Can Speech-Language Pathologists Diagnose Autism?

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On February, as part of its Posted series, the ASHA Leader asked on Facebook, “Do you, as an SLP, diagnose autism spectrum disorder independently or as a team?” The response we received was varied and indicated there is some confusion in the profession about what is proper, expected, or even legal. The biggest question that appeared over and over was, “How can an SLP diagnose independently?” The answer bears some explanation.

When it comes to assessing and diagnosing ASD, interdisciplinary collaboration is important due to the complexity of the disorder, the varied aspects of functioning affected, and the need to distinguish ASD from other disorders or medical conditions. Ideally, the SLP plays a key role on an interdisciplinary team, whose members possess expertise in diagnosing ASD.  In cases when there is no appropriate team available, however, an SLP who has been trained in the clinical criteria for ASD and who is experienced in the diagnosis of developmental disorders, may be qualified to diagnose these disorders as an independent professional. For more information check out ASHA’s new Practice Portal and/or position statement on autism.

In most cases, a stable diagnosis of ASD is possible before or around a child’s second birthday (Chawarska, Klin, Paul, Macari & Volkmar, 2009). An early, accurate diagnosis can help families access appropriate services, provide a common language across interdisciplinary teams, and establish a framework for families and caregivers within which to understand their child’s difficulties. Any diagnosis of ASD, particularly of young children, should be periodically reviewed, as diagnostic categories and conclusions may change as the child develops. Interdisciplinary collaboration and family involvement is essential in assessing and diagnosing ASD.

Assessment, intervention, and support for individuals receiving speech and language services should be consistent with the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (2001) framework. This framework considers impairments in body structures/functions; the individual’s communication activities and participation; and contextual factors, including environmental barriers/facilitators and personal identity. There are recommended knowledge and skills for SLPs who are planning on working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder:

Knowledge required:

  • Federal and state laws and regulations regarding scope of practice, referral, and placement procedures.
  • Diagnostic criteria for ASD and related conditions (e.g., DSM-5).
  • Prevalence.
  • How to obtain information regarding etiology and related medical conditions.
  • Importance of early diagnosis and the role of the speech-language pathologis.t
  • How to evaluate the validity of diagnostic tools.
  • The necessary information to gather in a diagnostic evaluation about the child’s health, developmental and behavioral history, past intervention and academic history, and medical history of the family.
  • Other related diagnostic categories and when to make appropriate referrals to identify or rule out related conditions
  • How to rule out or confirm hearing loss while working with an audiologist.
  • The types of speech and language impairments that can co-occur with ASD, including features of language disorders, apraxia, and dysarthria.
  • How to share information about diagnosis with parents.
  • The challenges of determining eligibility for services for individuals with ASD, especially high-functioning individuals.
  • The needs of culturally and linguistically diverse populations, including the selection and/or adaptations of diagnostic instruments (ASHA, 2004b).

Skills required:

  • Observation, recognition, and interpretation of diagnostic characteristics of ASD.
  • Selection and correct use of valid diagnostic tools for ASD.
  • Appropriate referrals to other professionals to identify or rule out related conditions.
  • Diagnosis of the types of speech and language impairments that can co-occur with ASD, including features of language disorders, apraxia, and dysarthria.
  • Integration of findings from diagnostic tools for ASD, diagnostic evaluation, and information from other professionals or members of an interdisciplinary team, to determine diagnosis.
  • Documentation and communication of findings about diagnosis to family members, individually or in conjunction with a collaborative team.
  • Effective, delicate, and empathic communication when informing family members that the child has ASD.
  • Decision making about eligibility for services.
  • Appropriate recommendations and referrals for services and assistance to families in navigating the educational and health care systems, as well as promotion of self-advocacy.

Some state laws or regulations may restrict the scope of practice of licensees, however, and prohibit the SLP from providing such diagnoses. SLPs should check with their state licensure board and/or departments of education for specific requirements.

 

Understanding Autism: Restaurant Meltdowns

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I sat in a popular restaurant chain and watched an 8 year old boy have a major meltdown at his table.  His mother cringed as lunch time patrons stared.  An irritated couple at a nearby booth got up and moved, but only after glaring at the mother.  I’ll be honest, the child was disrupting my lunch too, but one thing I suspected was that this child had autism.  He appeared to be just like any other child, but the intensity of his outburst was out of proportion to the issue he was yelling about: The waiter had served him waffle fries and he had expected “skinny fries” just like the french fries served at home.

April is National Autism Awareness Month.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 68 children are reported to have autism (ASD) and most are boys. Chances are, you know someone with autism.

