How to Make Social Skills Stick

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At Communication Works, a private practice in Oakland, California, we’re passionate about partnering with parents and caregivers in the treatment process. When it comes to social learning, many children struggle to carry over learned skills from the therapy setting or school to their home environment. Parents are in a perfect position to help practice and facilitate those skills and help make them stick! As professionals, we can give parents the awareness and knowledge as well as the tools and strategies to help them embrace teachable moments and guide their children. Even though parents are busy and sometimes overwhelmed, we can enlist their help without making stressful demands on their time. Parents are usually eager to help as long as we offer specific, easy activities that fit within the family’s natural routines.

Whenever possible, try to support the things parents are already doing and to piggyback onto those activities, such as reading bedtime stories, doing chores, or eating dinner. As an example, if a child is working on conversational turn taking in therapy, families can pass a “talking stick” (a spoon or spatula) at the dinner table to signify whose turn it is to talk and facilitate taking turns when describing each person’s day. If the child is working on “wh” or “wonder” questions (who, what, when, where, etc.) and you are using a visual prompt to facilitate this in therapy, make a copy of that visual and send it home for parents to use with their children during meal times or when having conversations in the car..

If you’ve created a roadmap or social story for an event at school, share a copy with parents. If the child has an event coming up (a graduation, birthday party, holiday, etc.), offer examples of details the parent can share with the child about what is expected during that event. For example, if a child is planning to attend a graduation for the first time, the parent can explain about caps, gowns, and diplomas (and why students toss the caps into the air) as well as how much sitting still and listening time the child can expect. If the child hasn’t yet attended a July 4th celebration, the parent can prepare the child for a big crowd and loud noises. They can discuss the type of behavior expected in a crowd and how to make the event more enjoyable and comfortable for the child, perhaps by bringing earplugs or asking for a break when feeling overwhelmed.

Parents also appreciate simple suggestions for teachable moments that may occur during part of the family routine or in the community. For example, if you’ve worked on increasing observational skills and understanding nonverbal language, talk to the parents about setting up a time for them, to take their child out for a snack and do some “people watching.” This can not only be an excellent opportunity to generalize a skill learned in the therapy setting, but can be a great bonding experience for parents and children. Teach the parents how to play “social detective” with their child and identify how the other people in the coffee shop are related, how they are feeling, and possibly what they are talking about. If you’re teaching sequencing during a therapy session, show parents how to practice this skill by sequencing out the steps for baking cupcakes or making a birthday card. If you’re focusing on self-regulation strategies like calm breathing, show the parent how to practice by placing a teddy bear or book on the child’s belly and watching it go up and down. As you develop new lessons, think about how parents could easily adapt them for home use. Be sure to provide handouts or information for them to share with other family members, and keep activities “no fuss” for busy parents.

Therapists working in schools will have limited time with parents, but can communicate through notes, logs, or a binder that goes back and forth from home to school. If you work in a private setting, consider bringing parents into group or individual sessions for a portion of the time, and have the child(ren) show what they have learned. Take a few minutes to brainstorm with the parent about ways to practice at home. Parents appreciate knowing the why’s as well as the how-to’s. Without overwhelming them with pages of information, provide the reasoning behind a particular activity as well as specifics about how to carry it out at home.

Social learning is a 24/7 process, and kids need support to be able to bring learned skills into the home and community. If professionals don’t collaborate with parents, the child misses countless opportunities for practicing essential social skills. When we do engage parents in the process, they can serve as both coaches and cheerleaders for their children. If we give parents the right tools, knowledge, and encouragement, they can feel confident and inspired to play an essential role in bridging the gap between therapy and real life.

Elizabeth Sautter, M.A. CCC-SLP is co-director and co-owner of Communication Works, a private practice in Oakland, California, offering speech, language, social, and occupational therapy. She is the co-author of the Whole Body Listening Larry books. Her most recent book is Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence Through Everyday Routines and Activities. She can be reached at makesociallearningstick@gmail.com or follow her: website; Facebook; Pinterest; Twitter.

Robot Turtles: A Fun Way to Target Social Communication and Coding Skills

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If you are looking for a fun way to target social communication skills, as well as beginning computer programming, Robot Turtles is a great new board game you can play with your students (with or without autism). Robot Turtles requires players to use simple commands to move their turtles to capture a jewel on the game board. When students give commands, they are replicating the process computer programmers use to give instructions for a computer to execute. Games, in general, provide opportunities for social communication; Robot Turtles in particular involves specific interactions between the game players that enable more opportunities for social communication. For students who show an interest in games and computers, playing Robot Turtles can be a highly engaging way to practice social communication. Check out this video.

