10 Low-Cost, Low-Tech Tools for SLPs Treating Teens and Adults

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With summer—and client travel—around the corner, I’m sharing ideas for non-electronic treatment activities that are low-cost, portable and ideal for adults with developmental disabilities. Use these activities in the treatment room and for families who want to work on speech, language and communication goals between sessions. Encourage clients to take these materials along during summer travel, on the beach or on a short trip in the community.

Whenever I work with older teenagers and adults with developmental disabilities, I focus on finding age-appropriate activities. An older client might feel disempowered by a childlike activity.

Most people also already own these materials!

  1. Newspapers. A newspaper—which may cost less than $5, depending on the paper—serves as a multipurpose treatment tool. Even better—some papers are free! Target literacy, answering and asking questions about current events, searching for a movie time and location, and social skills or abstract language in the comics section. Check out how to use comics to meet speech and language goals.
  2. Magazines. I love using magazines as a treatment tool with adults. Age-appropriate and interesting, magazines contain a variety of articles, pictures, advertisements and more. Also, the magazines your clients choose may give you insights into their interests and motivations. I recently asked one of my clients to choose a magazine at the local convenience store. I expected him to choose a food or car magazine, but he gleefully went straight for the gossip rag. We had a productive session afterward discussing various sections in the magazine via his communication device.
  3. Grocery circulars. Use free circulars to learn money management, categories (such as food groups) and new food vocabulary. Other goals include facilitating commenting and describing. Circulars also act as conversation starters: “What would you buy at the grocery store?” “I want to make steak and eggs for breakfast. What do I need to buy?”
  4. Brochures/catalogs. Brochures and catalogs—another free option—motivate and engage clients depending on their interests. If your client likes electronics, bring an electronics catalog, for example. Discuss prices, various types of equipment and what they like versus dislike. The same approach works for clothing, gardening or home décor catalogs.
  5. Subway/bus maps. Also free and functional! Work on travel training, literacy and map reading with these resources. Language concepts include problem-solving, sequencing and answering “wh” questions.
  6. Menus. I’m sticking with the free theme, here! And what’s more functional than being able to read a menu and make a choice? Check out my previous article on using menus as a treatment tool.
  7. Employment applications. Stop into any fast-food establishment, restaurant, movie theater or retail store and ask for an application. Filling out an application facilitates improved literacy, answering “wh” questions, recalling information, expanding vocabulary, and sequencing by writing the order of educational or work history.
  8. Dominoes. A set of dominoes offers an inexpensive, portable, age-appropriate and fun developmental activity for adults. Practice matching, taking turns, solving problems and following directions.
  9. Playing cards. Ideas for card games include Uno, Go Fish and War. Again, thiese low-cost games double as age-appropriate, accessible, portable and functional treatments. Examples of targeted goals include matching, solving problems, taking turns and prediction.
  10. Board games/bingo. How about a game of Sorry or Connect Four? These games are less than $10 each and teach taking turns, learning colors, following directions and solving problems. A generic bingo game or a customized bingo set also works well. If you have clients who need work on specific vocabulary related to actions, send them home with an action bingo board. Instruct them to use it with family or friends to build vocabulary, practice taking turns and forming complete sentences.

 

Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor and parent of two young children. She began her website, www.gravitybread.com, to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience. She has worked for many years with children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings, including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. Contact her at becca@gravitybread.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter or Pinterest.

Using Menus as a Treatment Tool

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Are you looking for a free and functional therapy tool? How about a take-out menu? Menus are practical, full of language concepts and can be used for a variety of speech and language goals. Many young adults on my caseload have limited literacy skills and often find themselves dependent on others to order for them in dining situations. If they can’t read the menu accurately they won’t know all of their choices unless someone reads it to them.

What’s more functional than being able to read a menu and make a choice for themselves? Some menus have pictures, but most do not. Even menus with images and words are tricky if you’re not familiar with all of the dishes.

When using a menu as a treatment tool, I ask my clients, “What are your favorite places to eat?” Many times they don’t know names of restaurants, but can describe the type of food they prefer (e.g. Mexican, pizza, Italian). This is also an ideal opportunity to connect with family members by getting details about restaurants they visit and food they order.

