Social Communication

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IMG_0285Social communication helps people to have conversations, get along with peers, have good relationships and succeed at work. Social communication can be difficult for people diagnosed with Social Communication Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Delay, or Non-verbal Learning Disability. Some people have no diagnosis, but come across as shy, awkward, or even rude. They may start a conversation in an unusual way, such as “What colour is your car?” They may talk a lot but only about a subject that interests them. They may have difficulty looking at people when they are talking. Or they may just walk away abruptly at the end of a conversation.

Social communication skills come naturally to most people. If they don’t come naturally, they can be taught! It helps to teach the skills directly with visual support, followed by an in-person or video demonstration. Practicing the skill is key to being able to use it in day-to-day life. Group programs give the opportunity to learn with peers, to have fun, and to get lots of practice. Volunteers add to the fun and provide even more opportunities for practice.

I love running our Connect & Communicate groups for children, teens and adults to work on social communication! I also see clients individually to work on social language.
Call us today at 204-231-2165 to find out more!

Books about Autism Spectrum Disorders

Books about Autism Spectrum Disorders by people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet
Painted Words and Paper Words by Judy Endow
Parallel Play by Tim Page
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Thinking in Pictures and The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin
Nobody Nowhere and Somebody Somewhere by Donna Williams
Aspergirls by Rudy Simone

Books about Autism Spectrum Disorders
Uniquely Human by Barry Prizant
Autistic Logistics by Kate C. Wilde
The Autism Acceptance Book: Being a Friend to Someone with Autism by Ellen Sabin
Alone Together: Making an Asperger Marriage Work by Katrin Bentley

Books to Help You Help People With Autism Spectrum Disorder
More Than Words by Fern Sussman of the Hanen Centre
Talkability by Fern Sussaman of the Hanen Centre
Asperger’s Syndrome and The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood
Asperger’s and Girls by Tony Attwood, Temple Grandin, et al.
Comic Strip Conversations and The New Social Story Book by Carol Gray
Just Give Him the Whale by Paula Kluth & Patrick Schwarz
The Incredible 5-Point Scale by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis
Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety by Nick Dubin
Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments by Brenda Smith Myles and Jack Southwark
Social Skills Success for Students with Autism/Asperger’s by Fred Frankel and Jeffrey Wood
Visual Techniques for Developing Social Skills by Rebecca Moyes
The Hidden Curriculum by Brenda Smith Myles
The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job by Brenda Smith Myles, Judy Endow and Malcolm Mayfield
The Social Success Workbook for Teens by Barbara Cooper and Nancy Windows
Floortime Strategies to Promote Development in Children and Teens: A User’s Guide to the DIR(R) Model by Andrea Davis, Lhahela Isaacson and Michelle Harrell
Movie Time Social Learning by Anna Vagin

Children’s Books about Autism Spectrum Disorders
Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap by Clay Morton & Gail Morton

Halloween and Autism

Halloween can be tricky for trick-or-treaters with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and related conditions. It is outside of the normal routine, and there are lots of surprises. They may have difficulty knowing what behaviour is expected at Halloween. They may also have such rigid expectations that when someone acts a bit differently (giving out toothbrushes instead of candy, or asking them to sing a song), they may not know what to do. They may have difficulty communicating with a wide range of people. Children with ASD often have sensory issues which make wearing a costume difficult. However, with some planning and understanding, Halloween can be less tricky and more of a treat for everyone.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

Prepare your child for what will happen. Carol Gray’s social stories can help. Here is a blog post from Speech and Language Kids about how to create a social story for Halloween, with a sample story that you can modify for your child.

Talk to your child about expected behaviour. Look at books about Halloween and talk about what kids are expected to do, and what we expect adults to do.

Practice the language that you want them to use at Halloween. If they can talk, practice yelling “Trick or treat” and saying “Hello” and “Thank you.” If they are non-speaking, think about how they will communicate when they go door-to-door. Do you need to program a few phrases into their communication device, especially for Halloween? Would it help to have a little card to hand people that says “I can’t talk but I wanted to say ‘thank you'”? You can also find business cards that explain ASD here. This can help children even if they usually can talk to people, since they may find it more difficult to talk in such a stressful and novel situation!

Consider trick-or-treating at the mall or only at a few people’s houses. You can talk to people beforehand about your child’s needs and about how to make them feel comfortable. You can do this individually, or consider putting flyers in your neighbours’ mailboxes with a photo of your child and what will help them have a successful and joyful Halloween.

