Easy Ways to Increase Your Child’s Executive Functioning This Summer!

Elizabeth Sautter, one of the co-authors of the Whole Body Listening Larry books, recently wrote a blog post about strategies she employs at home to increase her child’s executive functioning skills and decrease nagging. What are executive function skills? Executive function are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.

  • Working memory governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time.
  • Mental flexibility helps us to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings.
  • Self-control enables us to set priorities and resist impulsive actions or responses.


Read the blog post here, it is chock full of excellent ideas! http://makesociallearningstick.com/1/post/2015/05/i-resigned-from-my-job-as-the-household-nagger.html

I love strategies 1 & 2 and we regularly employ strategies #3-7 at school. See if you can carry some of these into your home and decrease the amount of reminders your child needs this summer.

If you discover other strategies that work well with you child, please share!


Social Thinking Group Updates ~ 3rd Nine Weeks

We’ve had a great time in Social Thinking groups over the past 9 weeks. Here are updates about the topics that we’ve tackled…

  • Kindergarten/1st grade group: We’ve been learning the basics of Whole Body Listening and have read the book Whole Body Listening Larry at School. We’ve practiced “looking like Larry” as we attend with our whole body to the group. We’ve continued to work on being able to accurately identify feelings in static examples and beginning to attach the “why” of thoughts to the feelings. We’ve worked on basic play skills including sharing, taking turns, participating in a game even when it is not our preferred activity, and handling winning and losing. Finally, we’ve begun to work on basic social problem solving in book format by reading a story with a problem and then rewinding back to the beginning to find another way to approach the issue that will result in a more positive solution. These boys are working hard!
  • 1st grade group: We began this 9 weeks by studying the Social Detective. The Social Detective is a super smart dude who uses three tools to help him make good social guesses. The tools in the social detective’s toolbag are his EYES, EARS, and BRAIN. He takes the information he sees and hears and runs it through his brain computer to be able to make a smart social guess about what is expected and what might happen next.

    We practiced first with static images and then moved onto short dynamic video clips where the boys had to identify what in the video was expected/unexpected and make a prediction about what might happen next. This is TOUGH, but they became successful Social Detectives!

    Next, we moved on to beginning to learn about Superflex. Superflex is a super hero who uses his flexible brain power to help him defeat a team of Unthinkables. Unthinkables are not “bad guys”, but instead are troublemakers who bother all of us at different times. So far, we’ve learned about defeating Rockbrain (his power is making you get stuck on your own ideas and not flexing to work with the group) and Crankenstein (who makes you fuss and say or do mean things when you don’t get your way). When the boys demonstrated that they knew basic facts about Superflex and were ready to take on the challenge of growing their Superflexible powers, they were awarded with a Superflex cape. They have since earned their first “power badge” for demonstrating the power to defeat Rockbrain. They are currently working on earning their second “power badge” for defeating Crankenstein.

    One of the ways that we’ve practiced defeating Rockbrain was by running obstacle courses on the playground. But there was a catch! At any time in the routine, we would call “freeze” and change the plan. The kids had to be able to switch their activity to match the new direction. 

    2nd grade: We have learned about applying our Superflex knowledge to solve social problems using the 5 Step Power Plan.
    We have also engaged in a long unit on building conversation skills. The students have learned the parts of a conversation and that to maintain a conversation we have to keep the ball bouncing back and forth between participants. We can keep the ball bouncing by asking a follow-up question or comment. At home, you can practice this by encouraging your child to keep the ball bouncing back and forth between conversation partners during family time at dinner or even in the car as you run errands.
    Feel free to download either of the above visuals to help reinforce these concepts at home by clicking on the link below each image.
    3rd grade: During this 3rd nine weeks, we had a great time applying the social thinking concepts that the boys have been working to develop over the past couple of years in a cooperative movie project. The boys were divided into teams and assigned at least two Unthinkables to target. They had to work together to develop a story with a beginning, middle, and end that stayed on-topic. They created storyboards to tell the story, wrote scripts, designed sets from Legos, and then took about a bazillion photographs with digital cameras. I then helped them construct a stop-action movie on the computer where we applied sound effects and the boys recorded their dialogue. 
    The boys had to use many skills that targeted executive functioning including setting a goal, planning, negotiation and compromise, time management, writing skills, and their individual targeted language/articulation goals.
    Our movie premiere was quite the event and a visiting celebrity (Dr. Pena!) attended. The boys were super proud of themselves! And I was so impressed by the high level the boys applied all the social learning that they’ve done. This is a super group of young people!
    Check out their fantastic movie creations here…
    We also finally harvested our garden. All groups were able to harvest a little bit, but unfortunately I only had my camera with me during one of the groups. 😦 So, here are a few shots of the great carrot/broccoli/cauliflower harvest. 
    The kids (and I!) definitely have great appreciation for anyone who lives off the land. 🙂

