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.

*******************************************************

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

 

 

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

        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!

        Teamwork!

        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

        How To Teach Your Child To Pause & Think

        Dear Parents,
        Here is a good article written by parenting coach, Dan Perdue, at Special-ism.com about how to teach your child to respond to a signal word. A signal word can be a valuable tool to help your child pause during a tantrum or emotionally charged moment and remember his goal of making good behavioral choices.

        I encourage you to take a look at this short article and decide if this is something you would like to teach at home. Click here to view the article Pause the ADHD Outburst.

        Summer Vacation Transition Anxiety

        Parents, I know that you are probably as eager to start the summer as I am! Not having to drag our kids out of bed and get to the school on time will be such a nice break! I know the kids are super excited to have a break from homework and the responsibility of being a student for a few months. As wonderful as summer break is, the transition between the school year and summer can be hard on our kiddos.

        This time of the year is filled with unexpected changes…. classrooms are being packed up, schedules are altered, everyone is excited, and so many “special” events that require flexibility and heavy doses of social skills are happening. The kids and I have been having many discussions about handling the changes. Many of them have adopted our skill of asking their teacher in the morning, “Are there any changes today?” This has been a great help and eased many worries.

        If your child starts exhibiting behaviors that have been resolved for quite a while during this transition time, please take a deep breath. Yes, it is frustrating. I feel it, too. But regression during a big transition is very common. If your child has shown solid growth behaviorally and it seems like things are sliding backwards a bit give it some time before you start with a new intervention. Continue being consistent with your expectation and current plan. This will give your child the predictability they need during this time of transition. Keep emotions as neutral as possible so that the regression is not compounded by an emotionally charged response. Usually, the regression will stop and the skill will be restored after a short period of time. 

        As we enjoy the long weekend, I’m going to ask each of you to please help your child with an activity that will help with the mixed feelings that can accompany the summer vacation transition. Please help your child fill out this calendar for next week identifying their plans for Thursday, Friday, etc. The plan does not have to be detailed. Just identify where they will be (home or traveling?), who they will be with, and a main activity they can count on.  It can be as simple as Thursday is Legos, Friday is a trip to the pool, Saturday is video games at home. Have your child post their calendar on the fridge or in their rooms. Doing this simple activity can help tremendously with decreasing anxiety and helping your child end their school year on a good note. The calendar can be found under “Transition” on the right sidebar.

        Please make sure that you are following this blog by email. You will receive an email notification when new topics are posted.  I will be posting several pieces of information about activities for handwriting improvement and summer activity ideas over the next week.

        Calming Sequence for the Cardinalsaurs

        The Cardinalsaur group has been working on learning a basic 3 point scale for emotional regulation and how to use the visual cue for the Turtle Technique to calm. The 3 point scale is a modified version of Kari Dunn Buron’s 5 Point Scale technique. The kids learn to identify their feelings and then take steps to move to a calmer level. Once they are at a calmer level, they can begin to problem solve with adult help.

        The Turtle Technique comes from the book Tucker Turtle Takes Time to Tuck & Think by Rochelle Lentini. A Powerpoint that contains the scripted story can be found at http://www.challengingbehavior.org/do/resources/teaching_tools/ttyc_toc.htm.

        The Turtle Technique contains 3 calming steps.
        1. Stop and keep your hands, feet, and yelling to yourself.
        2. Tuck and take 3 deep breaths. (Some students physically tuck their heads inside their shirts, sit under a piece of furniture, or in a calm corner. Other students just close their eyes or lay their head down on the desk).
        3.  Think of a way to solve your problem and make yourself feel better or ASK FOR HELP.

        Feel free to print the image to use at home. It is also available under the calming tools page on the sidebar. Ask your child to teach you how to tuck and use the Turtle Technique. Please praise and reinforce your child whenever he or she attempts to use the technique instead of tantrumming at home. 

        Please let me know if you have any questions!