kids in the boat

Inspired by Friendship Month

Did you know that February is Friendship Month?  We didn’t until last week when our friend Tiffani over at Special-ism let us know.  For some time now, Meghan, Jill and Karen have taken a hiatus from the online portion of all4mychild.  We moved our clinic a couple of years ago and took some time to focus on that.  We have missed our online friends, however, and felt that there was no better time to return than in celebration of Friendship Month.  We spend every day working with kids to help them feel more socially confident so that their friendship circles can grow.  Now we want our online friendships to start growing once again as well.

If you don’t already subscribe to our newsletter, you can do so HERE.  We are excited to start blogging again, to review more books, to continue to offer special promotions for our APPS  and to add more exciting features to our website. We hope you will follow along with us as we once again join this amazing online community of those who love children.

kids drawing

Keep the Peace or Build Flexibility

Many aspects of life are paradoxical and this is one of the biggies for our socially challenged kids.  The children who participate in our Social Adventures Groups earnestly try to be flexible, to “go with the flow”, to try new ideas, or play a game with someone else’s rules, but it is SO very hard!

We did an activity that flopped miserably several weeks ago.  Each child received a piece of paper with a simple shape drawn on it and were given 30 seconds to create a picture using the shape.  Next, they passed their pictures to the person on their left who added to and changed the picture to match the image in their minds.  Six-year-old Joey fell apart.  We had explained and demonstrated the activity but he simply couldn’t handle it.  He cried, hid under the table then tried to flee the room while yelling, “YOU ARE MESSING UP MY PICTURE!”

Since that session was a wash, Meghan and I talked about how to follow it up the next week.  Do we let Joey draw his own picture to keep the peace or do we push the envelope?  The next week, Meghan and I demonstrated again how the activity worked while some of the kids added to Meghan’s picture and some to mine.  Then we switched.  We talked about the pictures in our heads and how they were all different.  We also practiced complimenting each other’s pictures.

Last week, the kids were each given 1 minute to change their shape into anything they wanted and would be able to take that picture home.  They were then given a second paper with a shape to draw on and switch.  This is what Joey did.  He was given a figure 8 shape and began turning it into a racetrack by drawing a little car on the side.  It was passed to his neighbor, Sam, who turned it into a large pair of eye glasses.  When the sharing time arrived, we honestly didn’t know whether Joey would lose it or love it.  They were such different kinds of pictures – a racetrack and a pair of glasses!  Comments flew around the table that it would be so cool to have a pair of glasses with a racecar on the side.  (Joey wears glasses, by the way).  We all held our breath until a generous smile emerged on Joey’s face.  When it was time to go, he ran to his mother with the picture, delightedly exclaiming that he and his friends invented a new pair of glasses!

This story exemplifies one of those balancing act events that everyone who has children in their lives experiences hundreds of times a day.  Happily, I think a little peace AND flexibility were achieved in Joey’s mind and heart that day… along with a cool pair of glasses.

Submitted by: Jill Perry MHA, MS, OTR/L

image by:  David, Bergin, Emmett…

Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities like this.

breathe deeply

What’s So Hard About Breathing?

What could be simpler than breathing? We don’t have to think about it… it just happens even when we sleep. But guess what? Breathing to create a relaxation response may take some work and practice, especially for children. BUT it is well work the trouble and this is why:   Children who struggle with social challenges often live in an anxious state. When stressed, heart rates increase, blood is diverted away from the stomach to the muscles of the legs for flight, and stress hormones such as cortisol are released. This physiological response to stress is also known as the fight, flight or fight response.   How can we expect kids to remain seated in school, stay focused on a topic, respond to and play appropriately with peers, and learn when their nervous systems are working against them? We can teach them to breathe.   Deep breathing is so much more than relaxing. It can train the body to react differently to stressful situations. For example, when faced with frustration, anger, hurt, loneliness, fear, uncertainty and anxiety, breathing can help a child make wiser choices regarding how to respond in each circumstance.   However, it can be difficult to teach young children how to breathe. They often breathe quickly and shallowly as if in a race – who can breathe the loudest or fastest? They can’t see their breath and don’t have patience to slow down their breathing when their bodies are racing 90 miles per hour. In addition, many children who operate in this fight, flight or fright mode don’t possess the body awareness needed to understand what slowing and deepening their breath actually feels like.   We have been experimenting with ways to teach children the experience of inhaling and exhaling deeply while helping them notice and reflect on how this type of breathing affects their bodies and moods in the moment. We’ll be sharing thoughts and experiences using these strategies in upcoming blogs and would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences as well. In the meantime, just breathe…   photo by Amanda Hirsch https://www.flickr.com/photos/89917639@N04/

chime

Chime Time

Self-regulation is a critical life competency that opens the door to learning, communication, and play. Without it, the brain and body are too disorganized to take in new and changing information. Yet, self-regulation is really hard to teach. We can talk about it. We can practice it. We can provide behavioral rewards. However, in order for children to understand that self-regulation is important, we must help them find ways to use it and notice the benefits themselves. Ah… there’s the challenge.

