Halloween Themed Apps to Improve Children’s Language Skills

Halloween apps

Photo by Barbara Fernandes

(This post originally appeared on the GeekSLP Blog)

In the spirit of Halloween I have decided to look at a few Halloween themed apps that can be used by parents and speech therapists to improve children’s language skills. I have been doing therapy mostly with the little ones, so sometimes I am very bias towards talking about apps that can be used by the preschoolers and kindergarteners; this time I will try VERY HARD to find apps that you guys can also use with our older crowd, deal?

I will also try to give some ideas of activities that you guys can implement. Sometimes I think we forget that even though the iPhone and the iPad are great tools, we still need to be part of the process of improving our children’s language and articulation skills. The technology may lead us to expect that the apps will be doing all the work for us, but please SLPs and parents: do not let it! Language and communication are an interactive process and we should be using the apps as tools only, not the be all resource. I hope you guys like the recommendations I have this time.

1. Parents Carve-a-Pumpkin
This app allows you to “carve” your own pumpkin without getting dirty and without having to use a knife. It is great to work on body parts: eyes, mouth, nose, etc by having the child say which part she will build next before allowing them to move the parts.

This app is also great to help students with some adjectives: spiky, happy, scary, etc. If you also want to teach some geometrical forms let your child “cut” it by hand. It is compatible with the iPod and the iPad. In the end you can let the child e-mail and print their own pumpkins.

2. Cookie Doodle
This is by far my favorite one! you get to make your own halloween themed cookie.
First you pick your dough type, then you have to make the dough nice and smooth for your cookie, select the format, and you get to bake and decorate it! The opportunities for building language skills here are endless. Even if you are working on improving fluency skills, this will give you plenty of room for conversation and interaction.

With this app you can teach the child vocabulary words:

Verbs: bake, crack, mix, cut, bake, tap, pour, shake, eat, mix.
Nouns: plates, cookie, dough, cookie cutter, tablecloth, colors, all sorts of flavors, vanilla, salt, chocolate, butter, ghosts, cat, pumpkin, spider, etc.

Because this app also contains other cookie cutters themes you can also use for other festivities.

3. Dot! Connect HalloweenThis is a simple connect the dots app. I purchased this app thinking it would give me some more room for language development; however, I had to be very creative here to try to use it for therapy. The only idea I was able to come up with was using it as a tool for articulation therapy. Every time the child produces the target word you allow them to connect one dot, this way they know how many times they will have to trill that /r/( I guess I am thinking Spanish therapy here!). The Zombie picture has 48 dots, so 48 words for articulation practice!

4. Adapted book- 5 pumpkins.

This is an interactive book that uses sign language interpreters to tell and model the story. This app can be used to model appropriate fluency skills at the phrase level, as well as numbers and signs at the phrase level ( I caught myself trying to imitate the interpreter and learn some signs myself!)

Remember the apps are just tools, parents and speech therapists must take the next step in building the communication. Happy Halloween!

Barbara Fernandes is a trilingual speech and language pathologist. She is the director of Smarty Ears and the face behind GeekSLP TV, a blog and video podcast focusing on the use of technology in speech therapy. Barbara has also been a practicing speech therapist both in Brazil and in the United States. She is a an active participant of the Texas Speech and Hearing Association as a member of the TSHA Culturally and linguistically diverse issues task force. Barbara has created over 15 applications for speech therapists.

FM Systems “vs.” Soundfields

(This post originally appeared on Cochlear Implant Online)

I want to start this post by saying that BOTH FM Systems and Soundfield Systems can be excellent options for students with hearing loss. Both devices function to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, making the relevant signal (i.e. the teacher’s voice) louder than the noise and distraction (i.e. other children talking, chairs scraping the floor, etc.). There are differences, however.

An ear-level FM System transmits sound directly from the teacher’s microphone (worn as a headset, lapel, or lavaliere… more on this below) to a “boot” or “shoe” attached to the child’s hearing aid, cochlear implant, or Baha. Other receiver types include a lavaliere-style neckloop or a separate FM earmold system (the former is not so commonly used anymore).

Closeup of a mirophone

Photo by smaedli

A soundfield system uses the same types of microphones, but transmits instead to speakers placed around the room or a portable speaker (about the size of a brick — but not as heavy!) that can be placed on the child’s desk and travel around the classroom with him.

