More Shoebox Play Tips: Teaching Core Vocabulary EAT!

Your student picks up the toy and sets it back down again. Maybe he lines them up or maybe she tries to roll them before ignoring them entirely. Since we know that developing children's play skills is vital for expanding cognitive skills needed for communication growth, what is an SLP to do?

With neurotypical children, the goal of therapy is to develop as many of the missing skills as possible and expand them upward towards a higher chronological age level.

Tips for how to teach core vocabulary across multiple skill areas.
Working with kids on the autism spectrum, it may be more useful to think of therapy goals as advancing one functional skill as broadly as possible.

Developing a deep understanding of a skill or idea and as broad of functional, expressive use of the skill in many different contexts helps the child with autism to be better able to generalize skills.

The photos in this post show one way to start with a basic set of vocabulary words, determine a symbol level to use, and bring the vocabulary into basic sentence structure.



Add some pragmatics, like requesting, commenting and 'no,' to build in functional communicative uses.

Bring in some literacy and play skills using the same words. You have given your student the visual equivalent of word association skills, building word knowledge and use, adding a slightly expanded skill to the base you started with.

This way, while you are building your student's communicative skills, you are also maintaining what was learned and expanding skills in a way that only adds one new piece at a time. Working in little chunks makes learning less intimidating and frustrating; more achievable and successful.

Would you want to go straight to the final in your most demanding class or learn each step a little at a time?

Tips for how to teach core vocabulary across multiple skill areas.
Try basing as many of your therapy goals as possible around a functional core word.  This post demonstrates a way to build skills based around the core verb ‘eat.’



Start with a set of toys and a nice sturdy box to visually show how to play. 

Shoeboxes are great, but any sturdy box can do!




Determining symbol level
You also have to determine the symbol level the student understands so that you can add communication skills to the play task.

This photo shows a way to use a ravioli plastic and play food in a simple matching activity. The symbols are at varied levels, from cut out photos or TOBIs (True Object Based Icons that show the object’s shape,) to photos, and then symbols.

When asked to ‘match’ the fruits, the student is likely to choose the most meaningful symbol for matching.


Determining symbol level
In this example, the student matched the play fruit to the TOBIs, so that is the type of communication symbol I would use in the activity.

Another matching activity to try out is to have the student match the toy fruits to the real versions. 

Toys are easier to use in play activities, but students need to understand that the plastic banana represents a real banana for the concept of ‘eat’ to be developed.


determining symbol level


Notice that this student correctly matched the fruits to the icons, including matching the purple grape toy to the green grape icon rather than the purple grape photo. 

This shows a higher level of symbolism than in the last example.







determining symbol level
If this student understood the direction, “Match.” and this result is typical, it seems that the student is not yet at a symbolic level.  Assessing if the student uses actual objects correctly and working on developing a symbolic communication system for basic desires may be the way to go at this point in time.

Students who don’t comprehend any pictorial symbol system may benefit from using an object system, such as using a spoon to request cereal.


determining symbol level
Here you can see the box that has been decorated with a hungry child who has a huge mouth cut open to place foods inside to feed him.

Pointing at the symbols as you say them, whether they are paper symbols or symbols on an AAC device, is a vital teaching method for students using AAC. Seeing the symbols as the word is said can help the student assign meaning to the verbal words, as well as modeling how to express the ideas.



Determining symbol level

To build expressive communication skills, have the student point at each symbol in order as you say the sentence.

This is a strategy to help build joint attention. The student should be looking where he is pointing, and hearing the word said verbally as he points to the symbol can help him learn to connect the oral word with the symbol.



Checking discrimination
To check comprehension and symbol discrimination, occasionally make sure to tell the student, “Take it.” and offer them an array of food toys after reading the sentence aloud. 

If they correctly discriminate the symbols, they will take the food toy that they chose to finish the sentence.

As students become more familiar with the activity and more adept at formulating sentences, students can have access to all of the foods to feed the shoebox kid one food at a time.

Adding varied communicative functions


Either immediately before or after feeding the shoebox kid, the student can formulate a sentence to tell what the kid ate. Notice that this fulfills a different communicative function! 

Instead of filling in the last food as a way of requesting what to feed the toy, the student is now formulating a complete phrase to comment on what was/will be eaten.



Teaching no
When your students understand and produce basic sentences around the core word ‘eat’, don’t be too quick to move on only to a new core word. Think about how else this skill can be used in a different context to deepen word knowledge.

In this photo, you see an activity that works on the core word ‘eat’ in a different communicative context- learning that sometimes we don’t or can’t eat even if we want to. This reinforces and gives continued practice to the core word ‘eat’ even if other activities in the session are introducing a new core word.