What distinctive characteristics of ASD can affect a child’s ability to adjust to unexpected life events, even something as incidental as waffle fries?  Let’s look very briefly at some of the central features of ASD, while keeping in mind that this a spectrum disorder, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe and this list does not encompass all of the elements of a diagnosis. Just some of the central features that kids with ASD have difficulty with are:

  1. Social interaction, often including social reciprocity or that back and forth communication exchange known as conversation.
  2. Restricted behaviors and the need for “sameness” or the inability to be flexible with change.
  3. Hypersensitive and/or hyposensitive “to sensory aspects of the environment” which can hinder their ability to tolerate different tastes, temperature and/or textures of food and deal with change in general.

As a pediatric therapist,  I assess and treat a child’s ability to allocate specific cognitive resources in the brain to manage day-to-day life.  As adults, we too have to utilize many different parts of our brains throughout the day.  But what happens when we are bombarded with sensory input and suddenly, we have to adjust to unfamiliar stimuli? To understand what it’s like, consider this example:

You are driving the minivan full of kids to soccer practice, radio blaring, kids chattering.  Your brain is operating relatively smoothly, filtering auditory, visual, tactile and other sensations, while remembering to use your turn signal, maintain the speed limit, etc.  Suddenly, the weather changes and it starts to hail.  What’s the first thing you do?  Turn off the radio and tell the kids “Shush…Mommy needs to concentrate on the road.”  Perhaps you even slow down so that you can focus on the sudden change in driving conditions.  You have eliminated as much sensory input as possible so that you can concentrate on the task at hand – driving safely.  Isn’t it interesting that  you were driving perfectly fine until one unpredictable event changed in your environment?

Now consider the child with autism as he attempts to engage in mealtimes.  The reality is that daily life changes as easily as the daily weather report and for him, some days are just like driving through a hailstorm.  This child is already challenged by poor sensory processing; he has limited ability to take in information through all of the senses, process it and filter out the unimportant info, and then act upon only the relevant sensory input.

Now, bring that child to the family dinner table, which is all about social interaction and conversation.  Put a plate of food in front of him which looks and smells completely different from the last meal he was served.   Then, tell him to try that steamed broccoli for the very first time.  He doesn’t get to turn down the sensory input bombarding him at the table and focus just on the broccoli.  Because he has autism, he can’t always filter out which stimuli might be inconsequential and it feels so much safer to follow rigid behavior patterns and never try anything new.  Life for a child with autism is all about sticking to sameness. My role as a therapist is to help the child learn to deal with change.

A 2013 study from the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University indicated that kids with ASD are five times more likely to have feeding problems compared to their peers.  Once feeding difficulties are addressed in the home, restaurants are the next step for their families.  Here, the visual input is completely different and it changes constantly, the inconsistent auditory input can be overwhelming, the fluctuating smells may be interpreted as noxious, etc.   Every input to every sense has changed.   Once again, the child with autism is encountering a hailstorm and has to learn to tune out the distractions and focus on the task at hand – in this case, eating a meal away from home.  In this young man’s case, waffle fries were just too much to handle after managing all of the other sensory stimuli at the restaurant.

Perhaps you are a parent of a child with ASD.  Perhaps you have observed a child whom you suspect may be dealing with the daily challenges  of autism.  Thank you for considering what mealtimes feel like for him and his family.  It does get better, but it is a journey that requires patience from family, friends and the community.

Please share this article with a friend so that we can continue to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder and if you know someone who loves a child with ASD, do something special for them this month in honor of National Autism Awareness Month – thank you!

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Collaboration Corner: In Defense of the Whole Child

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I treat children with autism. I’ve been doing it for a while now. As the numbers of children with autism peak a staggering 1:88 (Center for Disease Control, 2014), the demand for trained staff has gone through the roof. Many districts have specialized paraprofessionals whose primary job is to teach and support children with autism. In the Boston area, graduate and certificate programs related to ABA are cropping up everywhere, churning out new and enthusiastic graduates by the boatload.

Before I go on, there are three things you should know about me: 1) I have never been a diehard, one-shoe-fits-all clinician, 2) I embrace whole-heartedly the principals of ABA. It’s as an evidenced-based approach, and it works wonders for all sorts of kids, not just ones with autism, and, 3) If I couldn’t be silly with my students, I would just close up shop.

As an SLP, I know there are mountains of other kinds of research, and that child language and cognitive development that are important too. In this age of ABA, I find myself wanting to shout from the rooftops, “Wait! Stop! There’s more to this kid than just autism!”

