Prioritizing Students’ Friendships in Pods and Classrooms

Children playing in fountain

If the Corona virus epidemic has taught us anything, it probably is the value of friends and family in negotiating our way through difficult periods. Talking to friends and catching up on Zoom allow us to share how we feel in our dark moments. Friendships empower us to face reality and to realize that we are still ok and sane!

Even though we can strengthen our existing friendships remotely, it is generally more difficult to develop new friendships online. Existing friendships are what we capitalize on in difficult times.

This Cornavirus time is, therefore, another wake-up call for us to seriously reflect on how to assist students with special needs to develop friendships. I was struck by a recent posting by a mother of a child with special needs. It vividly describes the plight of a boy who does not have friends. She wrote:

I’ve been doing this for 19 years, so I’m used to it. But really, no, not doing okay. I’m so depressed and sad for him. He is lonely and anxious and doesn’t understand why people don’t want to be with him. He’s lovable but they can only take him in doses. His sadness turns to rage, on me mostly. And I stand there with my invisible shield on and I take it. Because no one else can or will take it from him. I’m going to be there for him no matter what. And right now, during this…pandemic, I have to be here for him 24/7. Because he has nothing to do and because he’s so full of anxiety. It’s really hard. 

This mother’s cry for help is not uncommon, and it requires our attention. The posting highlights the boy’s isolation and lack of friendships. It also describes the parent’s desperation within this context. While some parents of typical students could probably identify with this mother, the extent of the challenges are different when you have a child with a significant disability.

Continue reading “Prioritizing Students’ Friendships in Pods and Classrooms”

Story-time with Erna #3: For Parents and Their Young Children—About Turtles in a Pond

Turtles in a pont

Paying Attention to Detail : Enhancing World Knowledge and Understanding of Concepts.

Today’s narrative is different from the previous two stories as it focuses attention on observations made while watching a pond with turtles. This type of observational narrative encourages children to focus attention on detail. Encouraging children to look more carefully at their environment builds on their world knowledge and understanding. What we see depends on how carefully we look and listen. Careful observation is not only the basis for acquiring knowledge, it is also related to understanding concepts and making sure that we have something to communicate about. Having something to share with another is at the basis of developing communication skills.

Background to the narrative

I have friends whose house is next to a big pond. If you stand in their sunroom, you can see the turtles and fish swim in the pond and sometimes you can even see a snake swim in the water. When I first saw the pond I couldn’t see anything in the pond. However, after a while, when I looked more carefully, I realized you can see a lot! My granny always said if you look too quickly you can’t see anything, however, if you look carefully, you will be surprised at what you see!. Today I am telling you about the turtles that live in my friends’ pond and if you look closely at the pictures, you will see what I saw! Continue reading “Story-time with Erna #3: For Parents and Their Young Children—About Turtles in a Pond”

Guidelines for parents: How to play with my child who is nonverbal- Beginning play level

 

How do I play with my young child who is nonverbal? Expansion from where your child is at..

It is not uncommon for parents to express uncertainty about how to go about playing with young children who are not able to express themselves. These children often have a limited repertoire of toys that they are interested in. All we need for play is to identify one toy (e.g. teddy), action (e.g. jumping), or object (e.g.. car) that the child is interested in and use it as a basis for play. We want to be aware of what the child is interested in and then for us to extend what s/he does with the toy/object to expand involvement with us and the toy/object or action. 

My child is in school already, why should s/he still learn to play like this?

There is a direct link between children’s ability to play with themselves and others, and their ability to learn.  This also applies for children of school -going age. Children learn primarily through play. They make up action stories (e.g. the doggie runs in the yard, he runs fast, he sees daddy coming in the car, what does the doggie do? He runs to the car to greet daddy). In playing out a simple story like this, they learn about sequential actions and logical outcomes. If we can get a young child to play like this, s/he is  well on the way to learning. 

What toys do I use?

We need to watch carefully what toys the child spontaneously engages with. We need to observe how s/he uses the toys to develop their play skills. Allow yourself to expand play around the object of your child’s interest by adding one or two ideas that you think the child might relate to. Parents can be most intuitive in knowing what a child might enjoy – and if it doesn’t work, then you can try with another object/action/toy later on.  It is not how many times we have to try that is important, but where we are heading for!

Gaining a young child’s attention is often difficult and expanding that interest to include a slightly longer engagement with the toy can be quite difficult at first. Remember this is an activity that you and your child should enjoy together. Don’t allow a play session to change into a “teaching session”. The idea is to have fun together. Play, communication and learning can only happen when a child is interested and enjoy what they are doing with you. 

So how do I do this? Continue reading “Guidelines for parents: How to play with my child who is nonverbal- Beginning play level”

Story-time with Erna #1: For Parents and Their Young Children during the Time of the Coronavirus

Woman reading story to her child

One of the great joys in my life as a young child was the experience of listening to stories my grandmother told us. These stories were quite unique, as they were folk tales that were orally communicated from generation to generation. All these stories were about animals—for example, The lion and the Jackal, Jackal and Wolf, Crab and the Jackal, etc. In my retelling of these stories, I am using the book  Famous South African Folk Tales by Pieter W Grobbelaar and Sean Verster.

