Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Everyday Language Activities: Grocery Shopping With a Toddler

As with any other profession, the field of early intervention goes through periods of evolution. These days, we are talking a lot about the importance of weaving child skill development into the context of everyday experiences and activities.  It's something that Ellen over at Love That Max blogged about recently in her post Sneaking in therapy for kids with special needs.

In her post, Ellen explains that her son Max gets therapy sessions throughout his week but that "the sessions are only 45 minutes to an hour long and it's the ways we put those therapy techniques into practice that matter most."  She goes on to describe how attempting to accomplish therapy carryover at home used to be overwhelming and somewhat guilt-provoking, especially when therapists would leave long lists of tasks to be accomplished. Then, Ellen reflects on how she has learned to do only what she can and let the rest go (yay!) and, most importantly, how she has learned to integrate the things Max needs into fun family activities that they were doing anyway. Yes, I thought when I read her post. Yes. That's exactly what we are trying to encourage families to do when we work with them and their children as early intervention professionals.

With that in mind, I took my two-year old daughter grocery shopping.  I'm learning that much of life is to be found in the joy of daily activities, so I decided to slow the activity down-- to enjoy it and her along the way. As I did, I realized how much skill development was occurring right in the context of this simple and potentially mundane daily routine.
  • Two-year olds are developing and understanding of simple concepts, so we wove them into our trip. She put things "in" the cart and "under" it as well.  The cat litter was heavy (I let her drag it to the cart so she could experience what heavy meant) and the chips were light (as she threw them up and over the edge of the cart). The bread was soft (and a bit squished after we were done) and the cans were hard. The apples were big and the grapes were small. I paired actions with words as we compared and contrasted all these things, and by the end of the trip, she was starting to use some of the words on her own to describe what she was doing or what she felt. Even better, she had a blast helping gather the food, throwing thing into the cart, and just generally being involved in the experience.
  • Toddlers this age are also just starting to use simple grammar elements such as: plural -s (cans), possessive -s (daddy's), and -ing (pushing)  I used expansion and indirect correction to model her sentences back to her, a bit more correctly. If she said, "two apple," as we counted them and put them in the bag, I said "Yep, two apples!" When she commented that she was holding, "daddy plum"  I responded with, "These are daddy's plums!" And when she said "I push!" while pushing the cart down the aisle (and almost into the pickles), I replied that "Yes, you're pushing!"
  •  Two-year olds are also merging into the word of pretend play and we wove this into our trip as well. At one point, a jar of olives was a microphone and we were rock stars. People may have thought us a bit odd, but we were certainly having fun. 
The beautiful part of all of this is that it made the activity joyful for both of us. She was learning and I was shopping, but most of all, we were just being mother and daughter, loving up life. 

I must note, of course, that this won't work for everyone, in every activity. My daughter loves grocery shopping. My son? Hated it. With him, getting through grocery shopping was an exercise in survival; my sole focus was on keeping him contained long enough that we could get the groceries we needed. It wouldn't have worked to slow it down, even if I had tried to engage him more. It's just how he was as a toddler: full of boundless energy that was exceedingly hard to corral.  When he was little, it was much easier to weave learning into football than into grocery shopping. The activity has to fit the child, not the other way around.

And, there is also the danger of believing that every single activity throughout the day has to be a learning experience. It doesn't. Sometimes grocery shopping just needs to be grocery shopping, and that needs to be okay.  But when it doesn't, when time can slow down just a bit, when children can learn in the context of an activity that is truly a delight for everyone involved, that's the sweet spot for sure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Give-away! Awesome Apps: Speech With Milo

Scroll to the bottom of this post to find out how to enter the Speech With Milo App Give-away! 

I am always on the look-out for fun activities, games and toys to help facilitate language in kids, and am always super excited when I find them. As I mentioned in a comment recently, I'm pretty sure I actually drooled the other day at a store when I happened upon wind-up toys that were priced 10 for $10.00. A speech-therapist's dream! (Yes, we are an odd breed at times). 

One fun new discovery I've made recently is  the Speech With Milo Apps Series developed by fellow speech-therapist Poorani Doonan. I love her apps, because they are designed to be used interactively with children to promote language growth. They are simple, yet well thought-out, fun, and motivating. The best part is that they can be used in a variety of ways with a variety of children, both typically developing and those with language delays or other diagnosis.

Speech With Milo: Verbs, for example, can be used a number of different ages or levels of language development.

  • If your child is just starting to use verbs, you can use Speech With Milo: Verbs to label the verb as you and your child watch Milo ("glue!"). 
  • Around two years old, children starting using the verb tense "-ing" to describe what is happening; at that point, you can emphasize this part of the verb while talking with your child about Milo ("Gluing! Milo is gluing"). 
  • Around 3 and 4 years old, children start using different types of verb tenses. At this point in language development, you can talk about what Milo is going to do ("He's going to glue!"), what Milo is doing as it is actually happening (He's gluing!") and what Milo did, after it is done (He glued!). Children with language delays often struggle with these subtle differences in verb tenses;  this app is a simple and yet motivating way to work on these aspects of grammar repeatedly. 

