Peer group for special needs

23 Oct

This year I find I need to rethink the way I do my social pragmatic group.  This year several things have made it difficult to form the group.  The last 4 years I was able to form the group with  five to eight students across two grade levels who had language processing issues or autism and had social issues as a result.  Most of the group could follow instructions with a bit of modeling.  This year the scheduling of the core academics has kept me from taking students across more than one grade level and I don’t have a core group.  I have two students who attend general education and are severely impacted socially.  They really need roles models but i don’t have other students with language processing issues to make a large group.  These two will be going to middle school after this year so staff are really concerned.

Our Autism specialist brought up a program that she thought might work called “Circle of Friends“.  It has been used on the West coast and in a few schools in the Portland area.  Basically a club is formed from a peer group.  The peer group  is mentored and gets instruction from the speech therapist, counselor, or other special education staff.  The group members then plan activities for the group that everyone can participate in and be included.  This group then becomes a way that special needs children can get social experiences from a peer group that is socially supportive.  It can even move with the children as they progress through the grades.

This is conference week at my school so we are beginning the first phase.  Our plan is to set up a lunch bunch of  five to six students that will meet once a week.   We will get permission from parents this week so that students can participate.  This bunch will receive some training and do some bonding.  We will then introduce one of the students and see where we go from there.

Our school is the site for the Life skills Program and we have more children with special needs as a result.  The children remain fairly separated even though they are in the same building.  Because most of our extra programs such as music, physical education, and library have been lost to budget cuts, there are few opportunities for them to be included.    It is getting harder for them to have opportunities to participate  with their peer group.   As with anything these days, it is difficult to find time but hopefully this program will have a general effect on our whole school atmosphere.

I’m hoping to record our progress with this program.  If anyone has used this program or something similar, I would love to hear from you.  Did it go well?

Bilingual Speech Assessments

18 Oct

My elementary school population has been going through a transition and is becoming  more of a melting pot.  I’ve been completing more bilingual assessments lately.  There is always a risk of over identifying children that come from different cultural backgrounds.  Most of our speech and language tests are normed for the average English speaking American child.   In order to determine if the child has a language disability we need to determine it is not  a language difference and the disability is apparent in both languages.  This can be even more difficult if the child is caught between the use of two languages.  The primary care giver may not have a good handle on English, but this is the primary language used at home.  The child’s English model may not be standard English and they are not exposed to it until they reach school age.  As a result their vocabulary and syntax  skills may also be lower than expected.

When starting an assessment for special education, it is important to determine which language is  dominant for the child.  An interview with the caregiver will tell you how much the child has been exposed to English and what the predominant  language is used in the household.   The caregiver can also give developmental information.  If the child made developmental milestones, there is less chance he/she has a  language disability.  Our English Learning program conducts regular testing to show progress.  This information can be used to address the child’s functioning in English and if progress is steady.  I am fortunate that my district employs interpreters that can help complete speech assessments.  Sometimes it’s possible to get a speech assessment in both languages such as using the Spanish CELF and English CELF.  The scores can be compared to reveal discrepancies and if the child has a delay in both languages.

I found a  web sites that I find useful when completing bilingual assessments.   It gives resources and considerations for doing bilingual assessments.   Its called Multicultural Topics in Communication Sciences and Disorders .   I also  put it  on the blog roll  for easy reference.  There is also a handy site that provides text to speech and translation for multiple languages. It is Text to Speech Translator.

Singapore Math and Speech

9 Oct

You may ask, ‘What does Singapore Math have to do with Speech Therapy?”  That was my thought as I went to a teacher training session this last week.  My  district is working on adopting this curriculum this school year.  I’ve found districts often have trouble figuring out what to do with specialist, so we are required to go to trainings for certified staff even though it doesn’t seem very relevant to what we do.  We’re left trying to figure out how to make it worthwhile.

I chose the Kindergarten break out group.  I figured that math would be taught more at a concept vocabulary level.  It turned out that I did find some connections to the concept group activities we have already been doing.  I figured out a few ways to expand the activities.  We can change the question chain activity so each question gets a different color of chain.  The students can compare lengths and see how different numbers can combine to equal a sum.   The Musical Chair activity could also be adapted to children picking up lengths of snap cubes and figuring out how they should line up according to length.  The other concept activities for equal,more, most, and least will be good supplemental activites.

