Preventing Screen Addiction

A recent article in The Telegraph describes a very scary trend: “Children as young as four are becoming so addicted to smartphones and iPads that they require psychological treatment.”  Popular and professional literature are full of such warnings, yet parents continue to use digital devices to keep their babies, toddlers, and young children occupied.  One in seven parents polled in a study admitted their children used digital gadgets for four or more hours a day!  Although 81% of the parents surveyed expressed a concern that their children were spending too much time with digital devices, this hasn’t stopped them from allowing their children to have this access.  Indeed, the article states that according to psychiatrists, “digital dependency” in  adults and children has grown 30% in recent years. This addiction in young children is evident by obsession with devices and uncontrollable tantrums when the devices are removed, and leads to difficulties with social interaction as the children get older.

With so many warnings about the potential detriments of excessive screen time, why do parents still allow their infants, toddlers, and even older children have so much access to digital devices?  One reason might be that parents are discounting these warnings as an overblown extension of warnings in the past about letting children watch too much TV.  After all, generations of kids dating back to the 1950s watched hours of TV each day and they didn’t grow up to be TV addicts, right?  While it’s a fact that when people are home, the TV is more likely to be on than off, most people don’t go through withdrawal when the electricity goes out or the TV is on the fritz and they are unable to watch TV for any length of time.  But have digital devices go dark and there is very clearly a visceral reaction. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I’m guessing that the major difference is the way we engage with digital gadgets vs. TV screens.  Unless we are binge-watching the latest Netflix series, engagement with the TV is much less intense.  We move around, get something to eat, page through a magazine, cook dinner, fold laundry, knit, and engage with others while the TV is on;  the TV does not capture and hold our undivided attention.  In many cases, it is simply background noise to other activities in the home.  Engagement with handheld devices is much more intense;  it is the primary focus of attention, often to the exclusion of all other activities and interactions. This releases endorphins that excite the pleasure centers in our brains, which feeds the addiction.

Another reason for parents to rely on digital devices to occupy their children — and this one horrifies me — is that parents themselves are hooked into devices, so keeping the kids quiet with device use allows the parents uninterrupted time on their own handheld screens.  As an article in Huffington Post states, over 70% of children surveyed feel their parents spend too much time on mobile devices.  Remember, parents of infants and young children are themselves “digital natives,” meaning they grew up with technology and don’t know life without it.

As SLPs, we see the effects on language and pragmatic skill development caused by  overexposure to screens, be it smartphones, tablets, or video games — not to mention the effects on attention, executive functioning, fine and gross motors skills, imagination, and higher level thinking.  The question is: how can we help parents understand the critical importance of hands-on experiences and interpersonal engagement and how to incorporate these experiences and engagement in everyday life?  Ironically enough, there’s an app for that!

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 5.11.48 AMJoinvroom.org is a website, app, and e-newsletter that encourages parents to be “brain builders” through simple activities already occurring in the home:  mealtime, bath time, daily errands and chores, etc.  Downloadable activity cards and daily videos teach parents how to engage their infants and children using eye contact, chatting, taking the child’s lead, expanding on the child’s language, and turn-taking, all in the context of daily living.  No special equipment or skills are needed.  Joinvroom.org is really all about being a fully present, hands-on parent.  I heartily recommend this resource to all parents of infants and young children. Although geared toward children ages 5 and younger, parents of older children who have special needs will be able to use many of these ideas to stimulate growth and engagement in their children, too.

The kind of parenting encouraged by Joinvroom.org will seem intuitive to most SLPs and reflects the kind of parenting that was common before the digital age.  I encourage every SLP working in early intervention and preschool to share this with parents on their caseload. And, for the rest of us, consider recommending this site to all new parents and others who would benefit from these back-to-basics parenting tips.  Share this post on your social media for May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.   Keeping parents and children engaged in these hands-on and interactive activities just might prevent the need for “digital detox” in their future.

“What goes on in that Speech Room?”

Kids are curious about that little room down the hall, next to the nurse’s office.  What is that room for?  Who goes there?  It looks like a fun place!  Why can’t I go, too?  Kids who WILL be going to speech/language therapy have different questions.  Why am I going to Speech?  What is therapy like?

To help SLPs and teachers explain speech/language therapy to newly identified students AND the rest of the class, I’ve written three children’s books that address three different aspects of what we do.

