Shaping Social Behaviors : Thinking vs. Talking Bubbles Part 1

When I began my new job, they introduced me to this mantra and I truly believe it:

My students are unique; having pragmatic deficits is part of who they are. It's not to say that I don't strive to, but it is unrealistic to think that I am going to "cure" a student of his social challenges altogether. What I can do is teach him to be aware; to use coping and self-monitoring skills; to advocate for himself and his own needs; to build a repertoire of social understanding that didn't exist for him before. In this way, I've found that teaching social skills is truly about a process more than a product.

Many of my students are visual, rule-oriented learners. I use this to my advantage when creating lessons on social skills and perspective-taking. I try to make each concept simple, visual, and concrete. I break down skills and teach them in small, systematic parts, shaping behaviors one step at a time rather than expecting a student to all at once abandon habits completely. I think this is where, as SLPs and other professionals working with pragmatic behavior (or problem behaviors in general, a discussion for another day), we often get tripped up. Expecting a student to extinguish a behavior completely without providing an alternative, even if just for the interim, can sometimes be a lot to ask. Instead of expecting it to NEVER HAPPEN, we can reinforce intermediate successes.

How does this apply to social skills? It's about shaping behaviors from something completely inappropriate and offensive into something that's kind of awkward/weird and then finally into something more widely accepted.

I have one student who has been struggling with making inappropriate comments. Things like telling a girl at the water park that she looks like a "fat cat on a mat" in a bathing suit. Or worse, using the n-word to describe an African American boy in the waiting room at the doctor, after hearing it on You-Tube. Yeah. Things that could get him in serious trouble, and these are just a couple of examples.

Recently, I introduced him to the concept of "Thinking Bubbles" and "Talking Bubbles." I made visuals (inspiration and materials can be found on Jill Kuzma's amazing SLP Social & Emotional Skill Sharing Site at to explain:

We did some role-playing and watched videos to practice identifying words that are okay in "talking bubbles," and the kind of words that belong in "thinking bubbles." I acted out some of the exact situations and comments that he has made in the past and he determined whether they were "expected" or "unexpected" (for more information on this idea, please refer to the work of Michelle Garcia Winner by visiting


We discussed how comments and words that are expected can go in a Talking Bubble. Comments and words that are unexpected need to stay in a Thought Bubble inside our heads. Then we talked about the problem...
...and, more importantly, what he could DO about it: positive alternative behaviors. Any of these behaviors would be preferred over having him engage in the target behavior (making rude comments). For this reason, his classroom team spent the next week reinforcing them heavily, both with verbal praise and tangible items (he is on a token economy where he earns dollars for engaging in behaviors that we'd like to see increase).
Although the team agreed that it is still weird to tell someone that you're having inappropriate thoughts, we also agreed that we would rather have him admit that than make the actual comment. Think of it like  trying to stop yourself from swearing; sometimes the need to let an exploitive out is overwhelming and it's it's easier to shape it into something else ("Ohh, shhh-ORTS!") than to hold it in entirely.

There's more, but this is a long post so I'm going to call it good for now. Although I'm still not sure about my stance on materials, I'd love to continue to nerd out on communication and share some ideas over here - leave some feedback and let me know what you think!

The Great "Freebie" Dilemma

I'm at a crossroads.

First of all, I'm not here to sell anything. I think it's fantastic that so many SLPs have found a great resource in sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers. The truth is, I don't use it. It's not that I don't like it (so many cute activities! so visually appealing!) I just haven't found it to be very applicable to my practice. For a long time, I was in early childhood, all of my therapy was push-in, and I was rarely one-on-one for longer than five minutes. Now, my setting and population are just very different from the typical TPT crowd.

Plus, I love making my own stuff.

When I initially started this blog, I thought, "I'm making all of these materials for my students and my coworkers ask me all the time if they can use them too. Why not share the things I make with everyone and maybe I can make someone else's life a little easier? Maybe I can help more kids." After all, there's nothing efficient about always reinventing the wheel. Unfortunately, it's not always that simple.