I have used, and had success with, both types of systems for a variety of students with hearing loss. However, I think one of the greatest issues to consider when deciding between the two systems is, “IS THE CHILD A GOOD REPORTER?” With FM systems that connect to hearing aids, it is possible for adults to listen to the FM+HA signal through the stetheset test headphones. For a CI, however, parents/teachers/therapists are only able to test the microphone quality (and even that’s not what the child actually “hears”), NOT the FM+CI condition. If you are considering an FM system for a child with cochlear implants, especially a very young child or a child who, for multiple disabilities, newness of implant, or any other reason, is not yet a reliable reporter of sound quality, adults must be extra vigilant to note any changes in the child’s hearing. If the FM signal is weak or static-y, a “poor reporter” will not be able to tell you this, which could lead to hours or days of reduced sound input with no one even knowing. Objective measures, such as testing the child’s hearing in noise in a soundbooth in the unaided, CI, and CI+FM conditions, can yield data that indicate whether or not the child is benefitting from the FM system, but on a day-to-day basis, a child who cannot reliably report the sound quality coming through the FM presents an extra challenge for parents and professionals. With a soundfield, the sound from the microphone is broadcast through speakers that anyone so anyone can hear and monitor quality without extra equipment. This might be a better choice for a young/new cochlear implant user who is not yet ready to troubleshoot her own device.


  • Lapel: the microphone clips to the speaker’s lapel
  • Lavaliere/Pendant: the microphone is worn like a necklace and hangs from the speaker’s neck
  • Headset/ Boom (aka “The Madonna” or “The Britney Spears” — a real generation gap test!): the microphone is worn around the head/ears and projects out over the mouth
  • Pass-Around (aka “The Oprah”): a wireless, typical microphone to be passed around for class discussions, usually used in addition to one of the three microphone types above, for secondary speaker(s)

Of all of these microphones, the Headset/ Boom Microphone option gets the mic closest to the speaker’s voice. In addition, this type of microphone moves with the speaker’s face, whereas the other microphone types remain in place. When the teacher turns her head, her voice is directed away from the lapel or lavaliere microphone, and the student temporarily loses the signal. By placing the mic right by the teacher’s lips, as in the headset/boom mic option, you ensure constant access to sound. For older children in seminar-style courses or classes with lots of group discussion, adding a pass-around microphone may help a student with hearing loss follow dialogue from multiple speakers as the mic is passed back and forth around the room.


  • Make sure the transmitter (worn by the speaker) is on the same channel as the child’s receiver (attached to his device).
  • Teachers can wear the transmitter in a pocket, attached to a belt loop or waistband, or worn in a special pack — careful not to let it fall to the ground when bending over!
  • Teachers should be sure to turn off the FM/Soundfield system when leaving the classroom or having private discussions.
  • Ling checks should be performed with and without the FM systems multiple times EVERY DAY to ensure clarity of signal.
  • Remember that classroom amplification can benefit ALL children, not just those with severe-profound hearing losses. Other groups shown to benefit from amplification include: children with minimal or unilateral hearing loss, children with transient hearing loss due to ear infections, children with ADD/ADHD, English language learners, and more!
  • The FM/Soundfield is only useful when it’s being used! Spot-checks in the classroom by the parent, SLP, or TOD can help to “encourage” teacher compliance with assistive technology use and serve as resources for troubleshooting. Remember, if it’s in the IEP, it’s mandated by law that the child’s teacher comply with its use!


Elizabeth Boschini is the author of two children’s books featuring characters with cochlear implants, “Ellie’s Ears” and “Happy Birthday to My Ears”. She is Co-Founder and Moderator of Deaf Village and blogs at Cochlear Implant Online. She can be contacted via email at myheartlistens@gmail.com or twitter @myheartlistens.

A Million Rubber Bands

(This post originally appeared on Living Successfully With Aphasia)

Alan K. Simpson, former senator from Wyoming, described resilience as being like “a million rubber bands.” People with aphasia are stretched there and back again as the weeks, months, and years slowly define who they are and will be. The aphasia literature of the fifties described people with aphasia as essentially unchanged in persona. I think not. This rubber band business moves people into and out of places they have never been, and changes do occur. What is obvious to me as I accompany them on part of this bouncing around, is that those who are resilient experience the lows and highs differently, constantly rededicating themselves to the next piece of what lies ahead. PBS hosted a wonderful series recently called, “This Emotional Life; ” one of the shows was dedicated to resilience.