Our role as SLPs and educators

Working with so many professionals “trained in autism” made me realize that, as SLPs, we bring to the table our knowledge of childhood language development, learning, motivation and context. Never before has this been more evident to me. We also bring the friendly reminder the importance of a playful approach and rapport building.

I’ve found myself shifting discussions to the whole child, and what we know about children and learning.

Here are some pointers I frequently share with staff:

  1. Appeal to the inner child first (yours and theirs). The individual comes before the label.
  2. Not every behavior can be attributed to one definitive cause. Environments, emotional state/regulation, personality, medical/biological components, all should be up for consideration.
  3. Assessment and intervention is a daily process, which is sometimes messy and dynamic (see #2). We won’t always get it right the first time. Or even the second time.
  4. It’s possible (and OK!)  to be structured and silly at the same time. Sometimes silliness increases engagement.
  5. Watch and learn from your kindergarten teachers (see #4). I’ve learned a lot from them about having fun while being structured, thoughtful and flexible.
  6. Use visuals even if the child is verbal or becoming verbal. We can model language through PECS, topic boards and Aided Language Stimulation techniques, within natural play activities.
  7. Strive to meet every child “where they are” in all aspects of learning: attention, behavior, communication and language development.
  8. We can’t make someone ready to learn or communicate; we simply lay the foundation.
  9. Learning can’t happen in a bubble. Context is just about everything. I know what a zoo is, because I’ve been in one, not because I’ve seen a flashcard of one.
  10. And finally, my favorite: Provide random acts of praise and compliments. Make daily deposits into that relationship bank. It’s a worthwhile investment.

 

Kerry Davis Ed.D., CCC-SLP,is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area, working with children who have significant communication challenges. She conducts trainings and workshops, and serves as a volunteer speech pathologist and consultant for Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with autism in South America. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own, and not those of her employer.

Pragmatics with Elephant and Piggie

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Are you working on social skills and building appropriate conversation with children ages 4 and older? Are you looking for more playful and fun ways to teach pragmatic skills and engage a child’s attention during therapy sessions?

Mo Willems is one of my favorite children’s book authors. Some favorite titles of mine are Knuffle Bunny and That is Not A Good Idea, and of course the infamous Elephant and Piggie books, which include A Big Guy Took My Ball, Should I Share My Ice Cream? My Friend Is Sad and many more. Mo Willem’s collection of Elephant and Piggie’s books expand to more than 20 books.

The Elephant and Piggie books are witty, silly and excellent for teaching some important social skills to children with delays or deficits with their pragmatic language skills.  These books are also ideal to read in a classroom or with a small social skills group because they are naturally engaging and can facilitate language.

Elephant and Piggie are best friends and treat each other with love and respect, which is an excellent friendship model for any child. I’ve used Elephant and Piggie books to help teach the following pragmatic skills:

  1. Turn Taking in Conversation: Elephant and Piggie have simple and animated conversation with each other and in certain stories, other characters. The conversation flows naturally between the characters and is related to a specific topic (great for practicing maintaining conversation). Role play after reading the book! A role playing activity can be a fun activity in a social skills group.
  2. Interpreting Body Language: Elephant and Piggie are extremely animated and express themselves well through body language. When reading an Elephant and Piggie book, discuss how the character’s body language shows how he is feeling (e.g. Elephant is jumping up a down, he must be excited!, Piggie is crying, he must be sad)  This is an ideal opportunity to ask questions and model language.
  3. When and why to use intonation in conversation: Mo Willems uses many explanation points, bold and italic wording to express the emotions and feelings of Elephant and Piggie. For example, in the book, “We Are In A Book,” Elephant jumps up and down and says “THAT IS SO COOL!” Ask your client, “Is Elephant whispering or shouting? How do you know?” Discuss when and where it is appropriate to use a soft or loud voice. When you are reading the book, make sure to use appropriate intonation as related to the text. I recently wrote an article about using intonation when reading to a child. Another great carryover book to teach punctuation and facilitate language would be with the picture book, “Exclamation Mark” by Amy Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.
  4. Discussing Emotions:  Elephant and Piggie have intensive feelings and emotions in this series which makes it really conducive to discussion within a group. Ask your client how the characters are feeling and why. In Should I Share My Ice Cream? Elephant is confused about whether he wants to share his ice cream with Piggie. Discuss what “confusion” means and relate to an experience you or your client has had recently.
  5. Expanding and maintaining a topic within a conversation: Elephant and Piggie have extensive conversation in each of their books. Discuss how the characters extend conversation, maintain a topic and keep the dialog going. Determine if it’s by question, comment, etc. This can be a great exercise that can easily be carried over to other conversations with peers.