We have used a wonderful little Zenergy chime to help children develop this intrinsic understanding of self-regulation in 3 different and progressive ways with our young children in Social Adventures groups. Our youngest group of 4 year olds had no interest or ability to stay with the group or play with one another once they entered the gym area. They didn’t seem to understand that the point of the group was to learn to play with each other. “But I want to do what I want to do! I don’t want to do what he is doing!” Sometimes they were very polite about it. “No thanks, I’ll just play over here by myself.” As they ran raucously around the gym, voices intensified, bodies crashed into one another and hearts, heads and bodies were hurt.

We then instituted chime time. The kids were free to play but when they heard the chime, they needed to run to the mat, sit cross-legged and fold their hands in their laps. They were then asked to breathe slowly in and out as one of the group leaders slowly released one finger at a time from her fists to provide a visible example of the speed of breath.

 Extremity-upper-fingers

This gave the children enough time to breathe and become a little better regulated before heading back out to play. Over time, we began to lengthen the time and purpose of the chime break. We noted when their breathing slowing down. We emphasized deeper breaths and longer exhalations. We commented that our bodies feel so much better when we can slow our heart down by breathing deeply. We then began to add, “Now what will you play together when you go back?” and the kids started suggesting ideas to one another! If they happened to have been playing together before the chime rang, we helped them reflect on the fun they were having together. The kids in the group began saying, “It’s chime time!” when they felt things were getting out of control. And there it is: self-regulation! Next blog I’ll write about a second way we like to use the chime in our groups. We would love to hear your ideas about how you use the chime or other strategies for self-regulation.

If you’d like to purchase this chime, please click on over to our Amazon Store so they know who sent you.

YGAppyNewYear1-300x300

Top 10 Apps of 2014

To ring off the new year, I wanted to support a great website and vision of Mai Chan and her team at Yapp Guru (which includes the Aubrey Klingensmith of Speechie Apps and Tanya Coyle of the Lexical Linguist, both smart and passionate women). If you haven’t checked out Yapp Guru, I encourage you to. It’s the “amazon” of apps for therapists. Apps are reviewed by experts, categorized, and voted on by not only by experts in the field, but by treating therapists, educators and parents. It’s a great place to learn about new tools to support your clients.  Yapp Guru is hosting a “linky party” with other expert app reviewers and bloggers to share great apps to use therapeutically. Here is my version of the 10 Best  Apps that have helped me and the people I work with this past year.

 

  1. Evernote: I’m like a broken record with this one…but seriously… it has changed my life. I use it to help organize my caseload within my private practice, share resources with others, take notes at conferences, even provide feedback for the graduate students I supervise. It’s amazing. See my review of it here.
  2. Heads Up: Great for adults and kids alike to work on prioritizing information, description, or even social engagement and interaction (for you in your personal life OR for your clients). See my review here.
  3. Between the Lines: A great app for social pragmatics from the brilliant team at Hamaguchi apps. Great for addressing  nonverbal communication including body language, tone of voice, figurative language, etc.
  4. Super Stretch Yoga: perfect for helping children who struggle with regulation. An adorable free app that provides video modeling of basic yoga poses. Ready my review here.
  5. Auditory Memory: a new app to me this year from Super Duper, but great for working on language processing and teaching compensatory strategies. It does require some set up on a computer including a login and password to save student profiles…however, once you get set up it’s a great tool to work on following directions in a hierarchical manner .
  6. Skitch: a great app to “spice” up worksheets and/or make your own visuals to support your therapy. It allows you to “write on” documents or images. A must have for educators. See SpeechTechie.com for great ideas for using Skitch.
  7. Articulation Station: I’ll be the first to say that articulation isn’t my favorite treatment area…however, this app makes me find some fun:) A go-to as a pediatric therapist, and one that all of my kids love. It allows me to share progress easily with parents as well.
  8. Motessori Crossword: This year I have had a lot of kiddos who need phonological awareness support. This app (in combination with the use of the Lively Letters Program that I love) has been a great tool. The movable sound alphabet and the interactive “reward” activities are awesome.
  9. Brain Pop and Brain Pop Junior : continue to be on my list of favorites this year. A great way to introduce curriculum concepts, work on vocabulary, auditory comprehension, etc.
  10. Marble Mixer: I think Jenna Rayburn at Speech Room News shared this one on one of her posts ages ago…and it continues to be a favorite of mine. I love apps that allow kids to share the iPad and use it collaboratively. This competative game helps teach kids a number of social skills from sharing space, to winning and losing. Kids love it.

