I work with a high schooler who (in honor of Thanksgiving) has a cornucopia of challenges in the social cognition, executive functioning, and pragmatic language realms. I am by no means an expert on this population, but I’ve been lucky enough to spend time interning with a few experts in this area of speech-language pathology (Pamela Ely and Sean Sweeney), and also received a scholarship to attend the Social Thinking conference in Portland, OR this past October. These experiences have given me a solid foundation for developing intervention plans for kids who fall somewhere on the spectrum of social language deficits.
Just to complicate things a bit, clients with social communication deficits rarely have isolated issues with pragmatic language. Often, they have concomitant challenges with executive functioning, cognitive flexibility, and overall impaired cognition. As such, effective intervention requires lots of adaptation and a willingness to incorporate ideas and methods from a variety of sources. I love mixing resources from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking ® curriculum, Sarah Ward’s executive functioning curriculum, Pamela Ely’s social cognition curriculum, and Bonnie Singer’s self-talk curriculum. This 2-part blog post is all about sharing some of the ideas and visuals I’m using in my therapy with this current client, and highlighting the amazing minds who have come up with the awesome ideas underlying what I’m doing!
Probe for Perspective Taking
Although I did this as a probe to gather some baseline data about my client’s perspective-taking abilities, you could easily use this as a treatment activity to support the development of perspective-taking skills. I used sequence scenes from the following set of cards:
The reason I like this particular set is that it has sequences with 6-8 cards each (which makes the task more challenging for the client). You’ll want to pull out all the cards that relate to a single sequence and flip them over so the pictures themselves are hidden. Ask the client to choose one card and keep it hidden from you while he looks at it. First, ask him who knows what card he has (correct answer: “me”). Next, ask if you know what card he has (correct answer: “no, I’m the only one who knows what’s on the card”). Then, ask him how he could help you know what’s on the card without just showing it to you (correct answer: “I can describe it to you”). The client’s response to each question provides valuable information about their ability to take another’s perspective. Finally, have the client describe the picture to you using whatever details he chooses. Once he’s done describing the card, slide it back into the pile (still face down), shuffle all the cards, and then flip them all over so the pictures are showing.
You then try to guess which card the client had based only on the details he described. Since many of these cards have similar items (bike, boy, mom, helmet) and the client likely didn’t give enough detail to isolate a single card, you can narrow down your choices of possible cards and see if he can provide enough specific details to identify his chosen card from the others. This is a great little task for both determining a client’s current level of perspective taking and for teaching the skills associated with strong perspective taking!
Self Talk Visual
My client requires LOTS of visual support as we tread through the concepts of social cognition and pragmatic language. This is a super easy way to help him contextualize self talk as something that occurs like a thought bubble. Even though we do a lot of audible self talk right now, I’ll eventually fade that along with the visual aid. For now though, I model self talk by holding up this laminated thought bubble (yeah yeah, I know it looks like a laminated intestine…it’s not art class!) and often ask him to do the same. All you need is some card stock, a laminator, and a few straws (covered in tape) for the handle!
Sometimes, I use this same thought bubble to demonstrate when I’m having a red or green thought, and the kinds of feelings those thoughts give me. The beauty of laminating everything is that you can write on them with dry erase markers and then just wipe them clean. I stick my green or red thoughts to the velcro inside the thought bubble and specifically indicate the emotion that I’m feeling:
Once I taught my client how to introduce short, concise topic statements that let people ask “wondering” questions (i.e., wh- questions), I moved onto the conversation timeline. Little did he know that conversations don’t just involve one person talking for 20 minutes about the topic of their choice. This visual gave him a concrete way to recognize the basic components of a conversation, and even helped to reinforce the idea of talk time I’d previously introduced (color coding the cards made this a piece of cake). Since we were practicing conversations as a pair, I had two differently colored sets of cards. The “topic” card indicated a topic statement for the conversation, the “C” card indicated a comment, the “?” card indicated a question, and the “R” card indicated a response to a question.
Each time someone added something to the conversation, they mapped out their addition by laying down the corresponding card. This gave us a concrete way to go back and consider the parts of our conversation and what worked/didn’t work! It also let him see how often each person was contributing (if one person dominated the whole conversation, there would be only one color).
My second post will include a couple more therapy ideas and visuals to consider when working with kids with social-cognitive/pragmatic language impairments. Hopefully these ideas spark your own creativity!