Change Can Be Hard! 7 Tips for Students

Teach 'CHANGE' in a non-emotional context- Tips from Looks-Like-Language
Change can truly be hard, even as capable adults, so it is not surprising that it is even more difficult for kids. Add on some communication difficulties, sensory problems, and a struggle that is already in place to make sense of a world with rules that are not understood, and it is no wonder that some of our kids have meltdowns when there is a change. 

In the northeast, spring can be a time of very visible change. In therapy, I like to make use of this to help my students understand what the word 'change' means in a non threatening context. It helps them to see that some changes can be positive, and handled, to help them make a bridge to coping with less welcomed changes. 

I'm sharing some photos of activities that are well loved and well used to let you see an example. The bottom left photo is an activity from a very old Sesame Street magazine. My students just loved it and learned that change can be fun! If you know about current places to get these types of activities, please comment with your resource. If they aren't available, I might give a try at making some because they work so well for eliciting this language!


I always try to start with a good book. One I love is White Rabbit Color Change by Alan Baker, which can be found as a read aloud on YouTube. Mine has been adapted and models the vocabulary 'change.'

Hands on fun to talk about change! Looks-like-Language
Next you need a good hands on activity! If you have a small caterpillar and a butterfly stuffed animal set, follow the picture directions to make a fun hands on activity! You just need a paper towel tube, scissors and tape to make it.
Here are the steps: 
1. Cut the paper towel tube in half lengthwise.
2. Cut the tube in half across the width.
3. Tape the pieces back together to make a cocoon.
4. Hide the butterfly inside.
5. Push the caterpillar into the cocoon and watch the change!

How about turning a worksheet into an activity? I love this one adapted from a Frank Schaffer worksheet where they can change a picture scene of winter to one of spring by placing the new scenery on top. To play this game, the students need to request which picture they want to change! Requesting a change may be a new experience for some of our kids, but it is functional for them to use when they don't like something that is going on. 


A follow up activity is to have them color the picture afterwards, but sabotage the situation by giving them the wrong color or the kind of marker/crayon/colored pencil they prefer the least. Prompt use of the word 'change.' "Oh, you didn't want blue? You want to change the color?" 


For older kids, it is fun to use silly pictures. After they identify what is wrong in the picture, have them explain how it should be changed to make it better. 


How about a card game? Matching games with pictures of natural changes also work. Changing caterpillars to cocoons to butterflies and solid (snowman) to liquid (water) are common examples.


These games can also lead to a discussion of changes kids like versus changes they don't like. Start with the less personal examples, like cold weather versus warm weather, and then move to examples from during the school day. Think about bringing in possible negative changes:
* schedule changes
* teachers being absent
* fire drills
* disappointments over trips being cancelled
* lunch menu suddenly changing to the least favorite food
* no recess
* anything you know could be difficult for your students

Be sure to include positive changes:

* teacher deciding 'no homework'
* a birthday party
* a fun special, like a performance
* the lunch menu suddenly changing to your favorite food
* getting an award or prize
* anything special that happens at your school

When students have the language to think and talk about change in positive as well as negative ways,  it is a necessary stepping stone to having more flexible thinking and problem solving skills to help them cope when changes occur.

What are your favorite ways to teach about change?

When Therapy Sessions Don't Go Well- 3 Tips to Save You!

When therapy sessions bomb! Looks-Like-Language
Every child is unique! Recently I've been thinking about how much I have learned from all of the students I worked with over the years. Every child has their own combination of strengths and weaknesses, along with their personal qualities, that makes our field continue to be interesting over the years. 

We have these 'AHA' moments when we realize what we need to do to reach that child. Then we bring those skills forward with us to all of the rest of the children we meet, continually adding to this skill set, but it is hard work along the way. Sometimes therapy sessions bomb!

I tried to figure out how many students I have worked with over the 40+ years (if you include my clinical years) and gave up on the math, but it is truly a huge learning experience! Almost all of these students had language problems, and most of them had multiple disabilities. 

So, how do we do it? I know that I currently use strategies and techniques with very difficult students, often not even thinking about it, but it took years of learning and more than a few less than perfect sessions to get to this point. So what can I offer to help you out along your way? Let's talk about low functioning students today, since they present with the most difficulties usually.

