“Your Fantastic Elastic Brain”: Motivating Children and Teens with Speech and Language Disorders

Speech and language disorders
Speech language therpy strengths your brain

Struggling to motivate children and teens with speech and language disorders is an  on going concern. Many learn to navigate around their deficit using strategies, but others avoid learning risks at all cost.  In therapy using interests and games is a popular motivator, but using these tools does not teach students how and why they should take learning risks. Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset has demonstrated that children with a growth mindset do better in school.  They develop a positive attitude toward learning and enjoy working on difficult tasks. These children believe their intelligence can be developed.  Many children with speech and language disorders believe their abilities are fixed.  This is called a fix mindset.  Tools that help children develop a growth mindset are a valuable tool. 

My new favorite therapy tool is the book, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D. The book provides a general description of the function of the major parts of the brain. It discusses ways we train our brains from practicing difficult tasks to making mistakes and facing our fears. Geared to children under 10,  I find that young adults also appreciate the books simplicity. This book has been an important addition to my growth mindset tools.


Social engineering to improve social deficits

social engineering and social skills deficits
Should parents use social engineering to improve social deficits?

In a recent article in Attitude magazine, a magazine that offers strategies and support for people and their families with ADHD and LD, a mom created a Facebook birthday event for her son with Asperger syndrome.  No one wanted to come to her son’s 13th birthday  and her son was upset.  She decided to with the encouragement of other mom’s to post a message on Facebook asking people to text and posted an birthday event. 100’s of people came to bowl with Odin on his birthday and others sent texts to his phone including a few celebrities.

The Odin’s birthday event is a great example of social engineering. Social engineering is the practice of using other methods to solve social problems or improve social conditions. Odin who the article states has been bullied is Odin’s mother was trying to help Odin feel wanted by his peers. She created an event where people supported him on his birthday. Parents increasingly are using social engineering to improve their children’s social standing.  From parents calling ahead to make sure that their child’s friends are in the same cabin at camp to parents saving seats for their child’s friends on the bus, social engineering is happening all around. For students with social deficits, not belonging, can make the already difficult job of growing up even more difficult. Children with learning disabilities and other vulunerable children are often excluded at school from parties and events. Parent’s who engage in social engineering to improve social deficits help build social skills and develop social networks for their children with learning disabilities.

However, engaging in social engineering to help children with social deficits can be tricky. In Odin’s case, seeing that people cared for him was important, but parents have to understand what their child needs. Keeping the goal for the social interaction,   watching your child’s interacts, and  considering their interest will help you determine the type of event.  Is the goal to develop friends? Interact with the community?  Create a social network?  Working to develop a few long term friends is often better than fostering large groups, but it all depends on the child’s needs. One child with Asperger or ADHD who plays team sports may prefer  getting together with a larger group of children whereas another who likes farming may prefer a few. Some children don’t appear to do better with larger or smaller groups,  but regardless the ultimate goal is to develop a few friends that your child can have regular activities.  It’s sometimes hard to determine what is best for your child, but social engineering not to become the “most popular,”  but to facilitate relationships and connection can be helpful.


Identifying speech and language challenges

finding the right intervention
Identifying speech and language challenges requires being a detective.

Sometimes children and adults come to me using strategies and tools that do not address their learning problem. What is the result? frustration! If your child struggles with homework because of speech and language challenges finding the right help is critical. Continue reading “Identifying speech and language challenges”

Not Qualified for Services: Twice Gifted Students

Opening doors to twice gifted students but offering targeted intervention.
Open doors to twice gifted students by offering targeted intervention.

Twice gifted students with learning problems can go through their entire academic career struggling with school work, but unable to receive services. Continue reading “Not Qualified for Services: Twice Gifted Students”

Aspie’s may Clutter, not just Stutter

Communication“People …. say they can’t understand me. I am fine when I read or make a presentation but when I am talking just regularly people say they don’t know what I’m saying. My parents and friends have suggested that I work on my communication, but I don’t know what that means, says a new client. He talks quickly and sometimes understanding what he is saying is difficult.

Aspie’s may clutter, and not just stutter. Cluttering is a communication disorder characterized by a lack of awareness, frequent disfluencies, and difficulty conveying a message.  Because cluttering is misunderstood by professionals and the public alike people often go undiagnosed. Clutterering may exist in addition to stuttering and other disorders learning and developmental disorders. Cluttering like stuttering are both speech disorders that impact neurotypical, as well as, the Asperger population

The Internation Cluttering Foundation say, “some of the symptoms commonly observed by researchers and/or reported by adults who clutter are:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Rapid and/or irregular rate of speech
  • Leaving off the ends of words
  • Omitting or distorting sounds or syllables (e.g., “elephant” becomes “elphant”; “orange” becomes “orng”)
  • Words sound as if they are “running into each other”
  • Lots of starts and stops in speaking
  • Excessive use of disfluencies such as “um”, “uh”, repeating or revising phrases, or repeating words; unlike stuttering, these disfluencies are not accompanied by struggle behaviors or muscular tension
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts and/or getting to the point
  • Limited awareness of how one’s speech sounds to others
  • Difficulties slowing down even when asked to do so
  • Tendency to interrupt conversational partner
  • Words or ideas come out differently than intended

Although these are some of the symptoms that are present, people who clutter present very unique profiles; however all share the inability to organize their ideas. Treatment for people who clutter usually includes work on the narrative structure, phrasing,and pacing.

