AMC Sensory Friendly Movies

Happy Winter Break!

Mrs. Evans & I wanted to let you know about some expanded offerings for sensory-friendly movies from AMC Barton Creek Theater. They have several upcoming showing of Star Wars The Force Awakens.

SW-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS

If the sensory component of movies is difficult for your child, you might want to consider this alternative. More information can be found by clicking this link.

SCORES Program Wish List

There are a few items that would be helpful to have. If you have any of these laying around your house gathering dust, we’d be thrilled for the donation. Thank you for keeping us in mind!

  • mini-trampoline (our current one has been well loved and is more duct tape than trampoline at this point!)

trampoline

  • small items for the treasure box (Happy Meal toys, freebies like key chains, pens/pencils, etc)
  • we are always grateful for iTunes gift cards to help pay for iPad apps
  • “fancy” scissors (the kind that cut different edge styles) and decorative paper punches for fine motor work

Punches

scrapbooking004

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.

(http://developingchild.harvard.edu/)

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!

New SCORES Blog & Social Thinking Group Updates

frustrated

After battling with the interface for the former SCORES blog and having it eat several of my posts this semester, I’ve made the switch over to WordPress. This is the primary way that I keep parents up-to-date with helpful tools, information, and updates about the topics and skills we are learning in the Social Thinking groups.

If you’d bookmarked the old site, please update to this one. Also, please make sure to click “follow by email” on the sidebar, so that you will automatically be notified when new posts are added. I am in the process of  moving all the tools and resources from the old site to this one and then will shut that site down. I will hopefully have all the resources and tools moved over by the end of the holiday break. I will send out an update when everything is complete.

3d_red_question_mark_button_image_165506Wondering about what exactly is Executive Functioning? Wondering how to help your child  develop homework skills, organizational skills, and better time management? You’re not alone. These questions come up often in my conversations with parents. If it would be helpful to you, I am considering setting up a parent meeting one night early next semester to provide information, strategies, and answer questions regarding strategies you can employ at home to help your child develop his or her executive functioning skills. If this is something that would be helpful to you, please email me and let me know. If we have enough interest, I will make arrangements to open the building one evening and we can discuss ways to make homework less painful and more pleasant at your house. If we don’t have enough interest to set up an evening meeting, I will still be happy to share information one-on-one.

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Now..onto the fun stuff! Your kids have worked tremendously hard learning new social thinking skills and applying them to their classrooms. Hopefully, you’ve seen some application at home as well. If you’re unsure which group your child belongs to, email me and I’ll let you know!

Here’s what we’ve been up to:

1st grade Language/Social Thinking group:  We are increasing our ability to effectively use a visual schedule, think about the “group plan”, be able to determine basic emotions through picture clues, practice Whole Body Listening, answer who/what/where/when questions on topic, use visual supports to identify applicable clues that help us answer basic “why” questions (see the WHY tool below), being able to demonstrate accurate non-verbal representation of actions, and engage in pretend play with objects used in ways that are non-traditional to increase cognitive flexibility.

WHY_Visual

Do “why” questions trip up your child? Do you find yourself thinking “huh?!” with the answers that result? This visual is a helpful tool that you can print and use at home to help support this skill. It helps children attend to the important information in a situation instead of becoming distracted by irrelevant details. When considering “why” something is happening or “why” someone feels the way they do, we need to pay attention to WHO is present, what they are DOING, what OBJECTS are involved, and WHERE  they are. It is important to teach your child to consider context. Actions that are acceptable at home are not necessarily acceptable in other places. A perfect example is a child who has mastered the art of raising his hand to speak at school and then tries to apply that “rule” in all social situations resulting in “weird thoughts” if he raises his hand at a restaurant or playdate. Using this visual does take more time, but by doing so you are helping your child learn to make those cognitive connections that will help him in all academic and social areas. Feel free to click on the image above and download the pdf to use at home.