Look forward to learning of others favorites of 2014.

photo by David Lytle http://bit.ly/1sLluBU

Let’s Pretend…

Talking toys, ready-made projects, iPads, and electronic games are all super fun and enticing. However, they don’t help our kids develop communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. These are the skills that will ensure life long learning and problem solving not only through school but throughout careers and family life as well. What will happen to the next generation of kids if they don’t learn these critical life skills?

In an effort to help 4 – 6 year olds develop these skills in our Social Adventures group we read books with simple themes such as “Good-night Gorilla” and “The Little Red Hen” and act out the stories in the gym. This has been quite a challenge for our little ones as they show difficulty negotiating roles, identifying props, figuring out how to use the space available to them and staying with the theme.

To help the kids grasp early negotiation skills, we provided each child with a ball or tactile play item and when another item looked more interesting to them, they asked a friend to trade. If a friend wanted to trade, he said, “Sure”. We taught the kids to say, “In a minute” if they didn’t want to trade and then encouraged the swap shortly after.

play doh sharing

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/maximeauger/

Last week, we decided to play “Grocery Store” with the 4-5 year olds in our Social Adventures groups. It happened sort of organically when one child suggested the game and the others enthusiastically agreed. In discussing roles, the kids said we needed a “Scanner”, a “Delivery man”, a “Shopper”, and a “Grocery Worker” to stack the shelves.

 

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The food (cardboard blocks) was delivered to the store via scooter board and the child stocking the shelves organized the shelves by color. He assigned exotic names to the food such as “spicy yogurt” getting more creative as the game proceeded. The shopper used a laundry basket as a grocery cart. The Scanner chose to stand inside the upright barrel to scan the food and then send it down the slide.

The kids began wanting to change roles. Sometimes a friend would say, “Sure” and other times they would say, “In a minute”. They then surprisingly switched roles in about a minute! Each child adapted his or her roles to suit their personalities. When one boy said the grocery bill was a whopping $9.00, the “customer” exclaimed, “WHAAAAT?” and then obligingly paid up.

You may think I am overreacting but I felt this session was no short of a miracle. The kids were engaged, negotiating, planning, problem solving, collaborating, and thoroughly enjoying themselves! So let’s put the electronics on the shelf and let the pretending begin.

 

 

london-eye

Keeping Kids Engaged

I am a speech-language pathologist and I co-lead social cognition groups with an occupational therapist.   Although we only work with up to 6 kids at a time, our groups can be as challenging to keep on track as any large classroom.  Why?  Because the kids in our groups are often the very kids that are making their classrooms difficult to manage.  During any given hour, we might be met with the sillies and the wiggles, the inflexible and the distracted and occasionally the just plain defiant. So how do we do it?  Well, the best that we can… and most days we feel pretty successful.  Here are the tips that we have found most helpful:

  1. Animation – no, I don’t mean we have the kids watch a lot of animated cartoons (although some of them can be great for teaching social concepts).  I mean that we as leaders have to keep the animation level high!  We need to keep the kids’ attention by being entertaining.   When we are clearly enjoying ourselves and enjoying the kids, they tend to stay more engaged.  Also, because we are trying to make very subtle social cues more apparent, we often exaggerate those cues to an almost cartoonish level.  It’s goofy, but it works.

  2. Humor – Meeting difficult behavior with threats or stern responses often fuels the fire of our defiant group members.  Instead, we have found that we disarm them best with a humorous response.  This often catches the culprit off guard and returns the attention of the rest of the group back to the teachers.

  3. Catch phrases – During our groups we are often trying to teach kids more appropriate social behaviors than those that come naturally to them.  We have found that naming the behaviors with a Social Catch Phrase gets their attention, reinforces the salient concept and aids generalization.  One of our favorites is “Teachers Tell, Friends Ask.”  This catch phrase helps kids remember that teachers are the ones who can use commands.  Kids need to use “question words.”  This goes for both teacher interactions and peer interactions and goes a long way toward keeping the mood positive.

