Sunday, October 28, 2018

How Alexa Changed My SLP Life

In the summer of 2017, I got my first Amazon Echo (with Alexa). I really purchased it just to listen to music in our home (which, yep, it's great for), but within weeks I knew I had to have one in my office. In fact, I decided I needed one in my bedroom and bathroom, too. I was HOOKED. 

I may be over dramatizing this, and in a few years I'm sure I'll be totally "over" Alexa, but in the meantime I'm calling it life changing! Here's how it's changed by #momlife #wifelife and #slplife....

Oh, first, you should know you have to get the Alexa app to control your echo or echo dot (which you can use to summon Alexa anytime you aren't around your echo or echo dot) On the app there are skills for you to choose from. Skills are like apps for your app. All skills that I've ever wanted have been free. Free is GOOD. 

I use the app ANYDO for all of my life's to-do list at home, my to-do list as work, lists of things to buy, my grocery list, and my Christmas lists! Alexa takes ANYDO to a whole new level. 

You see, Alexa works with many of your existing apps (and those you don't YET) to make them hands-free. While I'm cooking or while I'm planning for my grocery list, all I have to do it tell Alexa to add something to my grocery list - "Alexa, add eggs and ketchup to my grocery list. It will appear there, and not only can I see it, but my husband can, too, when he logs on to his ANYDO app.  It will also sort your grocery list by departments so that you are sure not to miss anything on your list while being distracted by the wine section or Halloween candy aisle. Or maybe that just happens to me.

I can easily add tasks to my to-do lists by simply saying, "Alexa, add Medicaid billing to my to-do list!" You can view all of your tasks from all lists, or just view specific lists. The app can show you your to-do list each morning (with a nice non-judgmental chime) and also let you plan your day (by moving tasks to another day if needed)

And don't worry, you still get that gratifying feeling of marking things OFF YOUR LIST. Just use your finger and smile about everything you got accomplished. 

2) I CAN LISTEN TO ANY MUSIC I WANT AT ANYTIME (all free and more than you can ever listen to if you have Amazon Prime)

I already mentioned that I love it for my home. Our one and only "tower" echo is in our kitchen. Every time our niece and nephew come over, they immediately ask, "Alexa, tell me a joke." or "Alexa, tell me a story." While I unload the dishwasher or cook dinner, I'm all about, "Alexa, play New Orleans Jazz" and my husband is all, "Alexa, play 90s country." You can also crank up or lower the volume just by saying,"Alexa, volume up 5 times." or "Alexa, lower." At work, during those times I have to sit at my desk and do paperwork, it's been awesome to have my echo dot on my desk. All I have to say is, "Alexa, play the Piano Guys" or "Alexa, play acoustic for working." If someone walks in, I just say, "Alexa, stop. (or pause)"  The echo dot doesn't get nearly as loud as the tallier echo, but it's perfect for my office. 

By the way, you can also call your echo "Amazon" or "Echo" instead of Alexa. Because my dots in my bathroom are close together, I call one Alexa and one Echo so they don't get confused. 

To set up music on your echo, use the app to connect your echo to your Amazon account. Your echo can play music from your phone or music from your Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, and other streaming services. All you have to do is tell it a song, artist, album, genre or playlist (from your phone or amazon) that you want to hear. Be as specific as you like!! Incredible!! 

My favorite Amazon Prime Music Playlists are: 


Here's the thing, I get 100-150 emails everyday. I literally could sit at my desk ALL day and ONLY answer emails. Being able to keep clacking away at my keyboard while using my voice to add items to my calendar and set reminders has TRULY been a game changer and humongous time saver. I keep typing while saying, "Alexa, add MEET WITH PAM to my calendar tomorrow at 2 pm." Then she will ask you anything else she may want to know such as location or other details I may want to add. Then it shows up in your calendar. Likewise, you can add reminders. My most frequent, since I eat a boiled egg almost every morning and like them soft boiled, is "Alexa, remind me in 6 minutes to check the eggs." Because I'm the worst at waiting until the last minute to leave for meetings, I also set reminders such as, "Alexa, remind me to leave for Lake Elementary at 11:40." Finally, I use the echo dot on my nightstand as my alarm clock. It's so easy. "Alexa, set an alarm for 5:45." and I snooze just by saying, "Echo, snooze." 

