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The Importance of Narrative Assessments in Speech Language Pathology (Revised)

Image result for narrativeA few years ago I wrote a guest post on the importance of assessing narratives for another blog. Below is a revised version of that post containing the updates with respect to the assessment of narratives.

As SLPs we routinely administer a variety of testing batteries in order to assess our students’ speech-language abilities. Grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and sentence formulation get frequent and thorough attention. But how about narrative production? Does it get its fair share of attention when the clinicians are looking to determine the extent of the child’s language deficits? I was so curious about what the clinicians across the country were doing that in 2013, I created a survey and posted a link to it in several SLP-related FB groups.  I wanted to find out how many SLPs were performing narrative assessments, in which settings, and with which populations.  From those who were performing these assessments, I wanted to know what type of assessments were they using and how they were recording and documenting their findings.   Since the purpose of this survey was non-research based (I wasn’t planning on submitting a research manuscript with my findings), I only analyzed the first 100 responses (the rest were very similar in nature) which came my way, in order to get the general flavor of current trends among clinicians, when it came to narrative assessments. Here’s a brief overview of my [limited] findings. Continue reading The Importance of Narrative Assessments in Speech Language Pathology (Revised)

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Early Intervention Evaluations PART IV:Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities of Children Under 3

Image result for toddlersTo date, I have written 3 posts on speech and language assessments of children under 3 years of age. My first post offered suggestions on what information to include in general speech-language assessments for this age group, my second post specifically discussed assessments of toddlers with suspected motor speech disorders and my third post described what information I tend to include in reports for children ~16-18 months of age.

Today, I’d like to offer some suggestions on the assessment of social emotional functioning and pragmatics of children, ages 3 and under.

For starters, below is the information I found compiled by a number of researchers on select social pragmatic milestones for the 0-3 age group:

  1. Peters, Kimberly (2013) Hierarchy of Social/Pragmatic Skills as Related to the Development of Executive Function 
  2. Hutchins & Prelock, (2016) Select Social Cognitive Milestones from the Theory of Mind Atlas 

3. Development of Theory of Mind (Westby, 2014)

In my social pragmatic assessments of the 0-3 population, in addition, to the child’s adaptive behavior during the assessment, I also describe the child’s joint attention,  social emotional reciprocity, as well as social referencing abilities.

Joint attention is the shared focus of two individuals on an object. Responding to joint attention refers to the child’s ability to follow the direction of the gaze and gestures of others in order to share a common point of reference. Initiating joint attention involves child’s use of gestures and eye contact to direct others’ attention to objects, to events, and to themselves. The function of initiating joint attention is to show or spontaneously seek to share interests or pleasurable experience with others. (Mundy, et al, 2007)

Social emotional reciprocity involves being aware of the emotional and interpersonal cues of others, appropriately interpreting those cues, responding appropriately to what is interpreted as well as being motivated to engage in social interactions with others (LaRocque and Leach,2009).

Social referencing refers to a child’s ability to look at a caregiver’s cues such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice in an ambiguous situation in order to obtain clarifying information.   (Walden & Ogan, 1988)

Here’s a brief excerpt from an evaluation of a child ~18 months of age:

“RA’s joint attention skills, social emotional reciprocity as well as social referencing were judged to be appropriate for his age.  For example, when Ms. N let in the family dog from the deck into the assessment room, RA immediately noted that the dog wanted to exit the room and go into the hallway.  However, the door leading to the hallway was closed.  RA came up to the closed door and attempted to reach the doorknob.  When RA realized that he cannot reach to the doorknob to let the dog out, he excitedly vocalized to get Ms. N’s attention, and then indicated to her in gestures that the dog wanted to leave the room.”

If I happen to know that a child is highly verbal, I may actually include a narrative assessment, when evaluating toddlers in the 2-3 age group. Now, of course, true narratives do not develop in children until they are bit older. However, it is possible to limitedly assess the narrative abilities of verbal children in this age group. According to Hedberg & Westby (1993) typically developing 2-year-old children are at the Heaps Stage of narrative development characterized by

  • Storytelling in the form of a collection of unrelated ideas  which consist of labeling and describing events
  • Frequent switch of topic is evident with lack of central theme and cohesive  devices
  • The sentences are usually simple declarations which contain repetitive syntax and use of present or present progressive tenses
  • In this stage, children possess limited understanding that the character on the next page is still same as on the previous page

In contrast, though typically developing children between 2-3 years of age in the Sequences Stage of narrative development still arbitrarily link story elements together without transitions, they can:

  • Label and describe events about a central theme with stories that may contain a central character, topic, or setting

Image result for frog where are youTo illustrate, below is a narrative sample from a typically developing 2-year-old child based on the Mercer Mayer’s classic wordless picture book: “Frog Where Are You?”

  • He put a froggy in there
  • He’s sleeping
  • Froggy came out
  • Where did did froggy go?
  • Now the dog fell out
  • Then he got him
  • You are a silly dog
  • And then
  • where did froggy go?
  • In in there
  • Up up into the tree
  • Up there  an owl
  • Froggy 
  • A reindeer caught him
  • Then he dropped him
  • Then he went into snow
  • And then he cleaned up that
  • Then stopped right there and see what wha wha wha what he found
  • He found two froggies
  • They lived happily ever after

Image result for play assessment kidsOf course, a play assessment for this age group is a must. Since, in my first post, I offered a play skills excerpt from one of my early intervention assessments and in my third blog post, I included a link to the Revised Westby Play Scale (Westby, 2000), I will now move on to the description of a few formal instruments I find very useful for this age group.

