You Make my Heart Sing!

Debbie and Her Little SisGrowing up with an older sister with developmental disabilities did not seem unusual. My mother decided early on that we were just a regular family. Not easy for Mom, but as adult children we think of ourselves as equal family members.

My sister recognizes we are different. She still lives at home. Although she works as a grocery store clerk, this is not enough for her to feel independent. As a family, we have developed other ways.Often it might be easier to do something yourself, but I can truly see how important it is for Debbie to do tasks herself.She does her own laundry- taught by breaking the chore into simple routine steps.She is responsible for her room and making her lunch. My mom typically buys the food, but Debbie contributes by listing what she wants to eat.

What seemed to be missing was a social life.After years of going to church, she met a boy.A big life event. He lives in a residential group home, and she says they will marry some day. Not sure what will happen, but having someone special has been great.My mom bought her a pretty wedding dress. It was a message to say we see Debbie as an adult. Although she is not totally independent, we support her dates: Driving them to movies, and taking them to dinner, but sitting at separate tables. I tell her how special that is because even I do not have a boyfriend. My reward? Hearing Debbie say, You make my heart sing. Maybe that is why a sister and I both work in special ed classrooms.These kids remind us what is truly important.


The Star of the Story Is… You!

The Star of the story is YouA tool I have found helpful with transitions, especially the transition of a new school year, is social stories. An array of social stories are avilable on-line and in books, but personalizing social stories with photographs of the student doing the desired activity seems to get a better response. A new school year may include many firsts such as new staff,new room,and a new routine.Familiarizing students with new staff or what is expected (Such as, “waiting in line to get lunch”, or “sitting on the carpet with hands in lap”) by using photographs increases buy-in. Who doesn’t like being the star of their own story?

Give Thanks

Give ThanksGrowing up my sister started a Thanksgiving tradition (one not involving food)! She would cut out paper in the shape of leaves or hands. Every guest would write down what she or he was most thankful for.


We would then put them in the middle of the table. Everyone would take turns reading the items of someone else and guess from whom it was. This would continue until all the leaves or hands were read aloud.


This is a great way to remind us why we gather to celebrate and momentarily shift the focus away from the food!

Oprah Would Approve

PuppyAs Oprah would say, I had an moment that changed me as a teacher. I recently bought a puppy. Easy enough, but one day puppy day care loomed. I did not anticipate how hard it would be to hand her over to a stranger. A very qualified stranger, but still a stranger. At that moment I realized how emotional this must be for my students parents. Here I am, almost in tears wondering if my pup is going to have fun and be watched. And this is just a puppy!


When I returned, I was given a real gifts¦ a report card with a picture. How important for parents to not only hear about their child’s day, but also to see it. This year I gave my parents the same gift on the first day of school. Because of their enthusiastic feedback, Its going to do it monthly.

Boo! Ring-around-the-Ghost

Ring-around-the-GhostEach month our preschool classrooms target a group social game. We teach games step-by-step, but our goal is to keep it F-U-N. We began this several years ago, and received feedback from parents that it was helping our kids be more successful at birthday and family parties- a great bonus.

This month’s game is “Ring-around-the-Ghost,”a version of Ring-around-the-Rosie.(Special thanks, SurfMama.) We play this after lunch, a good time for giggling. Goals for most social games include sustained participation, orienting to the group activity, anticipating one’s turn, turn taking, learning to be a good loser, cheering on friends, and following the rules.We build in tangible and social reinforcement at high rates for those demonstrating targeted skills. It is amazing how quickly these are learned.

We begin with the ghost standing in the middle and looking through a simple ghost mask with cutout eyes. We make our own masks using die-cut ghosts on popsicle sticks. The ghost looks at their friends and teachers circling around, holding hands, and singing the familiar tune: Ring- around- the- Ghost. Who will he scare the most? Spooky- spooky. The ghost says, Boo!

For preschoolers, saying Boo! is pure fun.Unlike Rosie, no one falls down. The child or teacher that the ghost is looking at when the singing stops simply becomes the next ghost in the middle.

This game also provides an opportunity to facilitate a child’s understanding of looking at the speaker and the importance of gaze direction.At early stages, we actually take time to draw an imaginary line and connect the ghost’s body orientation and gaze direction to the next ghost. We ask, Who is the ghost looking at? and give high fives as everyone guesses.As a SLP, this is an important nonverbal and social communicative behavior to understand. When a teacher’s orientation is not to the child, it signals, are not my turn now.This is a critical building block to understanding that do not interrupt my teacher now. I need to wait. She is talking to someone else.

Ring-around-the-Ghost. Enjoy.And, “Boo!”

