More Shoebox Play for Autism- Cars

Have you ever been asked for recommendations from parents about toys that are appropriate for their children to play with?  For more typical students, this isn’t usually difficult. But what do you say for your students on the spectrum who don't have typical play skills?

Take your student who works happily to get some play time with small cars, but then when he gets the cars he doesn’t actually play. 

All he does is line the cars up. Sometimes the cars are in size order, sometimes they are grouped by color, and sometimes there is no apparent pattern. Is there something we should do? And what in the world do we recommend when his parents ask us?

Your student shows that he is able to categorize by features, but he doesn’t get the function piece needed for representational play. How do we change this?

Get tips for expanding the play skills of students with autism using shoeboxes!

I love using shoeboxes to develop play skills for 3 reasons.


1. They make the play steps and ‘all done’ visually obvious.

2. They stabilize the toys to help with physical manipulation problems.

3. It makes one complete activity that the child can learn to do independently.

Design Your Own 

It is important to design the play shoebox so your student sees what to do and when it will be done from the visual set up. 

Another important piece is teaching how to use 2 or more objects together in play, since that is where make believe play begins.

Remember that when you are teaching a new skill, this is work! 

So, your student will work on learning how to play, but will get to line the cars up however he likes once the work is done.

Does your child with autism just line cars up? Read More Shoebox Play - Cars!
The photo shows one possible way to teach pushing toy cars and using them with a ramp to play. The little boy I used this with was nonverbal, with limited play skills, but he was able to learn how to make the cars go up and down the ramps on the shoebox. 

I faded the box by first using just the lid on the table, and then removing the lid. Eventually, he was able to request the color cars and ramps that he wanted and then play independently. 

You know that you have made progress when your student  requests cars and actually pushes them instead of just lining them up!

Does your child with autism just line cars up? Read More Shoebox Play - Cars!

Don't forget to add language skills! 

This photo shows how I put requesting into the activity, but communication is so much more than requesting! 

Add verbs and descriptive language:
go up, go down, go fast, go slow, stop, wait, go behind, go in front, etc.

Model visually and verbally- use your student's AAC device or make symbol play boards to point to the language as you say it.

Adapt some car books and expand the play to toy garages, roads and any other type of car play you can think of. 

But, what about IEP goals and academic standards?

Now, I know that there is great pressure put upon schools nowadays to align all work to educational standards. However, if you don’t help your students develop representational language and thinking skills, how are they going to comprehend higher level academics? 

And if they don’t know how to play, how are they going to develop friendships with their peers? Or the turn taking skills that are a basis for so many social interactions? My feeling is that helping with the language for play and behavioral difficulties are vital to include in your work with students, no matter what IEP goals you also have to address.

Where to start?

1. Figure out the level of your student’s play skills.
2. Pay attention to the toys your student takes out but doesn’t use appropriately.
3. Toys your students looks at, or picks up and sets down, can indicate interest without knowledge of what to do with the toy.

Working with Parents

1. Find out from the parents what kind of toys your student pays attention to at home, and exactly what he does with them.
2. Starting with a type of toy that is available at home has the benefit of offering more chances for carryover.

Suggestions for Parents

1. Buying a toy that is similar to one that your student knows how to play can be a good idea for carrying over play skills at home.
2. It is more beneficial for a student to have a toy he can play with appropriately than to buy a more advanced one that he doesn’t know how to use.
3. Consider asking a parent (who can afford it) to buy a toy that you will work on playing with in therapy sessions and send home when he can play with it independently.

If you found these suggestions to be helpful, you will want to check out my other shoebox play blog post here.

Get started with autism- a free download from Looks Like Language!
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Have a Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

10 Practical Tips for Easier Transitions

A headache forms as you slowly head to pick up your next student. What will it be today? Screaming, running away, or throwing himself on the floor? Transitions for this child are so difficult!

Ironically, once you find a way to help this child transition, therapy can actually go well! He participates and enjoys the activities you do with him. But you dread that transition time every session.

In the last post, I gave you 5 questions to ask yourself to start problem-solving your students’ transition difficulties. Every student is different, so a framework for figuring it out is helpful. If you missed it, catch it here.

It also helps to remember that your student is probably experiencing anxiety that he has no way to communicate.  While you are working on expanding communication skills, here are some adaptations in routines that I found to be helpful.

10 Practical Tips to Help Students Make Transitions

10 Practical Tips for Making Transitions


1. Use songs and clean up routines to give a heads up for transitions when working with little ones.

2. Have young students bring a preferred object from the classroom with them.

3. Have the teacher give a heads up verbally or with their visual schedule to students a few minutes before the session is to start.

4. See if the teacher will try having students finish the current activity and sit in a waiting chair to be ready to transition.

5. Stop by on the way back with the prior student to wave and say you are next, giving them a little warning.

6. Use your photo on their schedule instead of a generic speech symbol.

7. Use a token board, just for transitioning, that lets them choose a preferred short activity when they arrive successfully.