“People who are resilient draw on strengths in themselves, their relationships, and their communities to help them overcome adversity. Resilient people often find meaning even in times of trouble and gain confidence from overcoming adversity. In this way, resilience can contribute to a deeply satisfying life.”

Some of you may remember Bob Shumaker, a former POW in Vietnam. In this video, he describes how he created a communication system: a tap code between prisoners that he believes permitted them all to survive three years in solitary confinement.

In a way, that is what people with aphasia do: create a new code for maintaining the connection between themselves and the world they inhabited before it, or laying down new pathways for the new life they are creating. And aphasia therapists? We are the interpreters, making a bridge between there and back again.

Shirley Morganstein and Marilyn Certner Smith co-founded Speaking of Aphasia, a Life Participation practice in Montclair, NJ where people with aphasia instruct her daily in their journey. Recently, Shirley began a blog focused more on her personal thoughts about the people she has met and her own process as a therapist

Autism Spectrum Disorders…Labels, Categories, and Confusion: Part 2

Cartoon conversation about Aspergers

(This post and this photo originally appeared on www.ocslp.org)

In my last post, I introduced Gabriel and Vera, two young kiddos who both fall into the category of having “moderate-severe autism” but who are very different in terms of how their autism spectrum disorder is manifested. I wrote about the heterogeneity of autism, and stated that this “spectrum” of neurodevelopmental disorders is anything but clear-cut in terms of categories and labels, which makes it especially difficult for parents, professionals, and individuals to explain this condition to others and treat clinically.

To add to the confusion over categories and labels, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has proposed changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which eliminate the terms “Aspergers’ Syndrome (AS)” and “Pervasive Developmental Disorder-NOS (PDD-NOS)” entirely from the diagnostic codes used by psychologists and medical practitioners. Individuals with a former diagnosis of these conditions would now be considered to demonstrate an Autistic Disorder (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). The specific criteria for an Autistic Disorder would include:

  1. Clinically significant, persistent deficits in social communication and interactions, as manifest by all of the following:
    • Marked deficits in nonverbal and verbal communication used for social interaction:
    • Lack of social reciprocity;
    • Failure to develop and maintain peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least TWO of the following:
    • Stereotyped motor or verbal behaviors, or unusual sensory behaviors
    • Excessive adherence to routines and ritualized patterns of behavior
    • Restricted, fixated interests
  3. Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities)

These proposed changes have stirred up a whole lot of controversy. Folks applauding these changes argue that the current diagnostic categories, labels, and criteria do not necessarily describe the actual symptoms present in individuals with autism spectrum disorders, so that diagnosis is made in terms of overall severity or based on a single area of development, such as whether the individual demonstrated a language disorder early on. It’s suggested that by eliminating AS and PDD-NOS, as well as collapsing the two social and communication criteria into one (i.e., “Social communication”), diagnosis would be based on the presence and severity of symptoms, which would result in greater accuracy and ease in making a diagnosis. Some parents of higher functioning kiddos have even commented that the single “autistic disorder” category might make it easier to access services and resources that were formerly denied their children due to the less severe nature of their symptoms.

Opponents to these changes argue that collapsing these categories into one autistic disorder further masks the heterogeneity of autistic spectrum disorders. In addition, individuals with Aspergers’ Syndrome (some referring to themselves as “Aspies”) may take pride in their differences and of the fact that many brilliant individuals (Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Jefferson to name a few) are thought to have had AS. As a result, these folks may be reluctant to refer to themselves as “autistic” or include themselves in the same category with individuals who have significant functional impairments.

As an SLP who has worked in the schools, a single diagnostic category is not altogether foreign to me. Public schools have been using “autistic-like” as a category to qualify kiddos for special education services for some time. Further, the terms “autism spectrum” and “the spectrum” are commonly used to describe individuals at all levels of functioning and with a myriad of symptoms that stem from a neurodevelopmental disorder.

My concern is that the variegated nature of autistic spectrum disorders may be overlooked. Special educators may attest that many ”autism programs” are unsuccessful because individuals with autism spectrum disorders are so different from one another. The same can be said for clinical treament models. Autism intervention and programming seem destined to fail when they lack the flexibility to address the whole child with his or her unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. But flexibile and individualized programming equates to greater costs, and there’s the rub, especially in states teetering toward bankruptcy.

