SCORES Program Social Thinking Group Updates

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We’ve had a super busy semester and are hard at work building our Social Thinking smarts. Here’s a quick update on what  your child has been working on in his or her Social Thinking group. If you’re not sure which group your child is participating in, email me and I’ll let you know.

1st/2nd grade combo group

  • We’ve explored at a basic level how our body feels when we experience various emotions. We’ve practiced what other people’s non-verbals look like when they are experiencing those same basic emotions.
  • We’ve used play-based activities to practice following multi-step auditory instructions (since that is the most common type of instruction given in a classroom setting)  and worked to connect the positive thoughts and feelings of adults and peers when the student pays attention to the instruction and tries to follow it.
  • We’ve spent a considerable amount of time learning to use visual cues to guide comprehension of text, problems in a static form (e.g. picture form or “frozen” video form). We’ve expanded the use of visual cues to help us learn to answer who, what, where, when questions with more appropriate syntax and pragmatic language. We’ve begun to explore how to use our visuals + other clues we gather to begin to answer basic why/how questions.
  • We’ve delved into using inferential clues in play-based activities to learn to think “top down” (thinking from large category to sub category to detail). This practice aids the development of central coherence which assists our students in all academic areas (central coherence refers to the ability to see the “big picture” vs only attending to irrelevant detail). We’ve worked on adding relevant detail to our stated sentences and comments to aid the listening partner in understanding what we want to communicate.
  • Recently, we’ve begun working on how to initiate play, how to keep our bodies “in the group” with our play partner, and how to take turns deciding what to play first (it’s not always “me first!”).
  • Finally, the kids are working hard at learning what it means to “think with your eyes”. We gather valuable information by using our own eye gaze to determine what our partner is looking at and then using that info to make a good guess about what they are thinking about.

Why is this so important??? The development and use of eye gaze is essential to the development of joint attention. Further, it is essential that individuals integrate both the verbal message and the message gleaned from body language (plus the context of the situation) to fully understand the message. This allows the individual to make a good guess about the thoughts/feelings/perspective/desires of their communication partner. Without the use of eye gaze, our children miss an enormous amount of information and can’t truly develop their ability to think socially. From an academic perspective, students are constantly expected to track the teacher with their eyes, refer to information on the board or anchor charts when the teacher indicates with a non-verbal cue (like pointing), and must be able to begin to read the body language of peers as they work in cooperative groups.

So, how do we teach this skill? At the basic level, we model using concrete objects.

  • Step 1 is to teach the kids “what you look at is what you are thinking about”. We practice using arrow glasses and teach them to “follow the arrows” to the object their partner is focused on to make a good guess what they are thinking about.

    photo 2 (1)
    Thanks to Orlanda for being my Vanna White!

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  • Step 2 is to remove the arrow glasses and teach/practice that the “colored part” of our eyes are the arrows. The kids practice looking at the iris of their partner and try to determine what they are looking at. This is INCREDIBLY difficult for many of our students with ASD. They tend to look around the eye instead of at the eye. Please play this game at home with your child often and teach them to look at the iris of your eye to track eye gaze. Ask them to figure out what you are looking at and what that means you are thinking about.
  • The follow-up to step 2 is to make sure your child is alerting to the position of your head. Most of the kiddos in this group focus only on what is in a direct line in front of them (or you). They still need cueing to note if your gaze is pointed up, down, or to the side.
  • Step 3 is to then begin to connect the thought to a more natural form. For example, if I draw their attention to my eye gaze while I’m looking at the clock, I would then model with a thought bubble visual that I’m thinking about what time it is. Or what time is lunch? Or is it almost time to go home? There are a variety of logical thoughts that someone could draw from my eye gaze by combining my physical cue of looking at the clock with the context. This is a more advanced skill and we will be working on it for quite a long time. For children who are at this concrete stage of learning (which all members of this group are!) they benefit from the use of an actual thought bubble visual. Feel free to print this for home use. Also, often Teacher Heaven sells packages of heavy-duty laminated, magnetic thought/speech bubbles that are super helpful to use at home. Click the image to download.thought bubble visual-page0001
  • Home Connections: If your child tends to wander away when others are talking (or they are space invaders and get too close!), prompt them to use “just right space” to keep their body “in the group”. Then immediately connect your thought and feeling when they are using just right space. “Wow, when you use just right space and keep your body in the group with me and your brother, I feel calm and know that you are thinking about where we’re going for dinner.” Also, start modeling using your own “arrow eyes” to note what your child is looking at and ask if that is what they are thinking about. You can then step up the activity by modeling a more complex thought. “I see you’re looking at the apples. Are you thinking about being hungry and wanting a snack?”

