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April 13, 2013 / the speech monster

Quickie Speechie

A number of very exciting things have happened in my little speechie corner, and a lot of ideas are brewing in my head as a result. Soon enough, I will definitely be blogging about what I’ve been up to the last couple weeks.

But first, I want to quickly announce to Colourful Semantics fans who haven’t already heard: London Speech Therapy who brought you free, downloadable, Colourful Semantics pictures, have now released a Colourful Semantics APP available for download at iTunes! I have been lucky enough to try it out with my clients (thanks, Chris!) but haven’t had the time to properly review it. That will be in my next post. Coming up hopefully in the next few days.

So, please stay tuned!!

 

 

March 8, 2013 / the speech monster

Cued Articulation

I did my SLP training in the United States, and moved to Australia shortly after. Being foreign-trained, I find it refreshing to learn about some of the useful and popular resources and programs here that are not so big in the States (at least not when I was training), and today I’m going to do a brief post on one of them I have grown to love and find myself using almost every (work) day, called Cued Articulation.

Cued Articulation is a set of visual representations of English speech sounds that was developed by Jane Passy, a Speech Pathologist from Australia. There is a hand sign for every speech sound: consonants and vowels included. As SLPs, we talk about speech sounds in terms of Place, Voice and Manner (PVM). Without going into the technical details (because if you’re reading this, chances are you’re an SLP or SLP to be and would already know this!), these hand signs are great because they were developed to show where the sound is made, and how it is made. The detailed version of cued articulation also comes with colour codes, and therefore children get another visual prompt for the speech sounds, in addition to the hand signs.

It has been an extremely versatile tool, as I’m able to use it when working on speech sounds, phonological awareness, and language. It’s great because when children get used to doing the signs, they start prompting themselves with the actions! Cued Articulation is also handy for teachers taking the younger grades, especially when introducing the alphabet to their students and cueing them to remember their sounds.

Want to find out more? Training sessions are regularly run in Australia, and in the UK. I don’t know if they are in the US (if anyone knows of such training sessions, please let us know!), however, you can purchase the book on Amazon to learn the cues (book costs about US35) or look them up on YouTube.

Here are a couple of examples of the cues. The images are taken from the Cued Articulation book.

Have you used Cued Articulation? How have you used it and what are your thoughts on it? Do you have a similar system/method of cueing speech sounds in your country that you can share?

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***Update March 9: To clarify: Cued Articulation is not the same as Cued Speech, which is a system used among deaf and hard of hearing people.

February 12, 2013 / the speech monster

Free downloadable activity: Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Valentine’s Day is a great festive day to talk to kids about showing love to family and friends.  Today, my kids made this craft cupcake in therapy. It’s super easy and fun! I used mostly materials that I already had lying around at home:

  • Muffin liners
  • Styrofoam balls (this I got from a $2 shop)
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Cellophane
  • Aluminium foil
  • Sticky tape
  • Scissors

One of the kids was working on the /k/ sound, so the word “cupcake” was a perfect one to sneak into the conversation! All my kids, from ages 3.5 to 10 were excited to make this. I used this activity in multiple ways: for example, as a reinforcer in a board game for the kid who was working on speech sounds, and as an activity to get my 5 year old kid with language disorder to sequence steps and remember the materials used for the cupcake.

Here are some boards that you might like to download related to this activity:

k_initial_cupcakeboardgame_Boardmaker

craftcupcake_materials

Have fun!

What did you do with your kids to celebrate Valentine’s day?

February 7, 2013 / the speech monster

Clinic and school-based work: the perfect balance?

We’re pretty blessed with an excellent social/welfare system in Australia that allows most working mums to have flexibility and choices with work arrangements. As SLPs are still quite in demand here, I have even more flexibility with the types of work I choose to take up to fill my work days. For the first 2-3 years of my SLP career, pre-baby era, I worked 4 days/week at a public school district and 2 days/week at a private clinic. Then, I tried doing my own private work (at a public school).

Currently, I work 2 days/week with a public school district, servicing a number of schools, and 1 day/week at the private clinic I worked at previously. And you know what, I LOVE this set up. If given the opportunity, and if community health positions/hospital positions come up more easily, I would fill up another day with that sort of work.

If you’re a soon-to-be SLP, new SLP, or someone who’s worked in school districts for a while and looking for a change, here’s my two cents regarding the pros and cons of clinic vs school-based setting (and why the best is to do both at a go, if possible!):

Note: Because school-based settings in Australia differ greatly from that in the States, and I’m based in Australia, some of the ‘issues’ may not apply to readers not in Australia (more specifically, Melbourne, Victoria).  