While some criterion-referenced instruments such as the Rossetti, contain sections on Interaction-Attachment and Pragmatics, there are other assessments which I prefer for evaluating social cognition and pragmatic abilities of toddlers.

Image result for language use inventoryFor toddlers 18+months of age, I like using the Language Use Inventory (LUI) (O’Neill, 2009) which is administered in the form of a parental questionnaire that can be completed in approximately 20 minutes.  Aimed at identifying children with delay/impairment in pragmatic language development it contains 180 questions and divided into 3 parts and 14 subscales including:

  1. Communication w/t gestures
  2. Communication w/t words
  3. Longer sentences

Therapists can utilize the Automated Score Calculator, which accompanies the LUI in order to generate several pages write up or summarize the main points of the LUI’s findings in their evaluation reports.

Below is an example of a summary I wrote for one of my past clients, 35 months of age.

AN’s ability to use language was assessed via the administration of the Language Use Inventory (LUI). The LUI is a standardized parental questionnaire for children ages 18-47 months aimed at identifying children with delay/impairment in pragmatic language development. Composed of 3 parts and 14 subscales it focuses on how the child communicates with gestures, words and longer sentences.

On the LUI, AN obtained a raw score of 53 and a percentile rank of <1, indicating profoundly impaired performance in the area of language use. While AN scored in the average range in the area of varied word use, deficits were noted with requesting help, word usage for notice, lack of questions and comments regarding self and others, lack of reciprocal word usage in activities with others, humor relatedness, adapting to conversations to others, as well as difficulties with building longer sentences and stories.

Based on above results AN presents with significant social pragmatic language weaknesses characterized by impaired ability to use language for a variety of language functions (initiate, comment, request, etc), lack of reciprocal word usage in activities with others, humor relatedness, lack of conversational abilities, as well as difficulty with spontaneous sentence and story formulation as is appropriate for a child his age. Therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to improve AN’s social pragmatic abilities.

Downloadable DocumentsIn addition to the LUI, I recently discovered the Theory of Mind Inventory-2. The ToMI-2 was developed on a normative sample of children ages 2 – 13 years. For children between 2-3 years of age, it offers a 14 question Toddler Screen (shared here with author’s permission). While due to the recency of my discovery, I have yet to use it on an actual client, I did have fun creating a report with it on a fake client.

First, I filled out the online version of the 14 question Toddler Screen (paper version embedded in the link above for illustration purposes). Typically the parents are asked to place slashes on the form in relevant areas, however, the online version requested that I use numerals to rate skill acquisition, which is what I had done. After I had entered the data, the system generated a relevant report for my imaginary client.  In addition to the demographic section, the report generated the following information (below):

  1. A bar graph of the client’s skills breakdown in the developed, undecided and undeveloped ranges of the early ToM development scale.
  2. Percentile scores of how the client did in the each of the 14 early ToM measures
  3. Median percentiles of scores
  4. Table for treatment planning broken down into strengths and challenges

I find the information provided to me by the Toddler Screen highly useful for assessment and treatment planning purposes and definitely have plans on using this portion of the TOM-2 Inventory as part of my future toddler evaluations.

Of course, the above instruments are only two of many, aimed at assessing social pragmatic abilities of children under 3 years of age, so I’d like to hear from you! What formal and informal instruments are you using to assess social pragmatic abilities of children under 3 years of age? Do you have a favorite one, and if so, why do you like it?

References:

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Improving Executive Function Skills of Language Impaired Students with Hedbanz

Image result for hedbanzThose of you who have previously read my blog know that I rarely use children’s games to address language goals.  However, over the summer I have been working on improving executive function abilities (EFs) of some of the language impaired students on my caseload. As such, I found select children’s games to be highly beneficial for improving language-based executive function abilities.

For those of you who are only vaguely familiar with this concept, executive functions are higher level cognitive processes involved in the inhibition of thought, action, and emotion, which located in the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe of the brain. The development of executive functions begins in early infancy; but it can be easily disrupted by a number of adverse environmental and organic experiences (e.g., psychosocial deprivation, trauma).  Furthermore, research in this area indicates that the children with language impairments present with executive function weaknesses which require remediation.

Image result for executive functions brain

EF components include working memory, inhibitory control, planning, and set-shifting.

  • Working memory
    • Ability to store and manipulate information in mind over brief periods of time
  • Inhibitory control
    • Suppressing responses that are not relevant to the task
  • Set-shifting
    • Ability to shift behavior in response to changes in tasks or environment

Simply put, EFs contribute to the child’s ability to sustain attention, ignore distractions, and succeed in academic settings. By now some of you must be wondering: “So what does Hedbanz have to do with any of it?”

Well, Hedbanz is a quick-paced multiplayer  (2-6 people) game of “What Am I?” for children ages 7 and up.  Players get 3 chips and wear a “picture card” in their headband. They need to ask questions in rapid succession to figure out what they are. “Am I fruit?” “Am I a dessert?” “Am I sports equipment?” When they figure it out, they get rid of a chip. The first player to get rid of all three chips wins.