Considerations When Teaching Social Thinking

An article was published recently by Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP of Social Thinking Center in a recent addition of Attention Magazine by CHADD that examined the Cascade of Social Thinking. This is a great way to explain how I assess and plan for individual student Social Thinking instruction. I’d like to share a few excerpts from the article to better share the thought process that goes into analyzing each student’s social functioning and making critical decisions about this instruction.

When analyzing student social functioning, I look for many elements in both static and dynamic situations. Students must be able to accurately demonstrate various thought processes and actions in structured, static situations before being asked to generalize to more dynamic, changing situations. Often, this is why there is a difference between the experience that a parent may have with a particular social skill at home compared to what we see at school. At school, we practice the skill with the appropriate amount of scaffolding that the student requires at that time. Imagine this support as a highly involved scaffold at a construction site and over time the scaffolding is decreased. When a student requires a high level of prompting or cueing and a more structured/static situation to practice, the scaffolding level is high. Over time, we will move the skill to less prompting/cueing while keeping the practice opportunities structured and static. When the student can handle that level, we pull back the prompting or cueing and/or expand the people and environments in which they practice the skill. Eventually (hopefully!) the student can generalize the skill to many people and environments with minimal to no cueing.

As you can imagine, based upon the social complexity of the skill, this can take a good long while to achieve. The other issue is buy-in. The student needs to see the benefit to themselves of engaging in the hard work of practicing this new skill. Just like working out, developing social thinking skills takes a lot of stamina!

Take a look below at the Cascade of Social Thinking. This clearly explains the various levels that students travel as they develop their Social Thinking skills.
excerpted from Social Learning and Social Functioning by Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP. Published in Attention Magazine by CHADD, October 2013 http://www.CHADD.org

Things are never quite as simple as they seem and this is most certainly the case with social learning. As

children, most of us followed a similar developmental journey when acquiring social skills but rarely do we
now give thought to which skills allow us to function across different people and places each day. In fact, it is
likely that we have no idea when we acquired the ability to take multiple perspectives, initiate
communication at the right time and place, enter in and out of groups, play cooperatively or collaboratively
exist with one another – it just happened.We certainly didn’t place a milestone on when we began to
understand context-specific concepts and the relationship to how people think, act and behave in that
situation. And yet, development marched on and we emerged with these concepts and skills. Our innate
ability to engage our social awareness and attention to self and others paved the way.
Now imagine the effects on social learning when an individual’s innate driver of his or her own social
attention and awareness is delayed or driven by a brain seeking the details that may or may not be a critical
part of the social situation. The result is a Pandora’s box filled with social challenges that foster more
struggles and social issues and so on. So, the question becomes, Can we address the individual needs of
different types of social learners in one size fits all social skills program?

We’ve developed a framework that has 6 critical synergistic concepts related to social abilities. We refer to this as the Cascade of Social Functioning. Each element in the cascade is based on current research and the 
relationships between the concepts are drawn from our clinical experience. Consider how information in
one part of the cascade impacts how a student functions in another part of the cascade and each
subsequent concept. In other words, each concept flows into one another highlighting the social executive
functioning involved in social interactions.