It’s a Two Way Street: Communicating with People with Asperger Syndrome

If you missed my webinar you can listen here.  It’s a Two Way Street: Helping the World to Communicate with People with Asperger Syndrome produced by AANE and presented by Kai Long, MS SLP CCC of Long on Language.

 Asperger syndrome and communication
Communicating with people with Asperger syndrome can be difficult

This webinar will discuss society’s role in communicating with people with Asperger Syndrome (AS). Typical communication relies on people conforming to social norms that people with AS often don’t understand. The burden cannot solely rest on the shoulders of people with Asperger syndrome to understand and conform to these norms.

Often people with AS are thought to have strong language skills. We assume that good vocabulary and syntax skills equates with normal verbal abilities. However, this assumption is false. People with Asperger syndrome have challenges generalizing information.  Strong vocabulary skills with the inability to use language effectively results in inadequate expressive verbal language. This webinar addresses neurotypical assumption and biases that make it difficult for people with Asperger syndrome to succeed.

If we want people with AS to be productive members of society we need to adapt social norms to be inclusive of a diverse range of communication styles and learn to tolerate their communication limitations. In addition, identifying verbal language as an area of weaknesses at an earlier age to provide effective remediation will improve their overall ability to communicate effectively. It’s not just a matter that they do not have friends. Look at the cause, adequate communication skills.

Language Challenges Uncovered: The Foundation for Academic Achievement Part 2

Foundation of Language chart
The foundation of language needed for academic achievement

If language is the foundation for academic achievement then what do language challenges look like in everyday life? There are many areas that can impact language including word finding, auditory processing, comprehension and

As a speech therapist one of the most telling signs of word finding problems  in children and adults is the frequent use of “thingy”, “it’s”, “stuff”, or frequent use of description to circumnavigate saying the intended word. some people are so good at this skill that they They may also say a word that is close to the word they want instead of the correct word. For example, they might say, “Give me that yellow thing on the table.” “Do you have the stuff?” A description in the first example and “stuff” in the second sentence replaces the name of the object. These are normal strategies, but if they are heavily used then a word finding problem might be suspected.

Someone with auditory processing problems may come to a speech therapist having difficulty with speech sounds or the ability to repeat three or four words in order. For example apple, rock, bed, door. Might become bed, door …apple. They can not hold all the words in their head. This makes acquiring new language forms difficult. There are many problems that could contribute to speech sound problems or poor word memory, but auditory processing challenges would be a logical place a speech therapist would assess.

Comprehension challenges can impact many areas. Following directions or reading and understanding  a passage are two examples .  For example, if given the direction, “Henry, go get the toothbrush, and soap so we can pack it in your bag. “ “Henry comes back with a regular brush or nothing at all.”  He may not have been attending to the direction, but he could also have trouble processing verbal information an assessment is need to determine the exact nature of the problem.

Verbal expression probably the least recognized difficulty may show up in the adult or child who rarely speaks. I once had a client say to me, “I’m quiet. I’m from a quiet family.” That was true, but because it was difficult for him to convey his ideas he was even less likely to speak. Not talking with peers, friends and in class  compounded the problem further because he didn’t  practice improving his speech. Even when he wanted to speak it was increasingly difficult for him.  People with language formulation problems may stumble on phrases, have frequent pauses, look up to the sky as if they are looking for the answer, and/or use frequent interjections when conveying their ideas.  Even with additional time and the use of fillers their ideas may still be disorganized.  Problems with comprehension, word finding, and language formulation are only a few of the language impairments and challenges that affect academic achievement.

When it comes to speech and language challenges, there is no one-size-fits-all. The deficit needs to be identified and addressed directly. Even small speech and language challenges can leave adults and children frustrated and demoralized with lowered self, if not adequately supported and addressed. There is no need for are language challenges to negatively impact academic achievement  if adequate support is offered.

Next: So what does language therapy consist of?

Language: The Foundation for Academic Part 1

Foundation of Language chart
The foundation of language needed for academic achievement

The foundation of language chart above provides a simplified view of language development to show how early language development supports future academic achievement. Because we so often take language for granted and schools often downplay the impact of speech and language challenges after the third grade, it is  easy not to realize, that even small speech and language challenges and impairments can cause great frustration and lead to poor academic performance.

For instance, word finding problems will result in limited vocabulary acquisition. Reduced vocabulary will impact the ability to express ideas both verbally and in writing. Difficulty processing language or understanding language will result in problems following directions and challenges conversing with family and peers.  Complications with language formulation will impact the ability to express ideas both verbally and in writing. All deficits will make completing school and home assignments more challenging.  Solid language skills are necesssary for academic achievement.

Although words are thrown around such as “language-based curriculum”, “language-based classroom,” it must be understood that all classrooms and curriculums are language-based. Everything we do is language-based. In relationships, at work, and at school we rely heavily on language to connect and learn from each other.  If a child or adult has difficulty with language they will often require, not only a language-based curriculum, but individualized instruction to help them learn strategies to navigate and manage their language challenges.


Is accent reduction enough?

Clear concise speech
Accent reduction improves speech on the phone.

“Why don’t people understand me? People are always telling me to repeat myself especially on the phone,” says one client. ”I don’t hear the difference between some sounds, and I have a hard time getting my ideas together when I give presentations at work,” says another. What do these clients have in common? They both are seeking accent reduction instruction, so they can perform better at work. Continue reading “Is accent reduction enough?”