Descriptive Animal Activity

7 Oct

Some of you may remember when Beanie Babies were the fad and many fast food places were giving them out with the kid meals.  My daughter was at the right age for the fad and managed to accumulate a lot of them.  Eventually she got tired of them and I inherited them.  She had kept them in a shoe rack with the plastic pockets that hang over a door.  I took the whole thing and hung it up in my speech room.   People have noticed it hanging there and have brought me even more animals.  I now have quite a variety of small stuffed animals, dinosaurs, and cartoon characters.  I bet if you keep your eyes open you may find some at garage sales or as donations.  It seems people are eager to move those collections along now.

These stuffed animal characters have become quite useful for playing descriptive games centered around animals.  I have a gift box that I bought at the dollar store.  It is decorated with a bow and has a removable lid.  I call it the mystery box.  The students put a mystery animal in the box and the other students take turns asking a question and then guessing the animal or cartoon character.  Some of the students have difficulty generating questions and I use communication board to help them.  Not only does this activity promote asking questions, it requires using memory and consolidation of the details to determine the correct animal.  An example of the cue card is posted in the vocabulary section and can be printed out.

When the spoken word is not enough

16 Sep

Often parents will be concerned about their child’s development when he /she is not speaking  or is not understandable at age 3 yrs.  They want the child to be able to say words.  They are surprised to find out that saying words verbally can be only part of the problem.

A Child with autism often needs to develop intent or a purpose for communication.  Without purpose there isn’t a  reason to talk.   Caregivers believe they can help by talking for the child or telling them what to say.   Communication is reduced to  repeating back what is said to them. Caregivers with the best intentions respond to wants and needs without requiring the child to communicate to them.  The child’s development becomes stagnant  because it can’t go beyond this hurdle.

Children with speech that is not understandable also run into difficulties.  They become frustrated because they can’t get their needs met and are asked to say words over and over again.  By first grade their peers begin to notice and they may be teased.  It’s not unusual for children to exhibit behavior problems along with a speech and language delay.

When children are slow to develop understandable speech at a reasonable rate, communication boards or pictures can make a difference.  They can bridge the gap between the speaker and the listener and reduce the frustration associated with speaking.  They allow for communication which is really the main goal.  It encourages the child to continue to speak because he is understood.  Parents often think that the use of communication boards will inhibit the development of speech, but actually the opposite is true.  The pictured words are often the words the child learns to say first.  If you are lucky you may have a program named Boardmaker which allows you to design your own communication boards or books.  There are also a lot of sites that have downloads available.   It is possible to access a communication book on this site, Boardmaker is a site that allows you to download already made boards that people have shared.  If you have Boardmaker,  you can edit the boards after you download them.  Otherwise you can download them and use them as they were shared.  It is free and well worth the registration.

If a child doesn’t have intent to speak, pictures may be linked with a consequence so that the child has a purpose to communicate.  For instance they may exchange a picture of a snack in order to get that item.  This can be built upon until the child is actually forming sentences.  This promotes the development of meaningful language rather than imitative speech or reciting of nonsense phrases.  The Picture Exchange Communication System is an example of  using an exchange method.  It has the advantage of being low tech and not expensive.

Often pictures are used to make schedules and help with transitions for children with autism.   However, do not confuse their use with communication.   Schedules are helpful for letting a child know what to expect with their day and reduce stress.  They can also be used as a bargaining tool.  The child can select a preferred activity after completing a number of tasks.  They tell the child what is happening but do not allow the child to express himself.   A schedule is not meant for multiple communication exchanges. A child benefits from both a picture schedule and a communication method.

