From Social Detective to CSI….

social autopsy



I work with an amazing speech language pathologist in my school system named Suzanne, and she is a master of using the Think Social and Superflex curriculum (both from Michelle Garcia Winner)  with our kids who struggle with social language!  Suzanne mentioned she is using social autopsies with many of her kids, and while it rang a bell, I wasn’t familiar with the details. It sounded kind of interesting (and a tiny bit creepy).  After plugging the term into my dear friend Google, I found out it is definitely a very cool tool to use in therapy!!  Bonus: social autopsy dovetails nicely into the social detective theme too, don’t you think?

Social skill autopsy is a concept coined by Rick Lavoie, a special educator.  This video is a great insight into why he feels social skills are critical for children (in this example, kids with LD).  We often focus on just our friends with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) when we talk about social language abilities, but the continuum is much broader.   He also wrote a fantastic book “It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend” that continues the social conversation.  His understanding of why culture is so hard for kids to navigate socially and how we as adults (teachers, parents, therapists) can support positive social interactions is extraordinary.

A social skills autopsy is founded on three ideas:  most social errors are unintentional, punishing kids for unintentional errors is not only unfair, but inappropriate, and traditional remediation is not effective.  Can I get a hallelujah?!  You may think this is not new information, but for many people it is a paradigm shift.  If we think about it, we all have probably had experiences on the other side of this equation.  The difference is that we have enough social awareness and incidental learning strategies that we didn’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.  Once was enough!

For example, many years ago, I walked into a small museum in Europe.  I grabbed my camera and took a picture with a flash to capture all the beauty, and a security guard immediately grabbed my camera and made me leave the museum, yelling at me in French.  I did not understand (because I sadly don’t read or speak French) that flash photography is forbidden as it damages the paintings.  My error was unintentional and I was upset and confused as to what had happened.  I might do the same thing again in another museum if my social awareness was not intact enough to figure out what I had done wrong.  I might also incorrectly assume that all French museum guards are rude and angry people.   Was it my intention to do the wrong thing and upset people?  No, and for most of our students it isn’t their intention either.

Dr. Lavoie goes on to describe the intervention strategy in four steps:  practice, immediate feedback, instruction and positive reinforcement.  There is a fantastic article from LD online that gives details and examples of this technique.  I found a few free printables that you can use in therapy with your students for social skill autopsies from   here  from Dr. Christine Reeve.   Dr. Reeve has a fantastic blog geared to the autism classroom that is full of great ideas btw, just search “social autopsy”.

Have you used social skill autopsies?  Share your experience here!



The Broke SLP

broke slpWell, it’s January and by now all the school funds for materials or mini-grants are like my Christmas decorations, gone for another year.  However, we have a whole five months of school to go and the winter blahs are upon us.  Gray, dreary days mean it’s time to shake up our lesson plans as both the kids and the therapists get a bit squirrelly (especially when there is no outdoor recess for a week *shudder*).  What to do when the all your shelves hold are the same old, same old staring back at you and even the treasure box is running low on fun?

My wonderful CFs (clinical fellows-first year speech language therapists that I supervise) always inspire me with their creativity!  No one knows better how to stretch a dollar then a new grad.  I watched a lot of great therapy this week with my genius SLP newbies and wanted to share some free ideas to brighten up your therapy.  I am happily surprised when they grab onto the concepts of Social Thinking (Michelle Garcia Winner) for their students with social communication impairments.  This is a paradigm shift for most new grads (I still don’t understand why this is not included coursework in the communication disorders programs, but that is a topic for another day) and most have taken the information and run with it!   One activity I saw was the use of “expected/unexpected” visuals and videos to talk about perceptions and behaviors.  You can download the free therapy ideas with visuals here or from this great website here .

You can extend the ideas using these free printables for jigsaw puzzle pieces   (great for cause/effect activities or contrasting unexpected/expected behaviors) or making your own free game boards with social scenario questions (or using videos) here and here .  One more great free social activity packet for you has visuals, video links and great descriptions to use, making it a Slam Dunk.

Are you sensing a pattern here?  Free falls right into the sweet spot of our budget-woohoo!

Last but not least, if you have older students or just really want some great insight into our students with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), check out  .  Youtube has many videos by Alex that are worth a few minutes to watch! This is a treasure trove of ideas and understanding of the social world from the point of view of people who have social language impairments.  Alex Plank and friends delve into great discussions about dating, work, and what it means to be a person with ASD.  It offers great talking points (and ideas that can work into therapy) for our students in middle, high school and beyond.

What are your favorite freebies for social language therapy?  Don’t be shy, share them here!


How wild is too wild???



