Hello, thank you for visiting the Communication Therapy blog!
At Communication Therapy we are proud and excited to announce the launch of the brand-new Flummox and Friends pilot episode this week! Our show was created, written, and produced by Christa Dahlstrom, parent of an 8-year old son with Asperger’s, and co-created by Communication Therapy speech-language pathologists Liesl Wenzke-Hartmann and Jordan Sadler. It was designed to be a clever, live-action TV show for kids who could use some help learning about social rules and emotional regulation.
“What we love about Flummox and Friends is that it teaches kids WHY we care about social competence. Our message is not, ‘Look at others and listen to them just because we say so’, but rather, ‘When we listen to others and connect with their ideas as well as ours, other people feel good and understand that we are thinking about them and like them – that’s the basis of friendship,'” explains Sadler, MS, CCC-SLP from the Chicago office.
“There are products targeting social emotional teaching on the market,” explains Wenzke-Hartmann, MA, CCC-SLP, from the San Francisco office. “But it’s hard to find something that adults and children can really enjoy together. This show gives families kid-friendly language to demystify and normalize social challenges, showing that everyone is ‘flummoxed’ by social rules at one time or another.”
Funds to produce a pilot episode were raised ten months ago through a successful grassroots Kickstarter campaign. Now, just five days after launching online, Flummox and Friends has been viewed more than 2,000 times by extraordinarily enthusiastic parents, kids, adults with autism, teachers, and therapists who are hoping we will receive funding to create the entire series.
Please help ensure future episodes by following us on Facebook and Twitter and sharing the link to the show with your friends, colleagues, and families. Spreading the word is the best way to show potential investors that there is a strong desire and need for a teaching tool like this!
Here are just a few of the messages we’ve received from viewers this week:
I run a charity in Scotland supporting children with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome as well as being the mum of a 9 year with Aspergers, he absolutely loved the show and I am delighted to share this with the families we support! Well done!
My 9yo son just watched this and he LOVED it. He asked to watch the next one, which you have not made yet. So, he asked to watch the pilot again, but that will have to wait until after school today. He is still humming the tune from the show.
Great show! Very engaging and upbeat messages. Please continue to present more episodes, I am going to share your information with some of the school staff I work with at my son’s school. He is in the Autism program at his elementary school.
This is long overdue! Finally, someone is tapping into the fact that learning starts with empathy and self-awareness, not with the content. I really loved the pilot. I am already imagining ways of integrating this show in my classes, both as a teacher and a teacher trainer. I just wish there was a subtitles option! (Not all of my students speak English that well.) – Anjie Price, English teacher (Nicaragua) [Note: we will release a version with captioning in a few weeks! Watch our Facebook page for the announcement.]
To watch our acclaimed pilot episode, please visit our website. We would appreciate it if you would complete the brief survey on the website as well, and please download a Family Guide or Professional Guide pdf while you’re there, they are full of great activity suggestions and visuals for you!
Links to early reviews:
New TV Project Uses Comedy to Help Kids on – or Near – the Autism Spectrum by Laura Shumaker, SFGate blog
Flummox and Friends Premieres its Smart Social Competence Programming by Jean Winegardner, The Washington Times Communities
Flummox and Friends by Sean Sweeney, CCC/SLP, SpeechTechie blog
Flummox and Friends Video: Our New Favorite Thing by Amanda Backof, MS, CCC/SLP, Speech Language Neighborhood blog
Stay tuned here for future developments!
It is fair to say that, on occasion, the tech-savvy speech-language pathologists at Communication Therapy in Chicago become obsessed with an iPad app. This summer, that app is PaperDesk*. We love this app because it is a fantastic tool for us to use clinically in our pediatric practice and in our “behind-the-scenes” work as therapists. We want to share with you why we love this app and to let you know that it is currently only $3.99 in the iTunes App Store, a 75% savings. (There is a Lite version of this app, but at this price, it’s worth buying, so you’ll have the extra space and features.) Read more about it, be sure to look at the images the developer has shared, and link to purchase the app here.