8. Always start and end with a preferred activity to make the speech room a very preferred place.

9. Wait until they complete the current activity in the room before making a request to leave.

10. Show up to get the child with a preferred activity (or a visual for the first activity) to let them see what they will be doing first.

Meeting Communication Needs

Imagine feeling anxious about changes while having no way to communicate and no idea what will be happening next. Scary thought, right?
What might you want to be saying in this situation?

Even easier, what do your verbal students say when you go to pick them up and they are involved in an activity? This is a great way to decide what your non-verbal student may want to communicate.

Just don't expect this to work miracles as you show up at the classroom next session with your visual for him to point to. Visuals work, but they need to be taught. How to do this?

How about starting on a practical, visual level? Let your student play with one of the toys he likes. Not the most highly preferred, but something he likes. After a short time, get out the storage container for the toy and an 'all done' or 'clean up symbol' on it. 

Have your visual request symbol ready (ex. Wait a minute.) and prompt the child to point to it before strong emotions begin.  Give the toys back, but set a timer for a minute. When the timer goes off, indicating time is up, the toys have to be cleaned up.

If you are using a visual schedule, or a first/then board, the toys can be an option to request again after some work is done. With enough practice in varied situations, your student can learn to ask, "Just a minute. please?" so he can finish what he is doing first.

Have you tried anything else that worked?

Enjoy!

Transition Problems- 7 Questions SLPs Need to Ask

Your muscles tense as you enter the classroom, waiting for the outburst that you know is coming. You walk up to your next student, who starts to scream and throws himself on the floor when he sees you. Sound familiar?

Even if the version you are dealing with only escalates to students turning their heads away and being non-cooperative, it isn’t the reception we were hoping to have when we became SLPS. Nothing boosts your ego like a student acting out upon seeing you.

The truth is, it may have nothing to do with you, personally or as an SLP. Your student has problems making transitions. But, what we can we do about it?

I brainstormed a list for one of my readers recently and thought this information might be helpful to you as well.

Transition Problems- 7 Questions SLPs Should Ask Themselves


Yes, visual schedules can help- but only if they are being used consistently by the whole team and only if the student truly understands them. 

Transition Problems? 7 Questions SLPs Need to Ask
Ask yourself:

1. Does the student truly understand that the generic ‘speech’ symbol means you? Maybe you need to use a photo of yourself or of your room. Or maybe you just need to make sure the student understands the symbol. One way to do this is to have the student carry the symbol from his schedule and match it to the same symbol on your door.

2. Has the student checked his schedule before you arrive to see that a transition is coming? If not, you are a surprise.

3. Do your students have the language to communicate their needs for this situation?  Think about what a verbal student says to help cope:
“Can you wait a minute? I just want to finish this first.”
“I’ll be ready in just a minute.”
“I’m almost done.”

Maybe you need to teach your student to communicate wait and go, not just to follow directions with these concepts.

4. Have I made my therapy room a place my student wants to be? To do this, you have to have rewarding activities and objects which you intertwine with harder work.

5. Did I try to move my student along at the pace I hoped for, not the pace the student is capable of learning at?  Making jumps in difficulty level that are too big and spending too much of the session at a level of frustration rather than a level of success can both lead to transition difficulties the next session.

6. Did I end the last session on a positive note, with work the student was successful with and a little time with a rewarding activity?

7. Am I working together with my SPED teacher to support the students’ needs? We make great teams, and the teacher is most likely dreading these outbursts as much as you are.

If you can’t think of anything to change in your therapy session, or even if you can, brainstorming with the teacher is always a good idea. They spend more time with the students, and if you are working to support their classroom communication needs, they will support you, as well!

Why Thematic Therapy Works- 3 Reasons for SLPs

Do you like doing thematic therapy with your younger students?  Holidays like Halloween are themes that definitely get them motivated!

Why does it work to have a theme in therapy all month long?


1- It gives enough practice time for students to get to understand and use the vocabulary for the holiday before it arrives. Plus, it is fun!

2- Skills can be built and practiced over multiple months if you choose your materials correctly. When the students see the new theme, they feel like they are doing something different, but you know that you are consolidating their skills!

3- Kids like things that are familiar, especially if they have autism or are dealing with anxiety problems. By incorporating a holiday theme to work on their areas of need, we are helping them understand what will happen on that day and what will be expected of them. Helping out with functional skills is always important!

I’m not a fan of just teaching vocabulary, however!  Students get a lot of
Why to use themes in speech therapy! Tips from Looks Like Language!
vocabulary development in their classroom, and single words just don't give as much communication power as word combinations do. But if you use a theme to build their skills, you can accomplish two goals at once!

How can I do thematic therapy?

1. Find toys related to the season or holiday and use them in play in conjunction with functional everyday life vocabulary. Take a peek at the pairings in the picture for some ideas.

