Category: <span>Speech Therapy</span>

The Do’s and Don’ts of Engaging the Rabbit Trail

By Rachel Betzen, M.S., CCC/SLP

At one time or another the children that we work with will inevitably veer off course from the direct activity they are doing, to ask a related (or unrelated) question, or to tell us about something they are reminded of.  I personally get a little excited when this happens, though I realize that this is probably not the initial reaction of most clinicians.  There are some “rabbit trails” that we can use to further engage the student, and reignite their love of learning.  Other kinds of “rabbit trails” disengage the child from therapy tasks, and it is more effective to redirect them back to their work.

Determining which kind of rabbit trail the child is leading us down will help determine whether we go along for the ride- vs. redirecting.  If the child is asking a relevant or related question, it’s ok to stop and talk about that.  I like being near a computer, so I can search for images related to the topic.  Sometimes we need to give more background info and the computer is a good tool to use.  We have two laptops that are available, and taking them into the therapy office to your PC is ok too.

Sometimes with tangentially related rabbit trails, I take advantage of them as a “compare and contrast” learning opportunity.  If the child can explain how the topic is related and how it differs from the information we are using with them, that deepens their understanding.  If this is too distracting or taking too much time, it’s also ok to tell the child how their question is similar and different to their topic, and then re-direct back to their work.

Fist Bump for a Job well done in Speech Therapy
Fist Bump for a Job well done in Speech Therapy

For redirections, I often tell kids to put their distraction “in the back of their attention”, and they respond “put this in the front”.  A quick reminder to “put it in the back” is sometimes all they need to re-focus.  One of our highly distracted students is beginning to remind himself “ok, I’ll put that in the back and my work in the front”!

The Socratic learning process encourages students to discover the right answer or a deeper understanding through us asking the right questions.  Using this method is bound to lead us through multiple rabbit trails.  When a student is doing a “stinking thinking rabbit trail” we need to stop whatever we are doing and redirect them back to the positive.  The socratic method is a powerful tool as students learn to see their “mistakes” as a way to focus more on where they need additional learning.  This helps us lessen their emotional response to “failure” and empowers them to become more independent learners.

 

Executive Functions – Part 4

Rachel’s Resources
“Executive Functions and Speech-Language Therapy” – Part 4

By Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP

Note: This is the fourth part of a 4 part series. Start at Executive Function – Part 1

 

R head shotAs children progress to higher elementary grades and middle school, in addition to the expectation of reading to learn our students are required to manipulate information and give written responses.  Our junior high and high school students are expected to independently plan and write essays that clearly explain concepts with good written composition.

We want our students to have the skills needed to plan ahead for projects, and hold the important information in mind while further organizing new and previously learned information.  When addressing task initiation and building working memory, we still need to assess the foundation of skills our students need, and help them organize their learning in a way that makes sense to their learning modality.

The next two executive function areas are important skills to help children and adults meet their full potential. These skills help us begin difficult and complex tasks, and integrate new information while holding in memory other relevant details.

The Executive Functions

  1. Response Inhibition
  2. Organization
  3. Task Initiation
  4. Working Memory
  5. Emotional Control
  6. Flexibility
  7. Sustained Attention
  8. Time Management
  9. Planning/Prioritization
  10. Goal-Directed Persistence
  11. Metacognition

Task initiation:  The ability to begin a task without excessive procrastination and the ability to plan smaller steps needed for task completion. This skill area can be influenced by many factors, such as personality, learning challenges, high distractibility (including ADHD), social skill weaknesses (with group projects), emotional overwhelm, or experiences of failure.

The Executive Skills workbook describes two kinds of task initiation: beginning a task right away when it is requested, and planning when to complete longer term projects. Environmental modifications in the child’s homework area include the child making visual reminders and marking a calendar with steps for task completion. The child may need many reminders at first which can be faded over time, and lots of reinforcement as the child is following through with their plans. These same strategies can be applied to adults.

Working Memory: The ability to hold information in mind while performing complex tasks. This incorporates the ability to past learning or prior knowledge that applies to the current project.

This skill area will be affected for our students that have language processing delays, and some of our students that have language disorders. When children are not able to hold all of the details in mind and create accurate visual imagery, this will show up with their working memory. Improving overall language skills often boosts this area, however for our older students they may need more direct intervention.

Modifications include storage devices like calendars and notebooks, or use of calendars on smart phones or electronic devices. Auditory cues and reminders will probably still be needed as our students develop this skill.

Executive Functions – Part 3

Rachel’s Resources
“Executive Functions and Speech-Language Therapy” – Part 3


By Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP

Note: This is the third part of a 4 part series. Start at Executive Function – Part 1

R head shotAs children enter the higher elementary grades and middle school, there is a shift that happens as they begin to take more responsibility for their education. Students in third through grade are expected to have learned to read, as they are required more and more to read to learn. At Dallas Reading and Language Services, our junior high and high school students are expected to analyze and explain concepts with a much larger emphasis on essay answers and written composition.

