Archive for September, 2010

Providing AAC Communication Opportunities

Planning is something that most of us do everyday to one degree or another.  It might be a list for the grocery store, a memo in our planners, or notes for a meeting.  Usually we just “know” when we need to prepare for certain situations.  Something ath twe rarely plan out is our daily communication with others.  I mean those everyday communications at breakfast, around the coffee cart at work or while waiting for our yoga class to begin.  However, as parents and therapists of AAC users, planning communication for that AAC user is crucial to their success.

Every AAC device has different features and communication access.  Some require more preparation for communication situations than others.  We must remember that an AAC device is the VOICE of the user, (our child, our friend, our client).  The communication device must be respected and treated as their voice.  It should be used whenever possible.

Here are some of those possible opportunities:

  • Upon waking in the morning, e.g., “Good Morning, Mom!”
  • At breakfast, e.g., “I’d like toast and eggs today, please.”
  • While getting dressed, e.g., “It’s chilly today.  I’d like to wear my new blue sweater.”
  • To tell information, e.g., “I have finished my homework/chores/piano practice”
  • To comment, e.g., “It has just started raining!”
  • To bid farewell, e.g., “Bye, Dad.  Have a good day at work.”
  • And, yes, to plan, e.g. “Can we play another game on the Xbox after school?”

Think of all the things that we communicate within the very first hour of our days.  Continue this thought process throughout the day.  In no time, you will have a list of communication opportunities for your AAC user!

Posted by on September 16th, 2010 No Comments



My oldest child is a boy.  When he was young, he enjoyed spending his time sitting quietly and figuring things out with his hands.  Hours upon hours were spent with a pile of Legos constructing the most elaborate creations. He was a “go with the flow” kind of kid who easily went wherever Mom took him.   My youngest child is also a boy.  When he was young, he never slept more than six hours in a day and he enjoyed spending his time jumping on his bed, swinging and being active while also disliking going to new places.  Why such difference between two children, same sex, same family, etc.?  The answer is temperment. Children are born with their own temperments, or individual styles of interacting with their world, and keep their temperments throughout their lives.  Personlity is the influence of temperment and life experiences.

The study of tempermant began in the 1950’s by Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, and associates. They identified nine temperment traits that combine in different ways for form three distinct temperments:

  • Easy or flexible: Mostly calm, adaptable, not easily upset and  with predictable sleeping and eating patterns.
  • Difficult, active, or feisty: Frequently  fussy, hesitant in new situations, uncomfortable with new people, bothered by noise, intesely reactive, irregular in sleeping and eating patterns.
  • Slow to warm up or cautious: Usually quiet, sometimes fussy, tend to withdraw or to react negatively to new situations, but their reactions gradually become more positive with continuous exposure.

We come into parenthood and education with our own temperaments which then interact with our children’s temperaments.  Understanding our own, and those of our children allow us, as the adults, to better modulate learning situations to best meet the needs of individual children.  Take some time to observe and think about your own temperament.  How do you react to the world?  What kind of people do you choose to be around?  Observe your children.  What temperament types are they?  How can you alter your parenting or instructional style to better fit with the way that they interact with their world?

Posted by on September 15th, 2010 No Comments


Help Your Child Make and Maintain Strong Friendships

Friends become increasingly important to children as they get older. This is because as children progress through the natural stages of separation from their parents, they depend upon acceptance and inclusion into their social networks of friends.  For some children, especially those with learning and/or communication challenges, developing and keeping friendships is difficult.

One of the best things that you can do to assist your child in developing meaningful friendships is to involve him or her in extra curricular activities.  This provides an avenue for exploring interests and talents as well as a natural setting to meet children with similar interests within a smaller, more controlled setting.   Children who have developed interests and talents are more interesting and have higher self esteem; two factors that positively contribute to the acquisition of strong friendships.  These friendships developed outside of school will naturally flow back into school.  If your child spends most of his or her day within a self contained classroom, participation in extracurricular activities exposes typically developing children to your child in an environment where your child can be successful so that they view your child differently than they may if their only link to them was the special education classroom.