Other goals can include answering “wh” questions, building literacy skills, expanding vocabulary, describing, commenting, improving narrative skills and recalling information. This series of Elephant and Piggie books are also available at most libraries, which make them accessible.

More information about the Elephant and Piggie series is available online. If you have any comments, 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.

Our Perception of Taste: What’s Sound Got to Do with It?

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My first love as a speech-language pathologist is pediatric feeding.  I spend lots of time talking to little kids about “carrot crunchies” and “pea-pops” and various silly names for the sounds that different foods make in our mouths as we explore all of the sensory components of food in weekly treatment sessions.

Is it possible that sound is a larger component of our eating experience than many of us realize? What’s sound got to do with eating, or more specifically, with taste? Discovering how the sound of a crunching potato chip affects flavor is more than just curiosity.  Prof. Charles Spence, who leads Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, studied how the sound that food makes in our mouths influences our perception of freshness.  It’s an important point for potato chip manufacturers, who strive to create the “crunchiest crisp possible.”

Background sounds in the environment also influence our interpretation of taste.  Spence conducted an experiment where individuals were presented with 4 pieces of identical toffee.  Two pieces were eaten while the subjects listened to the lower pitch of brass instruments.  Two other pieces were eaten while listening to the higher pitch of a piano.  The pieces eaten during the higher pitched piano music were rated “sweet” by the subjects and the pieces eaten during the lower pitched music were rated “bitter.”

Chef Blumenthal, owner of The Fat Duck near London, has taken Spence’s research findings to the next level.  Order the “Sound of the Sea” and you’ll enjoy more than seafood delicacies  presented on “a sand of tapioca and fried panko, then topped with seafood foam.” The dish is accompanied by an iPod nestled in a seashell, “so that diners can listen to the sound of crashing waves as they eat.” Spence reports that diners experience stronger, saltier flavors with the sound of the ocean in the background.  Another London restaurant, the House of Wolf, serves a cake pop along with instructions to dial a phone number and then, before tasting,  press 1 for sweet and 2 for bitter.  Diners who listened to the first prompt heard a high pitched melody and those who pressed “two” heard a low brassy tones.   In an article for the Telegraph, Spence said,  “We have also looked at the crispiness of crisps and biscuits and found that by boosting certain high frequency sounds when volunteers bit into them we could make them taste crunchier, and they became softer if we dampened those frequencies.”  It’s not just diners across the pond who are experiencing the marriage of sound and taste. Major food companies in the United States also have consulted with Spence, who developed a soundtrack to “complement”  the coffee at Starbucks®.  Speaking of coffee, in a recent study, Spence found that humans can detect whether a liquid is hot or cold, just from listening to the sound of it being poured into a glass, porcelain, paper and/or plastic cup.  I’ll consider this the next time I’m waiting for my drink at the local coffee shop.  Perhaps, from now on,  I can just listen to the sound of the pour, grab my drink and avoid the barista announcing “Lite Iced Triple Venti Half-Pump Americano Skinny for High Maintenance Melanie” with that smirk on his face.  But, I digress…

When I consider my little clients in feeding therapy, I wonder how this research might be expanded to detect possible differences in taste perception in children with sensory processing challenges, including kids with autism. Certainly, respecting the differences in a child’s sensory system is an integral part of feeding therapy for most clinicians.  Could it be that this hiccup in auditory, visual, gustatory or other sensory systems communicating efficiently with one another makes eating a variety of foods especially difficult for some children, more than we know at this time?  A recent article in The Journal of Neuroscience reported that kids with “autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have trouble integrating simultaneous information from their eyes and their ears” and discussed how this might affect their language skills. Wendy Chung, MD, PhD at Columbia University Medical Center explained in a recent video for parents how a poorly functioning pathway for simultaneous auditory and visual information (and the secondary problems of processing and responding to sensory signals) causes a child with ASD to be overwhelmed in environments that we find quite comfortable.  Perhaps future research may include Spence’s work and how it might apply to children in feeding therapy. Would certain tones be more soothing while eating?  Would certain music in the school cafeteria help children eat faster or even choose more nutritious foods? The common phrase “a feast for the eyes” may one day turn out to be “a feast for the eyes and ears” as we consider all the possibilities.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Kid Confidential: Data Collection Using Thematic Therapy

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In December’s Kid Confidential column, I discussed the advantage to using thematic lessons in speech therapy.  Last month, I explained how I write goals when using thematic lessons in therapy and the need for additional sources of data throughout the academic environment.  Today, I’m going to discuss how I record data during thematic therapy sessions as well as how I have gotten other school staff members on board to collect data.  Please note that the below information is based solely on my clinical experience.