Children who have language delays or disorders are more at risk for experiencing learning challenges. We can help our students understand that they are smart, even though their weaknesses may make learning harder now. Our children benefit from figuring out how they best learn through the therapy process. Becoming independent learners is all about building the foundation of skills our students need, and helping them structure their learning in a way that makes sense for their strengths and learning modality.

Language is the basic foundation for individual growth and academic success, particularly written language. Children who are below grade level with decoding skills will have a much harder time learning independently. Reading is a precursor of academic success; we need to make it a priority to help these kids become independent decoders.

As we look at skills which are supported across all main executive functions, we need to help children build a strong foundation for each area. Our therapists explain to our students and their parents what areas we plan to target and how we think this will make learning easier for them. After introducing a skill area we plan to target, we help the children identify how we will help them practice needed skills during therapy.

Executive functions are the beginning of meeting one’s full potential, because these skills help people to accomplish difficult and complex tasks with the determination not to give up, even when faced with many challenges.

The Executive Functions

  1. Response Inhibition
  2. Organization
  3. Task Initiation
  4. Working Memory
  5. Emotional Control
  6. Flexibility
  7. Sustained Attention
  8. Time Management
  9. Planning/Prioritization
  10. Goal-Directed Persistence
  11. Metacognition

Response Inhibition:  The ability to think before one acts and to delay or stop impulsive responses.

Children who exhibit impairments with this executive function tend to be very active and impulsive, and the goal is to have them inhibit responses that get them in trouble or interfere with learning. At Dallas Reading and Language Services we have had some success with helping students monitor their sustained attention, and then praise them for bringing their attention back to task. This area also applies for pragmatic skills as we want children to respond, rather than react to, social situations. Teaching them to pause and reconnect with breath has been helpful for our student’s behaviors, so they can inhibit a negative response that may get them into trouble.

When there are behavior issues or a lot of impulsivity, our therapists teach the child a skill that needs to be replaced, and help the child practice in multiple contexts. Increased supervision may be needed, and cues for controlling impulses are helpful. Immediate reinforcement of new skills is really important.

Organization Ability to design and maintain a system for keeping track of information, and creating and using templates that make learning easier and more concrete.

Students struggling with this executive function need more than an organized backpack or homework folder. When kids struggle with learning, we need to help them understand how to structure information. Our students benefit from sentence structure organization for understanding important details through asking “wh” questions (who, what, when, where, why) and use of the structure words. They better understand the main idea with the structure given for who? Did what? And what happened?

Each week we will look at one or two areas of executive functions and how to help children become independent learners by teaching needed skills and giving them tools to improve each area.

Note: Proceed to the “Executive Function – Part 4

Executive Functions – Part 2

Rachel’s Resources
“Executive Functions and Speech-Language Therapy” – Part 2

By Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP

Note: This is the second part of a 4 part series. Start at Executive Function – Part 1

Executive functions are the beginning of meeting your full potential. These skills strengthen our ability to observe our own thoughts and feelings, to empathize with R head shotothers, manage multiple responsibilities, and work toward long term goals. Executive functions are important life skills that will continue to develop throughout our lifespan.

Executive functions refer to “the cognitive process that regulates an individual’s ability to organize thoughts and activities, prioritize tasks, manage time efficiently, and make decisions. This is huge for the children that we work with and our goals for helping them to become socially aware, compassionate and independent learners.

The following definitions are a combination of descriptions from the book Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare and insights from our clinical practice at Dallas Reading and Language Services.

1.  Response Inhibition:  Ability to think before one acts and to delay or stop impulsive responses

2.  Organization:  Ability to design and maintain a system for keeping track of information, and creating and using templates that make learning easier and more concrete

3.  Task Initiation:  Ability to begin tasks without excessive procrastination and to meet set deadlines

4.  Working Memory:  Ability to hold information in mind while completing complex tasks; this also involves using prior knowledge and experience

5.  Emotional Control:  Ability to manage emotions as needed in order to accomplish goals and complete daily responsibilities

6.  Flexibility:  Ability to respond to changing circumstances and revise plans due to obstacles, mistakes, and new information

7.  Sustained Attention:  Ability to maintain attention to tasks during distractions, fatigue, or other learning barriers; this also includes awareness of attention or lack thereof

8.  Time Management:  Ability to estimate the total time that one has, and allocate tasks with prioritization for completion and meeting deadlines

9.  Planning:  Ability to create a graphic organization for all the steps needed for task completion and maintain focus on what is most important

9.  Goal-Directed Persistence:  Ability to make short and long term goals, follow through toward completion in spite of distractions or other interests

10.  Metacognition:  Ability to self-monitor from a big picture perspective, and observe one’s own thoughts, problem-solving, and continuous development of one’s own executive skills.

 

Note: Proceed to the “Executive Function – Part 3

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