Matthew cover“The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own” is about a little boy with such significant articulation issues that he can’t even say his own name.  He is isolated from his classmates, who think he is speaking a foreign language, and he misses out on daily activities because he can’t make himself understood.  Fortunately, the speech/language pathologist comes to the rescue and leads him through the process from screening to articulate speech. At the end of the book, I’ve answered questions submitted by students from my own elementary school in a section called “Get to Know a Speech/Language Pathologist.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.06.24 PM“There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice” is a silly rhyming tale to introduce students to all of the items commonly used in therapy. Kids love this “speechie” twist on a familiar tale.  The book ends with a glossary of all of the therapy items and how we use them, and has a “Speech Room Scavenger Hunt” that you can photocopy for the students as they hunt for all of  the items in your room — a language lesson in itself!

 

Katie cover“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)”  acquaints students with assistive technology, including augmentative communication, and how it changes the way classmates view a fourth grade girl who has significant physical and communication disabilities.  This book ends with a section on disability etiquette.   Katie is also available in a German translation from Amazon in Germany.

 

 

Each book can be a stand-alone lesson, but you don’t have to stop there!  Here are additional resources that will extend each book into lessons in articulation, vocabulary, language, story mapping, and more. Click on the colored text below to get to the resources, the majority of which are FREE!

“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)”:  I’ve created a Reader’s Theater version of the book and PowerPoint “scenery” you can project, a free Discussion Guide which can also be used as writing prompts, and a Communication Word Search.  A Disability Etiquette video, “Making Everyone Feel Welcome,” told by the characters of the book, is on my YouTube channel. While on YouTube, check out the amazing video made by Polish students who have disabilities, inspired by Katie’s story, ideal for middle and high school students.  Clever SLP, Truvine Walker, offers a number of free artic and language activities related to this book at her TeachersPayTeachers store.

“The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own”:  Truvine Walker offers a free Speech/Language Companion Packet for this book on TPT that extends the story in many directions to meet a variety of s/l therapy goals.

“There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice”:   Truvine Walker created an amazing Speech/Language Companion Packet for this wacky story — again, it’s free!

These books are super gifts for student clinicians and SLPs in the school.  Autographed and personalized copies are available through Speaking of Speech.com.  Did you order your copy from Amazon but wish it was autographed?  Send me an email at pat@speakingofspeech.com, and I’ll send you a free signed bookplate!

“Don’t Limit Me!” — Presume and Foster Competence in All Students

“Presume competence:” these two powerful words challenge educators to make a fundamental shift in their thinking.  Once a child with disabilities was viewed in terms of what he or she can’t do. We now are charged to assume and expect that the child can and will learn, communicate, participate, and develop, and it is our responsibility to facilitate this by finding ways to eliminate or reduce the barriers that would otherwise be limiting to the child.  This is absolutely right and essential, but it isn’t always easy.

The Internet abounds with references and resources, but for SLPs and special educators who are seeking information that they can immediately put into practice, I strongly recommend starting at PrAACticalAAC.org.  Here you will find an amazing amount of information on presuming competence and a gazillion other topics, delivered in bite-sized, highly readable posts.

Don't Limit Me!For IEP teams and individuals who would benefit from a pep talk on presuming competence, there can be no better speaker on the topic than Megan Bomgaars.  The “Don’t Limit Me!” video delivers a powerful message from a special young lady who refuses to be defined by her disability label.

 

A young man who also defies labels and has benefited from a rich, inclusive education is Tim Harris, owner of Tim’s Place Restaurant in Albuquerque, NM.  I had the delightful experience of meeting Tim twice and dining at “the World’s Friendliest Restaurant.”  You can read about my visit with Tim in my post “Take a Tip or Two From Tim.”  Then visit Tim’s website to see videos of Tim in action, learn about Tim’s Big Heart Foundation to help individuals with intellectual disabilities start their own businesses and achieve their dreams, and even book Tim for a guest speaker gig.

I’ve done a lot of team trainings over the years on presuming competence, maximizing participation, and facilitating independence in students who have multiple disabilities.  Some of what I share in my trainings involves changing well-intentioned but ultimately limiting behavior in educators and caregivers, and is mentioned in my post “How to Get to ‘I DID IT!'”

For a chilling account of what happens when caregivers only see profound disability and have no expectations of understanding or ability, I recommend the autobiography by Martin Pistorius, GHOST BOY, which I reviewed on this blog. Spoiler alert: you’ll also see the dramatic, life-changing results when someone does, finally, presume competence.

