Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Post Turkey-day

Thanksgiving is over, the company has left and now I’m back at work, enjoying the stories my students tell of their holiday. Turkey was a huge topic as was pumpkin pie, ice cream, peanut butter sandwiches (go figure) and visiting relatives. Some of my students; however, could not tell any details of their week away from school. Their faces lit up when I asked about their vacations but that was about as far as their communication skills could take them.

Communication problems come in a variety of packages. There are those adorable little errors when children say “fwee” for “three”, (adorable when a child is three but not so cute as they grow older). There are language delays where children find it hard to put their thoughts into coherent sentences and say things like, “Me goed to store.” And there are those frustrating language disorders where children have trouble processing information, organizing thoughts, and following directions.

One afternoon I saw such a student walking around the campus looking very lost. He was trying to follow his teacher’s directions but he had no idea where he was expected to go and he didn’t have the skills to ask for clarification. He just meandered around the campus, apparently hoping something would turn up. He certainly looked relieved when I spotted him and helped him find his way. The same student used to pop into my room three times a day and ask, “Is it time for speech?” He has speech/language therapy two times a week, after his lunch recess but he’d check in with me every day after every recess. His teacher solved the problem by giving him a visual schedule so he can always see what is happening next. He’s only 6 ½ years old and has plenty of time to learn life management skills but his teacher is giving him great supports for the classroom. Many children would benefit from a picture schedule so they can better manage their day – I don’t know how I’d function without my appointment book!

I’m glad my student is able to follow his schedule, but I must admit, I miss that little face peeking into my room three times a day. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

The fragrance of apples, cinnamon and cloves drifts up from my kitchen as I write. Earlier today I turned on our crock-pot, filled to the brim with chopped apples and spices. I love the smell of apple-butter cooking almost as much as I love the taste when it’s finished. This might not seem to have much to do with communication but the aroma of holiday cooking and baking communicates plenty to me. Holiday time provides abundant opportunity to build your child’s vocabulary as he helps you shop or prepare food, count the silverware (I mean before the company comes, not after they leave!) or clean up when the meal is over.

One activity from my book, Talking Time is perfect for this time of year and I’m happy to share it with you.  

Activity 88
Baking Cookies

If you are willing to take the time and put up with a little mess, you can make baking time a great learning experience for your child. Have him help make cookies. He can pour in the measured ingredients, mix and roll out the dough, and listen for the oven timer. Baking provides a good opportunity to talk about “wet” and “dry,” “fast” and “slow,” and “full” and “empty” as you mix and stir the ingredients; numbers by counting as you pour out the ingredients, and shapes as you cut the cookies in various shapes. Kneading the dough helps your child improve fine motor skills. You can also talk about how the cookies smell and taste.

I hope your Thanksgiving is full of good things – fun, family, friends and fabulous food. I’d better stop writing and go downstairs to stir the apple-butter.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Social Communication

One of my autistic students was doing so well in school he didn’t seem to need my assistance any longer. His reading skills were outstanding, he could answer questions about what he read with amazing accuracy and he was at the top of his class in math. His communication skills were stronger than most of my students (even though his voice quality was a bit robotic.) The other second-graders seemed to like him (who wouldn’t, he didn’t bother anybody!) I was in a quandary when it came to writing goals for him; he met all of his previous ones. He seemed ready to be dismissed from speech. But first I decided to watch him in a few social situations and so I observed him on the playground. A group of second-graders were crowded around the swing sets. My student stood a few feet back, staring at the swing he obviously wanted to use - obvious to me that is. Other children rushed right by him and formed a line leaving him off to one side. He didn’t know how to read the social “rules” of the swing-set group. Since he didn’t like standing close to others, he stepped back, away from the forming line. He stood so far back that he never made it into the line let alone to the front of it. He needed help navigating the social norms. It could also be said; the others needed help in reading his unique way of communicating.

There are times we all could use a little help communicating our needs and wants, and help in reading the subtle communication of those around us, so that no one is left off to the side.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eyebrow-Raising Errors

A few years back, a young mother dropped by my office. She was concerned because her son, Nick, could not pronounce his “tr” sounds. I assured her she shouldn’t worry since he was only 3 ½ years old, and many children can’t pronounce “r” sounds before they’re seven. She didn’t seem comforted by my assurances - not at all. She went on to explain that when he tried to say “tr” it came out “f”. “Well that’s different,” I agreed. “Nick is reducing the cluster ‘tr’ to one sound. He probably reduces other clusters. Does he say, ‘top’ for ‘stop’?”
            “Yeeess” she drew the word out like she was reluctant to agree. I could tell I wasn’t giving her the help she was looking for.
“That is a phonological process,” I told her, “‘cluster reduction,’ most children go though a similar stage. He’ll probably outgrow it by the time he is four.”
“But, you don’t understand,” she had a pleading look on her face. “I don’t think we can wait until he is four. He always says ‘f’ for ‘tr’.” Her face turned red and she lowered her voice. “And he loves to talk about trucks.”
There are other phonological processes that cause parents concerns but this particular error raised a lot of eyebrows! I gave Nick some help with his “t” sound and soon he was saying “twuck” for “truck”. He wasn’t ready to pronounce “r” but the improvement eased some of his mother’s stress.
A few weeks later she asked if I could help Nick with his “s” sounds. I explained that like “r” the “s” sound is a later developing consonant so she shouldn’t worry. “But he uses a “d” for “s”. Once again, I admitted that was a different sort of problem. “That’s the phonological process called ‘stopping’. He’s stopping the airflow so his “s” sounds like ‘d’. Does he say ‘berry’ for ‘very’?”
“Yes, but I’m not worried about that. Could you just correct his ‘s’ so it doesn’t sound like a ‘d’? He really needs help – his brother’s name is, Sam!