Speech With Milo: Sequencing can also be used a variety of ways.

  • Toddlers will enjoy sitting with you and simply narrating what Milo is doing in each picture ("Mixing!") and then watching as you turn it into an animated story.
  • As children grow into preschoolers, you can use Speech With Milo: Sequencing with them to work on their sequencing skills by putting the pictures in order. This helps them begin to develop an internal narrative structure, which will eventually help them to organize and understand stories during their academic years.  
  • This app is also a fantastic way to work on time sequence words such as "first," "then" and "finally," which can be particularly hard concepts for children with language delays and autism.
Then, there's Speech With Milo: An Interactive Storybook, which, from my perspective, is the most versatile app of them all.  As Poorani explains in her demo, this app can be used to address a wide variety of skills: storytelling, describing, making predictions, improving utterance length, and improving grammatical skills. One of the coolest parts of this app is that you can have your child record his own voice to tell the story...a great chance to get him talking!

Poorani has also created Speech With Milo: Prepositions, Speech With Milo:Verbs (in Spanish), and Speech With Milo: Prepositions (in Spanish). All awesome and all found at her Speech With Milo App Store

And (here's the best part!) she's letting me give away two of her apps here on Child Talk! Yay!! :) I'll be giving away one Speech With Milo: Interactive Storybook App and one Speech With Milo: Sequencing App, each to one lucky reader. To enter the give-away, do one of the following by October 28th:

  • "Like" or share this post on Facebook and leave me a comment here to let me know you did this, 
  • Retweet the tweet about this on Twitter and leave me a comment to let me know you did this,
  • Follow Child Talk on Twitter and leave me a comment to let me know you did this, or 
  • Follow Child Talk via e-mail or a feed and leave me a comment to let me know! 
Make sure you leave me a comment here on Child Talk to know which of these you've done if you want to enter the give-away.  I'll use the comments to pick two winners via random.org and announce the winners in a post on October 28th. Also, make sure you either leave your e-mail address in your comment or check back on October 28th to find out if you've won!   Good luck!

Advertising Disclaimer: I accept cash and product compensation for some of the posts on this blog, and if you click on an advertising link or purchase an advertised product I have placed on my blog, this will sometimes result in a monetary compensation for me, which I use as a means of supporting Child Talk. (Trust me, it's much less than you imagine it to be!). However, my opinions about the products I blog about are my own.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed: The Importance of Failure in Child Development

I love watching children develop. So much so that I'm pretty sure one of the main reasons I entered this profession is this: it gives me the chance to watch children discover the world, over and over and over again. Since I am a mom, I get to see this process unfold in front of me at home, too.  And  honestly, it is a beautiful thing to behold.

The other day, my baby (um, toddler) girl was playing with blocks. I started to try to help her and then I stopped. Instead of interfering, I simply sat back and watched. Her patience astounded me (it's a trait that I can only wish to acquire) and her inquisitiveness delighted me (I am a mama, after all!).

After observing for a bit, my speech-therapist brain kicked in and I began to realize what I was watching.  At 24 months, children are natural explorers- they are trying hard to figure out the world  around them and find out how they fit in.  They are starting to develop mental models, which means they are starting to hold representations of objects (and eventually ideas) in their head. And yet, their mental models aren't quite fully established, and, as a result, they end up doing a lot of trial and error to see how things fit together. As they try things out, they begin to develop more accurate mental models.  Eventually, they develop an understanding of how things go together without having to try those things out first.

Back to the blocks. My daughter was clearly working on developing a mental model of the blocks. She knew what she wanted (a fully stacked tower) and she knew when her tower wasn't quite working out as she wanted. She also seemed to know that when the tower wasn't working out, she had to remove a block or two.  And yet, at just 26 months, she doesn't yet have the cognitive powers to analyze the situation fully in her head-- instead, she must rely on the trial and error process of removing and adding blocks as she goes.  In doing so she's creating a series of mini-experiments. Over time, the results of her experimenting will add up to a new understanding of how things fit together, and, eventually, she'll be able to figure tasks like these out in her head, without ever touching a block.
So how does this relate to language? (This is, after all Child Talk).  Here's how: we know that cognition--the scientific term for the mental processes in our head--and language go hand-in-hand.    Problem-solving, remembering, and decision-making are all mental processes that both require language and inspire language.  Spurring cognition spurs language, and vice versa.

All of this to say:  Don't underestimate the importance of letting your child fail sometimes. It's such an essential part of learning. If you are like me, you may have to fight your instinct to help, to step in, to teach your child exactly what to do, to save her from the frustration and agony that come from not having things work out like they should on the first try.  And yet, it's worth the fight. Step back, watch, and let your little one explore on her own...and in doing so, know that you are handing her the keys to understanding the world around her.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Every Day Language Learning: My Love Affair With Mr. Potato Head

Today's guest post is written by fellow speech-language therapist Brie Schindel, who blogs over at Toddler Talk. I follow up her post with a few thoughts of my own about the different types of strategies you can use while playing potato head with your little one. Enjoy!