Well, New Year’s has come and gone but wild times are still here, just ask any teacher the first week back to school!  Looking for a social language activity on matching our behavior to our environments?  You have come to the right place!  “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild”, by Peter Brown, is a great book to start your lesson.  This story follows the theme, “There is a time and place for everything-even going wild.”   But how wild is too wild?

This is a hard concept, particularly for our younger kids with sensory issues.  Their engines rev up way too high or too quickly and it’s difficult for them to calm back down.  For our older students, sometimes the function of their “wildness” is attention, so we need to be cautious that we don’t feed that monster :-)  The book tells a lovely story about a tiger who is tired of being proper and wants to revert to his wild, non-clothes-wearing, roaring on all four paws behavior.  His very proper friends are upset by this change and the story goes on to tell of how they all compromise to feel free to be themselves (within reason).

I have created 9 cut apart cards with 12 social language questions to delve into MGW’s social thinking concepts such as expected/unexpected behaviors, rules that change depending on the setting and considering the feelings of those around us.  I also made a printable mini-poster for students to ask questions regarding people, place and timing for being “wild”.  You can find them both here at TPT.

It would be a wonderful companion lesson to create a calm down kit for younger kids to use after a wild time- it could include a weighted vest, a special spot in the room to calm down, breathing techniques, fidgets or squishy toys, a cup to get a drink of water or some soft music to listen to, for a few minutes.  This is a good example from Pinterest or this one .   Talk to your amazing OT friends and get their suggestions too (particularly if the students are using the program, How Does Your Engine Run?).

And last but not least, don’t forget to define what WILD looks like- it can mean vastly different things to different people!!  That might be a fun art project to draw or cut pictures out from magazines to show what the concept of wild means to each student.  You could cut out tiger shaped masks and glue/draw the pictures on them for your younger students or brainstorm ideas with your older kids.

This cute video clip can help illustrate it too and lead to a great discussion on when it’s okay to be wild, and when it’s not. Here’s to having a time and place for everything, even being wild!

Happy New Year Beasties!



Oh Christmas break, how I love you!! I had the luxury of catching up on some movies (and some sleep) that I missed this year including Maleficent, the retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  It is told from the point of view of the “evil” queen, Maleficent, who cast a curse on poor Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty or Brier-Rose).  Of course it includes the tried and true plot point of killing off the mom, but it completely flipped the Disney version I watched as a child.  It offers a great starting place to talk about point of view and perspective taking with my older students.

I would start the lesson by talking about the Grimm story and any background knowledge that my students have. If they have seen this movie, what were their thoughts?  It would offer a great opportunity to compare and contrast (hello common core) the Disney animated version or the Grimm fairy tale with Maleficent or even the different versions of the evil queen (Aurora remains fairly consistent throughout the stories).

The lesson can continue with making inferences about the characters from movie clips such as this one with this one .  I would talk about the change in mood, tone, the music, and the characters appearances as clues to make smart guesses about inferences and predictions.  You can even compare the point of view of Aurora’s character before and after she understands who Maleficent is  ( here and here ) using my free POV graphic organizer from TPT.

For older students (middle school on up), it would open up an interesting discussion on the concepts of good/evil and the motivations behind the character’s choices (for example, the king’s treatment of Maleficent).  It is often the perspective of students with ASD that people and choices are “black and white”, but this movie really looks at the gray areas well, that people can struggle with good and evil.   I might also include talking about my favorite fairy tale cliché’, that love conquers all, and how there are many different kinds of love(for example:true love’s kiss can be a prince vs. a mother’s love).

So there you go Beasties, a social language lesson plan to start the New Year!



Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.

do for one

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone” is one of my favorite quotes from Andy Stanley, my church pastor.  The message was delivered during a series on community service, but it’s just as apt for the students we serve.  Working with students with social communication disorders can be time-consuming and frustrating, as therapists and teachers.  To watch your student fall into the same emotional minefield even after reading social stories, making visuals, implementing behavior reinforcement systems in the classroom and working on multiple sessions of practice, can be disheartening to say the least.  My heart hurts for them as they are often their own worst enemy.

I had the chance to set up a social communication program for a fifth grade student who was struggling socially and academically, because they could not work with their peers at all and constantly argued with their teachers.  The student could, outside of the moment, tell me exactly what he should have done or said, but just couldn’t translate it into real-time.   The emotionality of the situation seemed to erase all of the strategies we had been working on over the year.   He was tired and frustrated, as were his teachers, peers and parents.  We had a session that ended up being just he and I after a particularly difficult week.  “I know what I need to do, I just can’t make my brain do it.  I know everyone is always mad at me.  I don’t want to be this way,  I just don’t know how to change.  Are you going to kick me out of speech?”

My eyes filled with tears, but I pulled it together before reassuring him that no, of course I wouldn’t kick him out of speech.   I was there for him, and we would just keep working on ways for him to learn to survive (and even flourish) in a confusing social world.  Did he magically become a social whiz that year?  No, but he did make a friend who had lunch with him and hung out on the playground.  I count that as huge success.  I still get emails from his mom once in a while letting me know how he is doing.