I make things that are practical and useful to me in my practice. I do it because I'm a perfectionist and I need things to be a certain way and I do it because it feeds my passion for being artistic. My brain just works that way and I realize that not everyone is so inclined. I do it because I can customize things for each of my students and I do it because they enjoy it. However, I am incredibly overwhelmed by all of the legal issues associated with sharing content, namely images. For me, purchasing clipart is just not practical. I already own Boardmaker, I'm not interested in selling my materials for profit, and eventually the cost and time adds up. My students now are mostly over thirteen, male, and on the autism spectrum. Let's be real: they're not interested in cute clipart, and it's not appropriate.

Do you see my dilemma?

This, coupled with some personal change (head back one post), is the reason that I stepped away from blogging for several months. I have so much respect for all of the SLP bloggers out there doing the TPT thing (I may not purchase, but I read regularly!) and I think I have unique ideas and knowledge to contribute. I want to keep blogging. I'm just not sure at this point whether/how I can share the materials that I make to support those ideas.

I would love to hear your thoughts. How can we help each other to help kids?

"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life."

One of the wonderful things about being a Speech-Language Pathologist is the immense breadth of our practice. We have the opportunity to serve individuals across the lifespan with a huge variety of needs and in soo many different settings. It's pretty amazing, really. It can also be incredibly intimidating - there are so many things to know! How can one person be an expert on all of it?

From the moment I chose this career path, I have maintained an unwavering interest in autism. It has shaped my education, clinical experiences, and professional expertise. I've loved every minute of it.

Exactly what I wanted within this population, however, has been hard for me to nail down in the perfect job. Did I want to do solely diagnostics? Would I reject any program that didn't do inclusion? Do I want to work directly with kids in a school or do I want something more family-centered? AAC? Behavior? Early intervention? Research? Younger kids? Older kids? The list goes on; there are pros and cons to everything.

And then there are all of the external job factors: salary and benefits (we try to pretend as though it doesn't, but let's be honest, it matters and that doesn't diminish our passion for what we do), geographic location, continuing education, the overall culture of the workplace... Is anyone else exhausted?

The good news is, I think I've finally figured it out! I am so excited about my new adventure and I've spent the past few months reading, researching, rapport-building, reigniting my passion, and immersing myself in learning as much as I can. I am so excited to share, but it will also mean a shift away from early childhood for this little blog.

Thanks for your patience while I get my bearings - stay tuned!

Lights, Camera, Idol!

If you're looking for a surefire way to get some great language out of even the most difficult kiddos, take my advice on this one: give them a microphone. This is Preschool Idol.

We're studying Fine Arts and taking the Idol stage to showcase all sorts of music and performing skills. I've heard some unique, confident, and fabulous renditions of the ABCs, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." I'm also targeting voice projection, social skills such as listening and turn-taking and giving compliments, and, for some of my little friends, just general TALKING.
We start by planning out our costumes (sequencing and describing), primping and dressing (motor and self-help skills), and choosing a talent. I created a little back-stage dressing station that includes a full-length mirror and costumes including mini sport coats and ties, tutus, masks, feather boas, and funny glasses. The action that takes place around the mirror alone is priceless.

Preschoolers explore various instruments (our repertoire includes jingle sticks, tambourines, a keyboard-turned-grand-piano, triangles, and castanets), and vocabulary practice includes labeling both the instruments and their associated actions; How does a tambourine make noise? What do you use to play a triangle?

We created our stage using large, wooden hallow blocks and I manipulated some red bulletin board paper into curtains, tied back with yellow ribbon. The "piano" is an electric keyboard (with the volume button taped into a set position) placed on top of some play kitchen furniture, turned on its side to make a bench, and covered in black paper. My coworker added a music stand and students choose their song inspiration from a basket of visuals representing familiar tunes. Post-performance includes applause and a shower of roses. And paparazzi. I just can't stop taking pictures of these little superstars.

How are you using music to inspire communication?

The Power of Words

Sometimes it's not what we say, but how we say it...