brain, Classroom, Emotional regulation, Executive Function, Language Therapy, Pragmatic Language, Random SLP, self-regulation, Social Cognition, Social Regulation, Uncategorized

Social Communication on your Feet

By Hanna Bogen


(This will be the first in a two part series of posts on “Improv”)

Improvisation (improv) is often mistaken for stand-up comedy, though the two are fundamentally different. Stand-up comedy typically involves pre-written jokes, memorization, and a polished performance. In other words, it’s the “performance” we wish we could give every time we engage in a social situation. With some realistic reflection, though, one realizes that social situations are intrinsically unpredictable. Scripting is a wonderful way to prepare for the social world, and practice with fundamental concepts of social communication can boost confidence, awareness, and overall success. That being said, there is also great benefit to strengthening our students’ abilities to demonstrate flexibility during social encounters. The fundamentals of improvisation speak directly to building that flexibility, as well as countless other core social communication and social-regulation skills:

  • Principle One: Be prepared
  • Principle Two: Willingness (to fail spectacularly)
  • Principle Three: Stay in the moment
  • Principle Four: Quiet down and listen
  • Principle Five: Action beats inaction
  • Principle Six: Be honest
  • Principle Seven: Let go of your need to control
  • Principle Eight: There are no mistakes
  • Principle Nine: Trust
  • Principle Ten: Teamwork

In addition to these ten principles, there is an ultimate, overarching principle of improv that runs, like a golden thread, through each of the other principles: “Yes, and…” The “Yes, and…” principle implies that each social experience is an offer for engagement and successful interaction. It acknowledges that all individuals bring a unique and valuable perspective to the interaction. Practice with improvisational games and activities can strengthen our students’ cognitive flexibility, perspective taking, creativity and shared interest, thereby readying them for greater success in their future social interactions.

One improv game to get you started at home is called “The Imaginary Object.”  While best played in a group, this game can be played with as few as two people.  One person begins the game by pretending to use an imaginary object; they engage in actions that would be typical of using the object.  After a moment of demonstrating the imaginary object, they “pass” the object to the next person, who must continue on with using it.  This “passing” continues until all participants have modeled use of the object. At the end, everyone can announce what object they thought they were “holding” or “using.”  This game hones awareness and use of nonverbal communication cues including gestures, facial expressions, and body positioning.  Participants can talk about which nonverbal cues were helpful in identifying the imaginary object during the game, and/or which cues they would add next time to make understanding of the object more clear.

Emotional regulation, Executive Function, Random SLP, self-regulation, Uncategorized

Regulation by the Numbers

Making the Case for the Role of Objective Data in the Subjective World of Emotional-Regulation

Emotional-regulation is inherently subjective: my emotions are mine and mine alone. You may agree or disagree with how I should feel, though you can no more control emotions than the weather. When it comes to emotional-regulation, the goal is all about regulating the way you respond (i.e., behave), despite how you may be feeling, in order to meet the demands of the situation.

If the emotions we feel are out of our conscious control, it follows that asking a child to control his/her emotions is a recipe for failure, anxiety, frustration, and disillusionment. The focus, then, must shift to improving intentional, mindful, conscious control over behavioral responses in the midst of strong emotions. For many individuals, increased activity in the limbic, emotional brain is mirrored by decreased engagement of the cortical, thinking brain. In other words, stronger emotions = less critical thinking and more impulsive reacting.

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The challenge with emotional-regulation is that however aware you might be that a situation demands certain calm and collected behaviors, parts of the logical brain want to justify the experiences of the emotional brain. This is why we feel so good and justified (in the moment) when we yell at someone who has said something that triggers a strong, angry emotion. No one likes being told to “calm down” or “take a deep breath” at the height of experiencing a dysregulating emotion (however helpful those suggestions might be). In fact, for many children, the feeling of invalidation that comes with being told to “calm down” ultimately triggers greater emotional dysregulation. Kids, especially those who tend towards the impulsive side of the spectrum, are at a developmental disadvantage when it comes to emotional-regulation; the maturity and brain development that comes with reaching adulthood helps to create a bank of personal experience, world knowledge, and anticipation of future consequences that makes it easier to pause one’s initial reactions in order to devise a more useful response during emotionally triggering situations. While we, as adults, might have great regulation advice for a triggered child, the state of dysregulation can make it impossible for him/her to hear and process the advice. The subjective nature of emotions makes for rocky regulation-coaching terrain.