I see more and more students struggling with the impact of social communication impairments.  Our society is affected by isolating technology and unbelievable social pressure, a combination that is wreaking havoc with our kids.  My heart is absolutely drawn to those who don’t quite fit in and those that stand out.  As SLPs, our fatal flaw is that we want to fix all of the kids we work with, every last one.  It’s one of our best and most frustrating qualities, but it’s not realistic.   What I can do is work my hardest for those I can reach, and do for one what I wish I could do for everyone.

To the cloud (no, not that one)…

I ran across a cute idea on Pinterest the other day for a baby gift.  It involved Wordle and it got me thinking about how I could use a variation in therapy with my students.  Wordle is a program that allows you to pick all kinds of words and generate a visual representation, a cloud, using them:

character wordle

The Pinterest version took it a step further, shaping the words into images using another website, tagxedo.   Here is an example of one done of MLK;

mlk tagxedo

Pretty cool right?  So how can you incorporate these fun web tools into therapy?  I am glad you asked!  Here are a few ideas:

  • Create visual word clouds to describe a character from a story and have the students try to guess who it is.  You can use the tagxedo site to put the words into a clue form (example:  a horse for Black Beauty ).  This is an opportunity to talk about character traits as well as how people are perceived by how they act.
  • Have the students create word clouds/images of themselves and work through those perceptions (and misperceptions) of how we want others to think about us.  This would be a nice activity to pair with Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking lessons on perspective and inferences.
  • Have other students offer some positive character traits they see in their classmates, create some wordles and post these in the room.
  • Allow students to create wordles with important details they want others to know about themselves.  For example, likes, dislikes, siblings, where they were born, pets…   Use these in a game to pair with Michelle Garcia Winner’s lesson on building people files.  This activity focuses on learning about other people in order to ask questions and build commonality in conversation (instead of only talking about our interests)!
  • For our kids who perseverate on a topic, and might only include words related to, hmmm, Minecraft, I would let them go ahead and make that wordle.   Then have them look at other examples that include many interests. This could open up a discussion about how when we only talk about one thing, that limits conversation and can be a little boring to other people.  Visuals are powerful!

I hope you found a little inspiration today!  I’d love to hear your ideas on incorporating word clouds into therapy too.

The Truth Hurts.



I have had several students whose problem is being honest. The problem itself isn’t honesty, it’s the degree, timing and audience of that honesty that gets them into trouble. We have set ourselves up a bit with reinforcing gems such as “honesty is the best policy” and “always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. For our students with ASD who can see rules such as these as black and white, truth can become problematic. To make this concept a little trickier, the world of social media that we live in seems to market the misconception that we have to put it all out there.  I often read blogs that state a brutal “truth” and then try to soften it with , “I’m not saying, I’m just saying…”.  The southern version of this is to make a blunt comment and follow it with “Bless their heart.”

I have worked with several high school students (all boys btw) who regularly got into trouble with their teachers and peers for their unfiltered truths. They would protest after seriously insulting a classmate’s choice of clothing or publicly questioning their teacher’s IQ with ,”I’m just being honest.” Therein lies the problem.  So how do we address this topic? We want to support the idea that honesty is a positive characteristic in people and one that is desirable in a healthy society. But we also need to do is talk about the degree of honesty in relation to other people’s feelings. Being honest does not mean you say everything that you think, and a social filter is critical when you live in community with others. We also need to consider if the timing is right to comment, what our relationship is to the people around us (friends, family, teachers, strangers), and if we were asked to offer our opinion or not.

As an example, I remember working with a very, very bright young man with ASD, who received an F on his paper about his personal views on religion. In our conversation, I asked if he had followed the rubric and had talked with the teacher after receiving the grade to figure out why he had failed. He responded that of course he followed the “rubric so ridiculous that even a simple-minded monkey could do it!” He then went on to say that he spoke to his teacher. “I told her she was obviously too old and stupid to understand what I was saying”,he fumed.   He perceived that was the reason why he received a F. Oh boy.

We worked the next few sessions on talking about his perception of the situation and how his teacher may have perceived his comments using a point of view organizer. It hadn’t dawned on him that he may have hurt her feelings (and that his assumption had been completely wrong). When I brought up this possibility, he responded with, “But I thought it was true. I was just being honest.” It took a few weeks to get him to even consider that there were other options, more effective options, that he could try next time that may actually benefit him. We continued to work through different social scenarios to practice these skills and while it wasn’t automatic with him, he could at least consider the impact of his words and begin to modify some of the negative behaviors.

I have created this TPT visual (which would make a great classroom poster!)  to talk about being truthful here