As Adults With Intellectual Disabilities Live Longer, They Need More AAC Support

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Communication for adults with intellectual disabilities and complex communication disorders is a team effort. People with these disorders are living longer, higher quality, independent, and more productive lives thanks, in part, to alternative and augmentative communication technology.

Speech-language pathologists need to understand the settings in which these adults live. No longer do they live in large institutions but in more intimate and natural independent or small group homes.

A crisis may also be at hand as aging caregivers, whose adult children with intellectual disabilities and complex communication disorders live at home, can no longer care for them. According to The State of the States in Developmental Disabilities (2013), in 2011, 71.5 percent of people with these disabilities lived with family caregivers. Over the next few decades this group will flood the group home system as their parents age.

Communication is always important and critical for a person’s independence. Family caregivers may tend to speak for the adult with a disability and anticipate needs more than staff at a group home. Independent means of communication becomes that much more important once that adult moves into a new environment. This is where the SLP has a major responsibility in finding the most appropriate, functional evidence-based AAC intervention.

Many factors exist beyond the skills of the adult with intellectual disabilities and our AAC recommendations, however. Future AAC success is a team effort between the SLP, families and paid caregivers/group home staff. Some staff members are highly supportive; some are not. Informal assessment of the environment in which the affected adult lives is crucial. It can be a delicate process to help the staff member see the purpose of AAC. If the group home staff does not “buy in” to the AAC device recommendation and plan, there is a high risk of abandonment.

Group homes, although typically a better solution than nursing homes for those without complex medical conditions, have their own challenges. Moving to a group home is a major life change for people who have typically lived their whole life with their families and who often have a significant difficulty adjusting to change. In the state of Pennsylvania, where I practice, I have been encouraged to see that the group home system has placed a high level of priority on communication over the past few years. As a result, I have been seeing more adults with intellectual disabilities and complex communication disorders in my practice.

Another challenge in group homes is staff turnover. The State of the States in Developmental Disabilities (2013), reports that hourly wages for workers in community intellectual/developmental programs averaged only $10.14 per hour. A report published by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute in 2011 noted that almost half of direct care workers (including group home staff) live below the federal poverty level. Meanwhile, their work can be rewarding but is often psychologically and physically challenging, so it is clear why staff turnover is high. And, unfortunately, frequent staff turnover is confusing, frightening and can lead to a lower quality of life for these adults.

I have seen many adults with intellectual disabilities and complex communication disorders go years if not decades without AAC intervention. It is especially painful when, as children, they used AAC in school and transition into the adult world with no reliable means of expression because either the device was returned to school or the device had become obsolete. There is also a high level of abandonment of AAC devices once the school support is gone. In nursing homes, there can be speech therapy support available. In group homes residents must be seen for therapy as outpatients. Once the resident is back home, it becomes the responsibility of the group home staff to ensure the AAC device use is supported and maintained.

As part of the intervention plan, we must assist the group home staff to add communication goals to their mandated plan of care. We must also train the staff members in the care, maintenance and programming of the recommended device. Adults with ID are living longer, and, as technology has become an accepted part of all of our lives life, AAC interventions will continue to be a necessity. We should remember that an AAC device recommendation is not a once and done process. An adult with ID may need numerous device upgrades throughout their lives. Determining the best AAC device is not the end of the process, it is only the beginning.

Carrie Kane, a speech language pathologist at the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania,  specializes in AAC assessment and treatment for adults with communication disabilities. She developed and is the coordinator of the adult outpatient AAC program in Good Shepherd’s Assistive Technology Center.

Kid Confidential: Parent Education and Training, Part 2

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Last month I discussed why parent education and training is important and offered tips to effectively train and educate parents.  Today I’ll be discussing how I realistically implement parent training and education.

There are two main ways in which I incorporate parent training and education: at the end of a therapy session and during real-time.

End-of-therapy session Education/Training

I typically use this type of parent education and training for older children (school-age and up) who are working on specific speech and language goals that require some traditional “drill and kill” therapy.  I will also use this type of training for young children who have been receiving speech therapy from myself for some time, long enough that parents are already familiar with implementing techniques at home.

Tips for effectively implementing end-of-session training and education:

  1.  Time management:  I ensure that I end the speech session with adequate time left (usually 10-15 minutes) to effectively educate and train parents (following the tips I shared in part one of this series).  If I feel rushed, due to numerous parent questions, parents requiring more assistance when demonstrating skills, etc. I take a mental note and end my therapy activities a bit earlier the next session so I can provide appropriate training and education.
  2. Review the session:  I then quickly review the session’s activities.  As parents are usually in the room/area where therapy is being provided they are already familiar with the activities I have provided and will quickly know and understand the goal of therapy that session.
  3. Technique(s)—Explain, Model, Take Turn, Feedback: Then, as in last month’s column, I will follow the same steps: explaining the rationale for the technique(s) used, model the technique(s), have parent(s) take their turn and provide feedback.
  4. Follow up:  I always begin the next session with follow up on how implementing the previous week’s techniques are going.

Real-Time Education/Training

This type of education and training is so effective for my very young clients (birth-5 years) as parents are such an integral part of language development at this stage, that it is necessary they are involved the entire therapy session.  This can sometimes propose a problem with there are numerous siblings present, however I tend to incorporate siblings into therapy in order to save time as well as train siblings how to use communication techniques as well.  My motto in this instance is “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”.

Tips for effectively using Real-Time Education/Training:

  1. Techniques—Trial, Explain, Model:  The first thing I do with these young kiddos via play therapy is to trial a number of techniques.  Then I determine the most effective techniques and explain to the parent(s) the rationale for using them.  I then model the use of each technique, one by one, and demonstrate the positive effects of its use several times in a row (I strive for 5-10xs in a row to demonstrate the effectiveness to parents).
  2. Questions: I then ask the child’s parent(s) if they have any specific questions before they trial the technique. Usually they do once they realize they will be asked to perform the same technique.  If I need to provide specific step by step instructions, this is the time.
  3. Parent Model:  Then I have the parent’s take a turn using each technique a number of times (again I strive for several in a row-5 to 10xs-to build confidence).
  4. Feedback:  I provide feedback on each use of the technique.  I share the strengths that I see, I note the positive child responses, and of course address any weaknesses or modifications as needed.
  5. Make a list: For parents new to using therapy techniques, I will sometimes write a list of the techniques or the process of implementing a technique so they can refer to it between therapy sessions.  For my most basic language facilitation strategies/techniques I have created my own parent training/education handouts which you can find here.
  6. Follow up: I always begin the next session with follow up on how implementing the previous week’s techniques are going.

Yes, real-time education/training can eat up a lot of your therapy time.  However, it is time well spent as long as the training is effective and parents can demonstrate independence with the use of the chosen techniques.  In my experience, using real-time parent education/training actually brings up several questions and concerns parents either do not think of prior to our discussions or are reminded of during therapy.  It’s a wonderful way to make the connection between the parent’s ability to change their communication approach and their child’s improved language development.  The goal of course with any parent education/training is to leave the parent feeling empowered in their ability to help their child.  A small amount of training can go a long way!

Next month, I will be sharing how I use digital recording to support parent education and training.

Maria Del Duca, MS, 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.

What Every Beginning SLP Wants to Know

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Your course work is over.  Your campus supervision went well but now you are out in the “real world.”  You know about normal development.  You have read up on various language and speech disorders but now what?

During my more than four decades of work, I have found that the answers to the questions I get asked are not in textbooks. They are in the trenches of experience. Clinicians do not want to know when children eliminate fronting or when irregular past tense develops; they can look up things like that.  They want to know about the nitty-gritty of conducting a session.

Today an extern was asking a child to say, “I want the bus,” and he would not respond.  I stopped her and asked her what it was she wanted him to do.  She looked perplexed because this sounded like an odd question when it was so obvious that she wanted him to repeat the sentence.   Noticing her look, I then asked her what she was trying to “accomplish.”   She said she wanted the child to request.  Well,  if the child could repeat her sentence, he obviously had the structure, “I want the train,” and if he was whining, reaching for the train and saying “train,” then he had mastered requesting. So what was it that she really wanted him to do? What was it that she thought he couldn’t do?

When questioned about the child’s skills, the extern said that the child could say, “I want….” in various contexts and that he could label “train,” so she wanted him to use the structure of “I want the train” to get the train. What she was trying to accomplish, without knowing it, was having the child use the skills he already had. She was not teaching him to request. She wanted him to “use his words.”

Carryover is an integral part of therapy, but you cannot force a child to speak or to “use his words.”  This is a battle you will not win.  You can continue to ask him to repeat, withholding the toy until he says what you asked him to say.  But what purpose does that serve other than frustrating everyone?

To aid compliance, we set up a scenario in which there were two different toys in close proximity—so close that the child’s pointing did not make clear which toy he wanted.  Taking the toy he wanted was acceptable, but the extern continued to ask, “What do you want?” even when the child just took the toy.  As he took the toy, the extern would say, “Oh, you want the train.”  The extern then requested a toy she wanted by saying, “I want the ….” and taking it from her pile of toys.  She continued to arrange toys in such a way that pointing did not help the child get what he wanted, and when he whined, she ignored it. She just requested the toy she wanted and took it.

The extern set up play situations where she was able to ask, “What do you need now?” The child began to say the name of the toy he wanted.  With continued modeling, he said a reasonable approximation of, “I want the train” by the end of the session.  Exuberant praise and the acquisition of the toy were very reinforcing, and the child used the “I want” approximation a few more times during the session.  It did not become a “talk or else” situation. It was a situation where speaking made it easier for the child to get what he wanted.  The intervention was given context and the end product was the child’s obtaining what he wanted by requesting it.

The main point here is to know what you are doing, what you are trying to accomplish, and what is that you are doing that is at cross purposes to what you actually want.  And to not make speaking a challenge for the child or a condition for playing, but to demonstrate that speaking facilitates communication.

I was a beginning SLP once, know the frustrations, and want to help. If you have other not-in-the-textbook questions you’d like answered,  pose them below in the comment spaces so that I might address them in future blog posts.

Irene Gilbert Torres, MS, CCC-SLP, chair of ASHA’s Multicultural Issues Board, is a clinician in New York City. She concentrates primarily on infant and preschool evaluations and supervision of graduate students. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 11, Administration and Supervision; 14, Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations; 16, School-Based Issues; and 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders.

Never Having to Say ‘I’m Sorry’

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“I’m sorry to tell you that Sara has a permanent hearing loss.” One of the less glamorous aspects of being an audiologist is telling a parent that his or her child has a hearing loss. Although this is difficult news to deliver, how you convey that information can potentially have as much of an impact as the hearing loss itself.

Instead of apologizing for delivering this news, another way to frame the conversation is to say, “I know this may come as a surprise to you, but…” Although semantically similar to the apologetic statement, qualitative and anecdotal research has shown that parents will remember verbatim how the news was delivered to them.  As Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, a professor of mental health counseling at Gallaudet University who also teaches counseling skills to audiology students, comments, “This kind of subliminal language, though not intentional, can have real consequences for how the family approaches this news and can set lower or even negative expectations for the abilities of the child”.

Another example of negative messaging is using the word “fail” with regard to newborn hearing screenings.  Not only does “fail” suggest a hearing loss that very well may not be present; it can also make parents defensive. As one parent commented, “How could my daughter fail a test that she didn’t know she was taking?” Many institutions, including Boston Children’s Hospital and Gallaudet University, have incorporated this language into their clinical practice.

Knowing your audience is also important. For example, some deaf parents may be excited and happy to learn that their child has a severe to profound hearing loss. As one deaf parent explained, “With my first child, my husband delivered the results of the newborn hearing screening. He came into my room saying, ‘Alright she did it! Our baby passed the test; she’s deaf!’  When this occurred with our second child however, we were both surprised to learn that he passed in the sense that he was hearing and not deaf like us.”

Other deaf parents may be disappointed or have mixed feelings about this news. Most deaf babies are born to hearing parents who are in complete shock when they learn of the results.  By framing the news in a neutral manner, you are putting yourself in a position to support the parent and answer any questions they may have.

Although we are certainly not denying the shock and grief that most parents experience when facing a diagnosis of hearing loss, the less negative we can make the message, the better. Suhana Alam, a deaf adult recently selected to speak on a panel of successful deaf college students at the Annual Early Hearing Detection & Intervention Meeting in April commented, “The provider…needs to make sure the parents understand that their child’s brain works just fine; he or she just has limited hearing capability.”

As audiologists, we can then work with the family in providing information on the full range of communication options available to them.

Regardless of whether we are seasoned audiologists with years of experience or new audiologists beginning our professional careers, we are constantly adapting to change in audiology and critical evaluation of our language and word choice are easy adjustments that we can make for our patients and family members.
Cynthia Frey wrote this article with Whitney Kidd. Both are graduate clinicians in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants, Toddlers, and Families: Collaboration and Leadership Program at Gallaudet University.

Tricks to Help Speech Lessons Carryover into Daily Life

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How can our clients better incorporate new skills into their speech in their daily lives? It seems that they are often limited by their social interactions with caregivers, parents or spouses, so that they can’t practice or complete speech homework between sessions.

Some of my adult clients will avoid practice sessions with their spouses altogether. How can we encourage use of newly acquired skills between visits? Wouldn’t the duration of therapy be reduced and functional communication improved? Research has supported more intensive therapy approaches to promote a more efficient, complete healing process. Because time and funding often limits therapy frequency, we send patients home with work for practice. Follow-through with homework generally rests on the motivation of the client or the client’s family. We need to find ways to make the therapy process efficient and functional.

In Pam Marshalla’s 2010 book “Carryover Techniques (in Articulation and Phonological Therapy),” she defines the term carryover are referring to “a client’s ability to take an individual speech skill learned in the therapy room and to apply it broadly in all speaking situations.”

Getting our students and clients to use their articulation and communication skills outside the therapy environment requires that we begin the process of carryover as soon as the skill is demonstrated in a variety of environments. For children, it might mean saying a fluent word or phrase during a game to get to the next square, or using the correct production of /r/ and /l/ during a short conversation about sports. For adults, the rules of learning after a stroke or traumatic brain injury still may require learning a new skill, like writing the first letter for phonemic placement or using cognitive-semantic linking to ask for coffee.

We need to get more creative to promote carryover across all our clients because of additional sensory, physical, psychological or cognitive difficulties that may impede the process. Charles Van Riper in 1947 wrote that while we cannot rush carryover, we must facilitate its progress.

Pam Marshalla listed some functional ways to promote carryover in children and adolescents, including use of:

  • Fill-in sentences or fill-in stories to stimulate spontaneity.
  • Idioms to stimulate spontaneity.
  • Negative practice to help break the incorrect speech habit.
  • Nonsense syllables and words to strengthen the carryover process.
  • Over practice to cause a hyper-awareness of the goals of therapy.
  • Rapid-fire questions and answers to promote naturalness.
  • Reading aloud as a step between word productions and conversational speech.
  • Rhyming to capture a client’s attention and encourage practice outside of therapy.
  • Riddles because they cause a client to combine practice material with creative thinking.
  • Shortening productions to encourage naturalness.
  • Singing to help children remember their speech work and to encourages effortless practice.
  • Spelling out errors to help the client think about what she is saying and how she is saying it.
  • Story-telling and re-telling to cause stimulate spontaneity and to cause a breakthrough in carryover.
  • Tongue twisters to teach children how to control their articulation.

More on promoting carryover in speech-language treatment can be found on Pam Marshalla’s website.

Many of these techniques are useful for adults as well as children. Here are some additional carryover ideas for adults:

  • Create a script to practice at a favorite restaurant.
  • Use the carryover phrases and substitute other items at a counter deli or a department store.
  • Make a to-do list (or grocery list) each day. Practice writing and reading.
  • Talk about the programs you will watch.
  • Use carryover phrases for conversation, such as, “Hi. How are______?” “What is____?”  “I’m _____.” “Who is____?”
  • Use a calendar and an 8 by 10 dry-erase board to practice drawing,writing and gesturing.
  • Use your smart pad, apps, whiteboard, AAC, text-to-speech, and speech-to-text to send emails and do alphabet board, speech tutor and naming practice.
  • Play your favorite brain games daily. They will help you with focus, learning, word-finding and memory.

If you encourage your clients to engage in games and functional activities daily, the overall quality of your clients’ understanding and speech production will improve because you are encouraging the growth of new neural connections. Your clients are naturally acquiring and using the new skills in their daily lives because they are using them. Becoming more functional can be the most motivating effect of carryover.

 

Betsy C. Schreiber, MMS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical supervisor at Ladge Speech and Hearing Clinic at LIU/Post on Long Island, and a partner at Hope 4 Speech Associates, P.C. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders, and 18, Telepractice.

 

Showing Our Stuttering Moves

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We may not know all the reasons for stuttering, but one thing’s for sure—children who stutter want to be heard!

People who stutter want to express themselves, but sometimes fear of potential embarrassment can overwhelm them. Luckily, movies like “The King’s Speech” and celebrities such as Lazaro Arbos from “American Idol” have put stuttering in the spotlight and can help inspire our kids. Together with information offered by the Stuttering Foundation on its website and in books, videos and conferences, the increased attention can help our students tackle the emotional side of stuttering and learn how stuttering can affect their lives in a positive way.

I am lucky that my school allows me to work once a week with a group of students who stutter. We work voluntarily during lunch time to tackle some of the emotional issues related to stuttering, with support from Margarita Torres, a student teacher from Adelphi University. I intend for the sessions to operate much like a support group—a forum in which students can discuss their feelings and thoughts about stuttering. I have tried to adapt desensitization and acceptance approaches outlined in Peter Reitze’s book “50 Great Activities for Children Who Stutter: Lessons, Insights and Ideas for Therapy Success” as I work with the students.

The group consists of two fifth-grade girls, a fourth-grade girl, a third-grade boy—and a fourth-grade boy who does not stutter but is friends with the other group members. One day as we were eating lunch and talking about famous people who stuttered, I shared with the group the story of Lazaro Arbos’ audition on “American Idol.” We showed the students the video and discussed his performance.

A few minutes later, one student broke out into song! He sang only one line, “I got the bounce like Darth Vader,” to the tune of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” We all giggled and were impressed with his musical talent. That one line stuck with me and my student teacher. Then I remembered the New York City United Federation of Teachers Speech Improvement Chapter’s Better Speech and Hearing Month Contest. My student teacher Margarita Torres, the students and I worked quickly to create a music video to submit for the contest.

The March 15 deadline was approaching fast and meeting once weekly was not going to be enough. So we decided to meet three times a week and work on modifying the rest of the song’s lyrics. We changed the lyrics to include information about stuttering (for example, famous people who stutter, including Darth Vader), tips for others when speaking to people who stutter, and feelings about stuttering. The group did an amazing job memorizing and working on the lyrics, and the script before the music video discusses why speech therapy is important.

Hopefully this experience has taught the students that being a person who stutters does not limit their potential. It only can enhance potential.

Kelly M. Enamorado, MS, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual speech-language pathologist at Public School 36 in New York City. She can be reached at Kenamorado@gmail.com.

Kid Confidential: “Join In on the Stim!”

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Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is one of the great loves in my professional career. Persons with ASD are fascinating and wonderful and many times their behavior actually makes sense to me. I know what you are thinking, “This woman has got to be on the spectrum herself.” Well although I do believe that we all exhibit hyper- and/or hypo-sensitivities to various stimuli and that we all have what I like to call “a little autism in us,” it just may not be on the scale of persons who are diagnosed with ASD formally. It may not consume our entire interactions as it does for some students with ASD. So the question is, what do we do about it?

When I was in graduate school, the prevailing acceptable intervention was based on behavioral modification techniques. I was expected to spend time determining why that stimulatory behavior occurred (i.e. avoidance, stress, seeking sensory input, coping mechanism, sensory overload, etc.) and replace it with a more appropriate behavior. I still agree that this treatment strategy is appropriate in certain situations. For instance, if the student is seeking sensory input, let’s provide him/her with an appropriate sensory diet (under the supervision of an OT with the appropriate experience). If the student is exhibiting behaviors that are harmful to him or herself or others, they MUST be replaced by more appropriate safe behaviors. If the student is overloaded and attempting to escape/avoid a situation, let’s give him/her a break and/or modify the activity and expectations.

But are there times when we should actually encourage the stimulatory behavior? Are there times when we should not only support it, but “join in on the stim”? My answer to this is ABSOLUTELY! I know I just lost a few of you, but hear me out. The first time I read this idea, I was skeptical as well.

Jonathan Levy, author of “What You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Child with Autism,” challenges parents and therapists alike to do just this, join the child in his/her world by simultaneously imitating the stimulatory behavior. The idea is that for children who are profoundly affected by ASD and who spend all or most of their time exhibiting stimulatory behaviors actually need us to invade their world and physically pull them out of it by imitating them.

According to Levy, by joining your child/student in their stimulatory behavior you are telling them several things:

  • You understand their need to use this behavior.
  • You have something in common with them.
  • You want to interact with them and you are willing to enter their world.
  • They are safe to “be themselves” around you and you will not interrupt their need to stimulate themselves using these behaviors.

Does this actually work? According to Jonathan Levy, this is a technique Barry and Samahria Kaufmann, authors of the Son-Rise Program and founders of the Autism Treatment Center of America (ATCA), not only believe in, but have used successfully on their own child as well as numerous children nationally and internationally for more than 25 years. Anecdotally, I can tell you from my personal experience, I have done this and I have noted several positive changes with consistency:

  • Almost immediate increase in eye contact or facial referencing.
  • Students with ASD began to approach and/or gravitate to me whenever I entered their classrooms.
  • Students began to tolerate my touch or would take my hands and place them on their own bodies. For example, I had a female student once start pulling on my arms. I figured out very quickly she wanted me to do this to her. Although nonverbal, she made a request for the first time in her life! After I provided that sensory feedback, she was able to sit on the floor with her class during a large group lesson for the very first time.
  • And after a few weeks of joining in the stimulatory behaviors, I began to hear vocalizations. And for some of these children, it was the first time they ever vocalized!

Yes I was that therapist, jumping around in circles, flapping my hands, vocalizing various moans and groans along with my students. I was that therapist sitting at the lunch table filtering light through my fingers and screeching with my student as he attempted to eat. I was also the first person they made eye contact with; the first person, to which they handed a picture (i.e. PEC); the first person, with whom they exhibited joint attention; and the first person to whom they intentionally vocalized when making a request.

So does this technique work? I believe that it does if used properly for the appropriate students. This is not a technique that I believe every student with ASD requires or can benefit from, but it certainly appears to make significant changes in those who are so profoundly affected that they cannot find a way out of their own worlds without us stepping in and meeting them where they are.

Mr. Levy does leave us with a word of caution. Some children do not respond immediately to this technique as they are so far within their own worlds it could take them weeks to even notice your attempts to join the stimulatory behavior. But he ensures us, that this is not a reason to give up and believes that by giving the child adequate time, he will take note of your attempts to enter his world and you will break through the child’s barriers of stimulatory protection (Levy, 2007).

This has not been the case for me as I saw changes fairly immediately. However, I do believe that can be attributed to the fact that if the child is in a school setting, they are aware at some level that there are other people within the room, whether they seem to show it or not. I believe the school setting is unique in that just the setting itself forces the child with ASD to, even on a subconscious level, acknowledge there is a world bigger and different than what is found within themselves.

So the next time you have a student with ASD on your caseload that is profoundly affected and appears to spend all or most of his/her time exhibiting stimulatory behaviors, no longer ask yourself “What do I do with this child?”. Rather, make an attempt to enter their world and “join in the stim”. By doing this, you may just be the first person who has ever been able to connect with them.

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 New Jersey, Maryland, Kansas and now Arizona. 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.

Giving Peruvian Children the Power of Communication

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In March, I traveled to Lima, Peru, with our Mercy College communications disorders program director, Helen Buhler, and a team of 27 physicians, surgeons, nurses, technicians and other SLPs. We were there as part Mercy College’s partnership with Healing the Children, Northeast, which provides primarily surgical services to children in need in the United States and abroad.

Over the week we were there, 37 children had surgery; some had traveled for 7 days to reach the hospital. We SLPs worked on parent training, peer training and direct service delivery. Here are some excerpts from the blog I kept during our visit.

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I cried when Dr. Manoj Abraham—a surgeon from Vassar Hospital—put the last stitch into the baby’s lip.

On Friday, Helen, Marianella Bonelli—an SLP and Mercy alum—and I visited with all the parents on the ward. For those whose children had had a lip repair, we celebrated together, admiring their beautiful babies. For those who had their lips repaired but still would need palate surgery in the future, we also gave advice on helping the kids develop good speech habits now to establish good airflow from the mouth after the palate is closed. We worked directly with the kids who had newly closed palates and their parents, teaching about how to bring the sounds out through the mouth and not the nose. Needless to say, there were many therapy materials, toys and goodies passed around, ensuring we went home empty handed but the kids did not.

After speech rounds, we put on fresh scrubs and went to surgery. Dr. Abraham was operating on a baby with a cleft lip that went up into her nose all the way, and welcomed us to observe him.

He was putting this baby’s nose together, carefully making it match the other side as much as possible. He worked some more on the deep layers of the lip, making sure it would be able to have free movement. Then he sutured the philtrum, the raised line that runs down from your nostril to the beginning of the red part of your lip. Suddenly, this baby had a sweet Cupid’s bow of a mouth…a mouth that would pout and pucker, shout, whisper…

Even though it was my second time in the OR and I thought I was over it, I cried and cried. Writing this now, I’m crying again.

What a gift.

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As I came into the speech office (a commandeered storage room), I saw Helen doing…arts and crafts? 

Helen always says we do cowgirl therapy on these trips—shooting from the hip. When an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy arrived with very few spoken words, and those few only intelligible to her mom, Helen created an old school low-tech augmentative communication device. She used paper, a sheet protector and some of our speech materials to create a board with some basic vocabulary.

The mom was thrilled to have a way for her daughter to communicate some wants and needs to others in her life. Helen showed her how to create more pages for the board as the child mastered its use. The mom’s eyes were shining—it was so obvious that the board would be implemented immediately.

Based on a quick evaluation, it was clear that the child understood a lot more than she could say, so we hope this is a way she can start to “say” something to the world at last.

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We also worked with a four year old boy with hearing loss due to a malformation of the external and middle ear. He has had recurrent ear infections and had drainage from one ear. He was taking an assortment of antibiotics, and his mom had a thick folder of medical records with her. Although his audiological testing shows a hearing loss, he is not currently a candidate for surgery (Dr. Ryan Brown graciously gave him an exam on the fly to double check).

Helen spent some time with the mom, teaching about behavior management, and I taught her about sign language. I taught them three signs: “go,” “more” and “eat.” The kid chased me around the grounds of the hospital, as we worked our way over to our surgical consult, and I would only run if he signed, “go.” We went from hand-over-hand to slight physical prompt, to following a model for the sign “go.”

The mother was shocked at how positive our interaction was—he was laughing as he chased me. Soon, this kid will experience the power of controlling his world through communication.

Score one for the speech department.

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 10 (Issues in Higher Education) and 17 (Global Issues in Communications Sciences and Related Disorders). Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum.

 

Toddler Talking Points

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Toddlers are some of my favorite people—they explore with abandon, imitate pirates and fairies, refuse with gusto, stack, dump and search, communicate with persistence, and give enthusiastic hugs with sloppy kisses. So why would we get in their way? One of the most common mistakes I see parents make with their toddlers is to ask too many questions, which actually inhibits their language.

I arrived at a home this week, to evaluate an 18-month-old boy, whose mom was concerned he was delayed in talking. As our play session progressed, it was apparent that he wasn’t far behind, using many words meaningfully in his little world, like “milk,” “ball,” and “car.” When I watched his mother interact with him, she was questioning him with, “What’s that?” or “Can you say ‘book’?” I gently suggested that when we ask too many questions, especially for the child to perform, it is not natural and many times the child clams up. They are smarter than you think and can feel the pressure.

Rather than questioning, model a word, phrase or sentence related to what your toddler is doing at the time. When we talk about what she is focusing on, she can take in more language since it relates to her experience. When she chooses a book, simply say, “Book. Let’s read our book. This book is about the beach.”

Joining your child’s play, following their lead and talking about what they are playing with can boost their language development. Selecting appropriate toys for learning at this stage engages the child and builds cognitive and language skills. Pretend play begins to emerge at around 1 year of age and progresses as a child imitates the adults around him. At one year of age, a teddy bear, cup, spoon, and blanket can encourage a little story, while a two year-old will enjoy pushing a fire truck into the station.

Look for toys that have a few related props for open-ended play that your child can direct. Playmobil’s 1.2.3 sets are geared for toddlers, providing simpler chunky figures that only take a twist to sit them down, or ride on an animal. The Playmobil 1.2.3. Large Zoo comes with fence sections to enclose the animals, a tractor and detachable trailer to deliver the food, and plenty of people, including mom and baby to chat on a park bench.

Doll play encourages dialogue and imagination as children care for and take their friend out on activities. Corolle‘s premier dolls, geared for age appropriate play from infant and up, has just introduced a new doll that loves the water,

Bébé Bath & Accessories.” Pack up for a snorkeling adventure in the tub, complete with floaties, flippers and a snorkel mask!

Thinkfun’s “Hello Sunshine” joins their first toddler game, “Roll ‘n Play” which was popular with toddlers and their moms last year. I am more frequently asked for toy suggestions by parents of toddlers than any other age, which might explain why these simple starter games provide more structure for parents and caregivers who appreciate some guidance on where to start their play. Hide the plush Sunshine ball according to picture cards depicting positions such as in a box or on top of your head!

Flexible, multi-use toys are my favorites as HABA’s Arranging Game My Animal Friends can be a flat puzzle of 17 interlocking, brightly colored wooden pieces or a three-dimensional story making houses, bridges, or towers while stars, a fence, bridge and grass provide the backdrop for a cat, dog, mouse, frog, ladybug, and bee to carry on with the storytelling.

WOW Fire Rescue Rory is a parent’ s dream because it has only four pieces but so much potential for creative play. The helicopter is powered by kids, pulling the trigger, activating the friction motors to fly to the rescue. A casted figure slips into the stretcher to be scooped up by Rory thanks to a magnet system. Kids love to transport the injured person and release him to a doctor’s care. The story is totally up to the child as they add on doctors, hospitals and helpers.
Finally, an excellent resource for parents is “My Toddler Talks, Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development” by Kimberly Scanlon, MA, CCC-SLP.

So come along side your toddlers and enter into her play, following her lead as she builds a town for her ladybug and bee, feeds the zoo animals, goes for a swim, searches for an injured friend, or delights in finding a little sunshine.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. The above products were provided by their companies for review.

Sherry Y. Artemenko MA, CCC-SLP, has worked with children for more than 35 years to improve their speech and language, serving as a speech language pathologist in both the public and private school systems and private practice.

Helping Clients With Aphasia Retrieve Words—On Their Own

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Eric Broder Van Dyke / Shutterstock.com

“I can’t hear it!” This was said by Mrs. A, a 67-year-old woman with aphasia, who actually hears fine. What she meant to say is that she can’t recall the sequence of sounds to express a particular word or idea. When we have that tip-of-the-tongue loss of a name, how do we try to remember it? What strategies are we using to get to that word that we can’t remember?

Our success depends on our ability to hunt and gather—and on the number of neural connections we can tap into to access the information. These skills are cognitive, not simply learned operantly.

In my last blog post, I talked about establishing cueing hierarchies and functional activities for our adult clients. This post looks at using the cueing hierarchy to stimulate the rewiring process. Sometimes I think that I am a sort of electrician rather than an SLP. I work on finding the connections based on observed behavior from evaluations or activities (like writing, gesturing or drawing) that require least intervention.

How do we develop these skills? How can we teach strategies for short and long-term functional success?

Sometimes, we spend the therapy session working on the most disabled aspects of the communication disorder: comprehension, word retrieval, writing and reading. But if we don’t tap clients’ best abilities to foster some success, and if we don’t address whether they are continuing to practice these skills outside the therapy room, how will compensatory skills, adaptive skills and new connections work for them?

Let’s look at Mrs. A, who said, “I can’t hear it.” She was telling me about the very connection that she lacks due to her aphasia: re-auditorization. She can’t hear the words or the phonemes that make up the words in what I call “her mind’s ear.” If given the first phoneme, or a carrier phrase, she almost always names the word. She is able to write the word about 75 percent of the time but can only read it aloud about 30 percent of the time. She will often be able to speak complex multisyllabic words or a short phrase when discussing a topic. Auditory and reading comprehension is 75 percent for paragraphs. She is very intact cognitively, but her affect varies emotionally from congenially engaged to depressed and angry.

She is about two years post-stroke and has an all-in-one AAC that she doesn’t use. Our goals must address her frustration by establishing immediate successful compensatory strategies for communication. Then we need to build skills that will help in the rewiring, so that she begins to cue herself. The rewiring will be difficult here because she doesn’t link the phoneme to the letters she is able to write. But if she can write the word and then read it aloud more often, she can develop a clear strategy for verbalization that will reduce her frustration.

We will begin by simply reviewing phonetic placement in monosyllabic words. I like to use real words—which have semantic value—rather than nonsense syllables. Consonant-vowels alone don’t work as well as consonant-vowel-consonants that mean something. Mrs. A started relearning that a /b/ means that the lips come together when starting a whole word like “beer.” We chose beer for the visceral, emotional connection it has for many people. We talked about when she might drink beer, such as at a baseball game, which lends itself to picture assistance to boost cognitive links. We initially used a mirror to model the placement while sitting next to her. We highlighted the first letter and said it with her. She saw the picture, then wrote the word.

Mrs. A can now produce the whole word “beer” after seeing a picture of it. Looking at the Cueing Hierarchy, we have moved from most clinician involvement to independent self-cueing for this phoneme. She is moving on to more phonemes rapidly so that we may not need to review every letter after a period of time. Mrs. A. is beginning to generalize the link to other sounds. New neuro-behavioral links and relinks are helping her associate the orthographic letter with a physical movement and the sound that is produced. New cognitive links and self-cueing has begun!

Next, she will need to use the strategy in controlled conversation and small groups to increase her comfort level and functional use outside of treatment. This is a big hurdle. Families and caregivers are crucial players and need to be instructed how to encourage communication without frustration. When possible, teach the caregivers and families how the strategy works. They will use it more readily at home and will see how it can work in a variety of situations, such as in restaurants.

Another client, Mrs. C, had a similar functional ability to write but not verbalize. With time, she was able to trace the first letter in the air to cue herself to say a word.

In both cases, skills that had been present were improved, then used to create a compensatory strategy for functional communication. We must teach our clients strategies for improving the scope of their communication without our cues, using their own strategies, thereby making them more independently functional. While available strategies are unique to each client, they usually take the form of low tech gesturing, drawing, writing, even circumlocution.

We want our clients to be learning and improving communication dynamically. If we always fill in all of the sentences or speak for them, they cannot make their own connections. When allowed to use strategies independently, they then blossom, not only communicatively but socially.

Betsy C. Schreiber, MMS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical supervisor at Ladge Speech and Hearing Clinic at LIU/Post on Long Island, and a partner at Hope 4 Speech Associates, P.C. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders, and 18, Telepractice.