Awareness to the situation: Ultimately, we are expected to adapt our social behavior to the situation, but
we must first be able to take note or be aware of the situation or context.
  ~Attention to social expectations within the situation requires one to consider the different
  perspectives of others sharing space within the situation in order to figure out the related
  expectations. The expectations are often unstated social rules, which are also referred to as the
  “hidden rules” or “hidden curriculum”.
        ~Social self-awareness to figure out how one is perceived as meeting or failing to meet the
        hidden rules. This requires us to consider other’s perspectives in order to determine if we need
        to further adapt our behavior to do what is expected in the situation. A student who struggles
        to attend to the first 2 steps in the cascade is usually observed as being “aloof” and lacks the
        social self-awareness to self-monitor their behaviors.

               ~Literal vs. abstract interpretation of communication within the situation: A weaker ability
               to understand another’s perspectives for social attention and self-monitoring results in
               difficulty trying to interpret what others mean by what they say. For this reason, those who
              have limited social self-awareness tend to interpret verbal and non-verbal language in a
              more literal manner. Those who have more awareness of how their ideas and behaviors
              may be interpreted in multiple ways by others are most likely to have the ability to
              understand and express their ideas with abstract language.

                  ~Concept verses detailed interpretation within the situation: Those with a more literal
                           manner of interpretation are more likely to see the concrete details of the situation
                           rather than the concept. It can logically be argued that when a person is so detailedfocused
                           that she cannot take note of the situation or how people are governed by the
                           situation, she would consequently struggle to gain a “main idea” or concept. Our highly
                           literal thinkers tend to also be very detail focused in how they see and interpret the
                           world. Those with stronger conceptual awareness tend to have stronger perspective
                           taking skills and be more successful at interpreting and responding to information as long
                           as they can organize their response in a timely manner using their executive functioning

                                 ~General verses social anxiety. Those who lack social self-awareness are typically very
                                   literal and detail oriented leading them to experience anxiety dealing with transition
                                   and change. This world-based anxiety appears in our students who envision their world
                                   as maintaining sameness and cannot anticipate change (nor learn from past
                                   experiences as how to cope with change) due to inflexibility in how they interpret and
                                   respond to information. On the other hand, those with a great social attention, 

                                   self-awareness and interpretation are more likely to develop social anxiety in adolescent

                                          years as they understand more clearly how they are perceived by others -even if unsure
                                  as to what part of the social skills creates that perception.

Differentiating instruction based on social learning abilities rather than a diagnostic label: 
As we study each of our students’ social behavior based on the 6 areas addressed in the cascade, our
understanding of his/her level of the social mind should become more clear and a pathway to developing a
treatment trajectory more relevant. At this point we begin to differentiate what types of lessons will benefit
the individual. For example, a student with weak perspective taking, poor self-awareness, highly literal,
detail focused with world based anxiety will need a treatment program that builds upon very basic Social
Thinking concepts along with other resources. We would start teaching from a perspective of what the
student currently understands about the social world…

However, for an individual with solid awareness of other’s perspectives, a good understanding of what the
expected behavior is in a particular situation (even with difficulty self-monitoring in the moment), the ability
to abstract information, and characteristics similar to neurotypical peers, a more nuanced Social Thinking
approach is critical. In stark contrast to the treatment approach for the literal learner describe previously,
this nuanced learner would require a deeper level of discussion about social expectations, how to consider
and manage different perspectives/emotions, and how to translate that knowledge into social behavioral
responses (social skills).

Other core Social Thinking treatment strategies provide information to help students improve the ability to
share space with others (e.g., working side by side others in a classroom), develop relationships with
different types of people (peers, teachers, coaches) for different types of reasons (friendship, team
collaboration, cooperation, hidden rules, etc.) However, it is important to note that most social concepts
across a school day expand beyond interpersonal relationships into interpreting and responding to the
academic classroom curriculum. With the Common Core or State Standards, all students – no matter the
age- are expected to participate in lessons that encourage them to consider another’s points of view in
written material, movies/videos, and classmates. Students are also expected to efficiently sort out the
difference between a concept and related details in order to participate in social conversations, classroom
discussions or expressing one’s ideas through written expression. The analysis of information that relates to
understanding others perspectives requires Social Thinking; the expression of those thoughts requires not
only Social Thinking but also social skills.

