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

A Turkey’s Point of View…

Scared Turkey with Sign

Thanksgiving is almost upon us and the kiddos are getting a bit squirrelly in the schools as we head into the last week before a break.  To be honest, the adults are too.  In looking at books that could align with the core and relate to the Thanksgiving (both factually and fictionally), I came across several great ones to use in speech this week including Pete the Cat The First Thanksgiving ,  Bear Says Thanksand Turkey for Dinner .     The last book, Turkey for Dinner, by D.R. Greenlaw is an older book but a fantastic story that lends itself well to perspective taking, misperceptions, double meanings and point of view, all in a beautifully illustrated story.  The publisher even has the free, readable story on their website here .

I created a complete 7 page lower and higher level lesson plan to align with the story for you to use with your students at TPT, but here is the FREE higher order question activity for the story.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Vocabulary to review prior to reading the story:  chilly, shimmering, spooky, warily, horrid, vegetarian, speechless

Look at the story using only the pictures and see if you can guess what might happen BEFORE you read (and write down your predictions to see if you are right).

Don’t forget you can use the pictures again to help you make smart guesses when you answer the questions below:

1.  Why do you think the berry bushes were safer for the turkey than an open field?

2. Turkey wasn’t paying attention to where he was going.  Why do you think he was nervous when fox talked to him?

3. What do think fox is thinking when he says, “Care to join me for dinner?”

4.  What do you think turkey was thinking?

5.  Is there more than one meaning to the statement “Wait, I want you for dinner!” ?

6.  Why did turkey tell fox to eat a cow?  How do think the cow felt?

7.  When turkey and fox ran to the top of the mountain, and were tired and cold:

a.  what was turkey thinking?

b.  what was fox thinking?

c.  Do the fox and the turkey know what the other is thinking and feeling?

8.  How did the fox and turkey clear up their misunderstanding?

9.  Why are they eating salad?

10.  What could fox have done differently to invite turkey to dinner at the beginning of the story?


Aligns to common core standards:




5th: ELACC5RL6

Do You Really Approve This Message?


While I appreciate (and did) my civic duty to vote this week, I am relieved that the never-ending political ads are gone!! But a spark of mad genius entered my mind when I thought about how these divisive campaign commercials could be a great learning tool for the concept of persuasive speech for my older students, formerly known as Aspergians, with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Social Communication Disorder (SCD). Even if you turn off the sound (yes, please!), it’s a great way to look at body language and non-verbal intent as well (particularly with campaign debates). These activities align with several areas of common core for the reading/literacy/language arts strand through middle and high school,(**see list at the bottom of this blogBONUS! You could develop a lesson plan over several sessions to dig deep into these skills and it would be a great in class collaboration lesson if you have a teacher open to it! I might consider using this lesson during student council elections and during the next season of Presidential elections, which will be here before we know it! So how do we begin? You can choose any of the recent commercials such as these, or look up local candidates ads on YouTube (PLEASE preview first): (Gov. Deal) (Michelle Nunn/ David Perdue) (David Perdue/Michelle Nunn) (Jason Carter)

This is a great 3 minute synopsis of comparing campaign ads and the implications of what each commercial is trying to “sell” by an Emory University Poli-Sci professor. I might show this as an example of what we are going to talk about. You can then start your lesson by viewing one commercial and asking the students what they thought the main point of the commercial was. Next, show an opposing candidates commercial and ask the same question. This often leads to a great opportunity to talk about POV (find my free point of view template here), perspective taking and persuasion. This is NOT the time to put your political two cents in the lesson, so be Switzerland and remain neutral!

The next step is to formulate some questions together (using the white board or smartboard is great for this):

1. What is the candidate’s platform (education, political reform, gun control)?

2. What is their opinion of the topic? How are they trying to persuade the listener they are right?

3. Who is the audience the candidate is trying to persuade?

4. What evidence are they giving to support their position?

5. Is it true? How could you check the facts? Should you accept what a commercial says at face value?

6. What bias does the candidate say their opponent has? (sexism, racism, and ageism were all biases discussed during this election)

7. Is it important to discuss the opponent’s point of view or offer a rebuttal? Does it impact the audience?

8. What is the tone of the advertisement? Combative or collaborative?

9. Do you think the commercials were effective considering the outcome of the election?

You can then break the students into smaller collaborative groups (with supervision) and let them walk through the steps above with an opposing candidate. It should generate some good discussions and opportunities to work through misperceptions that may pop up!