So what’s the solution? Turn a subjective process into what feels like a data-driven, objective process! Words and advice may feel biased, but numbers don’t lie. The Charting Re-Regulation worksheet is a simple way to help a child objectively see his/her patterns of regulation, and how long it typically takes to go from “super triggered” to “re-regulated.” Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Note the triggering situation and emotion(s) being felt (if this is too triggering in the moment, save this step until later).

Step 2: Mark the intensity of the emotion(s)…

  • At the time of the trigger
  • After one minute
  • After two minutes
  • Etc.

Step 3: Notice when the emotional intensity reaches 30% or below. This is usually an indication of being mostly re-regulated and ready to logically process and/or problem-solve.

Step 4 (optional): Record what tools/strategies you used at each phase of re-regulation. In other words, what helped at the 80%-100% range? What helped at the 60%-80% range? What helped at the 30%-60% range? Identifying helpful strategies provides a bank of regulating tools for future triggering situations.



Fill out a new worksheet for each of five or more triggering situations in order to have enough data to determine a pattern for how long it typically takes to feel re-regulated. Three minutes? Eight minutes? What children can glean from their own data is the time frame they need to fill with regulating tools before they can expect to feel calm. An average of three to four minutes in the 80%-100% zone might mean a quick labeling of the emotion(s) with three to four minutes of a distracting brain break (i.e., Daniel Siegel’s Connect and Redirect strategy). Does the re-regulation go pretty fast once the child is below the 80% mark? That might mean that he/she needs some quick, simple sensory and/or mindfulness tools to take up the remaining few minutes in the countdown to calm. Does re-regulation tend to take longer? Strategies like a reading or drawing break might be a better fit for a child who needs more time to truly return to a calm, regulated state.




In the examples included here, the child tends to remain highly dysregulated (80%-100% intensity) for two to three minutes across all situations. He reaches a re-regulated state (30% intensity or below) after six to seven minutes. Using the data he generated and collected, we collaboratively determined that an adult should wait at least seven minutes following a triggering situation to talk with him about what went wrong or how things could have been handled differently. In the meantime, he could pull from his bank of previously useful strategies to remain safe and mindful during the re-regulation process. After seven(ish) minutes, his thinking brain was more engaged and he felt ready to strategize with a peer or adult.

How else can charting re-regulating be beneficial?

  • Children receive concrete, visual feedback about the abstract, subjective process of emotional de-escalation. This feedback can be an important reminder to a frequently dysregulated child that he/she can successfully re-regulate!
  • Using a simple graph to chart the re-regulation process provides opportunities for children to note whether their emotion(s) changed throughout the process. Did they feel varying “shades” of angry the entire time, or did the emotion change to disappointed or confused? It’s important to remind children that emotions can change, and that we often feel multiple emotions at the same time.

You can access the worksheets using the PDF links below:

Charting Re-Regulation 1-10 min. intervals

Charting Re-Regulation write-in min. intervals

Know of other benefits? Share in the comments!

Random Therapy Ideas, Social Cognition, Social Regulation, Worth Every Penny

All Aboard the Friend Ship

Remember when you had to memorize all the presidents of the United States for U.S. History Class…in order?!? It took me about 2 minutes of blankly staring at flash cards to realize I was never going to cement those names through repetition alone. So where does one turn for help at 10:00pm the night before the test? Music, of course! The Animaniacs saved my tush that night with their president song (proof here: Kids are a lot like me when it comes to learning (or should I say I learn a lot like a little kid…): they do better with multimodal, experiential, and “stuck-in-your-head” leaning styles than mere lecture from adults.