I'm expecting a baby in 3 short weeks and in an attempt to be VERY organized before my second child arrives, I began my Christmas shopping a few weeks ago! While shopping at Costco for my 22 month old nephew Tyler, I was overjoyed to discover a jumbo Mr. Potato Head multi-pak. This kit has at least 3 different sizes of Mr. Potato Head and all the accompanying body parts.Mr. Potato Head is such a universally popular toy for young children that I shared my purchase with Tyler's mom, in order to be sure she didn't pick one up for him before Christmas. 

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I may love Mr. Potato Head for slightly different reasons than the average parent. Vocabulary sizeat age 2 is a critical predictor of future language and literacy development in elementary school.  Mr. Potato Head is a fantastic tool for teaching one of the core vocabulary groups for young children - body parts.  Along with providing one more way to teach your child about body parts, Mr. Potato Head provides the opportunity to model some great position words like 'in', 'out' and 'on'.  Now throw my Costco purchase into the mix and you've got the opportunity to talk to your young child about 'big' and 'small' Mr. Potato Head and the different sizes of accompanying pieces, which may be 'too big' or 'too small' for the Potato Head your child is playing with.

When I'm working as a Speech-Language Pathologist, these are the things I'm thinking about, but when I'm playing with my own daughter I use the words and concepts very naturally and we just have fun with a classic, favorite toy.

Read more of Brie's thoughts on speech and language by heading over to Toddler Talk!

Becca's note: I love Brie's post because it underscores how easily we can use every day play time to work on language. And there are lots of ways to do so:
  • As Brie noted, it's super easy to use parallel talk, self talk, and description to model (say) the name of the different body parts as you play with them. It seems so simple, but it's a step that parents often forget. Say eye as you pick up an eye, nose as you hand her a nose, and teeth as she puts the teeth on. Do this many, many times (yes, you will sound like a broken record!) and pretty soon your child will start doing the same.  
  • You can also pair actions with words during this activity.  Say "on" every time you put a piece on, and "off" each time you take a piece off. These concepts of "on" and "off" are very early developing ones; toddlers will naturally repeat the words as they do the actions. Potato Head can also "walk walk walk" across the floor, go "boom" as he falls on the ground, and "jump" off the couch onto the floor (creating great excitement when all the pieces fall off along the way!).  Say the word each time the action happens.
  • Give your child choices. Hold an ear in one hand, and a nose in the other, saying "ear? (hold up ear) or nose?" When your child reaches or points at one, give it to him while labeling it again ("Ear! You want ear.").  Eventually, he'll start making the choice by saying what he wants. 
  • Give him a chance to find the body part that matches the potato head part you have. Hold an ear up to your ear, saying ear and then give him the nose....see if he'll hold it up to his. Work on receptive language (understanding) by making a game of finding the part that you name.
  • Use expansion when he uses a single word. This is a great chance to work on early developing two-word phrases. When he says, eye when putting the eyes on, you say eye on; when he says shoe while talking a shoe off, you say, shoe off; when he picks up a big nose and says nose you say (anyone?) big nose; and when you clean the pieces up, you can model eyes done, nose done, shoes done one at a time while putting the pieces back in the box (pairing your words with your actions yet again!)
  • Because it has pieces, Potato Head also lends itself to being a communication temptation. If your child lets you, you can hold the pieces in your lap and hand him a piece one at a time. Then wait. See if he communicates that he wants more. Depending on his language level, you can ask him to say or sign "more," ask for a specific piece (nose or eyes?), or use a two word phrase to clarify which piece he wants (Blue shoes or red shoes? Big nose or small nose?). It's also an easy way to work on carrier phrases such as "I want a...." or "I have a...."
  • Finally, my potato head loves to eat food, dance around, go to sleep, and play hide and seek. All beautiful ways to work on pretend play, which begins emerging around one year and takes off in earnest by 18-24 months 
Looking for more every day language learning tips?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

FAQs About Using Pictures to Help With Beginning Language

In Part One and Part Two of this three-part series on picture use, I explained how to go about teaching your child to communicate with you using pictures. Many parents, though, have reservations about using pictures with their child.  In the third and final post of this series, I answer some of the most common questions I hear from parents. Here we go! 

Won’t using pictures keep my child from talking? 
Won’t he just use pictures and never learn to talk?

Not in my experience, and not in the experience of many others. Quite the opposite, in fact: there are many reports in the literature of children whose verbal language increased as they were taught the use of pictures to communicate. On a logical and a practical level, this makes sense to me. If we teach our children that they can communicate with us through pictures, this will increase the likelihood that they will learn that verbal language can be used as a form of communication, too.  Then, as children learn to communicate verbally, pictures can be dropped out.  Children who learn to access the power of verbal speech will choose this route over the more work-intensive route of going to find pictures, selecting the picture and taking it to a person.  Speaking is easier and much more efficient and children will learn that quickly once they start talking. I have seen this happen more times than I can count.

