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.

MICROPHONE TYPES

  • 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.

TIPS AND THINGS TO REMEMBER

  • 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!

RESEARCH IN SUPPORT OF FM AND SOUNDFIELD SYSTEMS

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.

SLP Zen

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.