Data Collection of SLP in Thematic Therapy Sessions

There are three main ways I can think of to collect data using thematic therapy.  The first of which is to do so throughout the entire therapy session.  The second way is to collect data for certain activities during each session.  The third option is to use periodic data collection among several therapy sessions.

Target goals throughout the entire session

Once you know exactly what skills you are targeting with each student you can determine how you will do this in thematic lessons.  One way to do this is to simply target at least one skill for each student in every thematic therapy activity.  I tend to use this technique most often when working with small groups of students who demonstrate emerging skills.  I will choose language rich thematic activities and incorporate ways to target at least one goal/objective for each student during each activity.  For example, if I have a student who is struggling with pronouns, I will be sure to ask questions during every activity that would require that student to label or expressively use pronouns in order to answer my questions.  This way I am targeting that one specific goal for the entire session for that student. This technique allows me to continue to take data throughout the session for each student and performance in this way tends to demonstrate generalization of skills to other activities as well.

Multiple Short Activities Targeting Different Goals

Now there are times when it is necessary to “drill and kill” a skill for students who have yet to demonstrate emergence of skills and who seem to require multiple trials in one session to facilitate learning.  When this is needed, I will choose to have my students participate in several different short thematic activities where each student is given time to repeatedly target an individual skill within an activity I created just for them centered on the theme and interest of their choosing.  In that manner, all students participate in each activity however data may not necessarily be collected for each student during every activity.  Time for each activity should be flexible depending on your goals, the time it takes to complete the activity and students’ interest.

For example, let’s use the recent holiday season as a possible theme for therapy.  In a small group of 5 students, I may have one that is working on understanding and using prepositions, another student working on increasing overall vocabulary skills, two students working on auditory comprehension skills and recalling details of a story and one student working on articulation skills.  What can I do?  Well I can have a quick craft in which my student working on articulation skills can read directions with different prepositional phrases.  This activity will allow me to collect data on the student who requires assistance in learning prepositions, the students who are working on improving auditory comprehension skills, as well as allowing me to tackle articulation skills of my fourth student.  The next activity could be a thematic book in which my students take turns reading the pages (or if I want to save some time, I may read the book).  Of course this allows me to ask WH questions about the book, possibly ask for synonyms, antonyms or even definitions of words within the book and finally have the students attempt to use a graphic organizer to “map the story” thus requiring them to recall details in sequential order.  Now I have targeted at least one goal for each of my students.  As the book activity would most likely take longer than the craft, this is an instance where my second thematic activity may have a longer duration as compared to my first activity.  By the end of the session, I should have data on at least one goal/objective for each student from at least one activity.

Periodic Data Collection Across Therapy Sessions

The third main option, I believe we have as SLPs is to periodically record data.  This may mean, as an SLP, data is not collected every session but periodically among a number of sessions.  Some colleagues prefer this method of data collection for a number of reasons explained to me previously such as periodic data collection allows for a therapist to focus on the therapy itself without the additional distraction of data collection.  Periodic data can aid in time-management skills particularly for those with extremely high caseloads.  Some therapists feel this is a better indicator of a student’s skills over time without needing to filter out the variability of performance on a daily basis.  Additionally, some therapists believe using the “pre- and post-teach/testing” method of collecting data reflects the academic environment more accurately than daily data.  With all that said, I do want to share a word of caution to those thinking about using periodic data.  The most important thing to remember is to be consistent in taking that data.  Know ahead of time when you are planning on data collection and ensure that you have enough data collection days within each marking period to target goals effectively.  Meaning, if you write your goals for a skill to be performed with a certain amount of accuracy across three data collections days, then you must at least have three data collection days to determine if the skills has been achieved.  Also be diligent.  If a student is absent during those days, be sure to take data regarding that student’s skills the next therapy session.  Periodic data can be helpful in looking at a child’s performance over time if collected consistently.

Data From Other Sources

There will be times when we write goals and target skills in therapy but would like to determine generalization to the academic environment as previously mentioned in last month’s column.  In an instance such as this, data may be collected in a different way and from a different source. Periodic data can be just as effective as daily data collection, as mentioned above, if done with consistency.