The game sounds deceptively simple. Yet if any SLPs or parents have ever played that game with their language impaired students/children as they would be quick to note how extraordinarily difficult it is for the children to figure out what their card is. Interestingly, in my clinical experience, I’ve noticed that it’s not just moderately language impaired children who present with difficulty playing this game. Even my bright, average intelligence teens, who have passed vocabulary and semantic flexibility testing (such as the WORD Test 2-Adolescent or the  Vocabulary Awareness subtest of the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy ) significantly struggle with their language organization when playing this game.

So what makes Hedbanz so challenging for language impaired students? Primarily, it’s the involvement and coordination of the multiple executive functions during the game. In order to play Hedbanz effectively and effortlessly, the following EF involvement is needed:

  • Task Initiation
    • Students with executive function impairments will often “freeze up” and as a result may have difficulty initiating the asking of questions in the game because many will not know what kind of questions to ask, even after extensive explanations and elaborations by the therapist.
  • Organization
    • Students with executive function impairments will present with difficulty organizing their questions by meaningful categories and as a result will frequently lose their track of thought in the game.
  • Working Memory
    • This executive function requires the student to keep key information in mind as well as keep track of whatever questions they have already asked.
  • Flexible Thinking
    • This executive function requires the student to consider a situation from multiple angles in order to figure out the quickest and most effective way of arriving at a solution. During the game, students may present with difficulty flexibly generating enough organizational categories in order to be effective participants.
  • Impulse Control
    • Many students with difficulties in this area may blurt out an inappropriate category or in an appropriate question without thinking it through first.
      • They may also present with difficulty set-shifting. To illustrate, one of my 13-year-old students with ASD, kept repeating the same question when it was his turn, despite the fact that he was informed by myself as well as other players of the answer previously.
  • Emotional Control
    • This executive function will help students with keeping their emotions in check when the game becomes too frustrating. Many students of difficulties in this area will begin reacting behaviorally when things don’t go their way and they are unable to figure out what their card is quickly enough. As a result, they may have difficulty mentally regrouping and reorganizing their questions when something goes wrong in the game.
  • Self-Monitoring
    • This executive function allows the students to figure out how well or how poorly they are doing in the game. Students with poor insight into own abilities may present with difficulty understanding that they are doing poorly and may require explicit instruction in order to change their question types.
  • Planning and Prioritizing
    • Students with poor abilities in this area will present with difficulty prioritizing their questions during the game.

Image result for executive functionsConsequently, all of the above executive functions can be addressed via language-based goals.  However, before I cover that, I’d like to review some of my session procedures first.

Typically, long before game initiation, I use the cards from the game to prep the students by teaching them how to categorize and classify presented information so they effectively and efficiently play the game.

Rather than using the “tip cards”, I explain to the students how to categorize information effectively.

This, in turn, becomes a great opportunity for teaching students relevant vocabulary words, which can be extended far beyond playing the game.

I begin the session by explaining to the students that pretty much everything can be roughly divided into two categories animate (living) or inanimate (nonliving) things. I explain that humans, animals, as well as plants belong to the category of living things, while everything else belongs to the category of inanimate objects. I further divide the category of inanimate things into naturally existing and man-made items. I explain to the students that the naturally existing category includes bodies of water, landmarks, as well as things in space (moon, stars, sky, sun, etc.). In contrast, things constructed in factories or made by people would be example of man-made objects (e.g., building, aircraft, etc.)

When I’m confident that the students understand my general explanations, we move on to discuss further refinement of these broad categories. If a student determines that their card belongs to the category of living things, we discuss how from there the student can further determine whether they are an animal, a plant, or a human. If a student determined that their card belongs to the animal category, we discuss how we can narrow down the options of figuring out what animal is depicted on their card by asking questions regarding their habitat (“Am I a jungle animal?”), and classification (“Am I a reptile?”). From there, discussion of attributes prominently comes into play. We discuss shapes, sizes, colors, accessories, etc., until the student is able to confidently figure out which animal is depicted on their card.

In contrast, if the student’s card belongs to the inanimate category of man-made objects, we further subcategorize the information by the object’s location (“Am I found outside or inside?”; “Am I found in ___ room of the house?”, etc.), utility (“Can I be used for ___?”), as well as attributes (e.g., size, shape, color, etc.)

Thus, in addition to improving the students’ semantic flexibility skills (production of definitions, synonyms, attributes, etc.) the game teaches the students to organize and compartmentalize information in order to effectively and efficiently arrive at a conclusion in the most time expedient fashion.

Now, we are ready to discuss what type of EF language-based goals, SLPs can target by simply playing this game.

1. Initiation: Student will initiate questioning during an activity in __ number of instances per 30-minute session given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

2. Planning: Given a specific routine, student will verbally state the order of steps needed to complete it with __% accuracy given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

3. Working Memory: Student will repeat clinician provided verbal instructions pertaining to the presented activity, prior to its initiation, with 80% accuracy  given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

4. Flexible Thinking: Following a training by the clinician, student will generate at least __ questions needed for task completion (e.g., winning the game) with __% accuracy given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

5. Organization: Student will use predetermined written/visual cues during an activity to assist self with organization of information (e.g., questions to ask) with __% accuracy given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

6. Impulse Control: During the presented activity the student will curb blurting out inappropriate responses (by silently counting to 3 prior to providing his response) in __ number of instances per 30 minute session given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

7. Emotional Control: When upset, student will verbalize his/her frustration (vs. behavioral activing out) in __ number of instances per 30 minute session given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

8. Self-Monitoring:  Following the completion of an activity (e.g., game) student will provide insight into own strengths and weaknesses during the activity (recap) by verbally naming the instances in which s/he did well, and instances in which s/he struggled with __% accuracy given (maximal, moderate, minimal) type of  ___  (phonemic, semantic, etc.) prompts and __ (visual, gestural, tactile, etc.) cues by the clinician.