** aligns to the common core (Georgia) for English/Language Arts:

7 th grade:

ELACC7SL3: Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

8th grade:

ELACC8W1: a.Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.a. Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.b. Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.d. Establish and maintain a formal style.e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

9-10th grade

ELACC9-10SL1: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions(one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. a. Come to discussions prepared having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas. b. Work with peers to set rules for collegiate discussions and decision-making (e.g., informal consensus, taking votes on key issues, presentation of alternate views), clear goals and deadlines, and individual roles as needed. c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions. d. Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.

ELACC9-10SL2: Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually).

ELACC9-10SL3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.

11-12th grade:

ELACC11-12SL4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range or formal and informal tasks.

ELACC11-12SL5: Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

The holidays are coming, the holidays are coming!

holiday plan

Well Halloween has come and gone, and the stores are filled with Christmas trees and winter holiday paraphernalia galore!  It gives me some anxiety frankly to feel the holidays breathing down my neck (and I know, it comes the same time each year).  It got me thinking about how my students feel during the holidays and that what is supposed to be a fun and memorable time, can be filled with dread and worry over the changes that accompany the season.  A speechie friend of mine just returned from a Tony Attwood conference and she explained that he focused a lot on the anxiety that people with ASD feel and how to manage it.  So after mulling over the concerns some of my students have shared about travel, relatives and schedule changes, I created this one page holiday planner here .  The planner divides questions into four sections: places, people, schedules and strategies.  It also includes a short social story at the top of the page to go along with the questions.  It can’t guarantee a fabulous holiday experience, but it may be helpful in reducing anxiety for the student and their family. That may be one of the best presents of all!

The Goldilocks Principle

GoldilocksI had the rare opportunity last week to actually sit down and eat lunch with two of my favorite SLPs I work with, and we problem solved about different communication challenges that our students are struggling with (we SLPs know how to have a good time, don’t we?!).  One topic that seems to come up over and over again is helping students (and sometimes adults) find a balance in conversation between too much information and too little information.  You know, the kinds of conversation when you ask an innocent question and the person goes on and on for ten minutes telling you EVERYTHING they know about that topic?  Or how about the sound of crickets chirping when you ask another person the same question, and you get a one word response? How can we help them find the right amount of information to share-not too much, not too little, just right?

This is a pretty high level skill, so make sure you are addressing the foundational pieces first:

  • how to read non-verbal clues (facial expression, body language)
  • asking a question versus making a comment
  • turn taking in conversation
  • judging the right time to ask or respond to questions
  • tone of voice
  • context (does the other person know what I am talking about?  Do I need to give them some clues?)
  • asking for clarification if you don’t understand what the person is asking you
  • orienting my body towards the listener/speaker and looking at them to monitor their responses

I created this free visual on TeachersPayTeachers to help your students here: how much information is enough?  It’s in a PDF format, so you can print it without using Boardmaker.  It would make a fantastic poster for a classroom or to use as a visual to create a lesson for your students!  This is not just a special education or ASD issue by the way, conversational competency is critical for ALL of our students and strong oral communication is a life skill.

What have you tried when teaching students to gauge how much is enough?

How to be a tightrope walker.



Have you ever watched someone walk a tightrope at a circus or on TV, like Nick Wallenda’s Grand Canyon adventure?   It is a tedious, breath holding process to behold!!  This image came to mind when watching a young lady with ASD navigate the treacherous waters of having a conversation with a new classmate.  She wants to have friends and has been working very,very hard at figuring out all the moving parts to a conversation, both verbal and non-verbal.  I imagine the practice and dissection of conversational skills in speech therapy is like working with a net when you first learn to walk on a tightrope.  You wobble and try to correct missteps, but have the comfort of knowing that if you fall, you are safe. Something (or someone) is there to catch you and help you try again.  But conversations with peers on your own?  That is like walking the Grand Canyon without a net.

For students who do not have social language impairments, they almost effortlessly glide across the conversational ropes, maintaining topics, eye contact, body proximity, tone of voice and humor without even thinking about it.  They learned these skills incidentally and don’t have to think about the moving parts of talking to people and making friends. That’s not to say that these students don’t make mistakes, we all do!  The difference is they can learn and apply these subtle social rules in the moment.  This particular young lady I mentioned has tried to make new friends before.  Her first attempt started with “I know you are new here, but I just want to tell you, you don’t want to make me mad.  I can get very, very mad.”   The new student just stared back at her, not really knowing what to say.