However, this has not been proven without a doubt through empirical research. To my knowledge, there are still no large, well-controlled studies that prove that pictures help increase verbal language. BUT, there are also no studies that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they inhibit verbal language.  So.  Can I tell you definitively and absolutely that pictures won’t inhibit language? Nope, I can’t. But I sure don’t think they do.

Aren’t pictures only for children who we know will never talk?

We used to think this way. In the past, picture use was reserved for the most severe cases, when all other options were exhausted. Now we tend to move much more quickly into picture use, especially when we know that there is a gap between what the child wants to express and what he is able to express verbally.  A child in this situation is often terribly frustrated, and picture use gives him a quick way to communicate his basic of needs—until he is able to do so verbally.  In my opinion, I see no need to exhaust other options.  Instead, I often use pictures along with other language development strategies.  

Does my child actually have to hand me a picture?
 Can’t he just point to a picture in a book, on a page, or on an I-pad app?

He can. This is certainly one way to use pictures.  However, the value in having your child physically exchange a picture is that he learns that he *needs* to use a communication partner to communicate. Requiring a child to exchange a picture makes it very obvious that a communication partner is involved in the exchange in a way that simply pointing to a picture in a book does not.    Teaching a child to actually exchange a picture with a person prevents him from standing in an empty room, pointing to a picture and expecting something to happen. When he knows he has to give the picture to a person, he will go seek out that person.  When we teach children to exchange a picture, we hope that the child will then learn that he needs to exchange verbal words with a partner as well; all of this highlights the idea that an attentive partner must be actively involved in the communication process.

In my humble opinion, this is most essential for children with autism, as they have the most difficulty understanding social dynamics. If you’ve got a highly social child who simply cannot communicate verbally, allowing him to point at pictures to request and comment might be the easiest route for everyone involved. 

What can I do to find out more? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Using Pictures To Help With Beginning Language: Part Two

In part one of this three-part series, I discussed how to help your child learn to give you a picture as a way of requesting something that she wants.  I talked about the first three steps I take to teach a child this skill: 

1. Find a motivating object,
2. Take and print a picture of the object that represents that activity, and 
3. Teach your child to use that picture to request the object.  

So, what next? 

This is where I often deviate from the PECS protocol set out by Frost and Bondy.  At this point, they would recommend teaching a child to cross a distance to exchange a picture with you. They would also recommend teaching persistence; that is, teaching your child to continue attempting to give you the picture, even if you don’t acknowledge him the first time.  I do understand why they include these steps, especially for children with autism, but I will admit that I often skip them and move on to picture discrimination instead. If I find that a child needs it, I will go back and teach crossing distances and persisting later. So, my step four is...

Step 4: Teach your little one to select the right picture. Up until now, you’ve only had one picture out at a time. The next step is to teach her to discriminate between two pictures and select the picture that actually represents what she wants to request. I usually do this in three smaller steps: 
  • Put out a picture of a desired object (e.g., bubbles) and a blank picture; see what she does. If she starts reaching for the blank picture, guide her hand toward the correct picture and help her hand it to you. Do this repeatedly until she starts selecting the desired object picture on her own, consistently. 
  • Put out a picture of a desired object (e.g., bubbles) and a picture of a undesired object (for example, a washcloth--assuming your little one doesn’t groove on washcloths).  If she gives you the picture of the undesired object (the washcloth), hand that object (the actual washcloth) to her. This natural consequence may lead her to the understanding that she needs to hand you the picture of the desired object (bubbles). If not, physically guide her to choose the picture of the desired object and hand it to you. Repeat until she consistently hands you the picture of the desired object.
  •  Put out pictures of two desired objects (bubbles and ball) and give her whichever one she requests via picture exchange.  If she begins to get frustrated, move back to helping her select the correct one.
Step 5: Add in new pictures, one at a time, making sure your child can discriminate among them and pick the one she really wants. If she starts having difficulty, move back to fewer pictures.  

Step 6: Find a place to keep the pictures. Many people keep them in a three ring binder, using Velcro to secure the pictures to pages that are kept inside the binder. This is nice, of course, because the binder is easily portable, and for some people, this is essential. Other people keep the pictures on their fridge, since this is a central location that works well at home, where the pictures are used most often.  There’s no magic place—do what works best for you and your family. 

And that's it! Bondy and Frost recommend many mores steps, and, if you are planning to use pictures on a long term basis, you'll want to check out their recommendations here. But in the short term,  pictures can be a great way to build a bridge to communication, easing frustration for everyone involved.  Good luck!

Looking for more information on using pictures with children? Stay tuned until next week, 
when I post my answers to Frequently Asked Questions about pictures and language. If you have a question now, leave it in the comment section, and I'll do my best to answer it next week! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Using Pictures To Help With Beginning Language: Part One

As a pediatric speech-language therapist, I use pictures to help with language development all the time, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.  I’ve already written about how I turn vacation pictures into photo books to increase vocabulary, grammar and narratives skills.  I’ve also written about how I use pictures to help children learn to use creative two word phrases. Today, though, I’m writing about the use of pictures at a beginning level--to help children request the things they want, using one picture at a time.  This type of picture use, formalized by Frost and Bondy in 1985, is often called the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). The idea is simple but powerful: teach children to exchange pictures with a communication partner to allow them to request the things they want.