Copyright 2014 Think Social Publishing, Inc

The article in its entirety can be viewed by visiting this link What is Social Thinking article

Social Thinking Group Updates ~ September 2013!

We’ve had a great time in our first four weeks of Social Thinking group this year. The kids have done a fantastic job welcoming new members to the groups and continuing to build upon skills learned last year.

Here is what we’ve been up to…

Kinder Social Thinkers – We’ve begun using the Incredible Flexible Me curriculum to learn about what thoughts and feelings are. We’ve learned that what we look at is what we are thinking about. We’ve practiced keeping particular topics in our “thought bubbles”. We have used play to practice taking turns and sharing. We’ve practiced identifying basic emotions in ourselves and in others through static pictures.

1st grade Social Thinkers – We’ve reviewed concepts from last year using the Incredible Flexible Me curriculum including what are thoughts and feelings. We’ve begun working on recognizing our feelings in the context of “Zones”. The kids have practiced identifying scenarios that create feelings in the various zones and have modeled those feelings through photos/video. You can see an example of the Zones of Regulation visual below. We’ve begun to work on finding “tools” in our environment that can help us change our “zone”.

We have also worked to plan and install our Speech-Social Communication Learning Garden! Our 3rd grade social thinkers were responsible for the actual building of the garden. Our 1st grade social thinkers were in charge of adding soil to the garden and planting two different types of broccoli and cauliflower.

Here are some photos from our garden planting day:

Working together to spread the soil

Planting cauliflower

Planting broccoli

More broccoli!

Taking turns with the watering cans

2nd and 3rd grade Social Thinkers – We’ve spent a good amount of time building community with new group members and beginning our Zones work. The kids have learned to identify their own physical and emotional state, represent it on our Learning Zone chart, and are now beginning to practice using various “tools” to change their feelings. We will continue to work on this over the next couple of weeks. You can view an example of a Zones of Regulation visual below. In addition, these marvelous students have used our Get Ready – Do – Done strategy to plan and build our Learning Garden. Mrs. D and I were so impressed with the amazing teamwork, group planning, and sharing that occurred during this process. We have some amazing social thinkers in these groups!

Check out our photos from garden building day:

Reading the Garden Kit Instructions

Construction time!


Action shot with the rubber mallet!

Planting Buttercrunch lettuce

More lettuce!

Planting Fire Power Lettuce! Wowzers!

Watering our newly planted Circus Carrot seeds!

Finally, I have some exciting news. As you know, Dr. Peña and Ms. Kane are both great supporters of the SCORES and Speech/Language Programs. They have allowed us to expand our sensory break space into another room that is being shared with after-school groups. We’ve been able to build three center areas including a Fine Motor Center, Gross Motor Center, and Calm Body Center. The students are able to use this area for planned body breaks as well as those on-the-spot needed body breaks when they are having difficulty keeping their body or brain in the group. If you’d like to check out photos of the space, you can visit the collaborative blog that I write with Mrs. De Los Santos that is geared for other speech therapists and special education teachers. You can view the post by clicking here.

Thanks for your support!
Mrs. H

Social Thinking Group Updates

We’ve been super busy working in our Social Thinking groups. I’m proud of all the hard work that the kids have been putting into learning new skills. Here are some of the things we’ve been working on and resources you can use at home…

Kinder group #1: We’ve been working on developing language skills for positional words including “on, under, and above”. We’ve also worked on expanding our recognition of basic feelings facial expressions.

Kinder/1st grade: We’ve continued working on expanding the accurate recognition of facial expressions. We’ve also worked on learning how to use a 5 point scale to identify our anxiety level, triggers that typically put us in the “danger zone” (4 or 5), and strategies to use to bring our anxiety back down to a manageable level (1 or 2). The 5 point scale is adopted from Kari Dunn Burton’s work The Incredible 5 Point Scale.

The calming sequence is adopted from her book When My Worries Get Too Big.  The instructions for the calming sequence are to: close your eyes, breathe in and out slowly, and rub your thighs. We also add the instruction to “think of your happy place”. The kids all came up with a location or image they could think of that made them feel calm and good. Ask your child where his “happy place” is. It is a great idea to practice using the calming sequence during calm periods so that it is easier to access during stressful moments.