There you have it. This one simple game doesn’t just target a plethora of typical expressive language goals. It can effectively target and improve language-based executive function goals as well. Considering the fact that it sells for approximately $12 on Amazon.com, that’s a pretty useful therapy material to have in one’s clinical tool repertoire. For fancier versions, clinicians can use “Jeepers Peepers” photo card sets sold by Super Duper Inc. Strapped for cash, due to highly limited budget? You can find plenty of free materials online if you simply input “Hedbanz cards” in your search query on Google. So have a little fun in therapy, while your students learn something valuable in the process and play Hedbanz today!

Related Smart Speech Therapy Resources:

 

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Importance of Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities in Children with Language Difficulties

You’ve received a referral to assess the language abilities of a school aged child with suspected language difficulties. The child has not been assessed before so you know you’ll need a comprehensive language test to look at the child’s ability to recall sentences, follow directions, name words, as well as perform a number of other tasks showcasing the child’s abilities in the areas of content and form (Bloom & Lahey, 1978).

But how about the area of language use? Will you be assessing the child’s pragmatic and social cognitive abilities as well during your language assessment? After all most comprehensive standardized assessments, “typically focus on semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology, as these are the performance areas in which specific skill development can be most objectively measured” (Hill & Coufal, 2005, p 35). Continue reading Importance of Assessing Social Pragmatic Abilities in Children with Language Difficulties

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Assessing Social Communication Abilities of School-Aged Children

Recently, I’ve published an article in SIG 16 Perspectives on School Based Issues discussing the importance of social communication assessments of school aged children 2-18 years of age. Below I would like to summarize article highlights.

First, I summarize the effect of social communication on academic abilities and review the notion of the “academic impact”. Then, I go over important changes in terminology and definitions as well as explain the “anatomy of social communication”.

Next I suggest a sample social communication skill hierarchy to adequately determine assessment needs (assess only those abilities suspected of deficits and exclude the skills the student has already mastered).

After that I go over pre-assessment considerations as well as review standardized testing and its limitations from 3-18 years of age.

Finally I review a host of informal social communication procedures and address their utility.

What is the away message?

When evaluating social communication, clinicians need to use multiple assessment tasks to create a balanced assessment. We need to chose testing instruments that will help us formulate clear goals.  We also need to add descriptive portions to our reports in order to “personalize” the student’s deficit areas. Our assessments need to be functional and meaningful for the student. This means determining the student’s strengths and not just weaknesses as a starting point of intervention initiation.

Is this an article which you might find interesting? If so, you can access full article HERE free of charge.

Helpful Smart Speech Resources Related to Assessment and Treatment of Social Communication 

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What Does “Their Social Skills Are Just Fine” Really Means When it Comes to Children with Language Impairment

As a frequent participant in a variety of speech pathology forums I’ve read through countless “mini scenarios” of SLPs asking for advice regarding various aspects of therapy service provision for children with average IQ and language impairment (characterized by weaknesses in the area of listening comprehension, language processing, vocabulary acquisition, sentence formulation, as well as conversational development.)

When I ask the following question: “What about their social skills difficulties?” I invariably receive the following answer: “Their social skills are just fine!” When I ask: “How was their social competence assessed?” I am invariably told: “The teachers don’t have any complaints, their eye contact is good, and they can keep up with conversations.”

As a result of seeing these and similar statements over and over again from a number of professionals I decided to write a blog post on this topic due to a certain degree of frustration on my part.

The first concept taught in typical language development classes in undergrad is the fact that language is composed of three areas: Content, Form, and Use. Basically speaking Content refers to conveying coherent and cohesive messages to others, Form refers to grammatically and syntactically correct expression of language, while Use refers to appropriate social pragmatic interactions with the public at large (Bloom & Lahey, 1978). In other words these three areas are interconnected and difficulties will not be exclusively relegated to one area only.

This is further supported by research which indicates that children with language impairment (what many clinicians know as SLI or Specific Language Impairment) are actually impaired in numerous aspects of language including: phonology, morphology, syntax, etc.

Furthermore, research into language development and disorders has revealed that there is no such category as expressive language disorder alone. In other words if there are expressive language deficits, you will most certainly find receptive language deficits if you look carefully enough.  In his seminal article entitled: “Is Expressive Language Disorder an Accurate Diagnostic Category?” Laurence Leondard (2009) concluded that “deficits in language expression are typically accompanied by limitations in language knowledge or difficulties processing language input“.

So now that we know that language deficits are diffused and not isolated (e.g., impaired vocabulary/grammar only), let us discuss how social skills/social competence deficits fit into this picture.

One set of researchers who has been studying the construct of social skills in children with SLI for the past several decades are Bonnie Brinton and Martin Fujiki.  In some of their earlier articles in the 90s they found evidence that children with SLI manifested pragmatic difficulties in conversational contexts with partners and were unable to adequately adjust to the needs of others in social interactions (Brinton, & Fujiki, 1993: Brinton & Fujiki,  1995; Brinton, Fujiki,  & Powell, 1997; Fujiki & Brinton, 1994: Fujiki, Brinton  & Todd 1996).