Many children can benefit from this type of picture use, but the children for whom it is most applicable include children who aren’t yet talking at all or who have a very small vocabulary, children who are very visual learners, children who are (or could be) highly frustrated by their difficulty communicating, and/or children who have a very hard time producing speech sounds.  This means that teaching a child to communicate using pictures is probably the most appropriate for:
  • Children with autism
  • Children who are transitioning to a new language due to international adoption
  • Children with a speech sound disorder, such as severe apraxia of speech or dysarthria
  • Late talkers who are not responding to other types of language facilitation strategies
There is a carefully defined, formal way to teach the actual Picture Exchange Communication System, and you can find it here.   My process is similar, but I am a bit more lax in general, and I take certain liberties to modify the approach depending on the child.  That being said, here’s the general method I use as I work to teach children to communicate using pictures:

Step 1: Find an activity your child loves. And I do mean *LOVES*-- so much that she’s willing go the extra mile to get more of it.  It should also be an activity that is easily started and stopped.  Check out my post on communication temptations for a detailed explanation of how to set up the activity to create lots of opportunities for practicing picture use. 

Step 2: Take a picture of the object your child wants. Laminate it (sorry, Sean—in this case it just has to be done).  

Step 3: Teach your child to exchange the picture to request the object. This is, often, the hardest step.  To accomplish it:

  • Get your child engaged in the activity. Ensure she is interested and motivated. Then stop the activity.
  • Put the picture out next to the object that she wants.
  •  As your little one reaches for the object, gently help her to grab the picture and hand it to you.  Do this as quickly as possible, ignore tantrums, and give her the object she want the minute the picture touches your hands.   The quickly part of this step is very, very important.  At this point, I’m not looking for a child to look at the picture, recognize what it is, or even really understand what is happening. I just want her to tolerate me teaching her to exchange the picture. 
  • Don’t say anything until the picture touches your hand. This can be very hard to do—our natural inclination is to verbally direct the child as we go—“get the picture!” “give it to me!”   So why say nothing? There are two potential problems with using verbal speech to teach your child to exchange a picture with you. First, many children who are learning how to use pictures to communicate simply don’t yet have the receptive language to understand your directions; it will only confuse and frustrate them more. Second, if you  tell your child what to do (“give me the picture!”), your child may become reliant on that verbal direction and will only exchange the picture when you tell them to do so. Instead, we want them to learn to independently go get a picture and bring it to you to request things they want. The physical prompt of helping a child exchange a picture is more easily faded out than the verbal prompt of telling him what to do.  This is most often true for children with autism, so this part is the most important to remember when working with children with autism.
  • Do say the name of the picture the minute the picture touches your hand.  This is a very important step, for all language learners.  At first, children may only learn to exchange the picture with you.  But, if you consistently pair the action of handing the picture to you with the verbal word that goes with the picture, your child will most likely start saying the name of the picture on her own (eventually making the picture unnecessary!).  I have seen this happen more times than I can count….and it is why I do not believe that using pictures with young children prevents them from learning to talk. Instead of being a roadblock to verbal communication, pictures are a bridge.

    Note: This step is most easily done with two people—one adult who holds the object of desire and receives the picture and one who physically guides the child to pick up the picture and hand it over.  However, this can be done with one person- I have done it many times. 

    The key to this step is to do it quickly and repeatedly, until your child learns to hand over the picture on her own. At first, you'll need to help her do the whole thing. After a while, though, you can give her chances to give you the picture all on her own. To do this:

    • Place the picture next to the object she wants and wait. She may reach for it on her own and hand it to you—hooray!  Some children will reach this point very quickly. 
    • However, some children need extra help. You may need to touch her gently on the elbow to cue her to reach for the picture. Or, you may need to help her do the whole thing again.  Do so...and then give her a chance to do it on her own again a bit later.
    • Eventually, with practice and consistency, she will start doing it on her own.  And that’s when you can move to step 4.    

    Looking for step 4?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Tech Spin on A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words: Using Photo Books to Increase Vocabulary, Grammar, and Narrative Skills

I'm very excited to share this *awesome* guest post by Sean J. Sweeney. His tech spin on my photo book post is both inspiring and practical.

I recently read with great admiration Beccas post in which she described how to make and use photo books for language development.  It is true that children love bright, colorful photos, and they love to talk about them even more when they are personally relevant! Becca’s specific descriptions (and video demonstration) of language strategies to use in the context of creating and reviewing photobooks are definitely going to be helpful to many parents and SLPs.

However, if you know my work at all, you know that I am always asking how technology might assist in any learning and language process. I am also one of the least craftsy and most printer-hating and store-averse people on the planet. Therefore ordering photos, picking them up at CVS, decorating with stickers and other flair, laminating (*shiver*) and binding the books...not a list of verbs I personally relish.  Let’s not say it’s a guy thing, but maybe that’s just the elephant in the post.  So, if you want to hear about a few digital options for implementing Becca’s terrific methods, read on!