I am NOT a morning person. AT ALL. I can stay in my bed a couple more minutes and ease into the day by helping me take care of these essentials:

1) Find out about the traffic on my drive to work (just ask)
2) Refresh my memory about what's on my calendar (just ask)
3) Find out about weather to help me choose an outfit? (again, just ask) 
4) Get motivated with the limitless number of skills for motivation and inspiration. I really like the skill for quotes from Mother Teresa
5) Prayer (I like Silent Unity) Just ask for a prayer on any topic that's weighing heavily on you.
6) Meditation (my obsession with the HeadSpace app will be an entire post of its own)
7) Ease into Morning Playlists Once I'm up and getting ready, I ask Alexa to play "Ease into Morning __________ <<< (insert genre there)" 


By problems, I mean math problems. Y'all, I do not do math. I probably couldn't pass a 5th grade math test, and I'm okay with that. Truth be known, I'm probably learning disabled in math. Now Alexa does the math for me (I'm not even great with a calculator- sigh). She's my calculator now, and I love her for it.


Alexa can add a bunch of fun to lessons with kids. My niece and nephew love to ask her to do all kinds of wacky things - pretty handy for practicing asking questions actually- mostly they ask her to tell them a joke. Retelling jokes has always been a favorite carryover task of mine. Have your student learn a joke and then go out and use his or her stellar communication skills to tell it to someone else.

The skill called the Magic Door also has a therapy application. It tells stories and lets listeners choose what happens next. I also love the Twenty Questions skill and the Would You Rather (family version) skill for working on carryover of artic and fluency skills. New fun is always being added to Alexa; I get an email weekly telling me what's new with her, and much of it is seasonal.

 During this Halloween season, for example, you can ask Alexa:

what she's going to be for Halloween
to tell a Halloween joke
to sing a spooky song (especially entertaining)
to tell a scary story
to play Halloween music
to tell about what best-selling kids costumes
what you should be for Halloween

OR try to scare her by saying BOO and see how she reacts!

During Christmas, use the Elf Generator skill and the Ask Santa skill. The Christmas facts skill will tell you about anything related to Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah. You can even use the NORAD Track Santa skill to keep track of the big guy. 


You can tell I'm in deep when I am letting Alexa control all my lights. I bought an Alexa compatible plug at Christmas, and I plugged my Christmas tree into it. That was it. I was sold. All we had to do to turn it off and on now (which normally means getting BEHIND it and knocking down several ornaments) is saying, "Alexa, turn on/off the Christmas tree." Now she turns on all of my hard to reach lamps (I'm short, y'all). The plugs are so easy to pair with the Alexa app. 

As I discover new uses, I'll add them here! In the meantime, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear how you use Alexa. Don't have one?? Enter to win one NOW! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

#5 in a series: 8 things you need to know about working with children with autism

Thanks for hanging with me - back to school madness and a spine surgery has kept me away, but I'm back and ready to talk about the 5th thing YOU need to know when working with children who have autism. 

All the research on autism points to the fact that these students have extreme difficulty with generalization. Therefore, therapy should occur where the child “lives” the most.  For us, that is the classroom. 

Does being in the classroom come with challenges? Yep, you bet it does! It's probably loud, distracting, possibly even chaotic and not the ideal scenario you had in mind. The thing is... it's probably more bothersome and distracting to YOU than it is to your student. Also, if it's really out of control, find a more isolated area like the "changing corner" or tuck away behind the easel or the "kitchen center." I bet you're thinking, "Mia, are you telling me you never ever pulled kids to your room?"  Nope, I did it. I loved it. It was just us on the cozy rug or at my tiny table. I'll tell you why you shouldn't repeat my mistakes. 

To create generalization, we HAVE to work on establishing cognitive flexibility. 
Cognitive flexibility is the ability to adapt our knowledge to new and unexpected conditions.
It us our job, and the job of special education teachers, to facilitate cognitive flexibility.

What good is obtaining a skill, if the child can't use it in a variety of environments & scenarios and under different conditions? We can really only say a child has learned a skill when he or she can apply the skill across persons, places and circumstances.

I can tell you that when I pulled kids to my therapy room, I got kids to do things that shocked and awed their teachers and parents, but the problem was, they would only do it for me and only in my therapy room. Don't repeat my mistakes. If a child can't use communication our in the world, it doesn't matter what happens in your therapy room. 

