Narratives.  Stories.  We all tell them.  We learn from them. We teach with them. We listen to them .

For young learners, narrative demands begin with a simple question, “How was your day?”  No matter your child’s ability, language level, speech intelligibility, and cognition; we want this simple question to be answered fully by them.  Here is the problem, most therapy albeit speech therapy, ABA therapy, OT, etc. is not built for that question to be answered to satisfaction.  Here is why…most therapy is working on noun identification and labeling in its onset.  The parent and social contradiction is that most people do not care about the number of nouns you know or your ability to label…they want to know actions and feelings.

In short, three things drive and continue human interactions or conversations.

  • What happened (actions)
  • Who did it (people)
  • How do you feel (feelings)

Here is the problem: TEACHING actions,people, and feelings happen later.  The bigger shame is that connecting these elements to relevant human experiences don’t usually happen.  For example, learning “The girl is happy”  or “The boy is swimming” from a card is very different from looking at family/friend pictures and saying “Mommy is eating”.  When we decide to do this kind of work (which takes more time on the part of the therapist to prepare for sessions), we indirectly guide our clients to tune in.  Since social relatedness, attunement, etc. are challenges why teach learners with autism to apply learned language concepts to people and things they have no experience with?   Our clients may not know “the girl”, but they do experience their sister “Emily” daily.  So essentially, you can graduate from therapy and label pictures very well.  AND most therapists have the same pictures!!!  This means that even if your child moves from one center to another, they will see the same cards…and we have the nerve to take data on challenging behaviors.  I can now understand throwing a bit better.  Graduating from therapy and not being able to look at your environment and make meaningful verbal connections is the problem paid for.

So what should a parent do when looking at their child’s therapy?  

Get the therapist to move past the “He/She is not ready to learn that” statement.  Find someone (a therapist) who gets it! It is important to move the conversation because the world is happening.  Outside of the half hour speech session and the three hour ABA session, the world is moving.  And therapy must meet the world so that our client’s can grow and be self-sufficient.

What should the well meaning therapist do?  

Position your treatment to change and then be impactful in your therapy clinic, school, university, etc.  Use real world materials (USA today, family pictures, family videos, etc.)

Teaching oral narratives.  The ability to share what I see, think, feel, and history is innate to all people.  Everyone deserves the right to learn from and share stories regardless of diagnosis and ability.

Let’s THRIVE and focus on making people better for having known us!

Landria Seals Green, MA., CCC-SLP



Autism on the Playground

This week was the season premiere of one of the shows I have a like/love relationship with: Parenthood on ABC.    My love relationship is because its good TV.  My like relationship is because I can’t stop being a therapist when I watch it.  So true to form, I must provide lessons and strategies for playground success.

Truth be told it is a challenge for the person with social language deficits (whether its ADD, ADHD, Autism, Aspergers) to navigate the unwritten rules of the playground.  More than that, therapists/coaches/psychologists teaching social skills groups must think about HOW they are teaching these skills.  As a parent reading this, you would probably be shocked  at how many hands do not raise or how many quizzical looks I get when I ask  “Do any of you watch Phineas and Ferb, Do any of you watch Zach and Cody, etc?”   As therapists teaching these skills, we must understand that teaching the skills of social behavior does not place the therapist as peer, but as coach.  As a coach, we must know the social information that our clients need to know in order to better coach and facilitate the real skills of being social.

For therapists, refer to a past blog post on the social connection:  http://slctherapy.com/blog/landria/the-social-connection/

In order to teach playground skills at any age range or skill level:

  1. Get up from the table!  It’s clear that Max’s social teaching was very formal, taught by an social coach focused on etiquette. ..and lacking flexibility and social thinking.  How do I know this?  Because Max extended his hand.

Parent tip: Make sure that your child’s social group (school, private) focuses on the importance of role play.  Role play and getting up from the table will remove those kinks.  AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, the therapist is coach…not peer.  The therapist should not be creating mini-me’s or little adults but teaching and providing REAL information and feedback.

Therapist tip: Motor patterning and Role Playing.  Excuse my small yell of encouragement…GET UP FROM THE TABLE! If we want our kids to be social…we have to get up from the therapy table.  We need to have social postures: sitting, walking, playing, sports, hanging out and all those physical postures in between.  Role playing is crucial as embedding social thinking does not mean thinking in solitude and the quiet…true social thinkers do this on the fly.  They are walking and talking.  They are dribbling the basketball and thinking and talking.  They are gesturing and talking.  We have to teach our kids to read and understand social information (using static pictures and short snipets of movies) as well as inhabit the motor pattern of what it means to participate socially.

  1. Codeswitching:  Codeswitching is referred to moving between various language styles.  It is frequently used for speakers of African-American English (AAE) and Standard American English (SAE) as those are two different language dialects.  I would go as far to say and backed up with research that dialects and language are based upon: age, culture, race, geographic region.  It is clear that Max’s character is very formal in his language presentation, but he has been shown to have moments on past episodes when he is a tad bit more relaxed in his verbal and nonverbal language presentation.

Parent Tip: Make sure your child’s social language group is working not on changing them, but giving them flexibility in how they present.  When you watch the Parenthood episode, it wasn’t that Max said “hello”.  The social turnoff was when he said “my name is Max ___, (and extended his hand)”.