There is no easy or even clear solution to the confusion surrounding this perplexing spectrum of disorders we call “autism,” but I do have a few thoughts and observations which might be helpful.

  1. The unique set of symptoms and special needs of kiddos with an autism spectrum disorder require the development of a PROFILE by a TEAM OF PROFESSIONALS, which clearly articulates the child’s STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES in all DEVELOPMENT DOMAINS. This, of course, is what IEP teams are intended to do, but many times they fall short due to a myriad of financial or organizational issues. In particular, public schools often lack the personnel to manage the social and emotional difficulties that present in kiddos with autism spectrum disorders, especially those who are higher functioning.
  2. GOALS AND SERVICES that are BASED ON this PROFILE are far more likely to succeed than those based solely on the diagnosis of “autism.” This is that flexibility I was talking about earlier.
  3. the PARTICIPATION of ALL PROFESSIONALS working with a child with an autism spectrum disorder is critical to the successful planning and implementation of an IEP. For example, the input of an SLP is important throughout the entire IEP meeting because the kiddo’s communication needs are present throughout the day. Further, much of “behavior” is actually communication-related. On the other hand, I’ve found it extremely helpful and necessary to be present when the OT is going over sensory issues. I’ve had many successful sessions after implementing some sensory activities prior to starting speech/language tasks. In short, the child benefits when the whole IEP team is present throughout the entire meeting.
  4. Last, ON-GOING COMMUNICATION among all members of the team (including parents, of course) is a key component to flexible and effective treatment and programming. This seems obvious, but is so difficult to actually implement. Large class sizes and caseloads make regular correspondence an insurmountable task.

I wish I could say that I’m less confused about autism spectrum disorders after organizing my thoughts to write a couple of blog posts. I really do. I adore the kiddos I work with and feel so frustrated when I can’t do more to help them. But I can’t blame it entirely on the caseload size, available time, limited resources, or additional training I myself may require. Autism, the very nature of it, is like an insidious tangle of holiday lights. Just when you think that you’ve managed to loosen a knot, another tightens elsewhere. But here’s the thing…the light itself is beautiful no matter the knots. And sometimes just standing back and admiring it’s delicate mid-tangle glow gives you the energy and patience you need to resume your challenging task.

Web References:

APA DSM-V Proposed Changes

APA “Report of the DSM-V Neurodevelopmental Disorders Work Group”

National Public Radio ”Aspergers Officially Placed Inside Autistic Spectrum”

Debra L. Brunner, M.A., CCC-SLP works as a private speech-language pathologist in Orange County, California and a part-time clinician at The Prentice School, a non-profit day school for children with language learning differences. Ms. Brunner’s blog, as well as information regarding her private practice, can be found at www.ocslp.org.


Zen rocks

Photo by quinet

Few of us would claim that the job of an SLP is flowers and sunshine all the time. It can be super-stressful managing a caseload, planning interventions, completing evaluations, dealing with administrative hoo-hah, and keeping clients, families, and a whole other cast of characters happy. However, if our position were not challenging, many of us would surely get bored and move on to rockier pastures. The key is to be able to step back from our whirlwind work lives and avoid burnout. In this, as in many other areas of my life, I often turn to technology. Here are 5 ways technology can help SLPs with chilling out instead of stressing out.

Slow Down and Breathe- We are pretty good at teaching people how to breathe with their diaphragms but often forget to do so ourselves. Try checking out a meditation podcast to relax after a stressful day, or prepare yourself for the day to come. One great meditation series is the My Thought Coach podcasts by Stin Hansen. I have them all on my iPhone for those days that have me feeling a little too stretched! Another resource is the White Noise app, which you can use to surround yourself with relaxing sounds. My favorite is crashing ocean waves, but you many prefer a camp fire, wind, a purring cat, or even a clothes dryer.

Other Therapeutic Listening- Often we don’t need to be lulled into a meditative state to take ourselves away from the stress of work. Try finding your favorite music and building your own stations with free streaming radio services (and apps) such as Pandora or Slacker. As SLPs, we often work to help people tell their stories, and treasure stories ourselves. I love listening to the This American Life app (all the episodes are also available to stream on the site) on route to work, allowing the funny and often moving stories of ordinary people to distract me for a while before settling in to focus!