Open up your house to peers.  Provide lots of snacks and activities.  Welcome the neighborhood children or peers from school to come over after school and on the weekends.  Invest in a swing set, art supplies, slip-n-slide or other appealing activity that will encourage the children to come over.  Your willingness to spend a little extra and tolerate a little more mess will pay off because kids need a welcoming place to be together.  Friendships take work.  Your child will need to make the effort to be a good friend and will depend upon you to go the extra mile by driving him or her to and from gatherings.  These drives are perfect opportunities to talk about friendship.  Talk about the values that you see in your child’s friends and how important it is to keep out of gossip, or apologize or forgive.

Good friends are critical to your child’s social and emotional growth.  Your support and active involvement in providing opportunities for your child to develop strong friendships will lead to him or her having increased self esteem and improved success at school.

Posted by on September 7th, 2010 No Comments


CLASS, Inc. Guide to Successful Play Dates

Play dates are important arenas for learning and practicing social communication skills.  Social skill development is as an important part of childhood development as learning to walk or talk.  In order to progress through important developmental social milestones, children need to experience social success with play dates where they will learn to exchange information, negotiate, listen, express empathy, understand the viewpoint of others, and have social conversations.

When your child is successful, an afternoon play date is easily one of the more satisfying and relaxing afternoons in the life of a parent.  However, when your child melts down, becomes aggressive, won’t leave your lap, hits, refuses to share or just plain can’t seem to handle the play date experience, the afternoon play date immediately morphs into one of the most frustrating, discouraging and heartbreaking events imaginable in the life of a parent.  I know; as a mother of many children, I have experienced both of those afternoons.  Based on what I learned as a parent from my children’s’ play dates coupled with what I have learned as a professional speech-language pathologist and special education preschool teacher, here is my CLASS, Inc. guide to arranging successful play dates.  I hope that you find it useful, drop me a line and let me know!

* Who: If your child is old enough and has enough language to have input, ask them whom they would like to spend time with.  If they are unable to tell you, consider children that attend the same school, day care, Sunday school or have parents with whom you enjoy spending time.

*Front-load:  Talk with your child about the play date the day before, the morning of, and during the ride to the friend’s house.  Talk, talk again, and talk again.  Tell them whom they are going to see, what they might be doing and what the rules will be.  Remind them about things that might be different at the friend’s house such as stairs, the presence of a pet or sibling, a noisy bathroom fan, etc.

*Provide Structure:  Plan some structured activities that involve both parallel, or side by side play, such as puzzles, swings or play dough as well as some interactive, non competitive play such as tossing a ball back and forth, simple board games or an obstacle course.

* How long:  1-1/2 to 2 hrs is a good length of time to begin with.  This allows enough time for the children to warm up to each other, enjoy each other and transition to their separate homes while still enjoying each other.  MAKE SURE TO NOT GET SUCKED INTO LENGTHING THE PLAY DATE BECAUSE THINGS ARE GOING WELL.  END ON AN UPNOTE, WHEN THE CHILDREN ARE HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL.  THEY WILL REMEMBER THE EXPERIENCE AND WANT TO REPEAT IT!

*Tip:  FEED your child before the play date!  The goal is to set the children up for a successful, enjoyable time.  Irritable children with low blood sugar and rumbly tummies are a recipe for failure.

*Praise:  Good efforts deserve to be rewarded.  When you see your child trying to share or stick with an activity, let them know that you are proud of them.  Talk to them about the qualities you see that make him a good friend.  Explain how his behaviors and actions were good choices that led to fun things happening during the play date.

*Follow through: If your child does misbehave, you must follow through. Don’t ignore poor behavior because you are embarrassed.  Gently remind your child what to do, if that doesn’t work, offer a different choice.  If that still doesn’t work, you may need to remove her from the situation for a break to regroup.  If all else fails, be prepared to go home early if need be; you can always try again another day.

*Prepare:  When it gets close to the time to leave, prepare the children by warning them that it will be soon time to clean up. Tell them what will happen next, such as you will go home for lunch, or you will go to the store, or that you will go home and they can play with a favorite toy.  Remind them in a few more minutes and then begin the countdown in earnest.  Do not allow a temper tantrum over leaving keep you there longer.  Tantrums are not a social skill that we want to cultivate.

Taking the time to arrange play dates for your child is an investment in their future.  A few early friendships are the building blocks for a lifetime of successful relationships.

Posted by on September 2nd, 2010 No Comments