In talking with the young lady later, her thought process was preventative; if I tell a new friend that I can get mad, I am doing them a favor!  Then they will know how to act around me and we will get along great!  She did not recognize that she was being perceived as threatening and sending signals that she is probably not someone you would want to hang around with.  For younger students, I love the book You Will Be My Friend  by Peter Brown.  It offers a good conversation about how the main character wants friends, and the many wrong ways she tries to find one (spoiler:there’s a happy ending).  I have created a lesson to go along with the book here.  For older students, video clips are great examples of friendships.  I love Ned’s Declassified from Nickelodeon.  Here’s a link to an episode on what makes a good/bad friend.  It’s about 12 minutes long, so view it and mark different sections to use.  You can develop a whole month’s lesson plan from this one show!

It’s important to remember that friendship is a high level skill.  We have to focus on breaking down all the conversational pieces needed to succeed and teach them systematically, prior to attempting free range social interactions.  To use the tightrope analogy again, you walk a short rope, low to the ground when you start, not a mile long rope across two skyscrapers on a windy day!  I happened to run into the young lady this week that I mentioned earlier.  She and I had a short conversation in the hallway and she checked in visually with me, demonstrated some new turn taking skills,  and monitored her affect, tone of voice and volume beautifully!  She is still working on maintaining topic (she turned the conversation towards Minecraft, her favorite) but she didn’t fall off the rope, just wobbled a bit.  She is figuring out how to navigate the social world, one step at a time.

That’s not my job…or is it?

Tip of the Iceberg


Speech therapists have worn many hats over the years in a school setting.   It always amazes me when someone finds out the scope of our practice includes language, syntax, AT, phonological awareness, listening comprehension, oral expression, executive function, social communication AND articulation.  They usually respond, “I thought you just taught kids to say /s/ and play games.”  Ouch.  That being said, we need to do a better job integrating our services into the school environment beyond our speech closets classrooms.  Not to toot our own horn, but to demonstrate to our colleagues how we can partner with our teachers and support staff, ultimately benefiting our students.  I talked about this with connecting language and literacy in all academic settings here .

Working with students who have social language impairments is a brave new world for many slps and teachers.   Often times we focus on the behavior issues and not the underlying reasons/deficits that may be causing them,  because the behavior is the what the teacher sees as the most pressing concern in the moment. However, the behavior is really only the tip of the iceberg.  The TEACCH model out of UNC gives a great example of this visual here:


What is often happening is once a team figures out what else might be going on with a student, or the family shares a medical diagnosis such as ADD or ASD, the next question is who is going to address these deficit areas?   Speech language therapists (SLPS) are often the first line of therapeutic intervention, and as a whole, we often take on more than we should.  We need to also consider that while the student may have a medical diagnosis, in the school setting we need to carefully and thoroughly evaluate the child as a team and determine if their diagnosis is impacting them socially and/or academically.  This is not always the case, so it shouldn’t be assumed that a diagnosis=eligibility for services. The medical/private model does not have the eligibility paradigms present in school. This is often a cause of frustration for parents and the team needs to be sensitive to them and have open dialogue with families to address these concerns.  Everyone needs to be working towards the best outcome for the student.

With social language impairments (and the behaviors that often are embedded), the SLP is a critical team member, but not the whole team. If a student does need support with social communication skills, they need to be taught, practiced and generalized beyond the walls of the speech room.  A one on one therapy session with an adult is not a natural social language environment.  For many kids who have been in therapy since they could walk, they figure out that adults will modify their own behaviors and language around the child’s deficits.  Peers don’t do this.

A good social language plan for most students (not all) with social language impairments is a combination of learning strategies, developing self monitoring tools and then having opportunities to practice these skills with their peers.  The team to support the student includes teachers, peers, SLPs, OTs, administration in the schools, counselors, and families.   It’s great if a student can talk about what they should do in a socially challenging moment within a speech therapy session, however, if they cannot try it and apply it in real-time with their classmates, it isn’t really that beneficial.  It’s only the tip of the iceberg.