During game play, it is easy to provide students with opportunities to practice five different social communication skills:

1) Perspective taking: As turtle masters, students take the perspective of their turtles on the game board in order to decide which way to move. If they were to take their own perspectives, players may not move in the intended direction; success in the game depends on the ability to make decisions based on a different perspective.
2) Turn taking: Students also actively take turns throughout the game. Not only do they have to wait for the other turtle masters to complete their turns, but students do not actually move their own game pieces. The adult overseeing the game, otherwise known as the turtle mover, is in charge of executing the moves on the game board based on student commands.
3) Eye contact and body language: Since turtle masters don’t move their own pieces, they must clearly communicate their commands to the turtle mover. This offers a good opportunity to practice politely giving directions, as well as utilizing eye contact and body language to effectively communicate and acknowledge the turtle mover.
4) Following directions: In return, the turtle mover may communicate directions for the turtle masters to follow. The turtle mover also ensure players are aware of and adhere to the rules of the game.
5) Making comments: Throughout game play, students can be encouraged to make positive comments directed specifically to other turtle masters. For example, a student could say, “Nice move. I like how you did that!” when another player makes a good move in the game. In Robot Turtles, the goal is not to have one winner; all students keep playing until they achieve the goal for that specific level. Establishing a positive atmosphere where everyone is encouraged to be successful creates a great opportunity for modeling and practicing comments.

Robot Turtles can be played with children as young as four, all the way up to middle or high school. The game has several levels so it is easy to adapt game play based on student age and experience with the game. The upper levels of the game require sophisticated logic and analytical skills to complete the challenges, while the simple levels introduce children to basic logic. Either way, social communication skills can be targeted in various ways throughout the game.

Eric Sailers, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist with eight years of experience who currently works with high school students. He has an assistive technology certificate and a mobile programming certificate specializing in iOS. When he is not providing speech-language services in schools, he is creating iOS apps and delivering presentations.

Why Growing a Healthy Green School is Golden

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Remember dioramas from first and second grade? Last fall I was invited to attend the opening of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Lessons for a Green and Healthy School” exhibit, a giant, life-sized, walk through diorama on how to create a green environment in schools. Located at the Public Information Center of US EPA’s Region 3 offices in Philadelphia, what I learned there about sustaining a healthy school for students, teachers, and community was exciting…and I heard it from the students themselves. [How to Build A Healthy School]

The Green Ribbon Schools Program is a joint endeavor between the U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Education. The program honors schools and districts across the nation that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improves the health and wellness of students and staff; and provides effective environmental and sustainability education, which incorporates STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), civic skills and green career pathways.

A healthy green school is toxic free, uses sustainable resources, creates green healthy spaces for students and faculty, and engages students through a “teach-learn-engage” model. Examples of greening techniques include the using building materials for improved acoustics; installing utility meters inside the classroom as a concrete aid for teaching abstract concepts in math; and incorporating storm water drainage systems within a school’s landscape design to teach and practice water conservation. What are some environmental concerns to address when you are growing a healthy school?

  • Asthma and asthma triggers (indoor air quality)
  • Asbestos and lead (especially in older buildings)
  • Carbon monoxide (from old furnaces, auto exhaust)
  • Water fountains
  • Chemicals in the science lab (think mercury)
  • Art and educational supplies
  • Managing extreme heat
  • Upkeep of athletic grounds
  • Mold, lighting fixtures
  • Waste and recycling

Now more than ever, we must educate new generations of citizens with the skills to solve the global environmental problems we face. How can we have a green future or a green economy without green schools?

Benefits of green schools

1. Cost/Energy Savings:Daylighting” or daylit schools achieve energy cost reductions from 22 percent to 64 percent over typical schools. For example in North Carolina, a 125,000 square foot middle school that incorporates a well-integrated daylighting scheme is likely to save $40,000 per year compared to other schools not using daylighting. Studies on daylighting conclude that even excluding all of the productivity and health benefits, this makes sense from a financial investment standpoint. Daylighting also has a positive impact on student performance. One study of 2000 school buildings demonstrated a 20 percent faster learning rate in math and 25 percent faster learning rate in reading for students who attended school with increased daylight in the classroom.