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Image courtesy of Idea Go/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have mentioned somewhere in some previous post before that I’m a traveling SLP. In Melbourne, Victoria, most mainstream school school districts, be it public or catholic, will hire about 2-3 SLPs for every 10-12 schools. This is an approximation/guess, but I’d be surprised if there was any school district around that have a smaller ratio of SLPs to schools. This means we travel to a few schools a week.

Some SLPs do fortnightly school visits, and the lucky or crazy ones like me do them weekly. Caseloads are, like everywhere else, massive, and most often, I find myself doing mostly assessments and then handballing kids off to external agencies for therapy, or giving teachers or teacher aides strategies/programs/ideas of how to help the child. At schools, I get a good overview of the child’s test-taking abilities, and can compare it with her functional abilities in the classroom and with peers. I am able to work closely with teachers on similar goals and cross-reference progress notes pretty easily. And because the teachers and I already have a working relationship, they often feel comfortable approaching me with questions or even ideas about what works (or doesn’t) with the child.

Because we are only able to provide such limited service with the number of staff hired, our service delivery has to be (unofficially) quite different from that of the traditional 1:1 therapy model. At present, there is no uniform service delivery which at times frustrates me because therapists can vary so differently in how deliver the service (e.g., how often they see a kid). However, this also challenges me to find more creative ways to be more efficient and effective. There are opportunities for us to run professional development courses or workshops with the schools to skill up teachers or even parents. I also really enjoy seeing how different schools work and learning about the variety of programs available.

Of course, working in this model, where I do mostly assessments and do more preventative work such as a whole-school intervention approach targeting teachers or parents, means that my 1:1 therapy time dwindles. Also, I’m often unable to follow through to do therapy with the kids that I’ve assessed. And that’s where clinic work comes in to strike that balance. Hurray!

At the clinic, which is extremely well resourced, I absolutely enjoy having games, worksheets, etc., within reach. Being a traveling SLP at my other job means I can only take along limited resources with me on the road and sometimes not even get a proper room to work from.

But at the clinic, I get a nice, brightly lit, clean room with appropriate desks and chairs, shelves where I can store (or find) resources, and a filing cabinet for my use. I also get to work with pre-school age clients some of whom may have more severe disabilities than and, yes, do therapy with most of the kiddos. Full-on, hands on, ongoing (as long as they will have me) therapy! I find clinic work quite a bit more challenging than school-based, public service work because the caseload I have is more varied and because parents seem to have higher expectations coming in the clinic as they are paying for the service.

Also, some of the kids at the clinic are such complex cases, I have to really be on my toes and come up with a variety of programs/activities to try to engage them. Sometimes, I also find the clinic environment a bit sterile and unrealistic. Shouldn’t we be offering therapy in the kids’ environment sometimes, especially when it comes to generalizing some of these goals? With the school-age clients, I find liaising with their teachers/school-based therapists quite difficult at times. Implementing goals in the classrooms or giving teachers strategies therefore becomes much harder.

My sole day at the clinic is also pretty full (by choice), and it leaves me with little room to breathe and unwind in between.

But, having said that, it is actually my most rewarding day.

My favorite moments are when I get to elicit even the slightest whimper or correct sound from a kid who was previously non-verbal or who has multiple phonological errors, or when I see a kid’s eyes light up when they get a sticker for using a correct sentence structure…

I could see myself working at the clinic all day, every day! But you know what, I do like having the balance, to get a more holistic view of the kid, and be able to set more realistic and functional expectations for her as well. By being out there with the teachers, parents, and kids’ peers, I also get to understand the kid’s environment a whole lot better. So my advice is, if you can, try to do both. Especially if you are in a similar work set-up to mine. I do think it’s a near-perfect balance in maintaining and continuing skills in almost all areas of our work.

It can be hard work, of course, switching from one environment to another, and it’s not for everyone.

Do you work in more than one setting? What do you think about that? If you’re only in one setting, would you ever consider expanding and working in more than one? 

January 30, 2013 / the speech monster

Florida Center for Reading Research

Last year, I spent a chunk of my spare time doing extra readings on the topic of reading difficulties and literacy, and in the midst of all that, found out about the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). I remember my heart palpitating slightly faster the moment I clicked on a few links and saw what I thought was a goldmine: pages and pages of free, downloadable resources (?!!!!). Seriously??!

Then, I somehow got distracted and forgot about this site until a couple months back, when a good friend of mine (also a speechie, and an amazing one!) reminded me of it. Since then, I’ve been on it whenever I have a free moment at work, making up resources and catching up on the information posted on the site.