1st grade Social Thinking group: We had new members join our group this semester, so we’ve spent time building community, learning & reviewing our use of the group plan, thinking with our eyes, body in the group, whole body listening, and engaging in basic social problem solving. The boys have done a marvelous job applying their skills in their classrooms.

This visual is especially helpful when working on developing social problem solving skills. Feel free to click on the image below and download for your use at home. It is helpful to show that there are multiple solutions to a problem and that the cost or benefit of each outcome must be considered when choosing which option is best.problemmap_KH2nd/3rd grade Social Detectives: We have added a new group member and have spent time teambuilding as well as identifying expected and unexpected behaviors that keep our fellow group members feeling calm vs upset.

We have spent time working on increasing our conversational flexibility, taking conversational turns, participating in conversation even when the topic is not of our choice or our particular interest.

We have spent time identifying calming strategies to use when upset and chose the particular strategies that work best for us to keep in our brain “toolbox”. Some of the strategies the kids have identified include:

deep breathing

Balloon breathing visual

 

infinity breathing (2)

 

using a stress ball or glitter bottle

glitter stressball

going to a “calm, dark, still” place

tent

using calming self-talk

self talk

asking for help

help

 

and our favorite, thinking of our happy place.

Swiss_Jungfrau_mountains

We also spent time identifying situations that commonly make us feel stressed and how stress feels in our bodies (tight  muscles, headache, upset stomach, hot, cold, etc.). We then role played situations and used our newly discovered coping skills to practice calming.

We moved onto basic problem solving using the chart above. We discussed the cost/benefit of various choices and practiced in both role play, video-based instruction, and through games.

We’ve progressed into working on basic perspective taking and social inferencing. This is challenging and will definitely be a big focus for the spring semester!

4th grade Social Thinking Experts: The boys have welcomed a new member to the group and have worked on teambuilding and identifying expected & unexpected behaviors that keep the group moving forward or interrupt the group.

We’ve continued to develop our conversation skills including how to tell when others are interested or not interested, how to moderate talk time to keep others interested, and how to take turns in a conversation. The anchor that we use with conversational turn taking is that in a conversation we “toss a ball” between conversation partners. The “ball” does not go in a specific pattern, but it is important to (a) make sure to share the ball with others (no one likes a ball hog!) and (b) to catch the ball, not grab it. We modeled what it feels like at recess when someone grabs a ball away from you in a game (angry/frustrated) and made the connection to that same feeling when you “grab” the conversation away by interrupting or talking on top of others. 

grabdoc

We’ve also worked on developing an understanding of idioms through fiction and everyday conversation.

We’ve targeted coping skills for stress and have worked to self-identify our stress levels and use strategies to calm our systems.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve begun working through a basic understanding of executive functioning, the brain structures that govern executive functioning, common distractors, and time management.

The boys started by learning that three parts of our brain structure guide the decision making process. The amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex.

brain-poster

Officer Amygdala is the first line of defense.

officeramygdala

He decides immediately whether a situation is a threat that needs to be responded to through fight, flight, or freeze. If so, he responds accordingly. If not, he sends the information along to the pre-frontal cortex.

Yoda_Empire_Strikes_Back

The prefrontal cortex is our wise decision maker. Like Yoda, it takes information from the amygdala and the memories of past experiences from the hippocampus and uses this information to make a decision about how to handle the situation.

Memories2

The hippocampus is our memory keeper. By accessing the memory of past experience or making connections between related events, the prefrontal cortex is able to make wise decisions and keep our responses calm and rational.

The boys then took this information and role played various scenarios determining whether the amygdala should react with fight/flight/freeze or should send it on to Yoda the PFC to problem solve.

timemanagement_august2013-7b5c7462

We then started discussing the idea of time management. The boys self-identified various parts of their day at home and school and determined how effectively they use their time. We identified the positive results from effective time management and the costs of ineffective time management. Then they began working on evaluating how effectively they are able to estimate how long a task will take. We did interactive centers that involved time estimation. Each of the boys brought home a time estimation challenge to complete at home this week. If you haven’t heard about it yet, ask them about it. It is due at group on Thursday this week!

brain_eater

Finally, we revisited Superflex and the powers of the Unthinkable, Braineater (which we renamed Brainstealer since the boys decided that Braineater is entirely too zombie-ish!). The boys identified common distractors during their day, their current strategies to stay focused, and how effective (or ineffective) those strategies currently are.

As you can see, we’ve been busy! All the groups will continue to build on their knowledge in 2015 and will become even more amazing Social Thinkers!

Thank you for sharing your amazing, brilliant, oh-so-funny children with me. I wish you all a peaceful holiday and a fantastic 2015!

happy-holidays-cntry1-e1355939173189

 

 

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
                           skills.

                                 ~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

Dealing with Holiday Stress & Transitions

This time of year is exciting while we wait for Santa and his reindeer and all the rest of the holiday fun. Unfortunately, along with all the fun can come anxiety!

Anxiety in your child can look like worrying and crying, but it can also look like an increase in rigid thinking, noncompliance, sleep disturbance, and altered appetite.

Here are a few techniques to help with holiday transitions and help keep this a joyful time for all:

  • One of the most effective techniques for dealing with transitions during the holidays is using a visual calendar to indicate the differences between days. You can click here to download and print a simple calendar for the holiday break. 

My encouragement to you is even if you think your child is going to be fine, sit down with him and mark the days that things will be “different”. This can include relatives coming over, playdates, travel dates, days at mom’s house or dad’s house, Trail of Lights visit, and when we return to school, etc. Hang it on your fridge or in your child’s bedroom and refer to it often. If the plan changes, make a quick note on the calendar. Allowing your child to see what is coming next automatically decreases their underlying anxiety.

    Some children need a more detailed plan for the day. It is not always necessary to have a formal visual schedule. Often, a quickly jotted list on a post-it note is sufficient. You can make the “plan” for the day with your child the night before at bedtime or at breakfast. It might look something like this…


    If your child is a time-conscious kid, just add ballpark times, but emphasize that they can change. If
    they do change, make the change in WRITING!

    Carefully choose the amount of information you want to share with your child about upcoming events. Children on the Autism spectrum function better with factual information about what to expect, but don’t give too much information too soon. That can actually backfire and create the anxiety you were trying to avoid in the first place! It is okay to “drip-feed” information as it is needed.

      Preview the “expected” behavior before social events or new experiences. You can discuss what they can expect to see, hear, and do and what others expect to see them do. Discuss any “hidden rules” of different environments. Hidden rules are those things that no one explicitly spells out for us, but we are supposed to just “know”. A few holiday examples might be: if you get a gift that you don’t like or already have, you smile, say thanks, and take it anyway or if you are served food that is not your favorite, you either take a little on your plate or politely say “no thank you” and choose something else – you do not announce to the group that it is disgusting!

      Hidden rules are a giant minefield for our kiddos. The more you can think through the hidden rules of a situation and clue your child in before the event (or even during if necessary) the more competent they will feel, the calmer you will feel, and the more fun everyone will have.

      Finally, remind your child that if the noise, crowds, excitement, and new experiences start to feel not fun, it is okay to say “I need a break”.

        Always respect your child’s need to take a short break away from all the “fun” stuff. Talk about ways your child can take a break in “expected” ways (go in the bathroom for a few minutes, ask to take a walk with a family member, take headphones to block out noise if your child is especially sensitive to sound). If your child does start to have a meltdown, make sure to reassure him that it is okay and that he can use his calming plan next time.

        Remember, the focus is on growing skills to be more flexible in different circumstances, improving perspective taking skills by recognizing the thoughts and feelings in others, and celebrating the use of coping strategies to stay calm and get needs met appropriately! Improvement in those areas is the best present of all!
        I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for sharing your children with me every day. I am the luckiest teacher at Baldwin! With love, Mrs. Hively