Think about those IEP goals we write....we often stipulate what context a child will perform targets skills (with which people, place, and circumstance). AND YES, children need to learn target skills under prescribed conditions, but the ULTIMATE goal is far beyond that.

Let me tell you how....

1) NEVER teach a skill the same way with the same activity 2 times in a row!
Vary activities and materials all the time. Change SOMETHING each session so that the child doesn’t get “locked in.” These kiddos aren't like our babies who need constant repetition to learn play schemas. For children with ASD, if do the same activity or use the same items, you are creating rote learning and the child may become upset if it is broken. Plus, that the student will only be able to apply new learning if all the stars align! Did I make the mistake of repetition, repetition, repetition? Oh yes I did!! If I used interactive books and props for 3 sessions in a row (and the student liked it), you can bet there was a meltdown on day 3 when I tried to spring something new on him. Sometimes even on day TWO there was a meltdown. We have to keep them from "getting stuck" by changing things up all the time.

2) Share activities and strategies that work with every service provider. Us SLPs have lots of great ideas, tricks activities, and let's face it.... COOL STUFF! As much as we want to hold them close, we really have the responsibility to share them with the child's teacher, OT, PT, etc. if they motivate our student(s) and facilitate communication. Be confident and generous enough to share your knowledge and your goodies because it's important that our kids with ASD experience a variety of activities with lots of different people. Don't box yourself in as the "Cariboo lady" or the "Playdoh therapist" so that the child associates only YOU with your fun stuff.

2) Use the child's preferred activities (you know, those things he obsesses over) but that has to start and end fast because with that item around, they are talking AT you, not WITH and they will likely only be able to talk about that object. We all know the students who will do anything (even school work) if it involves INSERT OBSESSION HERE (Scooby-Doo, whales, iPad, fire trucks, dinosaurs, instruments, beads, etc.) The fact of the matter is that they will have to eventually go out into the world and communicate, behave, wait, request, eat, play, and just exist without their special item. So should you USE the obsession to establish rapport and possibly even joint attention? Yep, you should. Then you should quickly introduce different irresistible items to your interactions, and within a few sessions, start excluding the preferred item (aka obsession).

4) Watch your own words. Just like activities, you need to vary your language every session. We all know that these little ones are prone to using echolalia. They will pick up your language, and while that is sometimes cute, it's rarely functional. I once had a grad student who continually used the phrase, "Good job, Cooper" to praise a student during therapy. I sat and watched and as soon as the session was over I planned to talk to her about it. As she stood up to walk the little boy back to class, he said, "Good Job Cooper." She immediately frowned and looked at me and said, "I caused that didn't I?" Yes, she did cause it. All I could do was laugh, and also feel very proud that she had realized that on her own...well, with a little help from that precious little guy. We to facilitate our students' own language, not just help them steal our own.

I'm betting as you read this, you have the picture of a child in your mind. I bet you think about him or her often...even when you're not at work. I hope some of these tips will help you, and if you try any of them, I'd love to hear how they worked.

Thanks for hanging out with me today! You've got this!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

MEMES Only SLPs Will Laugh At

It's back to school time, and as I think about all that our jobs as SLPs entail, I have to chuckle. I mean, apparently we have super powers because we do SO much (much of which only WE understand) and sometimes it's just plain comical. 

These days, I'm a speech coordinator in a big school district with about 45 SLPs. I headed back to school 3 weeks ago, and the school SLPs have just recently returned. I'm in the process of getting ready for our annual "Back to School Speech Meeting," and I came across the slide show from last year's shindig. I can't believe I never shared it with y'all! 
So here ya go! Better late than never. 

For any non-SLPs here, you're about to get a peek at #slplife...

Oh yeah, if schools had superlatives for staff, we would 100% be voted "most popular" by students! 

Let's make a bet. 

     I mean, we need positive reinforcement, too.  

"Do I have speech today??" 
No buddy, you come on Mondays and Wednesdays, just like you have for the past 22 weeks. 

A little part of me dies inside.

And I have to fix that? 

NO, I REALLY MEANT ARTIC, Mr. Autocorrect!! 

We've all been there. 

I feel your pain, sweetie. 

Yep, so have I. 

You get the good feeling of winning! 