Later, Brinton’s and Fujiki’s work expanded beyond the pragmatic interactions to focus on the concept of social competence of children with language impairments. For those unfamiliar with this term, social competence is a complex, multidimensional concept composed of successful co-interaction of social, emotional, cognitive as well as behavioral factors, resulting in successful social adaptation (Semrud-Clikeman, 2007).

Brinton and Fujiki’s later studies found that children with language impairments were less accepted by peers, had poorer friendships, were perceived by teachers as being more withdrawn (as compared to peers) as well as presented with poor emotional competence and emotional intelligence (Brinton & Fujiki, 2012; Fujiki, Spackman, Brinton, & Illig, 2008; Spackman, Fujiki, Brinton, Nelson, & Allen, 2005).

Studies by other authors found that children with language impairments also present with impaired abstract emotion comprehension (Ford & Milosky, 2003).

In addition, researchers also found that the social competence of language impaired children is affected from a very early age. To illustrate, Longobardi, Spataro, Frigerio & Rescorla, 2015, found that young children (2+ years of age) with delayed language development (who produced fewer than 50 words) exhibited lower social abilities, compared to age-matched peers.

What does this mean? 

Research unequivocally indicates that children with language impairment or SLI, also present with concomitant social communication difficulties, which if left untreated will significantly adversely affect their academic outcomes as well as future life success. It is important to note that due to the varying the nature of social communication deficits (internalizing versus externalizing manifestations) many social communication deficits will be missed without the administration of appropriate social pragmatic language assessments.  It is also important to note that presently social pragmatic assessments ARE NOT routinely administered in numerous school settings as part of comprehensive language assessments.

Consequently, if a student presents with language impairment and the prevailing teacher/parental belief is that his/her social skills are “just fine”, it is important to support this with relevant data based on comprehensive formal and informal battery of social communication assessments in order to justify the above statement with all due veracity.

References:

  • Bloom, L & Lahey, M. (1978) Language development and language disorders.New York, Wiley.
  • Brinton, B., & Fujiki, M. (1993).  Language, social skills, and socioemotional behavior.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 24, 194-198.
  • Brinton, B. & Fujiki, M. (1995). Intervention with conversational skills.  In M. E. Fey, J. Windsor, & S. Warren, (Eds.) Communication intervention for school-age children (pp. 183-212).  Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
  • Brinton, B., Fujiki, M., & Powell, J. M. (1997).  The ability of children with language impairment to manipulate topic in a structured task.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 28, 3-11.
  • Brinton B., & Fujiki, M. (2012). Social and affective factors in children with language impairment. Implications for literacy learning. In C. A. Stone, E. R. Silliman, B. J. Ehren, & K. Apel (Eds.), Handbook of language and literacy: Development and disorders (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Guilford.
  • Ford, J., & Milosky, L. (2003). Inferring emotional reactions in social situations: Differences in children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46(1), 21-30.
  • Fujiki, M. & Brinton, B. (1994).  The social competence of children with specific language impairment.  In M. L. Rice & R. Watkins (Eds.) Language intervention with children with specific language impairment (pp. 123-143). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
  • Fujiki, M., Brinton, B., & Todd, C.M. (1996).  Social skills of children with specific language impairment.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 27, 195-202.
  • Fujiki, M., Spackman, M. P., Brinton, B., & Illig, T. (2008). Ability of children with language impairment to understand emotion conveyed by prosody in a narrative passage. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 43(3), 330-345
  • Longobardi, E, Spataro, P, Frigerio A & Rescorla, L (2015) Language and social competence in typically developing children and late talkers between 18 and 35 months of age. Early Child Development and Care.
  • Semrud-Clikeman, M. (2007). Social competence in children. New York, NY: Springer.

Helpful Smart Speech Resources Related to Assessment and Treatment of Social Pragmatic Disorders 

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Friend or Friendly: What Does Age Have To Do with It?

In my social pragmatic language groups I target a wide variety of social communication goals for children with varying levels and degrees of impairment with a focus on improving their social pragmatic language competence.  In the past I have written blog posts on a variety of social  pragmatic language therapy topics, including strategies for improving students’ emotional intelligence as well as on how to teach students to develop insight into own strengths and weaknesses.  Today I wanted to discuss the importance of teaching students with social communication impairments, age recognition for friendship and safety purposes.

Now it is important to note that the focus of my sessions is a bit different from the focus of “teaching protective behaviors”, “circles of intimacy and relationships” or “teaching kids to deal with tricky people. Rather the goal is to teach the students to recognize who it is okay “to hang out” or be friends with, and who is considered to be too old/too young to be a friend.

Why is it important to teach age recognition?

There are actually quite a few reasons.

Firstly, it is a fairly well-known fact that in the absence of age-level peers with similar weaknesses, students with social communication deficits will seek out either much younger or much older children as playmates/friends as these individuals are far less likely to judge them for their perceived social deficits. While this may be a short-term solution to the “friendship problem” it also comes with its own host of challenges.  By maintaining relationships with peers outside of their age group, it is difficult for children with social communication impairments to understand and relate to peers of their age group in school setting. This creates a wider chasm in the classroom and increases the risk of peer isolation and bullying.