Therapist Tip: Move away from teaching the many ways to say hello.  But have your clients/learners participate in lessons on perspective taking.  Turn on You Tube..show formal/informal ways to say hello. Let them judge other people and use terms like Weird (Good Weird or Bad Weird), Great, Comfortable, etc.  Get them to give you information on how they want people to feel when they are around, and let them work toward that.

  1. The little people and adults are more forgiving, same age peers are not.  Okay!  We cannot create nor manufacture relationships for our children beyond the 2nd grade.  Third grade is when the real social silos are developed.  And adults teaching social groups and adults in the community are very forgiving for social nuances (well except me, I am a social coach I can be proud of J.  (I digress).  Little people or younger peers are more forgiving as well.  BUT little people grow up and become the third graders with tastes and opinions, leaving the person with social deficits behind.  So what’s a parent to do?!?

Parent Tip: Raise your social expectation and barometer.  Think about it, if my child did not have these social deficits..what would I tell them? How would I help them?  Then , in the modified words of Nike, “Do just that!”.  Why?  Because they need you to teach them, model them, tell them the truth in love.  And find places that work for them.  I had  a student who loved to ask people about the number of  stairs, doors, etc.  inside their house.  Now the “normals” balk at the relevancy of such questions.  My recommendation…find a club, group of kids that love to build things.  That group (social deficits, normals, real/regular people who like to create) will be at ease with those questions…and as a parent you don’t have to manufacture or keep that playdate going.  Rather, it is a natural meaningful situation that provides reinforcement to all its participants.  The stage has been set for the natural relationship to emerge.


Therapist Tip: Stop hooking up your students by telling parents…”oh Susie and Laura would get along so well”.  Instead, find the natural stage and allow the relationships to develop.  Because (as a side note), what are you going to say to mom/dad when they don’t get along so well….

Teaching Honesty to People with Aspergers and Other Social Language Challenges

For as long as I can remember, the very popular phrase “Honesty is the Best Policy”.  While there are many others, I remember hearing this one frequently in classrooms, in church, and at home.  It is true, honesty equals peace. And peace is priceless.  Recently on a list serve to which I belong the question was posed “Do we Teach Honesty is the Best Policy” to people with social language challenges such as Aspergers.  The person who posed the question went on to illustrate how this particular population may be too honest when following this rule based policy regarding honesty.  While it is true that honesty does not always make everyone feel comfortable, it is needed.

So my emotional, personal, and professional answer to the question “Do we Teach Honesty is the Best Policy?”  is a resounding Yes!

The challenge to the provider is how you teach, the underlying brain processes that are necessary to address, and much more.

In the HOW  of teaching honesty.  It’s important to move towards teaching Perspective Taking and Theory of Mind.  Here we want to teach the learner to understand the perspective of another from an Emotional and Situational Perspective.  When we teach from a systematic, schema building, and fluency standpoint ( the brain building process of perspective taking); we are bringing to light the common phrase “Think Before You Speak”.

With Theory of Mind and the thought process of Perspective Taking, we can begin pairing “thinking about how another person may feel” and using language with another person in mind.  This is when the application of the speech-language therapy targeting sentence forms, reasoning, vocabulary specificity, tone of voice, and body language all become very important.

Honesty that hurts is often a combination of truth, words, vocal tone, and body language.  With learners and people with ASD the tone of voice, body language may not appear to be as empathetic; and when combined with the clear truth…it becomes an OUCH! situation for the conversation partner.

When teaching formal and informal language, SLPs will often work on the HOW from a language perspective.  In teaching honesty, it is never (or should never be the goal) in taking away or dampening a learner’s ability to tell the truth.  It is teachign them HOW  and WHEN to deliver the news and to know the intent:

Here’s an example:

Samantha is with her mom at the grocery store.  She sees her neighbor Mr. Bill.  Samantha says hello and begins small talk.  Mr. Bill is enjoying the conversation with Samantha and her mom.  At the end of the conversation, Samantha tells Mr. Bill that his breath stinks.  Mr. Bill is embarrassed and mom is mortified.

Do we teach Samantha NOT  tell another when their body odor offends her?  NO!

What do we do:

1. Examine her intent.  Did you want to embarrass him?  She answers No.  (side note: If embarrassment was her intent…change focus of teaching).

2. Thought bubble and speech bubble exercise.  Fact: Mr. Bill is in the store.  Fact: You enjoy talking to him.  Fact: His breath stinks

3. If your goal is to NOT embarrass (turn his stick figure yellow…credit to Carol Gray conversation color)….then what can you do…

4. Let the problem solving begin!  (Here are a few choices generated by Samantha: Whisper to her mom after Mr. Bill leaves, purchase mints for Mr. Bill and tell him why you are giving them to him and you did not want to hurt his feelings by talking about it at the grocery store).

Side note: We did not teach her to just randomly offer a mint (that can be rejected) to Mr. Bill.  Her Verbal Behavior was telling him the problem.  You have to teach her to use that same modality to continue to the current relationship. That is, you must teach her to pair a solution with her stated version of the problem. Employ the use of an empathetic voice for HIS feelings not hers.

This was a real scenario and a real HONESTY teaching experience for mom, Samantha, and me (her therapist).  This happened in her Keep the Conversation Going social group 🙂


Teaching Children with ASD to Mind Read

Great Video by Dr. Uta Frith – Autism and Brain’s Theory of Mind