We're good, but we're not magic.

No, you see I can't possibly have a new student because my schedule is finished.  And full. 

You feel me? 

Sometimes you have to be an evil genius to get the job done. 

Then you have to decide whether or not to hunt that person down to discuss your concerns. 

It happens to everyone, right?  


I imagine this is what being attacked by wolves feels like.

Another speech mystery solved by our keen eye and sharp intellect. We deserve a raise.

Better than Christmas.

I can't even. 

Stop the insanity.

I swear I can read.

Uh-Oh, now what? 

QUIET, PEOPLE! Do you have any idea how soft a 20db tone is? 

Been there, done that. Anyone else? 

I'll just leave it at that. jussssst said it correctlyyyyyyyy.

Man, we're good. 

It's okay, little guy. 

Okay. I'm okay. Everything's gonna be okay. 

Ahhhhhhhhh !!!!


YOU get a summer break, and YOU get a summer break!!

Summer break will be here in time, but in the meantime, have the best school year yet! 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

#4 IN A SERIES: 8 things you need to know about working with children with autism

Okay so, YIKES, I got a little distracted. I'm sorry I left you hanging after numbers 1, 2, and 3, but here we are again. Thanks for hanging in with me! The FOURTH thing you need to know when working with children with ASD... 

Prompting, scaffolding and cueing as commonly used interchangeably (whether that is incorrect or correct is up for debate-more on that later), but they all involve inserting something between the request or demand (do this) and the target behavior (child does the thing we said) in order to get our desired response. 

There is a hierarchy of prompts from least restrictuve to most restrictive. Now you know the name of the game in schools is least restrictive. We should use the least restrictive prompt needed to elicit a correct response. 

TIP: Before even giving a prompt or cue, have another child do it first. Peer modeling is so powerful....well, IF the student is attending to the peer. 

Here is the hierarchy: 

Being least restrictive sounds like common sense, but it's harder than it sounds. Think about it - how often to we go straight to verbal? Or even physical? Not only us but think about teachers and even paraprofessionals. YIKES! 

Let's use the simple example of a child who either puts things in his mouth or touches others while walking down the hallway. Our target skill would be for him to keep his hands to himself. 

In that case, these would be some appropriate prompts from least to most restrictive: 

1) Gestural: Point to our own hands.
2) Verbal: Say, "hands to self" or "quiet hands, please."
3) Visual: Show a visual prompt like the symbol for quiet hands. 
4) Model: Act out folding our hands over our belly or whatever gesture that the child could understand for "hands to self" or "quiet hands."
5) Physical: Go to the child and physically place his hands in a quiet hands position. 

Over prompting and not using
the hierarchy results in prompt
dependency and learned

WE (yes, you and I) can CAUSE prompt dependency!! 

Think of that student who just LOOKS toward his or her paraprofessional each and every time a directive is given.

I love this video of prompt dependency from Navigation ABA. Take a look and see if any of YOUR kids look or act like Valerie...

OOPS! Doesn't that make you think?! 

It makes ME think THIS... 

So I said I wouldn't get into the debate of prompt vs. cue but I can't help myself...

OH, and I'm not going to lie... I didn't come up with this all by myself. I heard it from a very wise SLP with lots of experience working with kids with ASD....

When kids have to do the thinking and decision making, they start to finally take advantage of contextual cues in the environment, AND when they start doing the thinking, they're taking steps toward independence. THAT is our ultimate goal so we must move from prompts to cues in order to foster independence.

If a child has to think on their own about what to do, it’s a cue.
Example? Well, a cue for quiet hands (as opposed to all of those prompts listed above) would be "Sally (nearby peer) I love how you are keeping your hands to yourself" OR asking the child, "What should you be doing right now?"

If you tell directly them what to do, its a prompt.

Simple to conceptualize - not so simple to put into practice, but I challenge you to try!

Take the Prompt Vs. Cue Kahoot Quiz above. Try it with your colleagues or sped team!

As educators, our goal is always to cause learning. For kids to learn they have to be doing the thinking; we can't continually do the thinking for them.

I hope this post also has YOU thinking!
Thanks for reading; now go out there and create some independent thinkers! 

Got more tips? I'd love to hear them. 
Please share your wisdom below because we need all the help we can get! 
Jasper Roberts Consulting - Widget