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Archive for the ‘Developmental Therapy’ Category

Today was the long-awaited Neighborhood Parents Network Developmental Differences Resource Fair. The first of its kind in Chicago, the Fair – free to parents – featured a room full of exhibitors that included private practitioners (speech, OT, developmental therapists, music and art therapists, social workers, psychologists) as well as representatives from some local large public organizations such as the Chicago Public Schools Office of Special Education and Supports.

Specialists were available to talk to parents about their programs and services and had the opportunity to answer initial questions in a face-to-face manner that is not often available to parents. Further, clinicians were able to network with each other through the course of the four hour event.

Jordan Sadler, MS, CCC/SLP was assisted at the Communication Therapy table by staff therapist Erin Vollmer, MS, CCC/SLP, and undergraduate intern Kate Gilday.  It was a pleasure to meet so many parents and discuss their child’s needs and the best services to meet them.

We want to thank three developers of high quality, child-tested iPad apps for donating codes to us for this event. A huge thank you goes out to Injini, Mobile-Education Store, and BeeVisual. Winners have been notified by email and those who weren’t chosen have received emails with links allowing them to purchase the featured apps if they’d like.

Here’s what we raffled off today:

Injini’s Child Development Suite for iPad – A collection of high quality learning games for the developmentally young. Beautifully designed app that targets cause and effect, patterns, early receptive language, and much more! This is a favorite among our young clients and really wowed the crowd at the Fair today. Children loved exploring it while we chatted with their parents!

BeeVisual’s ChoiceWorks universal app – We were able to give away 5 codes for ChoiceWorks today, and this was another very popular app at the event. New on the app scene, ChoiceWorks is an inclusive app that allows the user to create individualized schedule boards, help a child with self-regulatory skills like waiting or taking turns, and deal with challenging emotions. It’s beautifully designed and intuitive for new users. Parents of my clients are also loving the companion books that go with each activity, which are terrific social stories!

From Mobile Education Store, we gave away codes for three different apps that we use consistently in our language therapy sessions and find to be excellent:

LanguageBuilder – Helps children ages 3-10 improve sentence formation and improve receptive and expressive language development.

StoryBuilder - Helps students ages 6-10+ improve paragraph formation and integration of ideas, improve higher level abstract thinking and inference skills. Great for working on narratives.

ConversationBuilder – Teaches multi-exchange conversations with peers in a variety of social settings to students ages 6-10. “Freeze frames” social scenarios for kids to consider what they would say or do to enter into play or conversation.

More recommended apps and iPad peripherals are yet to come in the next couple of months!

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Nearly two years ago, my good friend Christa Dahlstrom (whom I met initially through her excellent blog Hyperlexicon) approached me tentatively over brunch. It seemed she had an idea to share, and she was looking for advice. As it turned out, Christa’s idea was to write a children’s TV show, one that would help children like her own son Ben learn to improve his social-emotional development in a new way.

You see, many kids – like Ben – learn language in its gestalt form: in “chunks”. They learn it through books and videos they find compelling, reading and watching over and over and over, and memorizing what they hear. Many, but not all, later repeat that language in real-time social interactions with other people. This is called delayed echolalia (here is a great post from blogger MOM-nos on her son’s stages of echolalia). Still other kids like to re-enact scenes they’ve watched or read, enlisting other children and adults to play the roles of the characters. And, finally, there are a great many children who simply find it easier to process information that is presented both verbally and visually in a high affect way that makes them laugh. When they can watch it more than once, all the better.

Ben’s mother had thought for a while that it would be incredibly beneficial if there were a show that her son found compelling which actually gave him strategies and models for appropriate social interactions – that he could watch with his parents and reenact, that his teachers and classmates could watch together and learn from, that his social skills coaches could watch with him and role play. Imagine the results if a child’s whole team were to use the same vocabulary and draw from the same examples! And what if we added episode guides for the adults, with suggestions for expanding beyond each episode with role-playing exercises and other interactive ideas to extend the learning into real-time social interaction? It was clear that this was an idea with wings.

There are products targeting social emotional teaching on the market. But, thus far, there’s nothing quite like the show Christa has created. Flummox & Friends is a live-action show that uses humor and playfulness and teaches without talking down to kids. When I read the first script I laughed out loud over and over and had a strong urge to send it to everyone I knew. We all recognize the difference between mainstream movies made for children that adults enjoy watching with our kids and those that we try to avoid. I knew right away that this would be a show parents would really have a great time watching, too. Families of kids who are on an atypical path of social-emotional development will watch, learn, and laugh together watching Flummox & Friends.

Liesl Wenzke Hartmann, MA, CCC/SLP of Communication Therapy San Francisco and I agreed to consult to the project as curriculum consultants and have worked closely with Christa to see that Flummox & Friends reflects therapeutic best practices and explains concepts in a way that our years of experience have proven works with children.

After many months of writing, rewriting, curriculum development, and consultation, the team has released a Kickstarter fundraising site in order to raise the money to shoot the pilot episode of Flummox & Friends. We have 42 more days to raise $30,000 and while we are off to a very strong start with many generous backers, it remains that this is a huge sum of money. I encourage each of you to visit our site, watch our short video – where you can get a glimpse of the show and a summary of our developmental, play-based philosophy – and help us out by backing our project and sharing it with other parents, educators, therapists, and anyone who has an interest in children with all kinds of minds.

Donate! “Like” us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Children everywhere will benefit.

Thank you for your support!