Here’s another spoiler alert:  If you and your school teams make every effort to presume and facilitate competence in your students who have disabilities, you’ll witness, first-hand, some pretty amazing results, too.

“The Key to Carryover: Change Oral Postures to Fortify Speech Production”

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 8.33.36 PMLucky, lucky me! I’ve had the great good fortune to attend several presentations by Char Boshart, M.A., CCC-SLP, over the past few years.   Five hours with this engaging presenter fly by, and leave my head bursting with new ways of looking at my articulation students and therapy plans. Despite my efforts to take notes, I always know I’m missing something or will forget something once I get back to my therapy room. But now I’m lucky again, because now I have her book, “The Key to Carryover: Change Oral Postures to Fortify Speech Production.” Char has packed everything from her presentations—and then some—into this 111 page book, so I will always have access to information to help me with my trickiest artic kiddos.

Char believes that correcting the resting posture of the tongue is key to improving articulation. In fact, she states “the desirable resting posture provides a pivotal epicenter, right in the heart of all the action: speaking, chewing, and swallowing.” Char explains that “wherever the jaw, lips, and tongue rest, is where they work,” and unless resting posture is corrected, children will have difficulty developing and generalizing correct production. Hearing Char explain this at the first presentation was light-bulb moment. It makes perfect sense that fluent, articulate speech would be hampered by a tongue that keeps returning to a position that is too low and/or too forward.

In addition to resting tongue position, Char’s book leads the SLP through a tour of other oral motor factors that can hamper speech: respiration (nasal airflow, mouth breathing), structure (lips, tongue, jaw, palate, dentition, tonsils, hard tissue, soft tissue), and external factors (thumbsucking, pacifiers, oral appliances). She helps the reader determine between “fixables” and “non-fixables,” then sets out stages of therapy for those factors that can be fixed.

“The Key to Carryover: Change Oral Postures to Fortify Speech Production” is my go-to book when I evaluate new artic students and plan their therapy.

The book, and others by Char Boshart, are available on her website, www.speechdynamics.com, for just $19.95. Also on the site are downloadable materials, videos, and her presentation schedule. If you are lucky, she is coming to a city near you!

 

 

Grammar Gumballs

Created by:  Michelle Hinkle Ostrow and Kris Foley Scheller

Source: Super Duper, Inc. (www.superduperinc.com)

Price: $49.95 (free shipping)

Description:  If you are looking for a fun, motivating, and highly flexible way to work on grammar with your elementary students, Grammar Gumballs is it!    Nine durable, colorful decks of 20 cards each contain scenes that depict a variety of grammar constructs, including verbs (present progressive, regular and irregular past tense, copula), nouns (possessive, regular & irregular plurals), and pronouns (subjective and possessive).  The 64-page teacher’s guide presents scripted prompts for each picture to elicit 5 levels of skills:  listening, identifying, expressing, making corrections, and describing.  The CD which accompanies the game contains a multitude of printable worksheets (PDF files readable by WINDOWS and MAC) to reinforce grammar forms at home.

The Grammar Gumballs game board is a large, colorful “gumball machine” which holds foam “gumballs” and a built-in spinner.  Each student  in turn responds to the stimulus card and prompt from the SLP, then spins and takes the corresponding number of gumballs from the gumball machine.  The student with the most gumballs at the end of the session wins.

I use this game all the time. My kiddos love it and so do I.  Here’s why:

• The colorful pictures provide a great visual for students, terrific for clarifying and reinforcing grammatical forms.

• Because the teacher’s guide presents 5 levels of prompts, it is very easy to differentiate instruction in small groups of students who are operating on different skill levels.

• Besides using the suggested prompts, I found many ways to create my own tasks related to the picture cards to target student needs.

• The picture cards were a fun way for my articulation students to practice speech skills at the sentence level.

• The materials on the CD are great for follow-up reinforcement.

• The game moves very quickly — no delays chasing a wayward dice or counting up the dots, no moving pawns around a board.  Just spin and take 1 or 2 gumballs, which leaves more time for instruction and practice.

• The game cards can be used to quickly establish baseline and progress monitoring of specific grammar forms.

• My students liked the “gumball machine” so much that we used it as a reinforcer for other stimulus items and skills.

• The entire game is well made and nicely packaged.

Grammar Gumballs is a favorite with my students.  I bet you and your students will love it, too!