I first have to point out that creating all-digital (or mostly digital) versions of these activities is facilitated by the way that families often do photography these days.  Many families own and know how to use digital cameras (including the ones on their smartphones), and archive their photos in places such as Kodak Gallery, Picasa, iPhoto or even Facebook. So, whether photobooks as a language context are to be created by the families themselves, or a clinician is going to create the product while eliciting language from the child, the raw materials are often already digitized, easily downloadable and e-mailable! If actual prints are involved, it is no longer an arduous process to scan them, or it can often be easier to place them out of glare and just take a nice shot of the picture with a digital camera or smart phone.  Once you have digital photos to work with, there are a few options you might consider.

One of these is Little Bird Tales, a free online picture book creator.  Little Bird Tales has a simple, kid-and-family-friendly interface (and a great tutorial) and the added bonus of allowing you to add voice captions to each picture.  When the book is complete, it can remain “private” and password-protected, but you can also share it with others via email.  The book remains digital, however, and cannot be printed.  

The text and “Add Your Voice” features of Little Bird Tales are a great opportunity to develop vocabulary and sentence structure!

Another great option is Glogster, the online digital poster creator, also free except for certain premium features.  Glogster has an EDU version, and parents can also sign up at home through the regular portal.  Glogster also has a very kid-friendly interface, and allows you to create a poster of your event’s images, along with supplementary graphics and audio clips.  

Glogster’s Magnet tool is all you need to upload your images, add text, and record sound! As children choose “Frames” for pictures, additional descriptive language can be elicited.

Glogster creations can be printed for offline use, and can also be marked private and shared via email.  Glogster is a little more complicated to use than Little Bird Tales (but not much!), so you might want to check out the tutorials I posted on YouTube. Additionally, both Glogster and Little Bird Tales are Flash-based (and therefore will not work on iPad, until their apps are available?) so if you run into trouble, you may want to make sure you have the latest version of Flash and update your browser, steps that are important for keeping your Web workin’!

When I mentioned iPad, did that make your ears perk up? One of my favorite recent discoveries is Skrappy ($4.99), a robust iPad app that you can use to create a decorated and annotated scrapbook of your photos! Like many iPad creation tools, Skrappy has a built-in-tutorial (in the “Getting Started” Scrapbook, so you and the kiddos can be creating in no time!

Skrappy’s simple tap-based interface lets you add whatever you’d like to your photobook: images, video, audio captions, text, decorative shapes and graphics to associate with the pictures, even music!

For another iPad take on photobooking, check out Mobile Education Stores new app, Speech Journal (3.99), “a customizable voice recorder that you pair recorded messages with your own imported images and image sequences.”  Speech Journal is super-simple to use, contains its own video tutorial, and allows you to pair voice recordings with single images or continue recording across multiple images, resulting in a slideshow (and sequenced narrative)!  When complete, the journal can be emailed and played on a home computer in QuickTime player, a free download.

Finally, if you’d like a simple and quick (but perhaps a little more expensive) digital take on the photobook, iPhoto on Mac features a tool for you to create and order books to be delivered to you (for example, you can buy a 3-pack of one 20-page softcover book from Apple for about $11.00). Alternately, go to the Create menu on Picasa (on either platform) to create and email/print a photo collage (expensive in a toner cartridge sense, but easy to do)!

Hope you enjoyed this digital spin on photobooking; if you have any other tech tools you’d like to suggest for use with personally relevant photos in order to build language, please let us know in the comments!

Sean J. Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and instructional technology specialist working in the public school and in private practice at The Ely Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He consults on the topic of technology integration in speech and language and is the author of the blog SpeechTechie: Looking at Technology Through a Language Lens.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Childhood Apraxia of Speech: Through a Mother's Eyes

Today, I'm privileged to share this guest post from Leslie- devoted mom of two, one of whom happens to have a diagnosis of Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). Leslie has a book on Childhood Apraxia of Speech coming out in early 2012...and after reading this post, I can't wait to read her book! Enjoy. 

Many thanks to Becca for allowing me to be a guest blogger on her site today.  It’s ironic how this world of apraxia works…there’s not much “out there” until you start looking.  I “found” Becca because she was a guest a blogger on PediaStaff.  Her article on “waiting to see” intrigued me.  I contacted her, and well…the rest is history.  But the point I am trying to make is: you just never know what stone you will upturn when you start picking them up. 