With the implementation of RTI, I have found teachers are much more willing and confident in their own ability to take data within the classroom setting, if I take time to train them on how to collect data and express realistic expectations that data will only be recorded at specific times during the day/week or during specific assignments.  This way, I have gotten reliable data collection from teachers regarding a child’s articulation skills for specific sounds during small reading groups, qualitative data on social skills in cooperative learning situations among classroom peers, data on a student’s ability to expressively answer WH’s in the classroom, information on a child’s ability to recall details of a story, and data on the accuracy of a student’s ability to follow classroom directions.

How can all of this work when the goal is to use thematic lessons in therapy?  Well, here is an example for you.  Remember my student working on vocabulary skills?  Well it would behoove me to target academic vocabulary in the school setting as a means to hopefully translate to improved classroom function.  Therefore, I may be given a list of vocabulary words from my students’ teachers and incorporate those words into stories I create using the theme on which we are currently focusing.  I may pre-teach the vocabulary, use context clues to have my students’ define the same vocabulary in my created story, then I may have my students participate in a vocabulary definitions match-up page post story.  This may occur over the span of several sessions.  Once this is completed and I have my data as to how my students performed with this particular list of vocabulary words, I can then compare their performance in my speech room to that of their classroom performance to determine if carryover has occurred.  This way, I am actually using teacher data (e.g. score on the students’ vocabulary sections of their language arts assignments each week) to determine generalization all while still using themes in therapy.

How do I get teachers on board and how can I ensure data collection is occurring?  Here are few tips:

  1. Keep things a simple as possible by providing all materials needed for tracking data.
  2. Let the staff member choose when to take data:  I ask the teacher/staff member what time of day or which classroom activity would be easiest for them to track a student’s performance.  Teachers are more likely to take data during activities or times of day which are easiest for them.
  3. Training goes a long way: Once a specific classroom activity or time of day is identified by the teacher, I will be sure to go to the classroom during that time and train the teacher on how to take data for the specific skill being targeted.  I keep it as simple as possible and very rarely do I have to do this more than once.
  4. Accountability:  I randomly check the data sheets during class time and ask the teacher every few days how my students are doing in the classroom.
  5. Show gratitude:  When teachers and staff members understand how genuinely grateful I am to them for taking time out of their day to help one of our students by recording data, they are much more willing and likely to continue to take data.

What does the data collection form look like for the school staff?  Here’s an example of what I have used in the school setting.

data collection

I usually provide a folder for the data collection sheets for students so the staff member can pull out the data collection sheet, re-read the goal being targeted, and simply take data on the student during the agreed upon time/activity.

For more functional goals that require data collection in real-time during the classroom, such as using appropriate pragmatic skills or using age-appropriate receptive and expressive skills for functional conversational, I will provide teachers with the data collection sheets as well as a page of blank labels.  The teacher can simply take data on the labels in real-time and stick them onto the data collection sheet later.  This way, he/she does not have to stop the lesson to take data.

The possible ways to record data by ourselves as SLPs or collect data from other school professionals is numerous if we are creative and work collaboratively with others.  I’m sure there are a number of school speech-language pathologists using the above techniques as well as a number of others not mentioned today.  As long as we remain flexible, open-minded and always focus on improving functional skills of our students, I believe the ways in which we can do this are infinite.

Maria Del Duca, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in southern, Arizona.  She owns a private practice, Communication Station: Speech Therapy, PLLC, and has a speech and language blog under the same name.  Maria received her master’s degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has been practicing as an ASHA certified member since 2003 and is an affiliate of Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues.  She has experience in various settings such as private practice, hospital and school environments and has practiced speech pathology in NJ, MD, KS and now AZ.  Maria has a passion for early childhood, autism spectrum disorders, rare syndromes, and childhood Apraxia of speech.  For more information, visit her blog or find her on Facebook

Getting Warmer at the ATIA Conference

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Looking for a way to get warmer and up your assistive technology know-how? Well, sadly, you missed it– for this year, anyway. The Assistive Technology Industry Association, a non-profit organization that represents manufacturers and vendors of assistive technology solutions,  held its 15th annual conference in Orlando, Fla., during the last week of January (right about when half the country was under a winter advisory). But it wasn’t all about the weather; there was plenty of good information to be found. Two days were set aside for a selection of one- and two-day workshops, with topics such as Universal Design for Web Design and Digital Media and Technology Supported Evidence-Based PracticesThe Changing Role of AT Teams and an iPad Boot Camp.

From Thursday morning to Saturday, shorter presentations ran concurrently, providing the more than 2,600 attendees with an overwhelming set of choices. For many, the problem wasn’t which sessions to go to but which to miss due to clashes! Fortunately the handouts for all the sessions were available at the conference website so it was possible to ensure you took home all the information you came to collect.