Remember the Body-Mind Connection- Our busy days can cause us to neglect our bodies, eat stuff we shouldn’t eat, and be sometimes unable to muster the energy to exercise after a long day of sessions. However, watching what we eat and getting enough exercise can become a healthy positive cycle that reduces stress and boosts productivity. Technology can help. Websites such as FitDay or The Daily Plate and apps like Tap’N’Track keep us mindful of our nutrition (and it’s harder to eat that sugar-crash-causing donut if you know you will have to enter it electronically later). Likewise, you can begin or add to an exercise regimen using resources such as The Daily Burn or iFitness.

Keep your Ducks in A Row- We all get more stressed if we realize (or think) we have forgotten something important. Technology can help keep you organized. Check out my posts on simple (and free!) Google tools like Calendar and Tasks. There are also a lot of great blogs that offer organizational tips. To read posts on efficiency with a techie spin, check out Lifehacker, and you might also like Zen Habits or I’m an Organizing Junkie.

Knowing When to Disconnect- As much as technology can be our friend in all of the above stress-reducers, and in connecting us to others for professional development, we need to be able to step back from work and enjoy other pursuits, friends and family. Although my school system’s email program has an iPhone app, I recently deleted it from my phone. It is very unlikely that there will be some language emergency or technology crisis that I need to know about at any given moment, and the habit of checking work email while at leisure just invites agita (Adam Dachis of Lifehacker wrote an excellent post on this). That email that may annoy you? Why read it during a family dinner, or even know that it is there? No one should expect an immediate reply from an email sent during off-hours. It’s just that simple!

What are your tried-and-true ways for keeping sanity and serenity in your busy life?

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 has presented on the topic of technology integration in speech and language at the ASHA convention and is the author of the blog SpeechTechie: Looking at Technology Through a Language Lens.

Affordability and AAC

Money sign and hand with cross-through

Photo by Neubie

Affordability and augmentative communication are two terms that typically do not ever appear in the same sentence, unless in the negative context (i.e. ‘augmentative communication is not affordable’). This belief is one that is generally accepted as the reality of augmentative communication, and assistive technology in general.

The major alternative/augmentative communication (AAC) device makers have long claimed innocence under the argument that it has been their own research and development dollars that have gone into producing these devices. To that end, they need to keep their prices high in order to maintain a high quality product. Although that argument does have its merits, one has to wonder whether a $3,000 or $4,000 communication device is really a justifiable price. In fact, such costs impede any single user from purchasing such a device out-of-pocket. Instead we, as clinicians, and our clients rely on insurers and grants to subsidize the costs that we incur.

Considering all of the years that AAC technology has been out of reach of the mainstream computer market, it is incredible to see that only in the past year or so, some brave companies have stood up to say ‘We have a communication solution that’s also cheap.’ With the advent of such personal computing devices as the iPad, the iPod and tablet PC’s, someone made the realization that AAC doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive anymore.

One can trace the emergence of today’s low cost computing to the surge in popularity of the netbook (those adorable 9 or 10 inch computers that seemed to go mainstream almost instantly). With some very capable low cost touch-screen computers out there, it makes a lot of sense for individual users to put together their own AAC systems for around $500 or $600. The process to create your own device involves buying a touch-screen tablet PC, iPad, or other device and then the associated communication software. The best part of such systems is that they are not dedicated communication devices, meaning the user can access programs aside from the communication software on the system. Whether it is the adult stroke victim or the autistic child, having a variety of applications available (e.g. email, games, word processing, etc.) in addition to communication software is great thing to provide a client with true accessibility.

Of course, there are drawbacks to creating your own AAC device. Such systems would not be paid for by any insurance company, as they are not dedicated devices. In addition, for less tech- savvy users, it may be a bit of challenge to tackle technical issues with your hardware and software coming from different places. Lastly, even $500 may be too much for many individuals paying out-of-pocket. That being said, most of us are already accustomed to paying premium prices for modern computing technology, so the price of a netbook or an iPad seems like a drop in the bucket.

As a software developer and clinician, I know both the technical issues involved with AAC as well as client needs. I feel strongly about providing my clients with communication solutions that work for them, and a lot of the time that means something easy, portable and practical. As speech-language pathologists working in the domain augmentative communication it is our obligation to provide education to our clients regarding all of the options that exist. Do-it-yourself AAC devices may not be for everyone, but they certainly fill a major gap in the market of devices currently available.