Moving to 2D play
As students become more skilled at using 3D objects in play, start fading the shoebox if the student has the motor skills to manipulate toys without the stability the box provides.

As you move on to teaching new core words, it is important to continue to review and expand the previously learned skill sets. Maybe the student enjoys this familiar play activity now and might request it for a work break.




Building sentences in play
Maybe it is time to expand the activity to a higher symbolic level with a 2D version of the concepts. 

When a student is able to enjoy and participate in paper play activities, adapted books are great materials to use in therapy! 




Adding adaptive books


Reading a book and then playing an associated activity is a great technique for reinforcing the language and plot of the story.

This photo shows the cover of a simple adapted book that starts students using the core word 'eat' in sentences to communicate about varied foods.

Use their favorites to make skills functional


Notice that initially, the symbol for 'eat' is in a field of 3 with familiar non-food symbols to help the student discriminate easily. Errorless learning is a good way to go!

Helping your students make sentences to share information about their favorites is a great way to keep their attention and build functional skills!







Increasing symbol discrimination demands
When students master a step, build the difficulty incrementally, depending on the student's learning rate. This photo shows an additional verb symbol being added in place of one of the object symbols.

Moving the symbols around helps the student keep scanning, but new studies show that competent communicators using an AAC device express themselves more fluidly by using the location of the symbol on the device rather than always scanning the page.


Varying the symbols in adapted books
Now the adapted book has 'eat' as a choice along with 2 other verbs. One looks similar to 'eat' and the other is different in appearance, making discrimination easier than using 3 very similar action symbols. 

Many students do not need this level of discrete steps to make progress, but if you have a student who is becoming frustrated you may need to build skills in incremental steps such as these.



More shoebox play ideas from Looks Like Language!

I was so excited to be featured on The Speechie Show! I wrote this post to give you some more ideas about the shoebox play I discussed on the show.

If you missed it, you can see me live here!

If you are looking for more shoebox play ideas, click here for car play and here for playground ideas.

Many thanks to Barbara Bloomfield for getting me started. Rest in Peace.

Tips for Getting Started with Autism Effectively

Talking about ways to help our children with autism on Carrie Clark's The Speechie Show was a blast! If you didn't catch me live, you can watch the replay on her blog. I show you some of my most favorite visuals and when I would use each!

So, if you are new to my site, welcome! And if you've been here for a while, I'm thrilled that you are reading my blog as a regular!
Free visuals and tips for effective use! Looks Like Language on the Speechie Show!

I hope that you signed up for my Getting Started with Autism Free Guide. If you lost the link, just click here
Once you've signed up with your email, you will have immediate access. I promise to keep your email private!

As a special bonus, I've added a free download of a choice board to add to your set of visuals!  It will come in my next newsletter for all of you who have joined me. 



Get started with Autism free guide from Looks Like Language
Since I truly believe in visuals, I wanted to provide you with a blog post that summarizes the main tips I have for how to use them. See, we all need visuals! 

Tip: If you haven't read my post on questions to ask yourself to start problem solving behaviors, you might want to start here.


Tips for Determining Symbol Level

* Visuals are a great asset, but they need to be taught. They are not an automatic cure. Start with basics and expand from there.

* When teaching a visual system, that is the new skill. Whatever you are having the child do during this instruction should be something that is easy and already learned.

* You need to be sure that you are using the level of symbols that your student understands: objects, photos, icons or words.

* Doing a trial of matching the symbol to the object is one way to start assessing the student's comprehension of the symbol level.

* For students who use pointing boards, AAC or PECs exchanges, you can try having alternative symbol levels available and see which type they use to request. It is usually safe to assume that children will choose what they understand and are comfortable with.

* Another way is to let them request and tell them "Take it." Did the symbol they used to request match the item they took? You know that they took what wanted!

Where to Start

Shoebox play skills for autism- tips from Looks Like Language!
1. If your low functioning students are new to visuals, the best place to start is with an activity that has 'all done' built in, so that the way to do the task and how to know it is completed is built right into the task.

One idea is to use work tasks, like puzzles, sorting or placing clips on cards. Students see what to do and know the job is done when all the pieces are used up. The task disappears and some type of reinforcement is given.

But how to add language based skills into this?
I used a variety of play tasks with a shoebox to help my students develop realistic play using common objects, with symbols to support the language. You can see more about this one in this post.