Additionally there were more than 100 vendor booths showing the latest in software, hardware, and services available to the AT community. People tried out eye-gaze systems, tested screen-readers and magnifiers, saw hundreds of apps and software packages, met with people who use AAC devices, and  generally had lots of hands-on experiences with a broad range of technological solutions.

ATIA conference

And don’t forget about social media. Attendee Karen Janowski (@KarenJan) is an occupational therapist and assistive technology specialist with Newton Public Schools in Boston, and is a regular at the ATIA conferences. This year she was instrumental in organizing a now familiar event at many events – the conference Tweet-up. As an advocate of leveraging new social media technologies, she says that, “The Tweet-up was a great success and provided an opportunity for people to connect with their Twitter colleagues. Meeting each other face-to-face helps to strengthen those connections that have been made virtually. People on Twitter seem to be on the cutting edge and always willing to share ideas and information. In fact, Twitter has become one of the best professional development tools out there, with hashtags being central to the power of tweeting.”

As the host of a regular Twitter event, the #ATChat discussion group, Karen understands the growing role tweeting has in supplementing learning and interaction among the AT community. “In fact,” she says, “Twitter can get your reputation ‘out there’ beyond the AT community, and this facility to reach outside of your field is important.”

This was also the first year that an app was available on both on iOS and Android platforms to help people check on session and exhibitor information. The ATIA conference team estimated that over 2,000 copies of the app were downloaded, suggesting this will become a regular feature of future events.

The next conference is already scheduled to take place again in Orlando from January 27th-31st, 2015, (probably right about the time the second Nor’easter of the winter is bearing down) with the call for papers taking place between April 21st and June 20th this year. If you are interested in attending a great AT and AAC conference, put this on your radar. And for those of us living in the north, a week in Orlando in January is never a bad idea!

Russell Cross, MS, CCC-SLP,  is the Director of Clinical Applications for the Prentke Romich Company, a developer of AAC solutions. He is a member of ASHA SIG 12 and writer for the Speech Dudes blog.

Collaboration Corner: Love Your Librarians!

librarian

One of the best resources in my school is my librarian. I have an amazingly knowledgeable colleague who knows top to bottom, every resource on the shelf or online. Here are some things (online and off-line) that she taught me about my school library:

  • Libraries are an excellent resource for wordless picture books: I can never have enough wordless picture book resources to target narrative language, my kind librarian researched wordless picture books, and printed out a list of titles available throughout the district. The best part is I can check out books as I need to, which saves me from out-of-pocket costs for materials.
  • Libraries are a great place for pre-voc skills: One year I had a minimally verbal student with ASD who was so great when it came to sorting and shelving books in alphabetical order. I’ve had other students help with book check-in or check-out.
  • I have access to so many subscriptions purchased by my schools district, including curriculum-aligned resources, which includes my most recent favorite place, PebbleGo.
  • As we continue to help our students understand fact, fiction and other online places, there are a ton of resources for digital literacy and education, including cyber-bullying.

 

Finally, the library is a welcoming place for all kinds of learners. My generous colleague purchased multi-sensory books and curriculum which help my students connect with literacy in a way that is enjoyable. Whenever a student of mine is having a tough time, we can come to a place for quiet and a little bit of sunshine…there’s a spot right by the window whenever we need to beat a little bit of those winter blues!

Kerry Davis, EdD, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.

 

Just Breathe. Really?

breathing

Easy for you and me to say.  But for 7.1 million U.S. school children it’s not. Childhood asthma rates continue to rise and from 2001 through 2009 those rates were the highest for African American children, almost a 50 percent increase. Asthma accounts for 10.5 million school absences each year. The main trigger of asthma in school children are the same contributors to poor indoor air quality. Yeah, that’s right … open a window.

Air is mostly composed of nitrogen (78 percent) and oxygen (20 percent), air also has about 1 percent of water vapor and tiny amounts of argon and other gases.  For most of us, air quietly passes through our nasal passages into our lungs and out again; taking in the oxygen needed for our blood supply during inhalation and disposing the carbon dioxide by-product during exhalation.  We do this without thought, without effort–unless you are a child with asthma.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by inflammation of the airways. Recurring symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.  Asthma develops in childhood as early as 6 months of age and lasts a lifetime.  About one in 12 Americans are living with asthma and over one third of them are children. In adults women are more likely than men to have asthma and more boys than girls among children. Those with asthma pay a huge price, about $3,000 per year per person to be exact. This figure includes medical care, medications, lost work/school days and deaths.

Various triggers not easily controlled can cause an asthma attack such as changes in weather. However, there are other triggers that can be controlled such as the presence of dust mites, roaches, pets, and mold affecting indoor air quality.  Asthma is particularly more prevalent to those living in poor neighborhoods.  A recent episode of NBC Dateline revealed that the childhood asthma rates in East Harlem run at 19 percent compared to the adjoining Upper East Side neighborhood at 7 percent.  They breathe the same New York City air, so what accounts for the difference?

Water leaks, pest infestation and general contract repairs are the responsibility of a rental unit’s landlord. As economically disadvantaged families tend to reside in these units, they are at the mercy of their landlord. Water damage leads to mold; pest infestation carries allergens; both of these conditions create a significant trigger for asthma in children. Even a child without an asthma history may become asthmatic as a result of repeated and chronic exposure to such poor indoor air quality.

School absences are of particular concern; children who miss more than 18 school days are year are more likely to drop out of school. Children with asthma miss more days of school due to their disease compared to children without asthma.  The number of missed days rises with severity—on average a child with severe and persistent symptoms misses 11.5 days of school in a year.  That’s a lot of missed homework and make up speech sessions. Asthma also affects a child’s sleep quality, which in turn affects a child’s ability to pay attention in class and lowers their quality school work.

 What can you do? 

  • Know which children on your caseload have asthma and know how to deal with an asthma emergency, including the location of the child’s inhaler.
  • Take a look at your therapy treatment room or classroom. Are the floors hard wood or are they carpeted?  If hard wood, hooray! If carpeted, make sure they get vacuumed every day and shampooed at the end of the school week.
  • Got pets? If there are in your classroom, better to send them to another home. Animals carry dander that can trigger asthma. If you have a pet at home, make sure your work wardrobe is free of pet hair.
  • Are you working out of a trailer or portable classroom?  These type of environments generally trap moisture than can turn into nasty mold. Make sure spills and leaks are taken care of quickly.
  • Skip the perfume spritz and after shave before leaving the house for work. Fragrances can trigger an asthma episode.
  •  Refrain from fuzzy or scented materials, pillows or upholstered furniture; these can collect dust mites, which are (surprise!) asthma triggers. If the furniture must stay, vacuum it frequently.
  • No clutter!  Cockroaches and dust mites love clutter … and produce more asthma triggers.
  • If your room has a window that faces high volume vehicular traffic, keep it closed during the vulnerable morning hours and cold temperatures.
  • Stay away from phthalate-based toys  as phthalates are known triggers for asthma.
  • Don’t use pesticide sprays in your room.  Go for integrated pest management strategies instead.
  • Like team work?  Collaborate with your school nurse and district’s administration to develop an asthma management plan at your school if one does not exist.  Another excellent resource is to adopt ideas from the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit.  Work with your district’s transportation department to monitor school bus engine exhaust near open windows.

 

Although asthma is prevalent, with some forethought and preventive measures, it can be controlled. Now breathe a sigh of relief!

Anastasia Antoniadis is with the Tuscarora (PA) Intermediate Unit and works as a state consultant for Early Intervention Technical Assistance through the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network. She earned a Master of Arts degree in speech pathology from City College of the City University of New York and a Master’s degree in public health from Temple University. She was a practicing pediatric SLP for 14 years before becoming an early childhood consultant for Pennsylvania’s early intervention system. Her public health studies have been in the area of environmental health and data mapping using geographic information system technology.  You can follow her on Twitter @SLPS4HlthySchools. 

 

 

 

Top Ten Apps for Adolescents and Adults with Developmental Disabilities

10 apps

Have you ever downloaded apps that you weren’t satisfied with? Here’s some help  if you work with older adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities.

Within the past 15 years, I have worked with a variety of populations, including adults with developmental disabilities.  In the past, I have used predominately workbooks, adapted books, social stories, and age appropriate therapy materials during my sessions. Within the past five years, the use of the iPad has changed my therapy sessions dramatically.

Within the past couple of years, I have found excellent age appropriate apps that are motivating for my clients and help meet their goals with regard to their social skills, literacy, life skills, language, and increasing independence in the community. I use these apps listed below on a regular basis and find them functional and useful during my therapy sessions. I have received promo codes for a couple of apps listed below but all of my recommendations are solely based on my own personal experience as a speech language pathologist and do not reflect the views of anyone else.

These apps are best used when combined with other therapy materials and real life situations. For example, if I am working with a client who is going to be visiting the library, I would work on that specific topic using Community Success by Attainment Company. I also like that many of these apps can be trialed before purchasing them.

Apps Adults DD 2

Please comment if you have any app recommendations of your own!

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.