José A. Ortiz, M.A.CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and software developer in Brooklyn, NY. He currently works as a clinician providing Spanish-English services in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation facilities and autism education programs. José is also the owner of PAL Software Designs LLC, a software company that creates products for language professionals. Jose is a dedicated advocate for bilingual education and accessibility to augmentative communication. You can read more from José on his blog.

Screenings: A World of Our Own or a Collaborative Effort?

Teacher at table with young students

Photo by woodleywonderworks

(This post originally appeared on Educational Inspirations)

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of comments from SLPs about screenings to identify speech/language issues. There are postings asking what screenings people prefer and sometimes questions about how to go about getting it all done. I’ve also seen some articles discussing the possibility of a universal speech/language screening for RTI purposes. Our changing roles in the school system have really made me look at screenings in a new light.

For instance, how efficient is it to do speech/language screenings? When it comes to articulation it has been my experience that teachers are pretty capable of hearing “funny speech” and sending me e-mails about it. I have never had kids fall through the cracks when it comes to articulation; however, I see the upside to universal screenings for articulation as well. Universal, school-wide screening of articulation three times yearly could identify developmental errors and track progress over time. On the other hand, there are two SLPs in a school of more than 750. The thought of screening 750 kids is enough to have me running for the hills. So, how could this be done?

If teachers are pretty good at identifying when a student’s speech sounds “weird” couldn’t this be used as an initial screening? At our school we talked to the teachers about listening for articulation errors. During our usual reading screenings we asked teachers to mark down the names of students whose speech did not sound appropriate. This is our universal, first line of defense articulation screening. Then the SLP can develop a list of students who need a screening by a more experienced ear.

That sounds pretty easy, but what about language screenings? Language screenings such as the CELF are given individually and can take 10-20 minutes to administer. Completely out of the question when it comes to 750 kids. I have to admit I am intrigued by the idea of an easy to administer universal language screening, but I have to wonder if it is really necessary.

One elementary I work with administers the DIBELS Next to all students. The subtests vary by grade, but the early grades administer phonological awareness, nonsense words, and letter naming tasks. As an SLP, I analyze the results of these quick and dirty screens to determine if there are any students with possible underlying language issues. I look not only at the phonological awareness results, but the emerging phonics skills. A student’s ability to name letters also has some basis for clues about reading (Rathvon, 2004) and thus, language abilities.

For older students, I find it useful to look at screenings like the MAZE (AIMSweb, Shinn) or DIBELS Next DAZE (DIBELS Management Group). These screenings are group administered in 3 minutes and require students to read silently and make semantic and syntactic decisions about their reading. This offers me some clues about the reading comprehension of students. I also like the spelling screenings available from AIMSweb. These are also group administered and give me a bounty of clues about orthographic, morphological, and semantic knowledge of students.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the development of universal speech/language screenings, but I would like to see some research about whether reading screens already in use by schools are effective at also identifying language problems. I also wonder if we could be using the reading screens already in place as a first defense for screening everyone and then possibly do a deeper language screening for those students identified as having possible underlying language problems. As an SLP I’m all about identifying these issues early and doing some preventative work, but I’m also about working smarter, not harder. It seems much easier to me to use what is already in place in a school rather than trying to convince teachers to help me administer a “speech” screening.

What about you? Do you give a separate screening for all students in your school? Do you make use of reading and other literacy screens already in place?

Nicole Power is an SLP and literacy consultant at Bethany Public Schools in Bethany, Oklahoma. She provides language/literacy therapy as well as intervention primarily to elementary students. Nicole is the district coordinator for the Response to Intervention program and collaborates with teachers and other specialists to provide high quality instruction to struggling students. She presents area workshops and created and directs the Oklahoma School SLP Conference.

The Mosquito Alarm: A pesky teen-repellent or noise pollution for innocent pedestrians?


Photo by naturegirl 78

Having trouble with teens loitering in areas of concern or individuals of any age gathering in front of your building or place of business, and making people feel unsafe? The Mosquito alarm promises to resolve this problem using very high frequency sound to annoy teenagers who can typically hear the sound. The range of human hearing is estimated from 20Hz to 20,000 Hz (20KHz). This device can be set to 17KHz to disperse the teenage population or 8KHz to disperse people of any age from loitering in areas of concern. A range of manufacturer claims for products like this indicate that the high frequency tones can broadcast sound anywhere from 75dB to 95dB. It was recently placed outside of a busy metro rail station in Washington, DC with a variety of retail and entertainment businesses nearby. This area has become a popular hangout for teenagers, and recently the site of a brawl that left several metro rail passengers injured. (The alarm was subsequently removed after complaints of age discrimination.)