2. Effects on Students: Students who attended the diorama presentation in Philadelphia expressed a number of ways how their green school changed personal behavior and attitudes. One young lady spoke of how a green classroom helped her focus and stay awake. Another student said being in a green school made them happier. There was more interest in keeping their school environment cleaner by monitoring trash disposal, saving water by not allowing faucets to run unnecessarily, picking up street trash outside the school, sorting paper for recycling, and turning off lights when room were no longer in use. Some students went so far as to carry out their green behaviors at home. Small changes in behavior and attitude such as these are the foundation for a future citizenry who will be better stewards of the environment.

3. Faculty Retention: Who wouldn’t want to be a speech-language pathologist in a green school? Besides, there would be so many opportunities for a therapist to embed environmental concepts in to their session activities. Think how a quieter environment would foster increased student attention. How about having the choice of conducting a small group session in the pest-free landscape of the school yard? Research supports improved quality of a school environment as an important predictor of the decision of staff to leave their current position, even after controlling for other contributing factors.

How to make your school green

  • Have a vision for your school environment. You can start small at the classroom level or go district wide. Focus on one area or many (healthier cafeteria choices, integrated pest management, purchase ordering options, safer chemistry lab) Maybe you already know what environmental hazards affect your school – if you do then start there.
  • Get a committee going. It helps to have friends. Is there someone you can partner with? School nurse, building facilities manager, classroom teacher, PTA, students?
  • Conduct a school environmental survey. This doesn’t have to be complicated, you can poll your colleagues, or discuss at the next department meeting, or over lunch. If you like, check out EPA’s “Healthy SEAT – Healthy School Environments Assessment Tool” for ideas.
  • Have a plan. Select a time frame, short term first and use it as a pilot to evaluate whether a green school is possible. Pick something small to work on.
  • Monitor and evaluation your progress. It’s always a good idea to collect data but it doesn’t have to be too sophisticated. Use “before and after “ photos or video student testimonials.
  • Embed the green environment into the student curriculum and activities. Create speech lesson plans with green materials or photos of your green school project. Growing Up Wild is an excellent curriculum for early childhood educators.

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. 

 

 

 

Language Time with Curious George

 

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I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t love the character Curious George. He is a cute, sweet and lovable character with a curiosity that most children and adults can appreciate. Curious George books were originally written by Margret Elizabeth and her husband Hans Augusto “H.A.” Rey. They were first published in 1941 by Houghton Mifflin.

Curious George books are generally predictable, which can be an advantage for those children struggling with speech and language disorders including issues with narratives and sequencing. Already knowing and understanding the characters and the mischievous ways of George can help a child engage in each individual story and increase motivation.  In the more recently published books, there also includes a carryover lesson and activity. With so many Curious George books published (hundreds but I haven’t counted), it is easy to find a book for younger and older children depending on particular interests. There also are some e-books available, as well. I recently wrote an article on comparing e-books and print books.

Growing up with such a fondness for Curious George naturally led me to reading this series of books to my own kids and clients. I wanted to share some language tips in this article to use for the Curious George series. Language tips include:

  1. Expanding vocabulary: Within each book you will find new vocabulary to work on and define. For example in “Curious George Goes to the Chocolate Factory” discuss and define vocabulary such as “chocolate”, “treat”, “sale”, “factory”, “store”, etc. Words that many children do not know may include “truffle,” “caramel,” and “tour guide”.
  2.  Sequencing: Within each story, there are basic events that occur in a specific order. For example in Curious George Makes Maple Syrup, there are clear and concrete steps to make the maple syrup.  In order to work on sequencing, take some photos and upload them to sequencing app, such as Making Sequences.  With this app, a child can put the story in order and then retell you the story in their own words. Another way I work on sequencing is to use blank comic strips.
  3. Recalling information: Throughout the story, ask simple questions and help your child recall specific information about the story. For example, during Curious George Makes Pancakes, encourage conversation about George and his involvement in making pancakes. Why does everyone love George’s pancakes? Why is he running away from the chef?
  4. Describing: Encourage your client to explain what is occurring in the story. For example, in Curious George Makes Maple Syrup, encourage your client to explain to you how the maple syrup might taste and what a maple tree looks and feels like. If possible, bring in some maple syrup and a piece of a tree bark and ask your client to describe the feel and smell of the syrup and bark.  If you don’t have the manipulatives, search for videos or pictures describing what is in the book. For example, with the book, Curious George and the Plumber, I found a photo online to show my client what an “auger” was and other equipment that the plumber used in the book. It helped connect specific ideas with the book and make it more concrete and engaging for the child.
  5. Answering “wh” questions: Throughout the book, ask “wh” questions and encourage your own client to ask specific questions about the story. Work on pragmatics by staying on topic and taking turns within a discussion.
  6. Problem solving: There are many opportunities to problem solve during any story with Curious George because he is always getting into trouble due to his curiosity. Discuss the problem and ask your client to figure out what he might have done differently to deal with a problem. For example, in Curious George and the Puppies, George decides to let all of the puppies out because he wanted to hold them. All of the puppies ran out and now George had a big problem. Before you move onto the next page, discuss what George should do, etc.
  7. Pragmatics: George and his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat, have a wonderful relationship. Although George is always finding himself in trouble, it is obvious that both characters love and care about each other. They have a mutual respect for each other which can be a great model for children. Also, the Man with the Yellow Hat always forgives George for his mischievous ways which can be great discussion for many children.
  8. Literacy and Reading Comprehension: Work on improving your client’s ability to read the words in the story and comprehend what they are reading. Another way to work on literacy is having your client draw a scene from the story and then have them write a sentence about it.
  9. Emotions: George and the Man with the Yellow Hat have many emotions throughout each story. Both characters are often happy and then sometimes sad, scared, confused and regretful. Describe these emotions and begin a discussion about them.
  10. Narratives: use a story map such as this one with the story. This story map was created by Layers of Learning. There are many other story maps available, but I liked this one….

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.

Dynamic Assessment: How Does it Work in the Real World of Preschool Evaluations?

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In a disability evaluation, we ask a child to point “to the triangle” or “to the author” as part of test developed to identify disorder.  An evaluator who uses this kind of test to identify disability must assume that all children being evaluated have had similar exposure to “triangle” and “author” including similar family, cultural, and educational experiences. It follows then, that if a child cannot identify “triangle” or “author” it is because that child has some kind of learning problem. But what if a child does not have a disability but simply did not have the same exposure to “triangle” or books as the majority of children his age? Dynamic assessment offers evaluators an approach to see whether a child can acquire new linguistic information from the environment. Here are some clinicians examples of how to translate the dynamic assessment research into their own disability evaluations, including some “dynamic” approaches to increase the accuracy of our preschool disability evaluations.

First, Let us consider nonword repetition tasks, one type of dynamic assessment. Nonword repetition tasks assess whether a child can hear, retain briefly, and then repeat nonsense syllables of varying lengths. Nonword repetition tasks give us insight into why a child may have a weak vocabulary. If the child has difficulty with nonword repetition tasks it may indicate a disordered ability to learn new words from the environment and will also affect the child’s ability to understand directors and spoken stories. Here are two modules analyzing videos of several children, both with and without language impairments, doing the same nonword repetition task. By seeing how different children of different abilities perform as they acquire the new words, clinicians acquire clinical judgment. Nonword repetition tasks are not classic dynamic assessment because there is no pre and post-test. But because we watch the child learning new syllables in front of us, it is dynamic rather than static.

Another dynamic approach is fast word mapping. In fast word mapping we evaluate whether a child can learn new words. Because the words are completely made up, no child has more or less experience with these words. In these videos of 4-year-olds, one child is typically developing, one child has low average to mildly delayed skills, and one child has mild to moderate delays. What is especially helpful with more dynamic approaches to assessment, we see a much greater range of information about a child’s skills, rather than simply did he identify the “triangle” or not?

A child’s cognitive skills, including the ability of children to describe cognitively challenging tasks, can also be seen through dynamic assessment. Here is an example of how a psychologist used dynamic assessment to evaluate the nonverbal cognitive skills of a 2 year 10 month old boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder (See 8:25 to 10:50). The psychologist described in his report what he saw as: Dynamic assessment demonstrated that George is intelligent and learns quickly. The evaluator showed George how to make a rubber duck fly into the air by placing the duck on the flat end of a spoon placed on the table and hitting the round end. George smiled and laughed and searched for the duck, although he did not make eye contact with the evaluator. George tried and had difficulty the first time, but after a second demonstration George was able to make the duck fly and seemed happy he made it happen.”

David’s dynamic assessment task reminds me of one that a great trilingual SLP, Barbara Dittman, showed me. She used the disappearing egg in the cup trick. Barbara would show the trick to the student and tell him how to do it. Then she would bring another person–a parent, teacher, or peer—and have the student do the trick and then explain to the person how to do it. Barbara learned about cognition and also about the student’s ability to explain a somewhat challenging task.

Recent articles demonstrate similar effectiveness of dynamic assessment in distinguishing bilingual preschoolers with and without disabilities. These dynamic assessment tasks for bilingual preschoolers include fast word mapping and a graduated prompting task with a novel word learning, semantic, and phonological awareness component.

Based on research going back several decades, the importance of dynamic assessment in accurate identifying a language disorder is well established. New studies continue to support its value. In addition to the videos on dynamic assessment and preschool assessment in general, the LEADERSproject.org has many resources available to anyone looking to sharpen their disability evaluation skills including test reviews, discussion of current law, regulations, and policies, and model evaluations.

Catherine J. Crowley, CCC-SLP, JD, PhD, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in speech-language pathology at Teachers College Columbia University, founded and directs the bilingual/multicultural program focus, the Bilingual Extension Institute, and the Bolivia and Ghana programs. An experienced attorney, Cate is working with NYCDOE on a multi-year project to improve the accuracy of disability evaluations. The LEADERSproject.org is a website dedicated to supporting quality clinical services and is funded by the Provost’s Office and several foundations.  Cate, an ASHA fellow, received the “2012 Humanitarian Award” from the National Council of Ghanaian Associations, and ASHA’s certificates for Contributions to Multicultural Affairs and for International Achievement.

How to Begin or Reignite Your Career in Schools

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One of the best things about being a speech-language pathologist is the variety of work settings to choose from. Holding the CCC affords SLPs the flexibility to carve out a niche many settings such as schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities; private practice, academia and corporate.  You can reinvent yourself just by changing where you work.

As an SLP who has worked in many settings.  I can attest to the value of change and honing new skills. However, change is always easier when you’re equipped with the right information.

If you’re making a change to schools, here are ten things to know to help you get started:

  1. The federal IDEA law and regulations governs special education and related services to all children with disabilities. This includes children with speech and communication disorders. It is important to understand the law and regulations in order to follow the special education process in schools.
  2. IDEA requires that all students who receive special education have an Individual Education Program or IEP. The IEP is the blueprint for the services that each child receives and should include a statement of the child’s present level of performance, measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals that will help the child to benefit from the educational curriculum.
  3. It’s important to know that there are qualifications for eligibility for speech language services in schools. Check with your local district or state for guidelines outlining eligibility criteria for speech-language services.
  4. Service delivery in schools is typically conducted through individual or small group sessions, and/or  in collaboration with teachers and other education professionals. Tracking goals and collecting data for multiple students in one session is accomplished with preplanning and organization. It is important to develop a method of tracking data for each student goal in order to report progress throughout the year.
  5. The average student Caseload  across the country is 47 according the 2012 Schools Survey. That number will fluctuate throughout the school year. Scheduling and service delivery are key to managing your caseload.
  6. Response to Intervention (RTI) is a process in which struggling students are provided with alternative interventions in areas of need to determine if their performance is due learning difficulties or faulty instruction. Some schools fully embrace the RTI model while others do not. IDEA allows for RTI but does not require it.  SLPs often play a role in the RTI process in their schools.
  7. The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 45 states thus far and is an initiative to prepare students for college programs or to enter the workforce.  The standards include the areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening, language and mathematics. SLPs should be familiar with the standards in their state to develop IEP goals that complement and integrate the Common Core curriculum for the students they serve.
  8. Speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs) typically work in the school setting under the supervision of an SLP. The scope of practice for an SLPA is narrower than that of an SLP and is designed to support, not supplant the work of the SLP. ASHA recommends that SLPs supervise no more than 2 SLPAs at a time.
  9. SLPs in schools may be subject to state teacher requirements. ASHA’s state by state webpage outlines teaching requirements from each state across the country. Learn in advance what you’ll need to work in the public schools in your state.
  10. Salaries in schools vary widely across the country. ASHA’s 2012 School Survey provides salary data for public school SLPs in every state. Opportunities to earn additional income may be available by working in after school and summer school programs. Salary supplements may be available to SLPs who hold CCC credential.  Schools also offer excellent retirement plans, health benefits and favorable schedules.  Read more about the rewards of working in schools.

Of course, there’s much more to school based practice than just these ten points, but it’s a start.  ASHA is committed to serving school based SLPs by offering clinical and professional resources as well as professional development opportunities. One of the most popular professional development events is ASHA’s annual  Schools Conference. The Conference features the best speakers in the field on a variety of topics.  In fact, early bird registration is open now!
These resources and opportunities for learning will help to make your transition to schools a smooth one.  If you’d like to connect with us about school based practice, please contact us: schools@asha.org. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Lisa Rai Mabry-Price M.S. CCC-SLP, is the associate director of School Services for ASHA. She can be reached at lmabry-price@asha.org.

Beyond Skype for Online Therapy: Protecting Student Privacy

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The trend for kids online is sharing more, not less. Today’s kids consciously and unconsciously share so many aspects of their life using Facebook, Skype or even newer tech tools like Snapchat. But, as educators, we hold ourselves to a much higher legal and professional standard for protecting the information of these very same students. We’ve all heard about the laws—FERPA, HIPAA, COPPA— that set the standards for privacy of student records and personally identifiable information, but what do the laws mean in the context of delivering speech-language therapy online?

HIPAA: Protecting Individually Identifiable Health Information

Created by the Department of Health and Human Services in 1996, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that protects patient medical records. HIPAA specifically protects “individually identifiable health information,” which includes:

  • the individual’s name, address, birth date and Social Security number.
  • the individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health or condition.
  • the provision of health care to the individual.
  • the past, present or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual.

HIPAA gives patients a variety of rights regarding individually identifiable health information. With consent, HIPAA permits the disclosure of health information needed for patient care, such as speech therapy.

FERPA: Protecting Education Records

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects student education records. FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records until they turn 18 or transfer to a school higher than the high school level, thus making them “eligible students.” The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. Under FERPA, parents or eligible students have the right to:

  • Inspect and review the student’s education records.
  • Request a school to correct records they believe to be inaccurate or misleading.
  • Prevent a school from releasing information from the student’s education record without written permission (with some exceptions).

COPPA: Protecting Children’s Personal Information

The Federal Trade Commission instituted COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) in April, 2000 to protect children’s personal information on websites and applications that target children under the age of 13. Under the legislation, websites and apps that collect this information must notify parents directly and get their approval prior to the collection, use or disclosure of a child’s personal information. The FTC describes personal information as:

  • A child’s name, contact information (address, phone number or email address.
  • A child’s physical whereabouts.
  • Photos, videos and audio recordings of the child.
  • A child’s “persistent identifiers,” like IP addresses, that can be used to track a child’s activities over time and across different websites and online services.

Recommendations for Online Therapy

Clinicians and educators often focus on the capabilities of individual pieces of technology, and, indeed, a secure therapy platform is highly recommended both to ensure the privacy of sessions as well as student data. However, it is the information, and the sharing of that information by the adults responsible for the care of each child, that these laws focus on. So educators need to focus on a systems approach that considers the end-to-end process of handling and securing student data.

While clinicians are trained in student identity protection, non-disclosure methods and the maintenance of student record confidentiality, it is ultimately the school’s responsibility to ensure agreements they have in place with online therapy service providers support them in protecting student privacy. So what are the practical considerations in this end-to-end approach to protecting the privacy of students receiving online therapy?

  1. Ask what type of security is in place. Solutions with bank-level security offer the strongest protection of data. This includes 256-bit encryption using TLS 1.0, restricted physical access to the servers on which data is stored, and 24/7 on-site security personnel.
  2. Use a secure platform for therapy. Secure platforms use an invite-only, encrypted, secure connection. In this model, only the online clinician and the student assigned to that particular appointment time are permitted to enter the password-protected “therapy room.” Parents may also view a session with a prior written request.
  3. Use a secure server to store data. Make sure all student files containing individually identifiable health information and education records are stored on a secure server using industry-leading security.
  4. Restrict access. Only online clinicians, authorized school administrators and parents should have access to this password-protected information, thus further protecting student privacy.

This “big picture” thinking will let educators take advantage of new online delivery models for therapy services AND stay compliant with privacy laws. And leave Snapchat to the students.

Melissa Jakubowitz, MA, CCC-SLP, is the Vice President of SLP Clinical Services at PresenceLearning. She is a Board Recognized Specialist in Child Language with more than with more than 20 years of clinical and managerial experience. She is the past-president of the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association and is active in ASHA, serving as a Legislative Counselor for 12 years.

Can Speech-Language Pathologists Diagnose Autism?

Posted response

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.