Raise your hand if you find it easier to engage kids in post-play cleaning when you sing the “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere…” song (did you really raise your hand? No one can see you, silly!). That’s because the song jumpstarted a memory for the child (hippocampus activation) that it’s time to clean. We use songs in all corners of education: ABC’s, rainbow colors, counting, wh-questions, etc. I think I can skip the part where I spend a whole paragraph convincing you why songs matter for learning, because our scientific community has already agreed that music activates important association and learning centers in the brain. Instead, I want to introduce you to my favorite new set of songs for facilitating social regulation, social cognitive, and social emotional development: The Friend Ship.

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You may or may not know that I spend my days targeting social regulation skills with “boys and girls of all ages” (yeah, it’s a bit like the circus!). I am forever on the hunt for innovative ways to help my clients both learn and generalize the key concepts of expected social communication, and music is a personal favorite strategy of mine. The Friend Ship, created by speech-language pathologist Erica Bland, is a CD of songs all about social regulation. With titles like: “What’s the Plan,” “Adding to the Fun,” and “What Zone Are You In,” the songs take teaching and reinforcement phrases I find myself using like a broken record and puts them to a soundtrack of kid-friendly rock, reggae, and hip hop. Whether the songs are used as direct teaching tools or are just on as background music during collaborative play, I find that my clients are humming and singing along after the first couple replays.

Want a sneak peak? Have a listen:

So how do you get this musical gold mine? Here are a couple ways to make it happen (p.s. it’s only $9.95!!!!!):

Erica also created a companion packet of family or therapist-led support activities to go along with each song. In other words, your lesson plan is already done! So drop whatever you’re doing, pump up the Friend Ship jams, and get your social regulation on!

Executive Function, Language Therapy, Pragmatic Language, Social Cognition

ANAMAzing Ideas for Therapy! (Thanks Pixar)

While sitting in a day-long conference on school-based SLP challenges associated with qualifying kids from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds, one the the presenters mentioned using the Pixar animated short film, Partly Cloudy, as a great interactive, informal assessment or treatment tool to evaluate a child’s narrative skills, emotional recognition, inferencing skills, etc. This got me thinking that there might be other Pixar “shorts” out there that would be fantastic for use in treatment sessions. Below are some ideas about how you can use a few of these fun mini movies with your clients:


Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 12.22.50 PMWhat your client can be working on:

  • Recognizing and analyzing facial expressions (and explaining why the character might be feeling that way)
  • Pausing the video at different points and making predictions about what will happen next (immediately next, after an hour or two, tomorrow, etc.)
  • Problem solving when the character(s) feel sad/upset/disappointed
  • Comparisons between happy/joyful/ecstatic/proud characters and sad/upset/disappointed/angry ones


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What your client can be working on:

  • Create a script for one or both lamp characters. This involves perspective taking, theory of mind, prediction, etc. (lots of those tough social cognition/executive functioning/social communication skills that many kiddos struggle to learn and use)
  • Inferring how each lamp character feels at different points in the mini movie
  • Making predictions about what will happen next (and supporting those predictions with contextual clues from the mini movie)


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What your client can be working on (this short is best for older elementary/middle/high school students):

  • Create a script for one or both characters. What kinds of expressions are they likely to be using? Are these characters friends? Siblings? Strangers? How do you know?
  • Categorize the differences between things that happen during the day versus at night. Work on finding an efficient way to document all of these examples without having to re-watch the short over and over (this is a critical study skill!)
  • Pause the mini movie at various points and discuss how the characters feel and how you know


Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 12.50.17 PM

What your client can be working on:

  • Fill in thought bubbles for each umbrella and notice and discuss the changes in what each umbrella is thinking as the short video goes on. Why do these changes in thoughts/emotions/behaviors occur?
  • Make predictions about what will happen next

Media can be such a great way to engage students of all ages in working on therapy objectives. Any other animated shorts out there that folks are using?

Evaluation and Assessment, Language Therapy

Communication Matrix

Do you know about the Communication Matrix? If not, then this is your extra lucky day! I, along with my fellow UW grad clinicians, use this measure during lots and lots of evaluations, especially when the client is at a developmental stage where they are not using a huge number of conventionally communicative behaviors. I’ll give a short and sweet overview of the Communication Matrix, but the best way to learn more about it is to go to the website and check it out yourself!