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Guest post by Tamara Kaldor, Developmental Therapist, Director of Chicago PLAY Project 

A child’s “communication toolbox” is best strengthened through a multi-disciplinary approach. It is exciting for me to be able to collaborate with my colleagues at Communication Therapy + Friends who truly understand that communication skills go beyond spoken words and vocabulary building.

It takes all of a child’s mental and physical abilities to communicate effectively so they can play with peers and participate in the school environment successfully. As a Developmental Therapist, I focus primarily on helping children’s social-emotional development through play and I also provide inclusion support for children in school and community programs. My goal as a therapist is to help every child develop the skills they need to form joyful and meaningful relationships and to be successfully included.  This is done primarily through play.  Play is important developmental work for all children. Through play, children learn to use non-verbal communication skills, negotiate with peers, communicate their ideas effectively, and play out their fears and fantasies safely.

Communication Toolbox: Non-verbal communication

I want to focus on why non-verbal communication skills are one of the most important tools a child must develop and learn how to use effectively.

Much of how we communicate (about 85-90% of our day) is through non-verbal communication and it is also the first level of language that ALL children develop– before spoken words.  Non-verbal communication is extremely important for young children to master because the ability to read facial expressions, gesture (e.g., pointing), communicate with a peer while being active on the playground, or express their emotions appropriately is what helps children to develop their earliest friendships during playtime. To learn more about why non-verbal communication skills enhance a child’s communication skills and school performance read this excerpt from Dr. Stanley Greenspan on the importance of non-verbal communication from Playground Politics: understanding the emotional life of your school-age child

When will my child talk?

ALL children must develop some non-verbal communication skills before they will utter their first words, whether they do so verbally or through augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). For many children we work with, we must first start by strengthening their non-verbal communication skills before we can work on speech goals. We realize this is disappointing for many families to hear, but non-verbal communication is an important developmental milestone.  It cannot be skipped over. Sometimes we have to climb down the developmental ladder before we can go up at full strength. The stronger a child’s non-verbal skills are, the better communicator they will become. Without a strong foundation, the developmental ladder that all children must climb will be very rickety.

The body also plays an important role in language development. Beyond having strong mouth muscles, there is a close correlation between the brain learning how to read the signals that the muscles are firing throughout the body and language production. Getting in some good body work with Cara Lindell at Kinetic Konnections (also a colleague at Communication Therapy + Friends) or a qualified Occupational Therapist (OTR/L), can sometimes be the key to getting the body in sync so children can develop their full language capacities.

Get Moving!

I can’t urge families enough to not only get down on the floor and play, but to also get climbing on the jungle gym at the park. I often hear parents report back to me that their child is the most verbal when they are swinging, climbing, or going down the slide. When possible try to include some non-verbal gestures with your child at the playground.

Play Dumb

The strategy of “playing dumb” can often help a child use their toolbox of communication skills to get their needs met. The goal of “playing dumb” is to encourage your child to expand their communication tools and the length of the time they interact with you. Here are some tips on how to “play dumb”:

* Therapists don’t just keep things in boxes, locked cabinets, or up high to keep our offices tidy. We try to get as much communication and problem-solving into our interactions with children as possible. We want to make them work for it! You can do this too! If your child needs help with an activity and is stuck using the same communication strategy they depend on to get your assistance or attention, try to expand the interaction and support their use of non-verbal communication and reading cues by:

1. Slowing down and being patient so that your child can read your cues, process the information, and respond;

2. Exaggerating all of your facial expressions and gestures, e.g., making a puzzled face and shrugging your shoulders;

3. Not responding right away until he/she is pointing, pulling you over to the activity, or uttering some words (using at least one means of communication that is different from his/her fallback methods);

4. Going up the slide or getting into the swing yourself and seeing if your child will communicate that you are doing the wrong thing. This will often elicit a lot of laughter!

5. Saying “Hmmm . . .I don’t know what you want right now…”

If your child seems close to a “meltdown” due to frustration, try saying softly, “I know you are trying to tell me what you want. You are working so hard. Let me try to help you,” and try giving two choices to see if your child will point to one of them.

Mealtime Ideas

A fun snack/dinner time non-verbal activity: At your next meal or snack time try practicing your family’s non-verbal communication skills by asking for a glass of water, requesting others to pass a favorite food around, or playing a simple game of “Go Fish”.  Try expressing your disappointment or excitement without words (think: miming) and see how far you get.  Remember to have fun and laugh as you go along. Your child will also see that she/he is not the only one who is frustrated when they are not being understood. It is challenging, but it will help your child learn how to read non-verbal cues that she/he will need on the playground and in the classroom.

More about Chicago PLAY Project:

Tamara Kaldor has extensive experience working with the DIR®/Floortime™ therapy model and supporting families and educators as they use the model successfully at home and in inclusive school programs. In addition, Tamara advocates with families for children in school and community programs. She is the only licensed provider in Chicago of The P.L.A.Y. Project, an effective, affordable, and evidence-based intervention for children with autism and other developmental delays, based on the wonderful DIR®/Floortime™ model developed Dr. Stanley Greenspan.

Parents play an important role in the DIR/Floortime model. For any therapy model to be truly effective, it must be intensive. The National Academy of Sciences recommends at least of 25 hours of intensive intervention per week for children diagnosed with autism and other significant developmental delays.  However, for many families this is just too expensive and can seem overwhelming to do themselves. The P.L.A.Y. Project specializes in coaching parents, sitters, and other team members to be a child’s play partner in their most natural environment, home, and move a child up the developmental ladder.

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