Secondly, the difficulty presented by friendships significantly outside of one’s peer group, is  the risk of, for lack of better words, ‘getting into trouble’. This may include but is not limited to exploring own sexuality (which is perfectly normal) with a significantly younger child (which can be problematic) or be instigated by an older child/adolescent in doing something inappropriate (e.g, shoplifting, drinking, smoking, exposing self to peers, etc.).

Thirdly, this difficulty (gauging people’s age) further exacerbates the students’ social communication deficits as it prevents them from effectively understanding such pragmatic parameters such as audience (e.g., with whom its appropriate to use certain language in a certain tone and with whom it is not) and topic (with whom it is appropriate to discuss certain subjects and with whom it is not).

So due to the above reasons I began working on age recognition with the students (6+ years of age) on my caseload diagnosed with social communication and language impairments.   I mention language impairments because it is very important to understand that more and more research is coming out connecting language impairments with social communication deficits. Therefore it’s not just students on the autism spectrum or students with social pragmatic deficits (an official DSM-5 diagnosis) who have difficulties in the area of social communication. Students with language impairments could also benefit from services focused on improving their social communication skills.

I begin my therapy sessions on age recognition by presenting the students with photos of people of different ages and asking them to attempt to explain how old do they think the people in the pictures are and what visual clues and/or prior knowledge assisted them in the formulation of their responses. I typically select the pictures from some of the social pragmatic therapy materials packets that I had created over the years (e.g., Gauging Moods, Are You Being Social?, Multiple Interpretations, etc.).

I make sure to carefully choose my pictures based on the student’s age and experience to ensure that the student has at least some degree of success making guesses.  So for a six-year-old I would select pictures of either toddlers or children his/her age to begin teaching them recognition of concepts: “same” and “younger” (e.g., Social Pragmatic Photo Bundle for Early Elementary Aged Children).

Kids playing in the room

For older children, I vary the photos of different aged individuals significantly.  I also introduce relevant vocabulary words as related to a particular age demographic, such as:

  • Infant (0-1 years of age)
  • Toddler (2-3 years of age)
  • Preschooler (3-5 years of age)
  • Teenager (individual between 13-19 years of age)
  • Early, mid and late 20s, 30s, 40s
  • Middle-aged (individuals around 50 years of age)
  • Senior/senior citizen (individuals ~65+ years of age)

I explain to the students that people of different ages look differently and teach them how to identify relevant visual clues to assist them with making educated guesses about people’s ages.  I also use photos of my own family or ask the students to bring in their own family photos to use for age determination of people in the presented pictures.  When students learn the ages of their own family members, they have an easier time determining the age ranges of strangers.

My next step is to explain to students the importance of understanding people’s ages.  I present to the students a picture of an individual significantly younger or older than them and ask them whether it’s appropriate to be that person’s friend.   Here students with better developed insight will state that it is not appropriate to be that person’s friend because they have nothing in common with them and do not share their interests. In contrast, students with limited insight will state that it’s perfectly okay to be that person’s friend.

This is the perfect teachable moment for explaining the difference between “friend” and “friendly”. Here I again reiterate that people of different ages have significantly different interests as well as have significant differences in what they are allowed to do (e.g., a 16-year-old is allowed to have a driver’s permit in many US states as well as has a later curfew while an 11-year-old clearly doesn’t).  I also explain that it’s perfectly okay to be friendly and polite with older or younger people in social situations (e.g., say hello all, talk, answer questions, etc.) but that does not constitute true friendship.

I also ask students to compile a list of qualities of what they look for in a “friend” as well as have them engage in some perspective taking (e.g, have them imagine that they showed up at a toddler’s house and asked to play with him/her, or that a teenager came into their house, and what their parents reaction would be?).

Finally, I discuss with students the importance of paying attention to who wants to hang out/be friends with them as well as vice versa (individuals they want to hang out with) in order to better develop their insight into the appropriateness of relationships. I instruct them to think critically when an older individual (e.g,  young adult) wants to get particularly close to them.  I use examples from an excellent post written by a colleague and good friend, Maria Del Duca of Communication Station Blog re: dealing with tricky people, in order to teach them to recognize signs of individuals crossing the boundary of being friendly, and what to do about it.

So there you have it. These are some of the reasons why I teach age recognition to clients with social communication weaknesses. Do you teach age recognition to your clients? If so, comment under this post, how do you do it and what materials do you use?

Helpful Smart Speech Resources Related to Assessment and Treatment of Social Pragmatic Disorders 

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Improving Emotional Intelligence of Children with Social Communication Disorders

Our ability to recognize our own and other people’s emotions, distinguish between and correctly identify different feelings, as well as use that information to guide our thinking and behavior is called Emotional Intelligence (EI) (Salovey, et al, 2008).

EI encompasses dual areas of: emotion understanding, which is an awareness and comprehension of one’s and others emotions (Harris, 2008) and emotion regulation, which are internal and external strategies people use to regulate emotions (Thompson, 1994).

Many students with social communication challenges experience problems with all aspects of EI, including the perception, comprehension, and regulation of emotions (Brinton & Fujiki, 2012).

A number of recent studies have found that children with language impairments also present with impaired emotional intelligence including impaired perception of facial expressions (Spackman, Fujiki, Brinton, Nelson, & Allen, 2005), prosodic emotions (Fujiki, Spackman, Brinton, & Illig, 2008) as well as abstract emotion comprehension (Ford & Milosky, 2003).