1st grade group

  • We explored the way our sensory system works and different activities that help us focus. We’ve spent a good chunk of time on the concept of personal space and how people have different sized personal space bubbles. We’ve learned about the words and nonverbal signals people use to let us know we are too close.
  • We’ve explored basic problem solving skills using the red/green visual (see below in the 2nd grade description). Feel free to download to use at home.
  • We’ve begun learning about the Social Detective. Social_detective_image
    The Social Detective teaches us about expected and unexpected behaviors and how they affect the thoughts and feelings of others. Expected and unexpected behaviors are neither good nor bad. It depends on context. For example, it is expected to shout at recess, but unexpected to shout in the classroom. Shouting is not a “bad” behavior. We are learning about the tools (eyes + ears + brain) the Social Detective uses to help him make good guesses about what is expected.

2nd grade

  • We have worked on identifying how our sensory system works. We’ve worked to identify specifically how our body feels when we are stressed.

Meet Stress Guy…photo (4)

  • We’ve worked on identifying social problems, the feelings they create in our own bodies, and doing basic problem solving using the red/green problem solving visual. This is an especially useful tool for quick problem solving in a visual format. Feel free to download it by clicking the picture and printing for your use at home.

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Here’s an example of a completed map:

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  • As we explored the problem solving process, we began to focus on the costs vs benefits of various solutions (the things we want vs the things we don’t). Here’s a tip for home use: if your child’s thinking is becoming rigid and he or she is having difficulty moving past the problem or the choice boxes, complete the “then” box for them and cover up the rest. Then have them identify which end result they want. They’ll invariably choose the positive option. Then uncover just the path to that result and read the map.

For example:problemmap cover-page0001

  • We’ve delved into the world of Superflex. Superflex is a superhero who uses super flexible thinking to solve problems and uses behavior that keep the group feeling comfortable. Superflex uses strategies to defeat the Unthinkables. Unthinkables are characters who cause us to become stuck by using behaviors and strategies that don’t help us think flexibly. Unthinkables are not bad guys. They are troublemakers that affect all of us. We’ve studied Rockbrain, Unwonderer, and One-Sided Sid.

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Rockbrain gets us stuck on our own ideas. He’s the boss of the Unthinkables and likes to work in teams with other Unthinkables to cause difficulty.

unwonderUn-wonderer keeps us from thinking or wondering about others.

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One-sided Sid gets people to only think (and talk) about themselves.

We’ve learned strategies that help defeat Un-wonderer and One-sided Sid are watching for body language that we’re sending our conversation partner to Boredom City! We model talking about a variety of topics (even topics that aren’t our favorite!) by color coding a pie chart to indicate the different topics. If our pie chart is becoming all one color, then we’ve got a Boredom Alert! We’ve practiced using the add-a-question and add-a-comment strategies. We’ve learned that by using these strategies we are showing people we are interested in being their friend and that by letting Un-wonderer and One-sided Sid control our brains we are showing people that we are not interested in being friends. It’s all about becoming a “thinking of others” kid instead of an “all about me” kid!

  • We’ve recently begun using 5-point scales to measure our stress. If you’d like a copy for home, click the image and you can download to print. 5 point stress scale_lg-page0001 (2) (1)

Over the rest of this semester we will concentrate on learning to identify what our body feels like at various levels, situations that trigger our stress levels, and begin to identify strategies we can use to lower our levels. As we identify our own personal strategies, we will write them in the third column.

3rd grade lunch bunch: Lots of conversation practice focusing on attending to the interests of others and using the add-a-question and add-a-comment strategies.

4th grade: We’ve had two new group members join us this semester. It has been fantastic to see our more experienced social thinkers begin to teach skills to the new guys!

  • We’ve continued to work on developing more complex conversation skills including the difference between joining conversations between 1-2  people and larger groups. We’re currently discussing the difference in conversations between people on different levels of the relationship targetrelationship layers.
  • We’ve practiced the add-a-comment and add-a-question strategies to keep that conversation ball in the air and our biggest focus during conversation is about tossing the ball to each other, using our eyes to determine whether the ball is being tossed to us, and resisting the urge to “grab” the ball (interrupting).
  • We’ve also continued to expand our understanding of effective planning. We’ve begun using the Get Ready – Do – Done strategy to help us “see” what the end result should be, then use that vision to guide our planning (materials/steps needed), then execute, and finally to compare the finished result with the original vision. Getready_do_done visual_example-page0001The boys had a great hands-on experience that illustrated the need to work through all steps of the process. They were challenged to make cookies as a group. I provided all the ingredients (bag of flour, bag of sugar, bowls, measuring spoons, etc), but did not lay out the recipe with the ingredients. The boys were instructed to use their Get Ready – Do – Done strategy to discuss what the end result should look like, then discuss as a group the ingredients and tools available and determine if they were missing anything needed to complete the task. They dove right in without noticing the lack of a recipe. The flour was flying! Eggs were cracking all over the table! About a cup of baking soda was poured into the mix! The boys created an icky blob. When we discussed whether the end result was met and what might have prevented it, they finally identified that they hadn’t thought about the need to follow directions. The next week we tried again and they were able to apply the planning skills to bake some delicious cookies!
  • We’ve also spent time using our conversation skills, planning skills, and incorporating the skill of negotiation and compromise to do team projects (building a bridge that could hold blocks, creating a survival plan on a snowy mountainside, creating a survival plan for a shipwreck scenario). The boys LOVE these hands-on activities and it really challenges their ability to consider the perspectives of other members of the group.

I look forward to finishing out these last 28 days of school with each of the kids and applying these newly learned skills in fun ways. It’s great to be a Social Thinker!

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Middle School Transition Information

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Hello soon-to-be parents of 5th graders! For reference, here are several useful handouts as you begin to generate questions about the transition to middle school.

Please know that we will plan for your child individually and that not every “tip” will apply to your child’s specific middle school routine depending on whether they will attend Gorzycki or Small.

You should be able to download and save to your computer for future reference.

Best practices (parent & school)
Best practices powerpoint
Tips from special education parents
Living with Autism – Going to middle school

New SCORES Blog & Social Thinking Group Updates

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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

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going to a “calm, dark, still” place

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using calming self-talk

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asking for help

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and our favorite, thinking of our happy place.

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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. 

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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.

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Officer Amygdala is the first line of defense.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Hooray for Summertime and a BIG Thank You!

Hooray for Summer Time!

I’m so proud of all the progress the students in the Baldwin SCORES program have made this year. Each student has done a fantastic job working toward achieving their individual goals. I couldn’t be prouder. 
I have to extend a HUGE thank you to each of you who made a donation to our DonorsChoose.org project this spring. Wow! What an amazing response. Your generosity purchased an iPad mini for use by SCORES students. I appreciate your support so very much!
As we wind up this school year and look ahead to the 2014-15 school year, I’d like to share a few resources as well as suggestions to help prevent loss of learning over the summer. Yes, I definitely want your child to relax and play. After all, playing is the best way to learn, but also finding some fun ways to slide in practice/review opportunities will also help them be ready for the first day of school.
Once those 100 degree temps hit, it can be really tempting to resort to TV and video games, but please do what you can to limit the screen time and mix in some different play activities. Here are a few links to fun activities (with a little hidden learning mixed in!).
If your child needs a little extra practice on math facts, please use Xtramath.org. It is an easy-to-use site that is automatically time limited to about 5 minutes. So, no need for timers or negotiation. Why not make it a routine to do a quick round of Xtramath before logging onto Minecraft? I promise it will pay off for your child next year!
If your child does his best writing on the computer, consider having him spend a little time on keyboarding practice games this summer. It is very difficult to find time during the school day for keyboarding practice! Practicing at home is the key to using technology effectively at school. The faster he can find the correct keys, the less frustrating writing will be and the more time we can spend improving composition. Click here to view a list of good keyboarding game sites. 
Look for authentic ways to encourage writing. Have your child help jot his favorite items on the grocery list, or send an email to a relative, or write a vacation postcard to a friend. If he doesn’t have anyone to email, send it to me. I promise to write back! 
Finally, I apologize for being a broken record (because I know I bring up this issue at every break!), but  please remember that just because the kids are excited to have summer break doesn’t mean that anxiety isn’t present. Often, having a less structured schedule takes a toll on our kiddos. The use of a basic schedule can greatly reduce this stress. Here’s a link to a previous post on how to use a basic, quick, easy-to-apply schedule to decrease anxiety and prevent behavioral issues. Click here for the post.
As always, please know that I check my email a few times a week over the summer, so if you have questions or changes happen over the summer that will affect your child’s transition back to school in August, please let me know.  I will be spending plenty of time hanging with Jackson & Jacob, reading tons and tons of great books and diving into new writing projects. So, if you see me in my “office” (aka: corner table at Starbucks buried in my laptop), please say hi! My husband, boys, and I are also planning a trip to Europe in August, so I may come back jet-lagged, but will have great stories to share with the kids. I hope you all have a wonderful, relaxing summer and enjoy time with your children!

DonorsChoose.org Project Information

Dear Parents,
Thanks so much for supporting the SCORES project on the DonorsChoose.org website. We are working to raise $351 to purchase an iPad Mini and protective case to use with children who benefit from assistive technology for writing needs as well as to support social communication goals. If you are interested in supporting this project, please visit this link.

The great thing is that if you donate by April 10, you donation will be matched dollar for dollar by DonorsChoose (up to $100). Please feel free to share this information with friends or family who would be interested in supporting this goal.

Click here to visit the DonorsChoose.org Project Link

Thanks for considering this request. I really appreciate your support!
Kelley Hively