Everyone Has a (apraxia) Story…Here’s Ours

At two years old, Kate was a beautiful, energetic and happy toddler.  Amidst the hustle and bustle of a new sibling and a pending move, there were concerns.  With the exception of one word—hi—Kate was as quiet as a box of crayons.  It made us wonder if something was wrong.  Even as a baby, Kate rarely babbled and cried.  She was, in a word, “perfect.”  So why were we worried?  After all, she could understand everything we said, even the big words.  “Play classical music.  Dance with her.  Babies need that so their brains can develop,” I was told by others.   And so we did.  We talked to her like she was a little adult, making conversations even though we didn’t expect answers.  The books I read about late-talking children, didn’t seem to really apply to our little Kate.  “She’ll talk when she’s ready,” I was told by my mom-friends.  Only they bragged that their toddlers were saying words like “elephant” and when we met at the park.  I cringed and rolled my lips into a tight line, sucking in a deep breath.  Was she stressed because there were changes going on her world?  No, that isn’t it.  I shook my head, confused and frustrated.  We provided a loving, stable environment.  So, what was it?
          As first-time parents, we didn’t want to appear “delinquent,” so when Kate was 15 months old, exactly, we headed to the doctor (the same one who delivered her) for her scheduled well-child check-up. I say “we,” because both doting parents were off work for the occasion. It was as though it were a pre-kid business meeting marked well in advance in our planners. This time we came armed with our wiggly daughter; along with thoughts, questions and toddler antics to relate to our doctor.
  After Dr. Baumgartner whirled into the exam room, plopped down and smiled at us, she asked a series of questions . . . was Kate doing this, doing that? Yes, yes, and yes, we nodded and smiled proudly. “Is she saying ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ and a few other words?” Nope. We held our breath, awaiting her response.
As a first-timer, I didn’t want to jump the gun. Kate was only 15 months old after all. She still wore diapers, took a pacifier when distressed, and was rocked to sleep. In many ways she was still a baby, and babies don’t talk, do they?  Plus, I knew kids—through my teen years as baby-sitter and as a child psych nurse.
          We told our doctor that all Kate was saying was “hi,” and that she started saying that around 13 months. Wasn’t that good enough? Our caring doctor probed a little further and eventually she referred us to a local speech-language pathologist (SLP). “You can do it now, if you want to be aggressive, or wait until she is 18 months if you want to take a conservative approach,” she instructed us. 
          We took the conservative approach, finally making the call when Kate was 18 months. The impetus was easy:  Kate still wasn’t saying “momma” and I wanted to hear my little girl call for me by name, instead of grunting. 
          I’ll admit I was totally skeptical of the capabilities of a speech-language pathologist at first. What could she possibly do to get my kid to talk that I couldn’t?  And this SLP didn’t even have kids—what was I thinking? But we stayed the course—and learned that Kate has severe Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS).  She was diagnosed at 30 months (2.6 years)
            As bright, beautiful little girl preparing for her first day of first grade this week, we are pleased to share that Kate is no longer grunting and pointing to get our attention.  Was it magic?  No.  Was it something she needed to “grow out of?”  No, again.  It was the hard work and patience of a skilled pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP); the determination and motivation of a child, and the tenacity of her parents.  It was the environment and nurturing curriculum of a hands-on, language-based preschool.  It was a village that helped our little girl speak at a level that was developmentally appropriate. 
          If you suspect your child of having a speech disorder like Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), it is important that you make an appointment with a qualified SLP for a thorough assessment.  CAS, though fairly rare—about 1% of the pediatric population—is a serious speech disorder that requires intense and frequent intervention to overcome.  But it can be done!  If you are looking for more information on CAS, poke around on this site, ChildTalk www.talkingkids.org for related topics, my blog can be reached at www.leslie4kids.wordpress.com  (I devote Mondays to apraxia), and also the CASANA/Apraxia-KIDS website, www.apraxia-kids.org

Hi, I’m Leslie.  I am mostly a full-time mom, former R.N. and part-time writer.  My family and I live in the Chicagoland area and do all of the things regular families do.  With one exception:  we cope with our daughter’s Childhood Apraxia of Speech on a daily basis.  When I was first learning about  Kate’s diagnosis, I was stumped: we never learned about this in nursing school!   I was on a quest to help my daughter.  In early 2012, my book, Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding & Coping with Childhood Apraxia of Speech will be available from Woodbine House.  

More Information on Apraxia of Speech

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bilingual Children, Asperger's Syndrome, The Power of Stories, Boogers, Books, and Babies: It's the Fabulous Friday Round Up

 A few posts I think are great...

The Huffington Post reports on a study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. The study suggests that children who are raised in bilingual homes may have better cognitive skills, at least in some select areas of cognition-and that this shows up as early as two years of age. The authors of the article theorize that growing up with two languages requires children to develop flexible attention skills so that they can shift rapidly back and forth between two languages. This leads to better development of "executive functioning" skills-- the higher level thinking skills we all use to manage our attention, prioritize, hypothesize, and plan.

PsychCentral shares this thought-provoking post on The Power of Stories in Personality Psychology. As SpeechTechie wisely pointed out on Twitter earlier this week, this post is a great reminder of why it is so important to help our children develop good narrative skills. (Looking for ideas on how to do this? Check out this post on using photo books for narrative development).

In a turn toward the highly practical, ArticBrain posts on the use of boogers and dog food for helping your child improve his articulation and language skills.  Once I got past my initial repulsion, I greatly enjoyed the creativity of the idea.  (And yes, ArticBrain is written by a guy.)

In her post on The Surprising Things Babies Might Do (If Given The Chance), Janet Lansbury at Elevating Childcare reminds us that babies and toddlers often hold much more potential to be independent then we might think--if we only give them the chance to show us what they've got.