Although the main purpose of this presentation is enjoyment, these stories also provide great opportunities for parents to talk to their children about the content of the stories to ensure that they understand what happened;  and why certain characters acted in certain ways. There is no better way to enhance children’s learning than to focus on their ability to understand oral and written language. At the end of the story, I will provide a couple of pointers on how parents can facilitate talking about the story with their children.

Continue reading “Story-time with Erna #1: For Parents and Their Young Children during the Time of the Coronavirus”

Typing with Hand-over-hand Support: Is This Really Communication?

Letter board

I recently read the article “After years with no way to communicate, Newburgh teen finds her voice.” Like so many other similar stories, this heartwarming narrative gives an account of how a young women is using supported typing to “communicate.” The mother describes how this strategy has helped her teenage daughter to communicate and find her “voice.” Her daughter points to letters on a letter board while another person (the facilitator) supports the daughter’s wrist during the process of typing.

Although it is good to read positive stories like this, it is important that we alert parents and professionals to the pitfalls involved in describing “supported or assisted typing” as a communication strategy.

Continue reading “Typing with Hand-over-hand Support: Is This Really Communication?”

Being with Another: The Basis for AAC intervention?

Two people together at sunset

I recently went back to South Africa to see my mom, who is 88. She is in a nursing facility with 24-hour care, unable to walk, and at times quite confused. During the past year she had a couple of ischemic attacks, which rendered her unable to speak for certain periods of time. Recently, however, she has regained some speech, although verbal expression remains difficult. In spite of all these factors, I looked forward to our visit.

The author with her mom and her brother
The author with her mom and her brother

I talk to my mom on the phone from New York on a daily basis. Even though interactions are difficult, we are able to maintain interaction for sometimes shorter and sometimes longer periods of time. My visits with her are less focused on content and more on celebrating the joy of being together.

When in Johannesburg, I visit her at the facility twice a day for about an hour each in the morning and afternoon, depending on how my mom and I seem to be doing at the time and on a specific day. Continue reading “Being with Another: The Basis for AAC intervention?”

Repeat Questions from Students
with Special Needs in the Classroom:
What to Do?

Children raising hands in classroom

A teacher recently shared that she has a student in her class who keeps repeating the same question even after she has responded to it. The student will ask the teacher, “When will we get our tests back?” To which the teacher will reply, “I will give them back tomorrow, as I have not finished making all the corrections yet.” However, 10 minutes later, the student will proceed to ask the same question.

This reminded me of a similar scenario with a student I know of who used an AAC device. This student also repeated the same question, even though the teacher had responded to the question. The student would activate his device to ask, “When do we go to the library?” To which the teacher would respond by saying, “We will go to the library after break.” However, within 10 minutes of the first question, the student proceeded to repeat the same question. Continue reading “Repeat Questions from Students
with Special Needs in the Classroom:
What to Do?”

Riding the Whirlwind: Human Interactions and Emotional Resonance

Whirlwinds

On a recent visit to South Africa, I realized again the importance of traveling to bring fresh perspectives as well as new insights into human interactions.

Moral Compass: Political cartoon of Nelson Mandela by Zapiro
[Source]
Truth be told, this is a difficult time politically in South Africa; and dealing with political views while visiting family can be interesting albeit quite disturbing at times. A political cartoon by Zapiro (Daily Maverick) stayed with me, as it connected to a dilemma that I encountered while visiting an elderly friend who lives on her own in Johannesburg. The cartoon depicts Nelson Mandela showing the way to go, while the current President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, is caught up in a moral whirlwind (windvane) without an escape route. The depiction of “being caught up in a whirlwind” struck me as I reflected on the situation that my 91-year-old friend finds herself in. Continue reading “Riding the Whirlwind: Human Interactions and Emotional Resonance”

Listening, Communication Intent, and Rabbits

Rabbit in a field of grass

What Can We Learn from Our Leporine Neighbors?

I have been watching the rabbits in our garden in the early morning hours as they nibble at the grass and momentarily stop to listen, before continuing with their nibbling. This process of nibbling, abrupt stopping and listening, nibbling and stopping and listening fascinates me. It is almost as if the rabbits realize that while they are busy nibbling grass, they can’t listen (or become aware of potential threats), hence they have to stop, albeit momentarily, to listen.

While the idea of stopping in the midst of daily activity is not new, it made me think about our communication intervention practices. I have been trained (and have also trained others for a long time) to understand that communication is an intentional, goal-oriented process of exchanging messages to achieve specific outcomes. The closer the outcomes resemble the initial intent, the more successful we deem the communication to be. But is communication with others really purposeful in that way? Is the process of developing meaning with others really that predictable? Continue reading “Listening, Communication Intent, and Rabbits”

iPads, Electronic Media Use, and AAC Users

Child using an iPad tablet

Should students who use iPads for communication purposes be allowed to use the iPad in the classroom for academic purposes? This question was raised recently by Maria Landon in the ASHA Leader (June 2018 issue):

Then the classroom teacher starts talking about a great new current-events application she just heard about. The occupational therapist wants to install a handwriting app. The student’s one-on-one aide thinks a visual timer would be very helpful during transitional times. So, now what?

Continue reading “iPads, Electronic Media Use, and AAC Users”