Old Fashioned Token Boards

Old fashioned token board improvementLast month I read a post from DC-School Psychologist about using social stories to help the student’s transition. She suggested using photographs of the students doing the desired activities to personalize the story. I loved this idea and decided to use it with our token boards as well. We took a photo of the student doing the desired target behavior and laminated it to the front of the token board. It’s a great reminder for both the student and the staff. Everyone knows exactly what the target behavior is and how the student earns his/her tokens. Also, to remind the student of what they should be doing we simply point to their photo. Thanks, DC Psychologist for the great idea! It has made a big difference.

Healthy Trick-or-Treat Alternatives

Healthy trick-or-treat alternativesHalloween can be a challenging time to find healthy alternatives among the candy sales that seem to start earlier every year. Here are five healthier alternatives to hand out this year:

*Mini bag of pretzels*

*Pre-packed whole, raw almonds*

*Box of raisins*

*Mini bag of baby carrots*

*Air popped popcorn topped with a spice mix*

Trick or Treat!

Sugar… Not as sweet as it seems!

No sugar, or at least less sugarSugar is everywhere nowadays.It comes in many names and forms:
beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn sweetener,
corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrin, dextrose, evaporated cane juice,
fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey,
invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar,
sucrose, sugar, syrup, turbinado sugar, white sugar, sucrose, molasses, and the list goes on…


Once in the body, all sugars act virtually the same. No matter what sugar
you choose to eat, it is best to limit it!


With Halloween on the horizon, here are some non-candy sweet treats to try:


*Plain yogurt swirled with ground cinnamon, fresh berries, and a dollop of
*Core an apple and stuff the hallow center with natural peanut butter, some
raisins, and a few dark chocolate chips.
*Sweet veggies (jicama, bell peppers, carrots) served with hummus or
*Homemade granola made from rolled oats, honey, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds
baked in the oven.
*Core a pear or apple and sprinkle nutmeg and cinnamon on the hollowed
inside. Place fruit in baking dish and bake in oven at 325 for 45-60
*Baked sweet potato fries. Slice sweet potatoes and/or yams, sprinkle with
olive oil and any favorites spices (rosemary is a favorite). Baked at 425
until golden brown (about 30 minutes). Enjoy on their own or with organic

Trick-or-Treat Learning Opportunities

Trick or TreatTrick-or-treat. Silly fun. Either inside your classroom, or at home practice: A) knocking on door or ringing the bell, B) waiting for someone to open the door, C) saying trick-or-treat, D) opening your treat bag, and E) saying thank-you. Wow, who would have guessed that there are so many imbedded, natural opportunities for social communication in this highly practiced verbal routine?


No need to give candies while practicing, but do use treats. In our classrooms we use tiny toys and manipulatives that stay in the classroom. Kids can make choices at the different stops when offered, and even learn no, thank you. We vary lessons to let them play with the toys when trick-or-treating is over, and then practice sorting them into correct groups (e.g. toy cars in this group, blocks here, and animals there.) Other times, when food is given as treats, kids separate items into I eat this; I do not eat this. The rule is consistently, I do not eat and open anything until my mommy/ daddy/ teacher checks all my treats. Trick-or-treat learning opportunities. Again, who would have guessed?

One Year- One Amazing Difference

One Year- One Amazing DifferenceWe read Curious George Goes to School.We went to meet your teacher.We talked to you about school.But truly, nothing could have prepared me for your first day.Getting to school, fighting the chaos of minivans, strollers, kids of all ages, and excited parents was crazier than taking you to an amusement park! But with every trial, there is the opportunity to learn something new.Within a few weeks, I had figured out the best route to take you to school. I had to shed (or try to stifle) any concerns about what any of the typical kids and parents were thinking of us, and I created the same routine (as much as possible) for getting to school. It was not always pretty. You ran away from me, you screamed, tantrumed and aggressed, but I learned that by creating a routine, I was able to try and support you in the best way possible. After that, I could only hope for the best results.

This year, you were a jumping bean upon arrival at the same school on the first day. You looked at me and said; Bye mommy, See you later’s and practically leaped into your teachers arms.I never could have imagined the progress you have made.Words! Excitement!?! Non-traumatic transition!!!

If I could do it all over, I would have labeled all of your clothes before the first week, I would have tried to figure out the best route into school sooner, and I probably should have taken you to the campus one more time before the start of school. But the most important thing I should have tried to do would have been to remain hopeful, and not worry quite so much about how bad things got before they got better.Certainly easier said than done, and I suppose that is one of my great struggles in parenting you. But the more progress you make, the easier it is to have hope, to keep perspective, and to grow a thicker skin to the challenges that come our way.