When I ask a client, “How do you know what to order?” many of them respond by saying: “I just get the pizza/chicken/hamburger,” or: “My parents order for me,” or: “I ask the waitress for the food I want.” All of these answers work when dining out, but none give clients the ability to .take charge of their preferences.

Here are 10 speech and language goals I target when using menus in treatment:

  1. Literacy: Work on learning to read menu-related key words like appetizer, salads, sandwiches, chicken or fish. Create a bingo game with new words, so your client becomes fluent. Review the same menu over several sessions so your client familiarizes themselves with it.
  2. Categorization: What food group is broccoli in? How about chicken? I like to work on this goal of food groups with a game called Healthy Helpings My Plate Game. Try grouping foods by cost depending on your client’s budget or by healthy versus not healthy foods.
  3. Requesting: Practice requesting by asking your client to tell you what they would want from that particular menu, such as: “I want the sesame chicken with brown rice.”
  4. Pragmatics: Work on role playing by pretending you are the waitress and your client is the customer. Reverse roles and practice greetings, turn-taking, being polite, and more.
  5. Describing/Commenting: Review different foods and ask your client to describe specific For example, “What is the difference between thin crust pizza and thick crust pizza?” or, “Describe what crispy chicken tastes like.” If your clients can describe their preferences in detail, the better they’ll get at ordering.
  6. Answering “wh” questions: As you review the menu, ask “wh” questions like: “What is your favorite item on the menu?”, “Why do you like chicken nuggets?”,
  7. Expanding vocabulary: Using varied menus exposes clients to new and unfamiliar vocabulary. I even learn new terms when reading a menu from a restaurant I’ve never visited. (Recently I participated in a cooking class and learned several new words.) Review new vocabulary and discuss its meaning. An ideal way for your consumer to comprehend food-related words is to show your client an image. Using Google Images is an easy way to do this.
  8. Money Concepts: Work on the language of money concepts with your consumer. Present a budget and figure out what they can order within it. Ask “What happens if you go over budget?” or other money-related questions.
  9. Problem Solving: Discuss possible situations that your client might have to solve using a menu. For example, what happens if they run out of your favorite item? What do you do if you have an allergy? What do you tell the waitress if you don’t like your food?
  10. Sequencing: Discuss the order of how you’re going to order food and drink items. For example, you normally order drinks first, appetizers next, entrée and then dessert. Reviewing the menu can be carried over to other activities related to sequencing.

Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at becca@gravitybread.com, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.

Ten Speech and Language Goals to Target during Food/Drink Preparation

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Food and/or drink preparation can be an excellent way to help facilitate speech and language goals with a variety of clients that span different ages and disabilities.

Below are 10 speech and language goals that you can target during food or drink preparation:

  1. Sequencing: Because recipes follow steps, sequencing can be an ideal goal. If there are too many steps in a recipe then break them up into smaller steps. Take pictures of each step and create a sequencing activity using an app such as Making Sequences or CanPlan.
  2. Literacy: If a recipe has complex language that your client has difficulty reading and processing, modify it. I often rewrite recipes with my clients or use a symbol based writing program like the SymbolSupport app.
  3. Expanding vocabulary: Recipes often contain unfamiliar words. When beginning a recipe, target new vocabulary. If your client is an emergent reader, create visuals for the vocabulary words and use aided language stimulation as you prepare the food and/or drink with her.
  4. Articulation: Target specific sounds during food preparation. Are you targeting /r/ during sessions? Prepare foods that begin with r like raspberries, radishes and rice, or even a color like red!
  5. Describing and Commenting: Food/drink preparation can be an excellent time to describe and comment. Model language and use descriptive words such as gooey, sticky, wet, sweet, etc. Encourage your client to use all five senses during the activity (e.g. It smells like ____, It feels like ______).
  6. Actions: Actions can be an excellent goal during food and/or drink preparation. For example, when baking a simple muffin recipe, the actions such as measure, pour, fill, mix, bake, eat, can be targeted.
  7. Answering “wh” questions: As you are preparing food, ask your client open ended “wh” questions, such as “What are we baking?” or “Why are we adding this sugar to our recipe?” and more.
  8. Problem Solving: Forget the eggs? Hmm, what should we do? How about forgetting the chocolate in chocolate milk? Ask your client different ways of resolving specific problems with food preparation, such as: “What do you do if you are missing an ingredient?” or “What do you do if we add too much of one ingredient?”
  9. Turn Taking: Whether you are working with one or two people, turn taking occurs naturally during baking and/or food preparation. If you are working in a group, make assignments before beginning.
  10. Recalling Information: As you prepare the food/drink, ask your client to recall specific After you are done with the recipe, model language and then ask your client to recall the steps of the recipe.