First, a quick description of Paper Desk. While we have tried various note-taking apps, this is our favorite, hands-down. The developers have created an interface that closely resembles a pad of paper and allows us to type, write, draw, and even record our voices as we are creating a document. The app has 58 fonts to choose from, and it is very easy to change font, color, and style, while typing. What is also impressive is the way PaperDesk allows us to quickly switch to the drawing feature. Insert a photo into the document easily by taking a new one from the camera within the app or choosing an existing picture from the iPad’s photo library. When we are finished with a notebook we have many sharing options (email, Twitter, Google, Dropbox, iTunes, print). We especially love that we can set our iPads to autosync between PaperDesk and Dropbox – this means that all of our work is also accessible on our laptops and even our iPhones at any time.
Clinical Uses: We are only just beginning to explore the clinical uses of PaperDesk with our clients. Certainly, it is an easy way to write and save a play plan or visual schedule for a child in a session. It’s an easy way to add visual aids for a child who benefits from them to aid language comprehension. But we are also loving it for writing quick social stories with our kids. Children love to write stories about themselves and their experiences, and they adore shifting back and forth between typing and drawing – not to mention inserting photos of themselves into a notebook! When a child was processing his family’s move to a new house last week, SLP Adria Leno sat down with him and wrote a terrific story with him about what he was experiencing. They drew pictures, typed text, and inserted pictures showing how he felt about the changes. Adria printed the story for the boy wirelessly from the iPad, and he took it home to read again and again and share his experience and feelings with others. Further, she was able to use the email feature to send a PDF copy to his parents in case it gets lost. Next we will try using the recording feature to have a child tell the story for each page of his notebook.
“Behind-the-Scenes” Uses: We are experimenting with using PaperDesk to assist us in collecting information for our treatment notes. Jordan Sadler, SLP and Clinic Director, has created a folder for each of her clients within the app. Each folder is given the child’s initials for privacy. Jordan starts a new notebook for each session, titling it with the date of service. Data collection, notes on progress, thoughts for the next session, and even photos of the child engaging in new and interesting experiences she wants to remember are collected in the notebook. At the end of a busy day seeing clients, having this collection of text and visuals make writing treatment notes for the client files simple, and are more interesting to share in a parent meeting than a typical verbal report on progress or brief treatment notes that are designed for insurance company reviews. Although she was worried that using an iPad to take notes in this way would be too distracting for her clients, this has never been the case. The children see that she is not playing a game and don’t pay any attention to the device.
Further, at the recent 2-day Profectum Academy conference she attended in the Chicago area, Jordan used PaperDesk to collect all information that pertained to the event. First, she created a folder titled “Profectum”, then set up a notebook for each of the two days’ notes and filed them in that folder. Rather than handwriting her notes while listening to the speakers, she used a stylus to jot down notes quickly in that day’s notebook. At this conference, all handouts were provided to participants via email in PDF form. When Jordan opened that email on the iPad, these PDF documents had the option to be “saved in PaperDesk” and then filed in the Profectum folder as well. In this way, all presentation documents and participant notes were filed in the same folder in PaperDesk. And remember, Jordan can now access those from her laptop and even her iPhone via Dropbox at any time – extremely handy!
We hope this review will be useful to many parents, clinicians, and teachers – we think this app is well worth adding to your iPads. If you have it, please leave us a comment about how you’re using it!
*Although we frequently receive free apps from developers, we have no relationship with WebSpinner, LLC, the creator of PaperDesk.
It’s developmentally appropriate for kids to go through the phase of wanting no help with anything, wanting to have control of the objects they’re interested in, and wanting complete independence. But for kids who struggle with verbal expression, this can be a very frustrating time. It can result in less functional behaviors such as grabbing, running away, screaming, hitting, etc. These behaviors often happen because the child has no other way to tell you, “I want to do it on my own! I can do it all by myself!”
I mentioned using Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books in a previous blog but I can’t say enough about them. I wanted to share an idea I had recently that was very successful with one of my kids. This child is at the point where she’s really wanting to assert herself but does not always have the verbal language to do so. She loves books and we have read Little Critter stories together in previous sessions.