Homework to Dismissal

11 Sep

Getting my kids working on articulation skills to generalize their skills to settings outside the therapy room is always a bit of a challenge.  I try to emphasize that this is their responsibility and I can not follow them around to make sure they practice.  In the end it is their parents and teachers that let me know when they are ready to be dismissed from speech therapy.  I’ve worked out a system of homework assignments to allow them to practice outside the room and give me input from parents, teachers and family friends.  I use the  homework rating scale form that is listed in the therapy forms page on this site.   I then allow them to pick poems and riddles from such sites as Ken Nesbitt’s site, print them out, and put them in the folder.  They enjoy reading these poems to other people.  They then get rated on the rating scale and bring the folder back to me.  I allow them to put marbles in a group jar according to the number they received on the rating scale.  When the jar is full I allow a reward such as popcorn or a shaved ice party.  I get more cooperation with bringing the folder back when I do this.  I also tell them that when they get a series of 5 s I know they are ready for dismissal.  Because the parents have helped monitor the last phase, I have no difficulty with them agreeing with me when I ask about dismissal.

Are you a new SLP in a new school?

3 Sep

I believe most people have started back to work in the schools by now.  The west coast always seems to be last and next week is our first week with children.  When I  started this blog, I reflected on when I first started working in the schools.   I was uncertain on how to start a year because I did my internship in the Spring.   At that point everything was scheduled and running so I had no idea what I should expect.   Since that first fateful day, I’ve started school years  in about 20 different buildings in 10 different districts with every kind of mix of caseload you can imagine.   Some things have changed over those 20+ years, but much remains the same.  This post is written for those people starting their first school year experience as a speech pathologist.  I thought I would give some words of encouragement because after those first few days of meetings your head is probably swimming.

For your sanity, it’s important to tell yourself  you will be overwhelmed for the next few weeks, and that is OK.  I’ve been overwhelmed the first couple of weeks  no matter where I started.  The first thing you will use is your skills of discrimination.  You will find  much of the information you are given doesn’t pertain to you directly.   Try to stay tuned long enough not to miss the information you need and don’t get overwhelmed by the stuff you can ignore. A lot of it is meant for general education teachers only.

As a new person, you need directions on how to get places, such as from the district office to your school/s and the floor plans of your buildings.  I am directionally  challenged so maps are very important to me. One year I worked in a district that had flipped the High School floor plan of one school to make a 2nd school across town.  I worked in both buildings.  I spent my year heading out in the opposite direction every time I stepped out of a room.  You would think I would have a 50% chance of being right but it didn’t work that way.  Other things we take for granted are phone numbers (district and within the building), voice mail, email (you probably have messages and you don’t know it).   Some districts are better at setting some of these things up than others.   If I travel between buildings,  I place all of this information in a folder for easy access.  Now, since I’m in one location,  I tack all of it to a bulletin board next to my desk.

One of the most important things to do is to get to know your teachers.  We may be tempted to do the more tangible thing such as paperwork and bury ourselves in our office. Getting to know the people will  be the most beneficial in the long-term.   The teachers you work with are your best resource and it’s good to have them working with you.   It’s important to introduce yourself so you are on speaking terms and they can recognize you.  In my district we are required to make copies of IEPs for  teachers, so they are aware of any special needs of students in their classroom.  I make copies and hand carry them to the teachers because it gives me a chance to talk to them.  I also ask them for their class schedules with circled times of when they would like me to see children from their rooms.  This comes in handy when I start scheduling.  Don’t forget to introduce yourself to the janitor and office secretary as well.

Many places now use computer programs for electronic IEPs and Medicaid Billing.  This may require some training, but it doesn’t take long once you start using a program. I recommend finding a mentor if at all possible to answer questions.   Computers have helped with keeping paperwork organized, but I’m not sure it has decreased any paperwork.  The paperwork load continues to increase as the powers above keep adding one more form to fill out.  The rules can be quite different on how IEPs and  CUM files are stored and who has access to them.  You will be lucky if there is actually a written form of the rules.