2nd grade: We’ve spent a great deal of time delving into Superflex (created by Michelle Garcia Winner) and the strategies to defeat the Unthinkables. Superflex is a superhero who uses flexible thinking to solve social problems.

The two main Unthinkables that we have covered are Rockbrain (the boss of the Unthinkables) who makes us get stuck on our own ideas and not be flexible with alternative ways of doing things and Glassman who makes us have big reactions to small problems. The boys have identified common situations that cause them to have difficulty with Rockbrain and Glassman and strategies to defeat them. Please feel free to use any of these resources at home to help your child (or have your child help you!) defeat the Unthinkables.

The main calming tool that we are using to defeat Glassman and start to problem solve is progressive relaxation. Here is a visual that you can use to guide at home. The “shortcut” way is just to tighten fists and release with a deep breath.

We also use the following guidelines to help us determine what size the problem really is. Sometimes problems can feel really big, but when we check it out we find that they are more manageable than we originally thought.

5th grade: We have been working on continuing our discussion about conversation skills and have explored how to identify sarcasm. As you can imagine as we prepare for middle school, recognizing sarcasm is an important skill to know! We discussed the common characteristics of sarcasm which include variations in tone, saying the opposite of what is meant, and appropriate audiences for sarcasm – usually not your teachers or parents! 😉  We watched video examples of sarcasm and identified what the real meaning is in the verbal exchange.

We are eager to expand all these skills in the new year!

I want to wish all of you a relaxing, peaceful and joyous holiday. I hope you all get a chance to relax and enjoy quiet time with your precious kiddos! See you in 2013!

The Difficulty of Making Behavioral Change

I just wanted to share this article with you from Pam Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP. She works with Michelle Garcia Winner at the Social Thinking Clinic in California. She wrote this article about the difficulty and complexity of making behavioral change. It certainly serves as a good reminder about the complicated nature of what we ask students to do on a yearly basis. I encourage you to read it and email me any questions you have about the process or the techniques described. If you have a question, I’m sure others do as well. I would love to answer any questions that I can!

Click here to access the article.

Expected & Unexpected Behaviors… What’s It All About??

Michelle Garcia Winner is a Speech-Language Pathologist who coined the term “Social Thinking”. Social Thinking is the core tenet of what I teach in the SCORES program. It is more than teaching explicit social skills (even though that is important as well). It is about teaching deeper. Teaching WHY certain behaviors create particular feelings and thoughts in others. It is about teaching that social interaction is reciprocal.

One of the core terms we use are “Expected” and “Unexpected”. These do not connote good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. They simply identify what types of behaviors are expected in various situations and how engaging in expected behavior creates calm, positive feelings in others. For example, talking to my coworkers in the middle of a faculty meeting would be unexpected. Dr. Pena would not have calm feelings and would react negatively to me. However, talking to my coworkers at an afterschool get together is expected and would create positive feelings in my coworkers. The same behavior can be viewed differently based upon context.

So, how do you use this at home? You embed it into every day life. You verbally observe and take note with your child of what is expected in various situations. You verbally observe and take note if you notice someone not engaging in expected behavior. You ask your child to observe and take note independently. You help your child connect the dots between behavior and the feelings/thoughts it creates in others. You look at it from the perspective of educating your child about what is expected instead of reprimanding them after the fact.

Kids with social thinking challenges must be taught explicitly the expectations for various situations. Kids who are working on learning the social thinking language have to work just as hard as someone who is learning a foreign language. They do not learn effectively by simple modeling. You have to spell it out!  When you do, you will see much less anxiety and upsetting behaviors. Your child WANTS to do the correct thing, but sometimes he or she simply does not know the social language.

For more information about using the terms “expected” and “unexpected”, I encourage you to check out Michelle Garcia Winner’s blog. She recently wrote an excellent article about this issue. You can find her blog at http://www.socialthinking.com/component/content/article/597-using-expected-unexpected-social-thinking-vocabulary?utm_source=Book+Awards%2C+Peters+Article%2C+Denver+free+ticket&utm_campaign=Newsletter&utm_medium=email

Please don’t hesitate to email if you have questions!