Children with impaired emotional intelligence will experience numerous difficulties during social interactions due to their difficulty interpreting emotional cues of others (Cloward, 2012).  These may include but not be limited to active participation in cooperative activities, as well as full/competent interactions during group tasks (Brinton, Fujiki, & Powell, 1997)

Many students with social pragmatic deficits and language impairments are taught to recognize emotional states as part of their therapy goals. However, the provided experience frequently does not go beyond the recognition of the requisite “happy”, “mad”, “sad” emotions. At times, I even see written blurbs from others therapists, which state that “the student has mastered the goals of emotion recognition”.  However, when probed further it appears that the student had merely mastered the basic spectrum of simple emotional states, which places the student at a distinct disadvantage  as compared to typically developing peers who are capable of recognition and awareness of a myriad of complex emotional states.

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That is why I developed a product to target abstract emotional states comprehension in children with language impairments and social communication disorders. “Gauging Moods and Interpreting Abstract Emotional States: A Perspective Taking Activity Packet” is a social pragmatic photo/question set,  intended for children 7+ years of age, who present with difficulty recognizing abstract emotional states of others (beyond the “happy, mad, sad” option) as well as appropriately gauging their moods.

Many sets contain additional short stories with questions that focus on making inferencing, critical thinking as well as interpersonal negotiation skills.  Select sets require the students to create their own stories with a focus on the reasons why the person in the photograph might be feeling what s/he are feeling.

There are on average 12-15 questions per each photo.  Each page contains a photograph of a person feeling a particular emotion. After the student is presented with the photograph, they are asked a number of questions pertaining to the recognition of the person’s emotions, mood, the reason behind the emotion they are experiencing as well as what they could be potentially thinking at the moment.  Students are also asked to act out the depicted emotion they use of mirror.

Activities also include naming or finding (in a thesaurus or online) the synonyms and antonyms of a particular word in order to increase students’ vocabulary knowledge. A comprehensive two page “emotions word bank” is included in the last two pages of the packet to assist the students with the synonym/antonym selection, in the absence of a thesaurus or online access.

Students are also asked to use a target word in a complex sentence containing an adverbial (pre-chosen for them) as well as to identify a particular word or phrase associated with the photo or the described story situation.

Since many students with social pragmatic language deficits present with difficulty determining a person’s age (and prefer to relate to either younger or older individuals who are perceived to be “less judgmental of their difficulties”), this concept is also explicitly targeted in the packet.

This activity is suitable for both individual therapy sessions as well as group work.  In addition to its social pragmatic component is also intended to increase vocabulary knowledge and use as well as sentence length of children with language impairments.

Intended Audiences:

  • Clients with Language Impairments
  • Clients with Social Pragmatic Language Difficulties
  • Clients with Executive Function Difficulties
  • Clients with Psychiatric Impairments
    • ODD, ADHD, MD, Anxiety, Depression, etc.
  • Clients with Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Clients with Nonverbal Learning Disability
  • Clients with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • Adult and pediatric post-Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) clients
  • Clients with right-side CVA Damage

Areas covered in this packet:

  1. Gauging Age (based on visual support and pre-existing knowledge)
  2. Gauging Moods (based on visual clues and context)
  3. Explaining Facial Expressions
  4. Making Social Predictions and Inferences (re: people’s emotions)
  5. Assuming First Person Perspectives
  6. Understanding Sympathy
  7. Vocabulary Knowledge and Use (pertaining to the concept of Emotional Intelligence)
  8. Semantic Flexibility (production of synonyms and antonyms)
  9. Complex Sentence Production
  10. Expression of Emotional Reactions
  11. Problem Solving Social Situations
  12. Friendship Management and Peer Relatedness

This activity is suitable for both individual therapy sessions as well as group work.  In addition to its social pragmatic component is also intended to increase vocabulary knowledge and use as well as sentence length of children with language impairments. You can find it in my online store (HERE).

Helpful Smart Speech Resources:

References:

  1. Brinton, B., Fujiki, M., & Powell, J. M. (1997). The ability of children with language impairment to manipulate topic in a structured task. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 28, 3-11.
  2. Brinton B., & Fujiki, M. (2012). Social and affective factors in children with language impairment. Implications for literacy learning. In C. A. Stone, E. R. Silliman, B. J. Ehren, & K. Apel (Eds.), Handbook of language and literacy: Development and disorders (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Guilford.
  3. Cloward, R. (2012). The milk jug project: Expression of emotion in children with language impairment and autism spectrum disorder (Unpublished honor’s thesis). Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
  4. Ford, J., & Milosky, L. (2003). Inferring emotional reactions in social situations: Differences in children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46(1), 21-30.
  5. Fujiki, M., Spackman, M. P., Brinton, B., & Illig, T. (2008). Ability of children with language impairment to understand emotion conveyed by prosody in a narrative passage. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 43(3), 330-345
  6. Harris, P. L. (2008). Children’s understanding of emotion. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones, & L. Feldman Barrett, (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (3rd ed., pp. 320–331). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  7. Salovey, P., Detweiler-Bedell, B. T., Detweiler-Bedell, J. B., & Mayer, J. D. (2008). Emotional intelligence. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones, & L. Feldman Barrett (Eds.), Handbook of Emotions (3rd ed., pp. 533-547). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  8. Spackman, M. P., Fujiki, M., Brinton, B., Nelson, D., & Allen, J. (2005). The ability of children with language impairment to recognize emotion conveyed by facial expression and music. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 26(3), 131-143.
  9. Thompson, R. (1994). Emotion regulation: A theme in search of definition. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2-3), 25-52

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Teaching “Insight” to students with language, social communication, and executive functions impairments

One common difficulty our “higher functioning” (refers to subjective notion of ‘perceived’ functioning in school setting only) language impaired students with social communication and executive function difficulties present with – is lack of insight into own strengths and weaknesses.