The Sixty Second Parent has some awesome suggestions for their top ten books that 2-year-olds will love (you'll find many of the same ones on my list of Repetitive Books for Language Learning!).

Finally,  Be Real PDD/NOS directs us over to this video where Arthur ( from the PBS show) explains Asperger's Syndrome. I think I like it.... what are your thoughts?

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Social-Emotional Awareness: What Is It and How Do I Help My Child Get It?

About this time last year, I was getting my son ready for his first day of kindergarten. Truth be told, I was also getting myself ready, and for good reason. I'll never forget embracing him one last time and then watching as he bravely walked into the classroom, calm and courageous despite the tears running slowly down his face.  It was a huge step toward independence. It was also a step that put his social-emotional skills to the test--he had to trust that he could feel his emotions, manage them, and take on the new experience that had been placed in front of him.

Indeed, successful navigation of the kindergarten world requires solid social-emotional awareness-- child's ability "to experience, regulate and express emotions, to form close and secure interpersonal relationships, and to explore his or her environment, and learn, all in the context of family, community, and culture" (SEFEL) Or, in the words of Robert Fulgham, All [you] really need to know, [you] learned in kindergarten:

"Share everything, play fair, don't hit people...don't take things that aren't yours...clean up your own mess...say you're sorry when you hurt somebody...live a balanced life--learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some everyday...(and) when you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together." 

These lessons, learned in the early childhood and elementary years, are important parts of development. Knowing how to regulate emotions and interact well with others is a cornerstone of learning. Good social-emotional awareness is also one of the predictors of success in this great big world of ours.

How to work on social-emotional awareness?
  • Provide your child with a safe, loving, responsive environment in which he can grow and learn and play.  It is through caring relationships with parents that children begin to develop social emotional wellness. 
  • Get your child together to play with other peers. Allow him to practice skills such as turn-taking, resolving conflict, and sharing; support him as needed during the play-dates to help him be successful.
  • Help your child talk about his feelings. Work with him so that he learns to recognize them, name them, and manage them. One way to do this is to use books to help introduce and expand the topic of feelings.  For example, check out this post on using "I Was So Mad" to discuss feeling angry. Remind your child that feelings are always okay--acknowledge your child's feelings without trying to fix them. Then teach him what to do with those feelings.
  • Discuss your own feelings. Use yourself and situations that come up in your life to model the choices you make when you are angry/sad/frustrated/happy. Show your child how you pause and take breaths before reacting, or how you write in a journal when you are sad; how you list out options when you are frustrated by a problem, and how you hug and kiss those you love when you are happy to see them.
  • Practice dealing with intense emotions before the situation comes up. Teach your child, for example, to how to recognize when anger first starts and use strategies to stop before responding. Practice, practice, practice. You are your child's coach-- run drills over and over so that when game day arrives, he'll know exactly what to do. 
This is just the tip of the iceberg of social-emotional awareness- there is much to learn and many resources available to help you do so. A great starting point is by going to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning website run by Vanderbilt University.  I was recently introduced to this website by an early childhood teacher in our Birth-to-Three program and I am stunned at what an amazing resource it truly is:

  • The practical strategies section has a wide variety of strategies for parents and teachers on promoting social-emotional awareness. There are free, printable scripted stories such as the one about Tucker Turtle and how he learns to control his feelings and calm down by "thinking like a turtle" (tuck inside your shell and take three breaths before responding--something we all need reminders to do every now and then!). The scripted stories are to be used with young children--they each explicity teach important strategies for different social-emotional skills. 
  • And then there's the Book Nook section, at the bottom of the page of practical strategies. It's chock full of books into which lessons of social-emotional can be woven.  Each book that is listed in this section has a PDF of accompanying lesson plans full of suggestions for expanding the social-emotional lessons of the book. My favorite? The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn: a beautiful story about a young raccoon who is afraid to leave his mother and go off into the world of school...until his mother teaches him that, by gently placing a kiss in the palm of his hand, she is sending her love out into the world with him.  And that story, my dear readers, is what got me through my son's first day of kindergarten.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Word-finding, Stress Management, Awesome Authors, and School Tips: A Fabulous Friday Round-up

A few posts that I think are great....

  • Ever have that "tip of the tongue" feeling, when you know you know a word but can't quite find it? Caroline Bowen posts on word-retrieval (word-finding) difficulties. She explains a bit about the problem, talks about how to assess it, and provides tons of practical tips and suggestions for helping children work on it.  She also directs readers over to two other super duper websites: Word Finding Difficulties and The Word Finding Lab. Awesome stuff.
  • Moving Smart Now discusses how stress can impact a child's ability to learn and how a parent's stress can impact a child's-- a powerful reminder that, in taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of our children.  She also gives some important suggestions for helping your little one deal with stress, which leads to better learning, growing, and loving for everyone involved.
  • No Time For Flashcards share Five Great Children's Book Authors. I love their choices! (And, for what it's worth, I adore the book I Love You Forever. Still can't read it without crying.)

Happy Friday!