Then it’s time to dig into those files.  I usually have files from new kids that have moved in.  These need to be looked at and updated fairly quickly.  Hopefully someone knows where the caseload files are and can direct you to them.    The first year is the roughest because you do not know kids from last year and the file represents all that you will know about a child.  I try not to get too hung up on what it says in the files.  Most of the time the worse cases in print are not really as complicated as they may seem at first reading.  Usually until you put a face to the file you will not remember much of it.  I usually read it over and put the goals and objectives on to my data sheets I use for recording information from therapy sessions.  This goal sheet is what I use when I do scheduling for therapy sessions because it is easier to manage a one page synopsis when scheduling and making groups.  I use a simple excel template for each child.   I update the sheet as new IEP goals are written annually.  The 1st year involved a lot of time to put them together.  After that I’ve saved them from year to year and it has saved me a lot of time and effort as I only need to do the new students.

I do not start seeing children for the  first week of school.  The scheduling often changes after that first week and I found myself making too many changes.  A lot of kids need to become comfortable with their classmates and schedules anyway.  I spend the first day in the kindergarten room.  They always benefit from a few extra hands to get kids settled and parents assured that Johnny can do without them. The rest of the week is spent organizing the schedule, getting meetings set for new move ins, and checking on kids I haven’t seen since last spring that may be ready to test out.  I try to have everyone scheduled for services by the second week.

If anyone wants to chime in and give words of advice that would be helpful.  You can use the comment button.  I need to approve comments to prevent spamming, so you may not see it immediately, but  no worries as long as you aren’t spam.

New Card Game

1 Aug

I’ve been looking for new games to review  3rd and 4th grade vocabulary.  The reading and social sciences curriculum covers exploration and new frontiers.  It has vocabulary associated with space, pioneers, and science.  I’ve found that old card games can sometimes be adapted to review or introduce words.  The card game “Pig with a Stockpile”  looked like it could be used.  It’s very similar to a card game called “Spoons” I played when I was a kid.  I am hoping the repetition of the vocabulary and pictured items will help my language kids be familiar with vocabulary when it is introduced in class.  The game will hopefully provide some motivation.   I won’t have a chance to try it out until school starts again.  I thought others might like to get a head start with printing activities out.  If anyone gets a chance to try it out, would you please write a comment? I’ve named my version ” The Mission“.

Team Challenges

20 Jul

I’ve been looking for more team challenges.  I never seem to have enough when working with my social pragmatic groups.  I came across a site named “Great Solutions to Team Challenges”.  It has a variety of challenges posted and I think I will try some of these next school year.  I put the site on the blog roll so I would have an easy time finding it.  I’m also connecting it here in case you would like to try some of them.  Just click on the title.

BINGO for Speech Practice

29 Jun

Most people think of bingo as a game of numbers.  However, with a little variation it is great tool for teaching new vocabulary and language skills for about any age or ability level.  The traditional bingo is built on a 5×5 grid.  BINGO or some other 5 letter word is placed on the top of the grid with numbers underneath.  Each player’s card is a mix of numbers that are placed in different squares from other players cards. There is usually a free space in the center square.  Numbers are drawn randomly and called using the letters on the top and a number that would fall underneath.  Participants look for the numbers on their cards and place a marker on any that are found.  The winner is the person who gets five markers in a row or other designated shape.  When that happens, the person yells Bingo, is declared the winner and possibly gets a prize.

For educational purposes, the number squares can easily be replaced with pictures, vocabulary words, or phrases such as definitions or idioms.  These then provide the answers to questions that are drawn randomly.  This game allows players to search for the best possible answer from a closed set even though they may not know the correct answer from memory.  They are required to review the answers multiple times increasing the likelihood they will remember them in the future.  The difficulty can be adjusted by using pictures or written words.

In the past, to make multiple cards using the same set of items but in a different sequence required a lot of cut and pasting.  Now the internet has made a lot of cards available free of charge.  I have listed some sites that have ready made bingo cards using vocabulary in selected categories and themes.

Bingo cards can also be used for articulation practice.  The squares can have words that contain certain sounds for practice. This site has several.  One game suggested the player to roll a dice to determine which row they could choose a picture from before marking it out. 6 became roll again.   This allowed children to play with cards from different sound sets in the same group.

There are also sites that allow you to make your own cards. They can generate multiple cards from words placed into the program.  The program automatically switches the order of items so that each card is different from the previous one.

I used this program to make a set of cards to teach idioms. I placed the idioms in the squares on the cards and made a draw pile of the definitions.  The idioms and definitions came from