2. Use pictures, toys, or paper pieces for the seasonal/holiday theme but address sentence structure or syntactical rules and categorizing skills with them.

3. There are great books with holiday and seasonal themes. Answer questions and review classroom vocabulary while reading the book, but work on narrative and sequencing skills after!

4. Use open-ended seasonal/holiday games and activities to review classroom taught vocabulary, stay festive and keep motivation up, but base the actual 'work' around the IEP goals.

What do you think?

5 Reasons to Keep Open Ended Games Around


Have you ever walked into a therapy session, all planned, to have your students say, “No way! I’m not doing that!” Maybe they just put their heads down, their hoods up, or their bodies on the floor and refused to communicate at all. It happens, especially when students have special needs, and all your planning goes out the door. What to do now?

Open ended games are a therapy must have!
Try having some open-ended monthly thematic activities around! Why?

1- For holidays, it gives you a chance to build communication skills before the day arrives, which can lead to a calmer holiday when students understand the event.

2- The same skills can be learned and generalized over multiple months if you choose your materials correctly. When the students see the new theme, they feel like they are doing something different, but you know that you are consolidating and expanding their skills!

3- Kids like things that are familiar, especially if they have autism or are dealing with anxiety problems. By using a theme to work on their areas of need, we can help them understand what will happen and what will be expected of them. Working on functional skills is always important!

Whether you are planning to use them or not, open-ended games are great to keep around!

WHY? There are lots of reasons, but here are the 5 that come to mind:

Open ended games are a fun way to review.
1. When you have some extra time after your planned activity, you can quickly review.

2. When you are doing a makeup session and the goals of the group don’t jive, this will help you out.

3. When your planned activity bombs (yes, that can happen to anyone!) you have an emergency back up plan ready made.

Colorful games make great bulletin boards.
4. If you hang them on a bulletin board, they make cute double-duty decorations. 

When kids are having fun, they are engaged in learning.
5. Students who request a specific game that they see will likely be more invested in that session, and you can make open-ended games work for most goals.

Plus, it is just plain funWhat is your reason?

Enjoy!

When Grief Strikes- 9 Tips for Helping Children

My heart was breaking with grief as all of the signs began to add up that something was terribly wrong with my little girl: startling at every little sound, being too floppy to learn to sit, crying inconsolably, gaining skills and then losing them.

The long, drawn out, terrifying wait during series of doctor’s visits and hospital stays to find out what the problem was. The slowly diminishing loss of hope that she would ever be okay.

When my son was just about to enter kindergarten, my daughter was diagnosed with a fatal, degenerative genetic disease. While I was trying to cope with my grief, watching my one year old deteriorate until she didn’t recognize me any more, I was also trying to keep my bright, inquisitive 5 year old feeling safe and growing up as normally as possible.

It was a very long, unimaginably difficult 3 years watching my daughter slowly go into a comatose state until she passed, while still working and attempting to keep a normal home life for my son.

What SLPs can do when their students are in tough times.
Whether you are dealing with a personal tragedy, going through having a child diagnosed, or dealing with the after effects of massive storms or terrorist attacks, the world just doesn’t seem as safe anymore.
If we feel this as adults, how does it affect the children we work with? 


What did I learn that can be helpful to you?


1. Be sure to keep your young child’s comfort toy, blanket or security item with you. This is a good parenting tip even when your life is calm!

2. Young children get their sense of security from the adults around them. The better you are at accepting the changes and keeping as much of their routines intact, the more likely children will continue to feel secure.

3.  Children do not grieve the way adults do. They can be playing, seemingly happily, and then run to you for comfort or to ask a question. Remember their attention spans are short, so answer questions briefly and factually.

When they have received the information they were looking for, or the hug they needed, they will run back to whatever they were doing as if it had never happened. If you see your child’s eyes glaze over or they start to fidget, they are telling you, "Too much!"  So give the important information first!

4. If you are having problems coping, your child will, too. This is totally understandable when dealing with major issues. Just be sure to reach out and get help for yourself when you need it.

What about if you are working in the schools with children affected by drastic  events?


1. You are part of their safety net, so try to keep your school routines as close to usual as possible. When you can, laugh over the minor things you are having to do to cope with changed circumstances. Laughter is needed!

2. Listen and respond calmly and factually when students ask a question or bring up a difficult topic. If they go back to work right after, then you have met their need at the moment.

3. It is okay to respond that you don’t know, but you will try to find out for them.

4. It is okay to just acknowledge how difficult this is, and how they must be feeling. Pay attention to the child's body language, facial expression and tone of voice. Then, specifically label the emotion that they are feeling, so they have the language for it.

5. If some of your students are more withdrawn, more emotional, or just somehow not right compared to the general population, be sure to reach out to get them help. The whole family may need support to help them through this tough time.

While I wish we weren’t experiencing difficult times, I hope these tips will help you cope. And I am so very grateful to say that my son did grow up to be a wonderful adult who works helping others. I am thankful every day for my healthy children.
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