Preparing even a simple beverage such as chocolate milk can be an excellent activity to engage in during a session. Although it’s made up of only two ingredients, you can still work on a variety of speech and language goals including sequencing, describing, problem solving (e.g. what to do if you put in too much chocolate), actions, turn taking and recalling information.

Here are some helpful apps to use during or after food/drink preparation:

I Get Cooking and Create Recipe Photo Sequence Books

Making Sequences

CanPlan

Kid In Story

SymbolSupport App

For more suggestions, check out my post here on getting a child with special needs involved in the kitchen.

 

Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at becca@gravitybread.com, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.

Using Comic Strips in Speech Intervention

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For the past couple of years, I have used Carol Gray’s materials extensively during my work with adults with developmental disabilities. Creating comic strip conversations has been extremely helpful in facilitating conversation, resolving social issues between peers, taking turns in conversation and providing different social scenarios within various contexts.

Since I have worked in creating my own comic strip conversations with my clients for some time now, I decided to experiment using the comics section in the newspaper. My clients are motivated by the local newspaper for many reasons. They enjoy browsing through current events, looking at the pictures in the sports section and reading the comics.

The comics within a local paper are inexpensive (in my area it is just $1.00 for the local newspaper), easily accessible and age appropriate for older children, teenagers and adults. Therapy using comic strips has been surprisingly motivating and beneficial to my clients. I never realized how effective using the comics section could be!

I like to keep my favorite comics and laminate them for future use. I have also created a game around using the comics section. My clients take turns choosing from a pile of comic cards and then have a discussion about each particular card. When one client doesn’t understand a particular comic and why it’s funny, I have him ask his peer for assistance. As a group, we have had many extensive and interesting conversations related to the comics. Here are some speech and language goals that can be facilitated with the comics:

1. Expanding vocabulary: The comics are full of language, which make it an ideal time to discuss and define new vocabulary. It will be difficult for a client to understand a particular comic without understanding the actual definition of some of the words. For example in a recent Garfield comic, Garfield thinks “This is a perfect day to stay in bed and contemplate life’s truths.” Discuss what “life’s truths” means with your client. Defining the “contemplate” can help build vocabulary and build in conversation. Ask your client, “What do you contemplate about?”

2. Abstract Language/Humor: The comics are excellent in discussing abstract language and humor. In many comic strips, there are often multiple meanings of words. In a recent comic, the discussion between the characters was about “trail mix.” To one character trail mix was the snack, to the other character trail mix was a bunch of items that you picked up along a trail in the woods (e.g. dirt, sand, rocks). This comic began a conversation about the multiple meanings of words and how they had a miscommunication. Discuss the humor in the comic and why it may be funny to the reader. This can be a tricky exercise for many clients especially with autism, but it can be extremely useful as well. Helping a client recognize humor can help build friendships and improve conversational skills.

3. Taking Turns in Conversation: Between characters, there are natural turns in conversation. This can be a great model for conversation. As a carry-over activity continue the comic with an extra blank comic strips. This can help your clients create their own conversations.

4. Improving Literacy/Punctuation: Having your client read the comics can help improve literacy and reading comprehension. Point out different punctuation markers within the comic such as exclamation marks, periods, question marks, etc. Also, discuss the difference between the characters thinking a particular thought versus actually speaking it.

5. Interpreting Facial Expressions and Feelings/Emotions: In many comic strips the characters have extreme emotions. In other comics, the feeling and emotions of a character can be a little tricky due to the high levels of sarcasm. Read the specific comic strip together, discuss the language and then ask your client how the character is most likely feeling.

Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience . She discusses the benefits of reading to young children during mealtime, shares recipes with language tips and carryover activities, reviews children’s books for typical children and those with special needs as well as educational apps. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at becca@gravitybread.com, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.

 

Groovin’ Your Way to Social Skills Practice

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I wanted to create a motivating activity for a small social skills group of two adults with developmental disabilities. I suspected that my small therapy group needed a change of pace to increase motivation and spark some conversation and engagement in each other’s interests. Both of my clients love music, so I thought Pandora, the music app was a natural solution. It’s free, easily accessible with my phone and easy to use.

One of my clients loves blues and jazz and my other client loves R & B and hip hop. We gathered a list of favorite artists and created a bingo board with various artists’ pictures using Boardmaker. If you do not have Boardmaker, you can create a board using Connect Ability. We reviewed each artist by discussing who they were and what type of music they played. My bingo board was originally set up with 12 artists (each box included the artist’s picture and name). I then created a station for each artist on the bingo board. I began the game by choosing one of the artists on their bingo board and playing a song. My clients had to guess who the artist was. Whoever filled their board up first won the game. As my clients improved and became increasingly motivated, I created new boards with all different types of artists and music genres that were both familiar and unfamiliar to them.

My clients loved the game and were extremely motivated, which is what lead me to writing this article. One of my clients who rarely engages in conversation and interaction, stood up and began singing! I also started using the game with other groups and clients who were equally motivated. As a side note, be aware of any lyrics that may be inappropriate in a therapy session. I was careful in choosing particular songs from artists that I thought might have inappropriate or foul language.

Another thing that I love about Pandora is that you can view the lyrics and genres, which is extremely helpful for several reasons listed below. Here are some speech and language goals to work on with the app, Pandora:

1. Social skills: My clients naturally started appropriate conversations about the particular artists. The music served as an excellent conversational starter. For example, when listening to Frank Sinatra my client asked his peer, “Do you like Frank Sinatra?” Each client learned something new about a different artist which helped expand their vocabulary.
2. Visual and auditory recalling of information: My clients had practice with recalling the names of particular artists. They also improved their ability to recall information upon hearing a particular song.
3. Abstract Language: After we listened to each song, we discussed the lyrics. I read the lyrics and we defined and reviewed some terminology that was more abstract, such as “break my heart”, “my life is like a storm”, etc.
4. Literacy: For a teen or adult working on literacy, printing out the lyrics of a favorite song can be extremely motivating. This can also lead to work on improving literacy and reading comprehension. Learning the artist’s names can be another literacy activity. The key to learning is motivation. If music is motivating, learning the artist’s name can be a wonderful and engaging activity.
5. Emotions: Discuss the melody of the song and if it is a sad or happy song. Ask them “wh” questions, give choices, etc. Discuss how the song makes them feel. Music is such a powerful tool to discuss emotions because it can bring up memories and evokes emotions that you wouldn’t otherwise discuss in a therapy session.
6. Answering “wh” questions. Ask your clients, “What is the song about?” etc. This music activity can be an ideal opportunity to ask and answer questions and work on comprehension. Discuss the similarities and differences between the artists. This can lead to another goal of describing (e.g. “the song is loud and fast,” “the song is slow and soft,” etc)
7. Expanding vocabulary: With the lyrics in hand, it is easy to work on expanding vocabulary. Discuss and define new words within the lyrics. Write the words down and review them for the next session. Create sentences with the new words to improve carryover.
8. Phonemic awareness: Many songs naturally rhyme. Using the lyrics for a phonemic awareness activity can be motivating and engaging.
9. Categorization: Print out a list of different types of music. Explain and define the difference between pop, rock and roll, jazz, etc. This can lead to categorization when discussing specific artists. Here is a list of genres. Another way to play the game is to play a song from a certain genre and have your client guess what genre. You can set up your board with 12 different music genres.
10. Turn taking: With a bingo game, turn taking will occur naturally. Turn taking as a goal can also be targeted during conversation.

I hope you find these helpful! I’d love to hear any suggestions you all may have so please comment below!

 

Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience . She discusses the benefits of reading to young children during mealtime, shares recipes with language tips and carryover activities, reviews children’s books for typical children and those with special needs as well as educational apps. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at becca@gravitybread.com, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.