Mercer Mayer’s book All By Myself allows for lots of practice of this very useful phrase. Its repetitive story line provides predictability so the child can join in reading the story with you. It also presents situations that your child is likely familiar with such as brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and going to bed. While reading this book with my student I realized she was feeling very empowered by saying she could do these things all by herself . This is a child who desperately needs to feel empowered and I didn’t want the activity to come to an end so I had an idea: we’d make our own “I can do it all by myself” book. We got out paper and markers and drew a picture of the child as well as her name on the cover. I started with the first few ideas in hopes that once she got the idea she would contribute some of her own. I wrote, ” I can put on my shoes all by myself.” I drew another picture of the child and encouraged her to contribute by telling me what color she wanted her shirt to be, whether she wanted pants or a skirt on in the picture, whether she wanted her hair down or in pigtails. After suggesting two ideas and creating the pictures together, she suggested some of her own. It became an excellent exercise in expressive language as she told me that she could pick out new pajamas “all by herself” and that they should have cookies on them in the picture. Later on in the session I overheard her in the bathroom saying, “I can go potty all by myself!” (This was not even an idea we had put in the book!)
This activity could be adapted for many different levels. For a child who needs less support they could create all the ideas themselves, and draw the pictures as well. They could make a plan before doing the actual pages to encourage organization of ideas and language.
I hope this is a helpful activity to try with a child you know. If you do have a chance to try it, let us know how it went!
In my last post, I shared a question from goodfountain, who writes a wonderful blog about life with her two girls, the older of whom has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder. I shared some of my favorite strategies that caregivers (including parents, babysitters, grandparents, and teachers) can use to help ease transitions and prepare children for challenges in their day.
Today I’d like to share a few ideas that might help 5-year old Charlotte with the handling of her overwhelming emotions:
In the moment you described (not wanting to take off her Princess gown to go to Target) when your daughter lost her temper and tried to bite you, she was mostly likely feeling very dysregulated and scared/threatened. It helps to think about it in those terms, rather than viewing this type of reaction as “negative behavior” – it makes it a lot easier to feel empathetic and is, I think, accurate. She felt really good in that dress and the idea of taking it off was probably very upsetting (and even threatening) to her, so when you added the idea of you and her sister going to the car without her, it increased her anxiety to the point where her fight or flight response was activated – and she chose fight. In addition to giving you more strategies to help her prepare for such challenges, we want her to start to recognize her internal signals of anger and frustration and learn to manage them before she gets to that point. As you said so beautifully: “It’s not that I want to STOP her from being angry, but that I want her to not lose control when she IS angry.”
It is critical that we allow our children to own their feelings. Our job is not to keep them from experiencing negative emotions, but rather to help them identify their emotions, gauge how intense they are, and choose a coping strategy that matches the intensity.
To that end, it is useful to pause often and model this for kids; in other words, let them know how we are feeling. For example, “I am feeling pretty frustrated right now. The woman in that store wasn’t listening to me at all. I am going to sit quietly for a minute and take some deep breaths before we go home.” Similarly, pause in your day to check in with your daughter. You might find a way to talk about negative emotions that works for her level. Making a weather analogy is often helpful; we can identify that we’re feeling “sunny”, “partly cloudy”, and be aware that it’s time to come up with strategies when we start to feel “stormy”. Help her to talk about how she’s feeling and become more aware of the natural changes that occur throughout the day.
We have a great visual aid that I believe I was first introduced to at a SCERTS workshop. On a small square piece of paper we write on one side: “When I feel angry…” and on the other side it says, “I can…” and then we list 2-4 strategies to help the child calm down, e.g., talk to someone, take a break/quiet space, say “I’m mad,” go get a drink of water, etc. The child chooses the strategies. This is laminated and we put a key ring through it and hang a few of them in easy to reach places (they’d be easy to keep in Charlotte’s pocket, looped to a backpack, or in your purse) so when a meltdown starts, we can quietly hand it to the child and they can choose what they want to do to get under control (become more emotionally regulated) without a lot of verbal negotiation. We generate these strategies with the child him/herself in a quiet moment so that they are meaningful. It is impossible to reason with an angry or frustrated child in the moment, it really has to happen at a different time. For a non-reader, picture images can be used just as effectively as words. In my experience, we don’t usually need to use this external strategy for very long before the child internalizes her own calming strategies and is able to access them without the adult’s help.
