child during times of sadness takes an emotional toll, as we know. Said toll leaves us wide open for passing judgment on those who caused the sadness. When my loved one was hurt, I most definitely passed judgment. I was angry and wanted to go to bat for her. That would have been a mistake. I always need to understand, I can only guess what the motivation of the other person might have been. It serves all involved well, if I try to remain nonjudgmental.

I have learned a lot about myself and my empathy can lead to considerable anxiety. I need to do whatever it takes to keep myself grounded when helping others cope. For me, I stay active. I have been known to clean for hours. I mean really clean, deep clean. It seems a metaphor for what I am feeling. Exercise is key and includes real sweat inducing exercise to yoga. Journaling is extraordinarily helpful in putting things in perspective. It is both cathartic and healing. Art, in whatever form is a wonderful distraction. Lastly, and for me the most helpful, prayer. Prayer for myself, that I will be a source of comfort, prayer for the child that she may find healing, and prayer for the source of the child's angst. My greatest prayer is that we all trust in God's providence.

It is so hard to see others in pain, but we can be a source of comfort and healing for all involved. It has always helped me and the one I seek to comfort if I remain observant to my own understanding of what healthy compassion looks like and how to exercise it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts From the Back Porch 2017

I was planning on doing my second installment on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain this week, but since life doesn't always have a way of following a predictable pattern, I didn't get a chance to do the exercises. I did, nevertheless, read the chapters and have had several thoughts on how the process has life applications. I'm going to save this for another post, but I will leave you with a little teaser; when learning a new skill, keep a sense of humor! Here is my first attempt at a portrait from memory!
Blueberries are what have occupied my time this week. That and planning an impromptu trip to the Jersey shore. Here are some pics of what I've been up to. Check back next week for an update on my first drawing lesson.