You could even stay home and trick-or-treat at home – you could pretend each room in the house is a different house and pass treats out. That way they can practice knocking on the door, saying “Trick or treat!” and being polite, but in the comfort of their own home with familiar people! (Thanks to Amy Lorraine Davidson for the home trick-or-treat suggestion!)

Another option is to stay home and hand out treats to kids who come to the door. What a great opportunity to practice greetings, compliments, and sharing. That could be an especially good option for children who need more predictability and control or who have trouble going up and down all those steps.

Let your child wear a costume that is comfortable for them. This may take some creativity! Some children do better with makeup, others with decorations stuck to their regular clothes.

Consider having a couple of practice runs before Halloween, too – where your child puts on a costume and goes to one or two friends’ houses. This will help prepare your child and may also make it more apparent what is likely to cause difficulties at Halloween.

As your children grow more independent, make sure that they know how to be safe. Here are Manitoba Public Insurance’s road safety rules:

  • Look all ways for traffic before crossing the street.
  • Never cross between parked cars.
  • Always walk – never run – across the street.
  • Take care when crossing at traffic signs and stop signs. Pedestrians should wait for approaching vehicles to come to a complete stop and wait for drivers to see them.
  • Remember that cars cannot stop quickly in wet or icy conditions.

They also ask parents to be cautious of masks that may obscure a child’s vision and of dark costumes that may be difficult for drivers to see. Walk with your kids or have them travel in groups. (letter from MPI to Manitoba parents, 2015)

Happy Halloween from all of us at SpeechWorks Inc! We provide a variety of services for children and adults with ASD and their caregivers, including our Connect & Communicate groups for children and teens who have difficulty getting along with peers, individual therapy, and workshops for parents and professionals. Please contact us at 204-231-2165 or speechworks_inc@live.ca to discuss our services.

 

Voices from the Spectrum

Temple Grandin

Judy Endow

John Elder Robinson 

Sophie Webster

Amy Sequenzia

Ally Grace

Autism Women’s Network

Books by people on the spectrum:

Born on a Blue Day – Daniel Tammet

Painted Words – Judy Endow

Parallel Play – Tim Page

The Reason I Jump – Naoki Higashida

Thinking In Pictures – Temple Grandin

SLP and ASD: a FaceBook conversation about what Speech-Language Pathologists do

Parent I’m curious about what speech pathology has to do with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Do many children with ASD have speech difficulties?

Stephanie Harvey Children with ASD have a broad range of communication abilities, ranging from having subtle social language difficulties to being non-verbal. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) treat all communication disorders. Most of my work with kids with ASD involves working with social language difficulties. These include skills such as starting, continuing and ending a conversation, knowing how to play with other children, paying attention to other people, and expressing emotions. The ideal way to target social language is in a group setting, with lots of opportunities to practice with different people. I run groups for little kids (5-8), kids (8-12), and teens (12-16), and even an all-girls’ group. Most are run in conjunction with an occupational therapist (OT), Jen Fisher. As an SLP, I focus on communication skills. With an OT involved, we can also target thinking flexibly, self-advocacy, sensory integration, emotional regulation, self-awareness and independence. I love doing the group intervention. I want to start one for young adults (18-21) and a francophone group next. I do also work individually with children who have very little speech, and children who have delayed speech or language.

Parent Who knew all that was involved in speech therapy!!? Thanks for all the info, Stephanie! I’d love to know when you have a group for young adults! The poster reminds me of Michelle Garcia Winner. My son and I were at her recent conference and both really liked her. Are you familiar with her work? She was SO spot-on!

Stephanie Harvey Yes, we integrate social thinking into our groups. I love Michelle Garcia Winner, too. I attended her conference – and bought a pile of books there! Jen and I both have years of experience, so we integrate different treatment approaches into our work, depending on the needs of the participants. Our groups for little kids are more active – it’s amazing how many skills can be targeted with an obstacle course! Our groups for teens have more discussion and practice having conversations.

Parent It sounds like you love your work.

Stephanie Harvey Yes, I do!

Help Children to Organize Their Language

We can help children to organize their language, whether written or oral. Many of these suggestions are particularly helpful for condensing language when the child uses lots of extra words and sentences.

1. Graphic organizers – let her use a visual template to help organize her ideas before writing them down. This can be used for oral language too. There are lots of good ones in Success for all Learners, which is available from Manitoba Education and Training, or you can make your own.

2. Provide examples before asking her to do her own work.

3. Repeat – if she is talking and uses a lot of words to say something simple, repeat it back in as few words as possible. This will model of more succinct language and will encourage her to organize her ideas more concisely.