What is the Communication Matrix?

The Communication Matrix is a structured assessment measure designed to determine how an individual is communicating, and to provide a framework for determining logical communication goals. It was first published in 1990 and was revised in 1996 and 2004 by Dr. Charity Rowland of Oregon Health & Science University (yeah, Oregon!). Based on responses from the child’s caregiver, a matrix profile is generated that describes the types of behaviors the child is currently using (e.g., Unconventional Communication, Conventional Communication, Concrete Symbols, etc.) and the purposes for which those behaviors are being used (e.g., to refuse, to obtain something, for social purposes, and to gain information). The measure can be completed online by making a profile for the client, or in a printed, paper-based format. I’ve only ever done the online version and since we live in 2013, I recommend you give that format a try too! See that picture below? THAT’s what your results look like once you get through all the sections and questions (it’s called a “matrix” for a reason).

How is the Communication Matrix Administered?

This measure is based on information provided by the child’s primary caregiver. In my experience, it works best to have a clinician actually sitting with the caregiver and walking them through each of the questions and sections to ensure they understand what’s being asked and to take any informative notes that might come up (there’s a place for notes in each section so you can keep track of this information in an organized way). I realize that you won’t always have a clinician to spare during assessments, so the parents could certainly be set up to fill this out while you’re working your magic in the eval!

What Do the Matrix Results Tell Me?

Remember that picture a little ways up in the post? You can probably still see it from where you’re currently reading! If not, it’s time for some scrolling action! Along the vertical axis (going from top to bottom, along the left) are the types of behaviors a child is currently using to communicate. These are ordered (from top to bottom) based on when they appear in typically developing children (i.e., Preintentional Behavior all the way down to Language). If you hold your cursor over each stage, a pop-up with a more detailed description of that stage will appear (on the actual website…not on my blog post). Along the horizontal axis (going from left to right, along the bottom) are communicative functions/purposes for which communication is used. The overall matrix gives you a visual sense of the client’s skill level with different communicative behaviors for various communicative functions (not yet used, emerging, or mastered). In other words, how are they using communication and for what purposes?

How Can the Communication Matrix Compliment My Other Assessment Tools?

Good Question! This tool is a fantastic way to support findings from other measures. If you plan to use the Rosetti, MacArthur Bates CDI, or other caregiver questionnaire as part of your assessment, it’s always a good idea to have a second caregiver measure to ensure reliability in their responses. The matrix gives both a qualitative description of the child’s current communicative functioning as well as a quantitative description of which developmental age range their communicative abilities fall into. And that’s pretty darn cool!

How to Get Started:

Go to the website and create an account. It’s free! You can add individualized profiles for clients and save their results for later reference! All in all, it’s an amazing resource!

There’s lots more detailed information about the Communication Matrix on the website, so I highly encourage you to check it out and give it a try! You can find it by clicking here:

Since I’m so confident that you’ll find this tool helpful…YOU’RE WELCOME!

Executive Function, Pragmatic Language, Social Cognition

Home Is Where The Therapy Is!

Ready…Set…Ponder: Why do speech-language pathologists (and other child development professionals) deliver birth-3 services in the child’s home? Why not just bring all those kiddies into our clinic rooms and bestow our communication brilliance upon them?

I’d say that we go into the home because the focus of our intervention is to engage that child’s caregiver(s) in an ongoing process of supporting his/her communication development. It can’t just be about the hour or 2 a week that we have the child in front of us in a little clinic room, because the first 3 years of life are critical for providing the richest possible language environment we can. And who better to learn how to talk to kids, play with kids, scaffold kids’ language, and foster kids’ social competencies than the parents and caregivers of those kids?!? We go into the home because that’s where 99.9% of that child’s communication development will take place.