But beyond mere annoyance, can devices like the Mosquito alarm add to a growing concern: noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) among teens? Research published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed an increase in teen hearing loss. The study showed that one in five U.S. adolescents 12 to 19 years old, approximately 6.5 million teens, had hearing loss in 2005-2006. Side effects such as severe headache were reported by pedestrians traveling to and from the Washington, DC metro rail station while the Mosquito alarm was in place. Due to the limited technical data disclosed about these devices, the potential negative impact on hearing and other health effects are unknown at the present time. There is currently no federal regulation for the use of this type of device.

For more information about Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, visit the ASHA or Listen to Your Buds websites.

Paul Farrell is an Associate Director of Audiology Professional Practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Ready for Some Football…and Concussions

Football player

Photo by Kenneth Staub

My oldest son recently played in his first junior high football game, starting on the kick return team. Watching him stand on the field, ready to block any potential tackler who dared cross his path, I, as his father and first coach, couldn’t help but feel excited, satisfied, and proud. A part of me…the part that is a speech-language pathologist and instructor of a course covering adult neurologic disorders…viewed the unfolding scene with some apprehension. Fortunately my son made it through that kick off and the several others he played unscathed. Not so fortunate was a young running back who suffered a concussion on a sideline tackle in the third quarter.

The statistics regarding concussions and young athletes are certainly pause worthy, as made evident in a recent article by Bakhos, Lockhart, Myers, and Linakis in the journal Pediatrics (August 30, 2010). Though participation in youth football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and hockey programs has decreased by 13% since 1997, the incidence of concussion in these same sports increased by 200% during that time. Among football players aged 7-11 it was estimated that 8 in every 10,000 participants suffer a concussion, jumping to 27 in 10,000 in the 12-17 age group (the figures are even higher for each age group in hockey). What increases the disconcerting nature of these figures is that they might be underestimations. McCrea, Hammeke, Olsen, Leo, and Guskiewicz in an article that appeared in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine (January 2004) reported that up to 53% of football players did not report sustaining concussions or experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Reasons for this included players not considering their injury serious enough to require medical attention, an unwillingness to risk missing future games should the injury be reported, and being unaware of concussion symptoms. Based on their data, McCrea et al. estimate that 15% of all high school football players sustain a concussion each season.

What do the above figures mean? To put it simply…better education of coaches, players, and parents is required. Not only should this involve educating all concerned parties about the sign, symptoms, and effects of concussions, but it should also include a component focusing on prevention. Who should provide this education? The speech-language pathologist, with his/her knowledge and skills in the area of traumatic brain injury, is as good a professional as any.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has two very informative programs, loaded with materials and resources, that the speech-language pathologists can share with parents, coaches, and athletes: Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports and Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports. But short of not participating, what can be done to reduce the risk of concussions in football and other contact sports. Resources regarding concussion prevention are abundant on the internet. With football in mind, I personally like the recommendations of WIsportsconcussion.org, which include: (1) wearing an appropriately fitting helmet in the correct manner; (2) teaching the player appropriate tackling techniques which avoid using the head as the primary point of contact; (3) strengthening the neck muscles; and (4) wearing a mouth guard.

Because of some unfortunate accidents in recent years, my son’s school district is well versed in concussion awareness and treatment. Neurologists have held in-services for interested members of the district on the subject of concussions. Many coaches and players have been taught the signs and symptoms of concussions, knowing what to do should an injury be sustained. ALL athletes, not just football players, are subject to ImPACT testing of their cognitive skills at the start of their respective seasons. It’s because of this increased awareness and the systems which are in place that the reader can be assured that the young athlete who suffered the concussion in the first paragraph will not return to action, in either practice or games, until he has been medically cleared to do so.

(Note…The author’s son suffered a broken foot during the first game of the year and is out for the season. He is expected to make a full recovery and plans to play football in 2011.)

Kenneth Staub, M.S., CCC-SLP, is an Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He will be a regular contributor to ASHAsphere and welcomes questions or suggestions for posts.