  4. Role Play – teaching kids new responses in the middle of an emotionally charged moment is almost impossible.  They are too invested in their perspective and too defensive to hear an alternative view.  Instead, we practice new responses/behaviors through engaging (and sometimes silly) Role Play.  The key is for the adults to act out the inappropriate behavior and have the kids stop the action by saying “cut” when they see things going awry.  Then the kids tell the adults how to repair the scene and watch as things go more smoothly.  When kids get a turn, we focus on the appropriate behaviors and attach those catch phrases when applicable.

  5. Catch ‘em doing the right thing – The kids we work with often have significant difficulties with impulse control and/or reading social cues.  They get it wrong a LOT, but they also get it RIGHT a lot.!  For the one time that Johnny blurted out something inappropriate, he may have inhibited 20 or 30 thoughts and kept them in his head, so we try really hard to notice when Johnny IS managing his impulses and to praise him for it.  This requires vigilance and a willingness to spot even the tiniest positives, but over time it really pays off!

So those are my Top 5 tips.  I only wish that they worked 100% of the time.  They certainly do not!  In fact, we group leaders are updating our bag of tricks all the time and are always happy to hear from others what is working for them.  That’s why we are excited to be a part of this wonderful project, World Class Teachers Tip Competition sponsored by The Bloggers Lounge and World Class Teachers.  I plan to read lots of entries and I hope you will too!!

Karen Head

Speech-Language Pathologist

all4mychild  

specialism

Social Skills Group – Ages 5 and 6

Today we are blogging over at Special-Ism.com . This is the third in a series of 4 posts.  The first post, Social Skills 101 discussed who might benefit from a social group along with an overview of the Critical Components of an Effective Social Group. The second post, Social Skills Groups for 3 and 4 Year-Olds, provided strategies and activities to teach some of the fundamental social skills. Today’s post provides strategies and activities for kiddos at the next level of development. Read more HERE.

Beautiful eyes

Compliments and Truth Telling

 

What happens when someone gives the children in your life presents they don’t like?  Do they say, “Thank you” even if it’s not the present they were expecting?  Do they recognize that the gift giver did something kind or do they say, “I don’t like it”?  Do they think they are not telling the truth if they don’t say exactly what they are thinking. 

By the age of 3, children begin to comprehend and even use words to describe what other people are thinking.  For example, “Aunt Rita thought I still liked stuffed bunnies.”  By the age of 4, children understand “trickery” which means they know they can say and do things that are deceptive or not quite true.  By the age of 5, children can compliment others for their accomplishments or good fortune.  Finally, by the age of 6, children understand culturally defined social rules.  They also possess a wide range of behavioral strategies to help them manage emotions.

We have been working hard on giving compliments with our Social Adventures Group of 6 year olds.  They hold fast and hard to rules and feel they should be honest all the time (which we support and is a generally good rule).  So trying to help them understand that it’s OK to say a nice word even if you don’t like something is a challenging concept.  Here are a few things we’ve done in our group that you may find helpful.

  • Read Being Frank by Donna W. Earnhardt and illustrated by Andrea Castellani.  We then became detectives and worked on choosing something to like in every situation even when you don’t like the whole package.
  • We role-played receiving gifts that are NOT what we expected and saying things like, “Thanks” or “It’s a nice color”.
  • Each child drew a picture then showed the picture to the group in an “art show”.   Each child said one thing they liked about the each picture.  One boy said, “Do I have to?  I don’t like anything about it.”  When told he wouldn’t be able to show his picture and get compliments if he couldn’t think of nice things to say about the other pictures, he came up with wonderful comments!
  • The group was separated into 2 groups of 3 children who worked collaboratively on a group picture.  They needed to ask their cohorts before drawing something.  Because they needed to talk about what they were placing on the paper, they began to compliment each other’s drawings.
  • While transitioning from one room to another, the “ticket” into the room was turning around and saying something nice to the child in line behind them.  Some said simply, “I like your shirt” while others surprised us with comments such as, “I liked playing that game you made up in the gym!”

Needless to say, this takes a lot of teaching and practice but the kids are learning how to be detectives and find something they can compliment in all situations.  Happy Holidays and may you enjoy many compliments with kids this year!

Submitted by Jill Perry MHA M.S. OTR/L

(Image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski