Thinking About Social Thinking

Last week, I was able to attend one day of Social Thinking's conference in downtown Minneapolis with one of my co-workers. The day I attended was focused on Superflex and other ways to teach social skills. When I first started working in the public school system, I really had no idea how to treat social cognitive deficits. We  had covered the theory in grad class, but I didn't have a systematic way of targeting skills and improving behaviors in my students who qualified for ASD or pragmatic language services. I was not paid to attend this conference, but I wanted to share my thoughts on how it went.

I came out of the Social Thinking conference re-juvinate and feeling as though for the first time, I had a plan of attack for working with students to improve their social skills. So, what have I learned? Too much to share, however, I will give you my 3 point plan of attack for this year - just small steps to become a better speech language pathologist.

1) Teach social thinking vocabulary explicitly. Social vocabulary is not just teaching Superflex and the unthinkables. That's technically not even social vocabulary (what?!?!?). I've been jumping into Superflex without teaching the basic vocabulary. Social Thinking recommends teaching these concepts in order: thinking thoughts and feeling feelings, having a group plan, thinking with your eyes, body in the group, whole body listening, expected and unexpected, smart guesses, flexible vs. stuck thinking, size of the problem, and sharing an imagination. Taking it back a step, try helping your students understand what "social" means.

2) Teach how to evaluate social situations. What is the context? What is expected/unexpected? how do people feel when we do expected/unexpected? What do you get out of following espectations?
These are really the WHYS for learning social skills. Many of my students that I see for social skills group say, "I talk fine. I don't need speech." Helping them understand why they come to see me and what they get out of it is key.

3) It will take time! I can't tell you how wonderful it was to hear these words from the pros. Working in the schools, we are constantly striving for meeting standards, making progress, being proficient, and helping students learn as quickly as possible. Research and experience both support that it takes students with social cognitive deficits time to not only learn the concepts, but also to begin to implement them. It doesn't take 1 year of an IEP, but many consecutive, consistent years of carefully thought out social cognitive intervention.

Apple Critic

Yesterday in Minnesota we had 80 degree weather. Today we got up to 58 degrees. Fall is starting to hit us and I am excited. It's time to bring out the skinny jeans, boots, and scarves. Oh - and apples!
Today I went apple crazy in the therapy room. My students became apple critics!

  We started off by talking about food critics and that a synonym for critic is "judge." What a great way to expand vocabulary.

I took my lovely sharpie collection and a piece of tag board to create  our apple chart. Then I headed over to my favorite grocery store and picked up 7 different flavors of apples - well mostly apples.
My various groups of students then used their articulation or descriptive language skills to describe the apples. We talked about how the apples look, smell, what their texture is, and most importantly what it tastes like. Then I asked them to rate each apple on a scale of 1-10 and pick their favorite.

 Here are 2 students taking notes on their thoughts of each apple. It was interesting to see the different opinions and a great opportunity to encourage different thoughts and perspective taking.

Just to have more fun (and because I am an evil therapist) I threw in a pear to masquerade as an apple. Some of my older students figured it out or at least said, "it smells like a pear." Those who didn't figure it out looked confused and called it gross. I guess if you're expecting an apple and you get a pear it might be gross.

When students first started describing the apples, they began with, "it looks like an apple, it smells like an apple, it tastes like an apple. With the help of my EET beads and cues, within 20 minutes students were describing the different apples as tangy, sweet, crispy, mushy, soft, pinkish-yellow, spotted, and more! Some of my favorites from the day were that one apple smelled like a rock and another tasted like a banana. Such creative minds at work. Plus, I got to snack on healthy apples all day.
Yay fall!