Today I’d like to pose the argument that we need to revive the birth-3 model of service delivery in non birth-3-aged kids who need significant, ongoing executive functioning support. I wouldn’t dare to say that these are the only kids who would benefit from this type of service delivery, but you have to start somewhere, right? If you work with kids with general social communication challenges, you likely also see executive functioning deficits in those kids. Making a plan? HARD! Breaking down tasks into individual steps? PAINFUL! Self-talking your way through an activity? YEAH RIGHT! These kids need strategies to frame how they function in the world, not discrete skill training (ok, ok, some definitely need discrete skill training too, but that’s just not the best way to support improved use of executive functioning skills). Some of these kids will likely never reach a point where they can independently use a strategy like Get Ready, Do, Done (see my last post); the strategy is still fantastically helpful, but they’ll need a caregiver to cue them to use it and/or prompt them through it. These are the kids I believe would gain a world of good from receiving services to enhance the use of executive functioning strategies at home rather than in a clinic. WHY?, you ask…

  • Intervention in the home = access to actually training everyone in that child’s home. If you’re working on strategy use with kids who likely will need ongoing caregiver support with those strategies/frameworks, you should be training the caregiver right along with the kiddo. Plain and simple. You are not always going to be there to support DudeFriend through the process of making a plan or figuring out what the task will look like when it’s done (at least, I hope you won’t…). But you know who’s likely to be there a lot more often? Mom/Dad/Grandma/Aunt Lulu (the caregivers)! If dad can appropriately cue DudeFriend to use a trained strategy at home, in the car, at the grocery store, AND at the neighbor’s birthday party, then you just scored some serious generalization points. How do Dad/Mom/Aunt Lulu know how to appropriately cue DudeFriend, though? You train them to do it in functional tasks (homework, getting ready for dance class, making a snack, packing a backpack, etc.) in functional settings (at home). I’m under no delusion that SLPs should start following kids and their families around everywhere they go teaching them to use executive functioning strategies in every possible setting, but think of how much more likely your work is to generalize if you train the child and the parents in the environment where they’ll be using that strategy 95% of the time!
  • Intervention in the home means that your vision gets to come to life. I’m currently working with one of the caregivers of the client who sparked this post to train her in supporting DudeFriend to use our treatment strategies with various tasks outside of clinic. In my mind, I know exactly how I would set up my Get Ready, Do, Done posters in the kitchen for snack prep. BUT, since I don’t have the luxury of carrying this training out in Dudefriend’s kitchen, I’m stuck trying to describe my vision to her (and it’s hard!). She is motivated, intelligent, and wonderful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she can read my mind and carry out my vision…and the kitchen is just 1 place where I’m encouraging them to implement this strategy. If I were able to carry this intervention out in Dudefriend’s home, I could be modeling cues and prompts, collaboratively brainstorming the best places to put visual aids, and fitting my vision in with the family’s vision. And THAT would be a beautiful thing.
  • Intervention in the home means that you are actually using materials available to that family, rather than your own treatment materials that may or may not be functional for the kiddo outside of your sessions once or twice a week. Instead of handing parents tools and saying, “Here…make this work,” you can strategize with them to use what they have in the home to bring target strategies and frameworks to life. My sense is that you bring about much more lasting change when you’re not putting unrealistic expectations on the family to find or buy materials that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable to them.

In my naivety, I don’t actually know whether SLPs are out there delivering executive functioning services in the home to kids outside the birth-3 range. My gut sense is that if you’re out there, you’re one of the few, and I think that needs to change. As SLPs, we have a valuable service to be offerring not just the clients, but their families too. We work tirelessly to make activities in clinics as functional as possible for kids, so imagine if you could skip the step of recreating “home” in your clinic room and instead work on using strategies in their actual homes!

If this is already your jam, I’d love to know! If it’s not, but it sounds like a cool jam, I’d love to know too! And maybe one day we’ll team up and start a great new wave of service delivery 😉

Executive Function, Language Therapy, Pragmatic Language, Social Cognition

Ideas for Social-Cognitive, EF, Pragmatic Language Therapy: Part 2

I promised a part 2, and I shan’t disappoint (shan’t…I went there!). As a continuation from my first post with ideas for social-cog, executive function, and pragmatic language therapy, this second post will keep the ideas flowing and hopefully add to your arsenal of go-to activities.