Using token boards- Getting Started with Autism at Looks Like Language

2. Using token boards, like those you got in the Getting Started with Autism Guide, is the next step for showing students how much work is expected and when they will be done. Students need to have some symbolic communication skills for token boards, since they request what they want to work for, and the tokens symbolize a piece of the task that they are completing.

If your students have limited attending skills, only use the number of tokens that they can handle successfully. Really! Even if it only one token. (Just place all but one of them in the picture, leaving the last token in the lower right hand bottom corner for them to finish before getting their request.) And don't forget to make the activity a simple one, even an enjoyable one! Keep it positive and work on increasing the amount of work they can complete at one time. 


How to use a First-Then board- Getting Started with Autism at Looks Like Language

3. A First-Then board is useful when students can do a complete activity. First, they do the work you are requesting of them, then they get their choice. Again, when first using a new visual, keep the requested work short and easy so that they can experience what the new visual means in a positive way.

Even when students are capable of using longer schedules, a First-Then board can be useful to help a student get through some hard work. We are all willing to put in more effort on a difficult task if we know that it is for a short time, followed by a rewarding break. Coffee, anyone?


Using visual schedules in speech therapy- Getting Started with Autism

4.  Visual Schedules help students see what is coming next, reducing anxiety and showing them what they need to do to get their break.  When students can use first/then boards with two activities in the 'First' section, you can start with a visual schedule. 

There are generic symbol cards in the free download, but you may do better introducing a visual schedule with photos of familiar activities that you student knows how to do. For example, the schedule might show: puzzle, bubbles, students' request, book, play dough, student's request. To learn the schedule, the activities are easy and the breaks are frequent.

I love having the all done pocket on a schedule so that students can check their schedule and place the completed activity in the pocket.  Done= out of sight! Read more in this post.

If you just place a schedule on the wall and don't teach its meaning, it is just a bunch of paper on the wall! The same goes for all of the visual supports that can be so helpful, so be sure to take the time to make them meaningful for your students!

I hoped this helped you to be able to start effectively using your free Getting Started with Autism Guide! Any questions? Comment here, or email me at lookslikelanguage@gmail.com, and I will do my best to help you out!

Enjoy!

3 Ways to Teach Saying Thank You! Even When You Don't Mean It!

Little kids get reminded by their parents all the time: “Say please.” “Say thank you.” This is how we start teaching politeness. Politeness and manners are such important social skills!

When friction develops, manners can keep a situation calm enough to talk it out instead of fighting. In normal everyday life, it is practice beginning to be able to take another’s perspective.

Think about it- who does saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ benefit? The speaker or the listener? Obviously, the listener or we wouldn’t have to work so hard to get kids into the routine of saying it!

3 Ways to teach children to say thanks- and why it is important! Looks Like Language
Although they may say it faithfully as a learned routine, children with autism may have a difficult time understanding why it is important. Even more difficult- saying thank you when you don’t like the gift!

To help with this important skill, I have 3 ideas for you today!










1. PRACTICE the ROUTINE

Politeness is such an important social skill!
Young or nonverbal children can benefit from practicing the routine. This adapted book set will let you put items that your students like and dislike in the presents to visually teach that we still say thank you. Opening presents is such a fun activity, even when it is make-believe!





Using shoebox to teach children to say thanks! Looks Like Language
Of course, having some decorated boxes to open up and see a real toy inside is a great activity to coordinate with the book. You can read more about it here.



2. USE WORDS to TALK about FEELINGS
Have fun practicing politeness with this free game from Looks Like Language!

This free game from my store gets kids identifying how receiving different toys would make them feel and giving an appreciative response anyway. Try it out here

(Kind feedback is always appreciated as a thank you!)





3. EXPLAIN  WHY

This social rules story can help your older children or students to begin to understand why it is important to say thank you for gifts we don’t really want. 


This social rules story explains why we say thank you!
The pictured page is filled in completely and can be used for bulletin boards.

The second page is a fill in the blank. You can use this page as a basis for discussion and letting your students fill in answers that are pertinent to their lives.

Click here to download this freebie as my way of saying, "Thank you for your support!"



Discussion questions could include:

* Did you ever get a present that you didn’t like?
* How did you react? What did you do or say?
* How did the person who gave you the gift react? What did they do or say?
* How did your reaction make them feel?
* Is that how you want that person to feel?
* What could you do differently next time?
* What could you say differently next time?
* How can you help yourself sound sincere? Sincere means you really mean it. We show that in our facial expressions, body language and tone of voice.


You can use all of these resources at holiday time or for birthdays! Enjoy!

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!
And don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter and get your free download of GettingStarted with Autism now!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
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