4. Use the same questions to do the same kinds of activities. For example, you can ask her to describe her day:

  • What happened first?
  • What happened next?
  • And then?
  • What happened last?

or to describe an activity:

  • Who were you with?
  • Where were you?
  • What did you do?
  • What was the best thing about it?
  • What was the worst thing about it?

Using the same set of questions over and over will help her to organize her language.

5. Practice being brief – ask her to write something, but set a limit on the number of words or sentences.

6. Barrier games are great for teaching more organized language. To do a barrier game, supply two sets of material. In partners, each person tries to make the same thing without seeing what the other person is doing. For example, both draw the same thing or colour a picture the same way. A barrier between the partners stops them from seeing each other’s drawing, and forces them to use words to describe the drawing to the other person.

Transitioning With ASDs

I saw a really sweet little girl with autism today. We had a great time playing with this ball. Her mom had the brilliant idea to take a photo of the ball so that when they come back, she can show her the photo. Then she’ll remember the fun we had, and want to come back. This is a great example of using visual supports for children with autism, and also of transitioning towards the next activity instead of emphasizing stopping the current activity.

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.

Speaking Spontaneously

I see a number of children who can talk, but they repeat what they have heard other people say. This is called echolalia. Here are a few things that you can do to help a child who echos but doesn’t speak spontaneously:

  • Break apart the chunks – if they repeat a sentence often, say different parts of it back to them. If they say “Have some milk,” you can say “Milk. Mmm, milk is good. I want some milk. I’ll have some milk now.”
  • Accept any communication – gestures, sounds, echolalia. Pay close attention to what your child is telling you. Respond to their message. At the same time, model how to say it in words.
  • Say things as you would like your child to say them. This teaches your child to communicate in a way that other people understand.
  • Model language that is a bit more advanced than your child’s spontaneous communication. If they only echo, and don’t have any spontaneous phrases or sentences, model 1 – 3 word phrases.
  • Spend lots of time interacting with your child.
  • Do the same thing your child is doing, and talk about it.
  • Play the same game several times, and then stop part way through. This encourages your child to communicate that they want you to continue.
  • Put some preferred objects out of reach, or in clear but in tough-to-open containers. This encourages requests.
  • Make funny or interesting changes to your child’s surroundings. Wear a funny hat or put a shoe on the table. This encourages comments.
  • Work on lots of different reasons for communicating: to keep a game going, to refuse, to ask for more, to request an action, to request an object.

In the past, people discouraged children from echoing, but now we know that it can lead to spontaneous language. Encourage all speech!

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.

When you don’t understand a child’s speech

Some children are so difficult to understand that even their parents have trouble understanding them. They may ask “What can I do when I don’t understand my child’s speech?”

It may help to ask your child to repeat what they said. You can say “I didn’t understand. Tell me again, please.” This gives you another chance to hear the message. If you understood part of it the first time, you can repeat the part that you understood to your child and pause for them to continue. If you did not understand a single word the first time, you can still ask for a repetition. Watch your child carefully to catch any gestures or facial expressions that may give you clues to help figure out what they mean. If you still do not understand, ask your child to show you. They can take you to something to support their communication, or draw or gesture part of the message to help you understand. Having pictures of some of the things your child often talks about may also help.

Some children have unusual ways of making themselves understood. One little boy I know cannot name some objects, but he can say all of his colours. His parents encourage him to tell them the colour of the object he is asking for! Encourage your child to use whatever they can to tell you their message. Tell other people they spend time with what works for them. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a chart saying what the child says or does, what it means, and how you should respond to it.

Once you do understand, always repeat the message slowly and clearly, so that they hear the correct way of saying it. Don’t ask children to repeat your correction – just model it for them to hear. Most children find it frustrating to be constantly asked to repeat.

It is important for children to have lots of success communicating. It may be helpful to play with toys selected to make what they say more obvious. For example, puzzles with one picture per piece make it easier to figure out what a child is saying. Songs, nursery rhymes and simple books can also provide a chance to speak without the pressure of making a message understood. To encourage your child to sing along, sing slowly and use lots of gestures. To encourage a child to participate in a familiar nursery rhyme or book, you can stop every so often and let them say the next word.

Children do get easier and easier to understand with time, but if you understand less than 50% of what they say by age 2, 75% by age 3 or 100% by age 4 (although they may still make some errors with later-developing sounds such as “s”. “r” or “th”), please consider consulting a Speech-Language Pathologist.

If you live in or near Winnipeg, Manitoba, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help! SpeechWorks Inc.  provides services in English and French for children and adults to help with speech, language, swallowing and memory.