Another great strategy for your daughter would be to do some work with The Feelings Book, which is a dry erase book that has pages depicting a wide range of positive and negative emotions. The child can write down what makes her feel a particular emotion (e.g., angry) on one side, and then generate strategies on the opposite page (When I feel angry, I can…). She can write it herself if she is older, or dictate to an adult. This leads to some wonderful conversations about emotions and coping strategies.
I also love that there is a 1-5 scale at the top of each emotion page where the child can think about degrees of emotion, e.g., “Having to turn off the TV makes me a little angry – that’s a ‘2’” but “Taking off my princess gown makes me very angry – that’s a ‘5’!” and you can discuss strategies that work for mild anger versus extreme anger with an older child. It could be great to use this book together and then use the strategies to create the little portable card described above. You can order The Feelings Book directly from my colleague who is one of its creators, Emily Rubin, MS, CCC/SLP. It’s available on her website. Take a look at it, it’s really great! We have many copies of this at the clinic and kids of all ages love it and have greatly benefited from it.
What we ultimately want to do is help a child learn strategies to self-regulate (learn to self-soothe, e.g., move away from a stressful situation, go hit a pillow, get a piece of gum) and also be sure they have good mutual regulation skills (e.g., asking for help, asking for a hug, labeling their emotions for someone else). To be healthy, we all need a balance of self- and mutual-regulation skills.
I’m happy to elaborate or go more deeply into any of this if you would like me to. Emotional processing is one of my absolute favorite things to work on – it’s so critical to successful relationships throughout the lifespan!
The next post will include a follow-up from Charlotte’s mom, sharing which of these strategies she’s tried and what has worked.
Over the years I have found that there are many “universal” questions about communication development and strategies to help children grow in positive ways. Therefore, I would like to start a series of “Q & A” posts on this blog this year, in which a reader sends me a question that relates to communication and I answer it publicly, in hopes that others with the same question will benefit from some new ideas. You can be anonymous if you’d prefer.
If you have a question regarding your child’s communication that you’d like to see answered (either via email or on the blog), please feel free to email it to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first one will be posted soon!
Back in early 2007 I was preparing to give a talk at the clinic here in Chicago on the topic of “Non-verbal Communication”. As it happened, just a week before my talk I somehow came across the writing of Ms. Vicki Forman, who wrote the Special Needs Mama column at the Literary Mama website. And one of the excellent posts I came across, titled “Between the Lines”, was about her experience mothering a child classified by professionals as a non-verbal communicator. Her son, Evan, 6-years old at the time, was in fact multiply-disabled, having been born at 23-weeks of age, weighing only a pound, and surviving by the skin of his teeth as a newborn.
I immediately sent an email to Vicki, explaining what I was doing and asking her permission to print out the “Between the Lines” essay for the parents I would be speaking to, and she replied immediately: “The short answer is YES, absolutely.”
The long answer turned out to be a wonderful friendship. I have had the privilege of meeting Vicki and her family in person and have followed her life and writing these past two-and-a-half years. One of the best days of 2009 for me so far was when my pre-ordered copy of her incredible, award-winning memoir, “This Lovely Life” arrived in the mail and was finally in my hands. The book chronicles, with incredible honesty and bravery, the first couple of years of Vicki’s life with Evan after he and his twin sister, Ellie, were born. It is a magnificent piece of work. Please read one of many excellent reviews of this book. This week, Vicki is a Bakeless Fellow in Residence at the prestigious Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Vermont.
Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to be able to fly across the country to be in the audience at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA for the book reading and signing that Vicki did there. I loved every minute of it, and in my excitement bought an extra copy of “This Lovely Life” and had her sign it for me so that I could give it away to a reader on this blog.
If you are interested in winning this book giveaway, please leave a comment on this post to be entered in the drawing. Along with your name, please also share with us one book, website, or workshop you have experienced that brought you new insight or changed your perspective on communication, if possible (not required). I will choose a random winner on September 1 and announce the winner here. I’m happy to mail the book anywhere in the world.
For those of you in the Chicago area, Vicki Forman is scheduled to do a reading at Women & Children First Bookstore here in Andersonville in late September. Details to be announced!