1. Consider it a learning experience.
When I am able to structure my approach correctly, I leave the therapy session feeling a connection with my students and that I have made an impact during our time together.  I love it! But I have learned a lot from my sessions that did not go well. It sends me back to the drawing board to examine where it broke down and figure out what I need to do differently next time.

Turning it around by Looks-Like-Language

2. What could have caused it?
Maybe it was just a bad day, but try thinking about all of these things:

*How much of the session had the student been attempting something new?
*Did I switch between easier and harder tasks?
*Did I provide enough breaks?
*What are my student's strengths?
*Did I utilize and build on strengths during the session?
*Examine the language demands: Did I jump up too fast? Was there an intermediate step that could be take to reduce the demand?
*Did I react to my student's warning signs or did I try to push through?
*Did I switch to a learned, enjoyable activity after a prompted response when I realized it wasn't going well so that the session could end positively?
*Is there a way to show the student visually what is expected?
*What supports can be added to the activity/task to make it easier?
*Are there pre-requisite skills that are missing and need to be taught first?
*Is this activity/skill really needed at this time?
3. Reduce demands the next session.
After a difficult therapy session, I always go home feeling upset and then feel apprehensive before the next session with that child. Think how much more so the child must be feeling! It is important to be able to keep your bond with the student intact so that learning can occur! 

Plan on entering the next session with the first activity being the most enjoyable one the student has. If that goes well, repeat the last activity that was learned and went well, to maintain skills, and then return to another easy and fun set of activities to end the session positively.

WHY? This benefits you by giving you more time to think about all of the questions and come up with an alternative plan. It is beneficial to both of you to have a positive experience, reduce the chance of building more communicative failure and thus behaviors, so both of you will enter the next therapy session with a more positive attitude.

No one likes those days when things don't go well. Not us, and not our students, either.  I would go home wondering if this is was really what I wanted to be doing and why in the word did all those years of schooling not prepare me for this.  

Thank goodness our caseloads are usually mixed, so there are some good sessions as well to balance out the day! The difficult sessions motivated me to learn more and to think more about my plan for that child. These steps (and quilting time, a glass of wine, or a good book that night!) helped me, so I hope you will find it useful as well!

Do Your Students Have these Vital Life Skills?

Are your students limited to one connection when it comes to cause-effect reasoning and social problem solving skills that are so necessary for functional life skills? This isn’t a problem when students are young, but in middle and high school they need to be able to think and plan a bit further than that to develop independent living skills.

Are yo teaching your students these crucial skill sets?

Making the Connections

Being able to predict multiple possible causes and consequences is part of what helps us make decisions about the correct response to have. And being able to see the impact these actions have on others helps us to live in groups.

For example, my student, ‘R.’ could answer, “What happens when you leave the pizza in the oven too long?” with “It will burn.”
But, when asked why else this is a problem, he couldn’t see the bigger picture and provide anything else that would happen.

Say, for example:
Now there is nothing for dinner and we will be hungry.
If the pizza stays in too long, it could cause a fire.
It will make smoke and we will have to open the windows.

His partner in the group, ‘M’, however, could come up with examples of why burnt pizza was a problem, but couldn’t tell why the pizza was burned in the first place.

Why your students need expanded cause-effect skills.

This group worked out quite well as they both looked at the same picture sets and discussed the events with each other, helping to fill in the gaps.

Of course, students need to have an experiential basis for a variety of situations (although I wouldn’t burn the pizza on purpose) but pictures and practice can help fill in some of the gaps.


‘Cause and EffectActivities’ was developed to help the students be able to expand these critical thinking skills.  As always, the pictures were dependent on those available at the time, but the visuals for building skills follow a format that works. 

Build student skills using visual strategies from a picture level, to sentences, to figuring out cause-effect, to explaining in short problem scenarios, all in one set designed for multiple levels of the same skill!

Get your concrete thinkers to expand skills and come up with multiple causes and effects to help them problem solve both real-life activities and social scenarios. The problem isn’t always just in the burned pizza, it is a bigger problem because of all the other effects that could be occurring at the same time!
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