If, like me, you love freebies and also have some memory/attention difficulties, you might like to visit this website now, check out the downloads, and print them out immediately! There are literally pages and pages of activities around the 5 areas of reading: Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension, that we often target in intervention. Here are a couple of screenshots of just one of the hundreds of activities on there. I think there’s also a CD or book version of the activities you can purchase if you prefer a consolidated edition.

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Besides the freebies, there is also an immense amount of information around the topic: from the latest research in reading, presentations for educators, to information about implementing Response To Intervention in the school/classroom, and handouts for parents.

Thank you so much for sharing all your great research and resources, FCRR!!

November 5, 2012 / the speech monster

Visual cues for describing

Happy November! Hope y’all had a great time last Wednesday with Halloween-related activities. I’ve been living in Australia for four years now and LOVE it. But honestly, I do miss North America everytime Halloween rolls around because there is not much of a Halloween mood here! The kids enjoy it but the adults don’t seem to as much, and many term it as an “American thing.” Fair enough, but it still makes me miss the fun we had there dressing up, decorating the house/speech room, giving candy to trick or treaters, and making and indulging in fun Halloween decorated treats. It was also a great time to elicit language from kids in speech sessions. I did my own Halloween activity nonetheless, and the kids seemed to love it (especially when they got to eat the candy – or lollies, as they say here).

Moving on from Halloween…

I’ve been meaning to share this for awhile now: visual cues I made using Boardmaker to help students with describing words (using adjectives). (Click here to download a range of Describing Bookmarks.)

A lot of great materials I’ve found and used before have been limited to either cues for animals, or objects, or food. I found that I needed to constantly add or remove cues from my list when helping kids describe different words. For example, a cue for describing animals such as “What body parts does it have” would be irrelevant to a cue for describing people. Inspired by Rebecca’s post and bookmark resource, I made a bunch of different bookmarks as well, and categorized them into visual cues for describing:

  • – animals
  • – people
  • – objects
  • – food

Obviously this is not a complete list. You could easily add places, sport, etc. But this is a starting point and probably the most common categories to use with the lower grades. I found them incredibly useful and can easily whip them out whenever a a kid does retells, or when s/he has word finding difficulties. This can also be helpful for parents to stick on the refrigerator as a reminder to use visual cues to help with their child’s descriptive language. What visual aids do you make or use to help your child with describing?

Click here to download a range of Describing Bookmarks

October 25, 2012 / the speech monster

Carly’s Voice

So, like I tell my readers, why go to a duck to find out what’s wrong with the horse when you can go right to the horse’s mouth?” – Carly Fleischmann

Carly Fleischmann is probably quite a well known voice of Autism in North America already. A teenager with Autism who is still pretty much non-verbal, she broke through communication barriers after years of therapy when her therapists discovered she was able to spell through typing. From then, her therapists and parents kept persevering to push her to communicate via typing, and after months of hard work, she started to open up to them and help them understand her better.

Her story was first told on ABC, and then got picked up by various media in North America. It seems that Carly has also realized the power her voice has, and the interest people have in her, as she has now learned to articulate her thoughts and feelings on Facebook and Twitter which have garnered thousands of followers. She has also appeared on several shows, including, most recently, “The Doctors.”

The book “Carly’s Voice” is written mostly by her dad, Arthur Fleischmann, but also contains a chapter at the end that is written by her and a chapter that is mostly excerpts of Q&As from Carly’s Twitter feeds with her followers.  While I have read about other people with autism, they are often ones with high functioning autism or asperger’s syndrom; hence why Carly is so different and extremely interesting to me (and probably to many others): no other person with autism who is also non-verbal has ever been able to communicate so clearly what it’s like to live with pretty severe autism, AND with a language difficulty. As she wrote, “I now realize it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the words, it was that my brain couldn’t focus directly on the conversation.” What awareness!

As a therapist who sees non-verbal children with autism, I was reminded again through the chapters outlining the Fleischmann’s early struggles with Carly, of the immense difficulties these families go through. I was also inspired by the perseverance of Carly’s therapists – both her ABA therapist and speech-language pathologist -to help her communicate even when it seemed like she was making little progress early on. How many times have we worked with children wondering if anything is really getting through? Clearly an intelligent and opinionated young woman, Carly’s witty remarks really left me wondering how many more kids out there are like her, with an inner voice just waiting for someone to find a way to make them heard. If she was born in a different family with fewer resources and if they hadn’t pushed her in the same ways, would she have achieved this level of communication? I was inspired and proud that someone in our field had such a major role to play in helping someone who seemed completely closed off to the world get to where she is today.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. If you’re a speechie or a parent with a kid with autism, please make this the next thing you read.