Yet insight is a very important skill, which most typically developing students exhibit without consciously thinking about it. Having insight allows students to review work for errors, compensate for any perceived weaknesses effectively, and succeed with efficient juggling of academic workload.

In contrast, lack of insight in students with language deficits further compounds their difficulties, as they lack realization into own weaknesses and as a result are unable to effectively compensate for them.

That is why I started to explicitly teach the students on my caseload in both psychiatric hospital and private practice the concept of insight.

Now some of you may have some legitimate concerns. You may ask: “How can one teach such an abstract concept to students who are already impaired in their comprehension of language?” The answer to that is – I teach this concept through a series of concrete steps as well as through the introduction of abstract definitions, simplified for the purpose of my sessions into concrete terms.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that the acquisition of “insight” cannot be accomplished in one or even several sessions. Rather after this concept is introduced and the related vocabulary has been ‘internalized’ by the student,  thematic therapy sessions can be used to continue the acquisition of “insight” for months and even years to come.

"The Beginning" Road Sign with dramatic blue sky and clouds.

How do we begin? 

When I first started teaching this concept I used to explain the terminology related to “insight” verbally to students. However, as my own ‘insight’ developed in response to the students’ performance, I created a product to assist them with the acquisition of insight (See HERE).

Intended Audiences:

  • Clients with Language Impairments
  • Clients with Social Pragmatic Language Difficulties
  • Clients with Executive Function Difficulties
  • Clients with Psychiatric Impairments
    • ODD, ADHD, MD, Anxiety, Depression, etc.
  • Clients with Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Clients with Nonverbal Learning Disability
  • Clients with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • Adult and pediatric post-Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) clients
  • Clients with right-side CVA Damage

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This thematic 10 page packet targets the development of “insight” in students with average IQ, 8+ years of age, presenting with social pragmatic and executive function difficulties.

The packet contains 1 page text explaining the concept of insight to students.

It also contains 11 Tier II vocabulary words relevant to the discussion of insight and their simplified definitions. The words were selected based on course curriculum standards for several grade levels (fourth through seventh) due to their wide usage in a variety of subjects (social studies, science, math, etc.)

Language activities in this packet include:

  • Explaining definitions
  • Answering open-ended comprehension questions
  • Sentence construction activity
  • Crossword puzzle
  • Two morphological awareness activities
    • Define prefixes and suffixes
    • Change word meanings by adding prefixes and suffixes to words
  • Self-reflection page in written format contains questions for students to assist them with judging their own strengths and weaknesses related to academic performance

And now a few words regarding the lesson structure

I introduce the concept of “insight” to clients by writing down the word and asking them to identify its parts: ‘in‘ and ‘sight‘. Depending on the student’s level of abilities I either get to the students to explain it to me or explain it myself that it is a compound word made up of two other words.

I then ask the students to interpret what the word could potentially mean. After I hear their responses I either confirm the correct one or end up explaining that this word refers to “looking into one’s brain” for answers related to how well someone understands information.

I have the students read the text located on the first page of my packet going over the concept of insight and some of its associated vocabulary words.  I ask the students to tell me the main idea of each paragraph as well as answer questions regarding supporting text details.

Once I am confident that the students have a fairly good grasp of the presented text I move on to the definitions page. There are actually two definition pages in the lesson: one at the beginning and one at the end of the packet. The first definitions page also contains word meaning and what parts of speech the definitions belong to.  The definition page at the end of the packet contains only the targeted words. It is now the students responsibility to write down the definition of all the vocabulary words and phrases in order for me to see how well they remember the meanings of pertinent words.

The packet also includes comprehension questions, a section on sentence construction several morphological awareness activities, a crossword puzzle and a self-reflection page.

The final activity in the packet requires the student to judge their own work performance during this activity.  I ask students questions such as:

  • How do you think you did on this task?
  • How do you know you did ________?
  • How can you prove to me you understood ________?

If a student responds “I know I did well because I understood everything”, I typically ask them to prove their comprehension to me, verbally. Here the goal is to have the student provide concrete verbal examples supporting their insight of their performance.

 This may include statements such as:

  • I know I did well because you said: “Nice Work!”
  • I know I did well because you didn’t correct me too much
  • I know I did well because you  kept smiling and showed me thumbs up as I was talking

As mentioned above this activity is only the beginning. After I ensure that the students have a decent grasp of this concept I continue working on it indirectly by having the students continuously judge their own performance on a variety of other therapy related activities and assignments.

You can find the complete packet on teaching “insight” in my online store (HERE).  Also, stay tuned for Part II of this series, which will describe how to continue solidifying the concept of “insight” in the context of therapy sessions for students with social pragmatic and executive function deficits.

Helpful Smart Speech Resources: