Holly Ballard MS/CCCslp
Crystal Hutchins MS/CCCslp
Sherrie Susser MA/CCCslp
Randi Weinberg MA/CCCslp

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Learning and the Adolescent Brain

I truly love working with adolescents – their energy, enthusiasm, creativity and their rapid ability to learn and change make them an exciting group of students to work with.  That being said, as both a parent and teacher of teens and pre-teens, I will be the first to admit that it is often no picnic.

“She didn’t used to forget everything!  She was my dependable one!”

“She never would have done something so irresponsible last year….”

“I only made a suggestion and he just exploded on me.”

“He loses every piece of homework.”

“She cries about everything!”

This kind of input I have heard from parents of teens (or said about my own) across the board.  So why does this period of child development feel like such a hurricane?

One important thing to understand about adolescents is that their brain is still very much under construction.  While many of their functions are mature like an adult, especially in the lower parts of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex is still in development.  This part of the brain is responsible for planning and organizing, inhibiting impulses, and prioritizing.  It is not fully developed in males until approximately age 23 and in females at about 21.   Yet this is the part of the brain we access to prevent blurting a random opinion, decide the steps to solve a problem, or avoid a risky situation.  Can this lead to problems in middle and high school?   It sure can!

Interestingly, when adult brains are scanned as they view pictures of people who are frowning or upset, they use the pre-frontal cortex (the thinking, planning, judging part of the brain) to interpret it.  When teens are shown pictures of the same people, they are scanned and are using the amygdala, part of the limbic system, which is the ‘emotional response and fight-or-flight part of the brain’.  This can explain their responses that seem extreme to a minor incident (ex. “Why didn’t you take out the trash like I asked you to?”).  They are processing that information in the part of the brain we use to survive danger rather than using judgment and weighing the relative importance of the problem.

Adolescents tend more to use a trial-and-error method of problem solving because they are not using their pre-frontal cortex as efficiently as adults.  This can look impulsive and somewhat risky to adults.  However, it is this willingness to embrace risks which also enables teens to try many more new things in a short period of time when compared to their fully adult counterparts (ex. “This term I want to do field hockey…..No, now I like theater”).  What seems like a rapid shift to us reflects the way their brains are developing.  They are also able to rapidly acquire information compared to adults, which comes in handy because they have so many subjects to learn in a day!

It helps to realize that they are developing exactly as they should, even when it can be frustrating from the adult viewpoint.  They are in process and the organizational skills, ability to inhibit an impulse rather than act on it, and ability to prioritize and make sound judgments will continue to develop throughout their remaining time at school.  This hurricane of the middle and high school experience is blessedly normal.

Holly Ballard, M.S., CCC-SLP
Littleton Middle and High School

P.S. In the next blog update, I will provide suggestions for creating structure and organization at home to help them as they work on acquiring these skills in the meantime.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Language Modeling Techniques

Listed below are a variety of techniques that you can use to expand and encourage correct and more mature language production. You may find that you are already doing many of these naturally. Many of these techniques are geared towards younger children or children who are at the earlier stages of acquiring language; however, there are some techniques you can apply to higher level language students.

Highlighting - Emphasize the words your child leaves out of sentences or misuses by saying the words louder with a different pitch. This also works with misarticulated words - repeat the word by overemphasizing the correct sound. This technique models and encourages correct speech and language skills without having your child become frustrated by constantly repeating you.
Ex: "SHE dropped HER spoon."

Self-Talk - Talk to your child about what you are doing while you are doing it, as long as your child is interested.
Ex: "I am stirring the soup." "Now I am taking out the shampoo so I can wash your hair."

Parallel Talk - Talk to your child about what he/she is doing while he/she is doing it.
Ex: "You are eating an apple." "You threw the ball to John."

Expansion - When your child gestures, vocalizes, or uses words or sentences, expand the communication into a more adult-like utterance.
Ex: "Yes, Daddy is coming down the stairs” in response to a child pointing and saying “Daddy"

Expansion Plus - Expand your child's utterances and then add some more information.
Ex: "Uh-h, the truck is broken. The wheel came off." in response to child's "Truck broke."

Description - Talk to your child about what he/she sees while he/she sees it, by describing it without reference to the child.
Ex: "The soup is hot." "That's a tall tree."

Waiting - Give your child time to respond to your utterances. It may take time for your child to formulate a response or locate the right articulators. Allowing additional time for a response takes the pressure off of the child. Use body language and facial expressions to show that you expect a response.
Ex. "Do you want more?" (pause while maintaining eye contact) Child: "More"

Forced Choices - Rather than asking your child a broad question or a yes/no question, ask him/her a forced- choice question.
Ex: "Do you want an apple or crackers?"

Defining - expand on your child’s utterances by introducing and defining different words. You can also provide synonyms/antonyms to expand vocabulary.
Ex: Child: "Big truck." Adult: “Yes, that big truck is a fire truck. It is used to put out fires
and help people in an emergency.”
Child: “That is really dirty.” Adult: “Yes, the counter is very messy. It is not clean. Let’s wipe it down to make it clean.”

Slow Rate - Model slow, clear and coherent sentences when speaking with your child, if he/she is working on these skills. It can be difficult to slow down and be mindful of the way you talk especially with all we have going on, but you are your child’s best language model!

Crystal Hutchins, MS/CCCslp

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Articulation Development

Articulation is the production of speech sounds; it is the “speech” part of speech and language services. Many parents of younger students wonder if their child’s speech errors are age appropriate or not. The link below displays an easy to read chart of the development of children’s speech sounds. It is important to remember that all children develop differently at different ages so view the charts below more as a guideline (see charts from blog posting 4/8/2014).

Should I be concerned?

Sometimes children experience numerous sound errors in connected speech even though they may be able to produce sounds correctly in words. Sometimes it is a matter of getting your child to slow down his/her speech. Other times the sounds have not yet been generalized to conversational speech. It may be time to be concerned if familiar listeners have trouble understanding your child’s speech and/or if your child is becoming frustrated when he/she is not understood.

There are numerous ways to remediate articulation errors, some of which you can do yourself at home such as following a home program put together by an SLP. General education services are also available on a short-term basis. Talk to your child’s teacher or a speech/language therapist if you have any concerns.

Crystal Hutchins, MS/CCCslp

Friday, May 23, 2014

Activities to help facilitate word retrieval skills

Parents: There are many fun activities/games that can be played to facilitate word
retrieval skills. Below are a few suggestions:

* Play word classification games - have your child think of items that would fit in a
category. If you want, time your child and see how many items she can come up with in a certain category, then see if she makes progress over time.

* Play "I am thinking of …” - describe an item or define a word and have your child guess the item/word. You will be providing good models for describing objects and promoting vocabulary growth.

* Fill in the blank associations - have your child complete common phrases and sentences. This will help him use the context to trigger a target word. (e.g., peanut butter and ___, a pair of ___)

* Play “What’s missing?” - choose a task and list the items needed to complete the task while leaving out one key item. For example, if making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you would need bread, a knife, jelly, and ____ .

* List items needed for a specific task - have your child name a task and then ask her to tell you all of the things she would need to complete that task. For example, if the task is sledding, your child could say, “coat, snow pants, hat, mittens, boots, sled, etc.” Encourage your child to visualize herself completing the activity.

* Completing similes. A simile is when you say that something is ___ as a ___. Provide a descriptive word for your child and have her finish the simile. For example, you could say “as fuzzy as a___ .” See if your child can come up with multiple options.

* Synonyms/Antonyms - tell your child a word and have him come up with one synonym (a word that means the same thing) or one antonym (a word that means the opposite) or both.

These are simple “word games” you can play during daily activities such as taking or walk or riding in the car. If these games seem too difficult for your child, use visuals such as objects or pictures to help. Providing auditory cues such as “it starts with ‘t’” or “it goes with a bucket” can be really helpful as well.

The point of these kinds of activities is to practice word retrieval skills and strategies. If your child is becoming frustrated with the activity then take a break or try something easier. Most of all,have fun!

Crystal Hutchins, MS/CCCslp

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Being Social

Some of our students find communicative interactions throughout their day as very challenging. Often times, children with difficulties in the social thinking realm carry an Autism Spectrum, Behavioral or Emotional diagnosis. These children are unsure of how to use their language to achieve a variety of communication goals such as requesting, informing, expressing, regulating, ritualizing, persuading and organizing.  

Our social thinking abilities are something that usually develop naturally from infancy. For disordered social thinkers, this process is anything but natural. When we find ourselves in any communicative interaction, it is typical to think about the other person. Do they look agitated? Are they in a hurry? Does he understand what I need etc.? These impressions guide how we react and how we manage the interaction within the communication dynamic.

Children with disordered social thinking often are said to have difficulties with perspective taking. They cannot understand another’s point of view or the fact that people can view or  react differently to the same situation . Other  social skill issues include difficulty joining into a conversation, poor eye contact,  maintaining a topic of conversation, and managing emotions, just to name a few.

Children with social issues need direct and explicit teaching of these skills , as they did not learn them typically through observation in natural contexts.  Once a child has learned a specific skill with their therapist or counselor, they can then practice the skill in a  structured group.  Often times after this point the skills can be practiced in  a  more naturalistic setting such as out on the playground or in a lunch group .

The ability to be social  and socially appropriate is difficult  for many but may be a significant, if not primary  factor in one’s academic and  professional  development at any age. There are many treatment strategies available if you suspect that your child needs help to improve their social thinking throughout their school day.

Randi Weinberg MA/CCCslp

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Articulation Practice

Two charts are provided above regarding the development of speech sounds. There are some generalities about speech sound development as well as some variances.  As sounds develop the sound could begin to develop  at the age level noted above or be developed by the age listed.  Depending upon the researchers  who studied sound development, the age levels vary.

As your child participates in speech therapy it is a good idea to have some practice opportunities at home.  Your child will learn to make their sounds in a progressive manner.  First: isolation (learning correct tongue placement, lip structure,  air flow, and voice characteristics).   Second: syllables (making the sound with a vowel, example: pa, ap, apa, ip, pi, ipi, etc.). Third: words, using the sounds in a word.  Fourth:  using the sound/ word in a short phrase or sentence.  Fifth: using the sound in a longer sentence. Sixth: using the sound in conversations.  This is the last level, it  is called  generalization, using the sound in all contexts/ settings. 

It is important to remember that learning any new skill is progressive, same as for sound development.  When a child can make the sound in isolation, he/ she will have go through the  progressive stages before you will hear the sound in conversations.  It is important to practice at home so that the consistency with practice is provided.   This will facilitate the maintenance of the sound  as well as progression. 

Another skill that is important for a child to learn is self monitoring and self correction. This involves your son/daughter listening to their speech and noticing/correcting their own errors.  This seems to be an easy skill to learn however, it progresses over time (and is very hard to do).   Try it: when you speak make a conscious effort to notice your tongue and lip movements.  What happens? Does your rate of speech slow down? Can you listen to your speech sounds and get your message across to another person at the same time? Is this easy to do?

Below are some suggestions to work on speech sounds with your child.  Your child's speech therapist will let you know the sound or group of sounds your child is working on.
Find articulation practice sheets on the Internet. Do a google search of: articulation, sound practice sheets, sh worksheets, z pictures, etc.
Play a memory game and find pictures that have your child's speech sound. Use the picture cards in the game.
Cut pictures from magazines that have your child's speech sound. Make a picture collage or a book. Practice using the pictures.

As always, talk with your speech therapist if you have any questions.  We are here to help.  Remember that practicing with your child should be a fun experience. If it is not, please contact your speech therapist for further ideas/suggestions.

Sherri Shire-Susser M.A. CCC/SLP

What is Auditory Processing?

Simply stated, auditory processing is the how well our brain perceives and makes sense of incoming information. Think about this common school scenario when a classroom teacher says to her students:

“Ok class, before we open up our math books to page 55, get out your homework from last night and put it on the left hand corner of your desk for me to collect and review. While I am collecting your homework you can work with problems 1-10 on page 55.“ Some students may take out their math book and then not have a clue as to what to do next. Some students may take out their homework but not their math book. Some students may do nothing at all. Why does this happen? Is it because the student was distracted? Do they have difficulty following multi-part directions? Were they socializing and missed the instruction entirely? Does the student have a hearing loss? Could this be an auditory processing issue? All of these explanations are possibilities and can occur by themselves or in conjunction with each other.

Some students hear the words or sounds but have a problem processing them or making sense of them especially when the language is lengthy or complex, when it is spoken rapidly, when there is a lot background noise occurring in conjunction with the words or when there is a lot of visual stimulation going on. The actual cause of an auditory processing disorder is often unknown.

Both an audiologist and a speech/language pathologist determine the diagnosis of an auditory processing or a central auditory processing disorder. Often the terms central auditory processing disorder and auditory processing disorder are used interchangeably. The audiologist will rule in or out a hearing disorder while the speech/language pathologist will look at both the receptive and expressive language that a student understands and produces. Processing disorders affect approximately 5% of students. Processing disorders affect learning particularly in the areas of reading and spelling. Early intervention and treatment are the most beneficial ways to help your child learn strategies to minimize their processing issues.

Once a processing disorder has been diagnosed most children will work with their school speech pathologist on their specific areas of weakness within the processing profile. They could have a specific weakness with memory, comprehension or phonemic awareness. Below are a few classroom accommodations that will be very important to be part of your child’s overall intervention process:

  • Use simple, brief directions.
  • Give directions in a logical, time ordered sequence. Use words such as first, next and finally in order to make the sequence clear.
  • Repeat as well as rephrase directions.
  • Use visual aids and write instructions to supplement spoken information. Teach the student with a multimodal approach whenever possible.
  • Emphasize key words when speaking or writing especially when presenting new information. Pre instruction with emphasis on the main ideas to be presented may also be helpful.
  • Check comprehension by asking the student questions or asking for a brief summary after key ideas have presented.
  • Encourage the student to ask questions for further clarification.
  • Provide advantageous seating, away from distractions and close to the teacher. This will enable the student to make better use of auditory and visual cues.
  • Make instructional transitions clear.
  • Continual repetition and review of previously learned material may be beneficial.
  • Recognize periods of real fatigue and give breaks as necessary.
  • Avoid asking the student to listen and write at the same time. Tape recording and teacher-generated notes may be beneficial.
  • Provide the student with as many graphic organizers as possible.
  • Give the student additional processing and formulation time as needed.

Submitted by:  Randi Weinberg

Friday, January 17, 2014

Word Retrieval Strategies/Suggestions

Below is a list of strategies to facilitate word retrieval skills. Suggestions are provided for both teachers and parents.

·         Provide ample time for the student to respond.

·         Use cuing strategies. A cue is a "hint" or "clue" as to what the missing word might be.  The cues include the following:

o   phonemic cue/phonetic - this cue is providing the first sound of the word the student is trying to retrieve. For example, if the student is thinking of the word "vehicle" you might say, "ohh you're thinking of a word that starts with a "vwvvvvvv...." (Make an extended /V/  sound).

o   semantic cues - these cues are categories, background, associations, synonyms, antonyms, functions. For example, for the word "vehicle" you might provide the category name or features of the word: "This word is another word for car", or "This is an object that you ride in, has wheels, has a horn, people drive it to work, etc."  Another example, for the word "horse", you might say "It's a farm animal". Background is what you know about the word/item. For example, if you saw this item at a car show, you might say "remember the time we went to a car show and I said the red corvette was a cool " (vehicle).

o   cloze exercises - this cue involves saying a familiar phrase or a sentence and leaving the last word out. For example, "We played a game of "(Checkers, monopoly, etc.).

·         When the child has a difficult time retrieving a word use the above cues. If you notice the student is still struggling then provide choices or just tell the answer. For example, "Is this a vehicle or an instrument?"

·         Avoid interrupting or filling in a word. This could increase a child's frustration.

·         Use a slower rate of speech. This encourages the child to speak slowly, which makes it easier for him/her to retrieve words.

·         Encourage your child to advocate for himself or herself. Instead of a child saying "I don't know", the student could say, "I am having trouble thinking of the word", "I need extra time to think". "Wait I am thinking". "Could you help me?"

·         In the classroom, provide word banks when possible, provide tests that incorporate multiple choice questions, provide cue cards to use during tests, implement take home exams, incorporate true/false statements on tests/quizzes.

by Sherri Shire-Susser

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thinking about Word Retrieval
We have all had the experience of talking to a friend and not being able to recall the name of the restaurant that we went to, or meeting somebody that you have met before and not being able to recall their name. We think of this experience as “It’s on the tip of my tongue.” My students experience this also, some to a much greater extent than others. As adults we know a few things that we can do to help move our conversation along. We might say that the restaurant name sounds like… or it starts with a “P” sound, or we might even begin to describe what we can remember about the restaurant such as its location, or the specialty dish that they serve. As adults we can do this because we are savvy conversationalists. For the students that are continually plagued with retrieval issues, they need to be taught ways to move through this conversational blockage.

Kids that experience word retrieval issues may seem to grope for words and have many pauses within their discourse. They may have a lot of revisions or reformulations in their speech. They may use a lot of fillers, such as “um” and “you know.” They often use a lot of general words for their intended word. They use many words such as “things” and “stuff” in their conversation and often have difficulty labeling specific nouns and verbs. Kids experiencing retrieval issues may give a word that sounds like the target word such as “strump” for “stump.” They may use a related but inaccurate word such as “leopard” for “lion.” These kids have a difficult time relating past experiences, talking about their day etc. Sometimes those with retrieval issues may use a lot of hand gestures to help convey their words and conversational meaning.

As parents of a child experiencing retrieval issues we can ask them to provide a synonym or another word that means the same thing.  We can ask our child to describe the word that they are thinking of. To help our children be more word proficient we can play rhyming, opposite and word association games with them as you drive to and from daily activities. You can play timed games with them such as “Tell me all the holidays that you can think of in one minute.”

For teachers within the classroom we may be able to help our student’s retrieval issues by offering a preview of targeted lesson vocabulary so that the child is more familiar with the words. We can call on them in a group discussion when they are most likely to succeed. Providing visuals to accompany our lessons is helpful. We can offer alternate methods of responses to demonstrate their knowledge.  Rather than requiring a verbal response, students can write it down, draw a picture etc. We can provide alternate methods of assessment such as multiple choice and true/false formats on tests or even offer take home tests. We can provide word banks on tests.

For more information on word retrieval you may wish to visit some of the attached links:

submitted by:  Randi Weinberg