Visuals, Visuals, and More (concrete) Visuals:

I am steadily learning the importance of supporting social communication intervention with tons of visuals. When I think I’ve reached the visuals peak, I cut and laminate one…more…thing. Why? Because so many of these clients benefit from visual supports early on in their therapy. I recognize that you might be worried about setting them up to be dependent upon these visual aids later, but in my humble experience, I usually end up spinning my wheels and banging my head against the wall when I nix the visuals and overestimate how well the client will perform. Here are a couple ways to make Social Thinking concepts more concrete through…(you guessed it…) VISUALS!

Are you working on mind files or friend files? Use an actual file folder to show how these mental files can store information about others. The amazing Sean Sweeney and Pamela Ely at The Ely Center taught me this fun acronym for teaching kids what kinds of information belongs in a mind file. As you can see, I ended up changing “mind file” to “people file” since my client had such a hard time remembering that these files are about people (and not everything under the sun). However you decide to coin the term, think about using concrete visuals to support initial stages of learning!


The Social Detective book from the Social Thinking curriculum is a great resource for introducing kids to critical social communication skills involved in being a social detective, but I have found that creating a real (ok, ok…paper) toolkit gives kids ownership over the social communication tools they are acquiring. I let them add the eyes to their toolkit once we’ve finished our “thinking with your eyes” activity for that day. As we target more concepts (like “thinking with your ears,” “brain in the group,” etc.), they get to add those tools to their toolkit. Sometimes it can be fun to pull out the tools you need in a particular situation. Once again, the visuals are just a support for teaching these foundational skills and making sure the information is relatable and concrete. 

Expected/Unexpected By Context Game

I used this activity to probe my client’s current understanding of expected and unexpected behaviors in different school contexts, but you could very easily use this as a teaching tool as well!


I start by having the client choose a context/environment/setting out of a hat (e.g., “In math class”). He then has to sort a variety of behaviors (also picked from a hat) to determine whether they are expected or unexpected in that particular context. Even if you only got this far in the activity, you would have some awesome information about how well the client can determine what’s expected versus unexpected in key environments throughout his day. Once this initial sorting is done (and the subsequent discussion has occurred, if you choose to discuss their choices), you then have the client choose a different context from the hat and switch it into the original context’s place. The client must now decide if some of the behaviors that initially were sorted as expected belong in the unexpected category (and vice versa). Some different context ideas are included below:


Why does this skill matter? It’s not enough that clients can determine what’s expected or unexpected in a static setting. They need to recognize that expected behaviors may change depending on the context: it’s fine to run around on the playground at recess, but running becomes unexpected when you are in the middle of social studies class. This activity helps to support the cognitive and social flexibility needed to shift expectations between settings.

Thinking With Your Ears: Easy Activity to Introduce Inferencing Skills

I had to start verrrrrrrrrry basic when introducing “thinking with your eyes” and “thinking with your ears” for my current client. Specifically for “thinking with your ears,” we spent a fair amount of time just identifying the sources of sounds with a couple different sounding board apps (Touch the Sound by Innovative Mobile Apps and SoundBoard by Lux HQ Ltd.). Once he was tuned into thinking about what he heard, I moved to the activity I’m here to highlight. I laid out sets of pictures I’d printed, and the client’s job was to think with his ears to choose the picture that best matched my verbally read sentence. I started with very concrete sentences, and slowly increased the complexity to include sentences or utterances that required increasing amounts of inferencing skill. The more abstract the sentence, the more the client had to listen for contextual clues to guide accurate picture choice!


Examples of sentences for the pictures above:

Easy/Concrete: “The man wore a tiny hat”

More Challenging: “It was cold outside”


Examples of sentences for the pictures above:

Easy/Concrete: “The boy was working on his test”

More Challenging: “All his studying paid off in the end” or “I wonder what the teacher will ask”


Examples of sentences for the pictures above:

Easy/Concrete: “The kittens snuggled on the blanket”

More Challenging: “They looked almost identical” or “All three enjoyed being in the sunshine”

Well, that sums up part 2 of my therapy ideas for this tricky, but awesome group of clients! There are so many great resources out there, and I encourage all of you to find ways to share the cool intervention techniques you’re using!