Preferential Seating

We often hear about accommodating a student with special needs in the classroom by giving them preferential seating. Preferential seating means that the student’s seating is in a location that is most beneficial for the student to learn. It means different things depending on the disability.

Preferential seating may not always be the front of the class. I initially learned this from a student so it’s always best to base decisions on student input.

A student with auditory processing difficulties may need to have a seat in the least chatty area of the class or away from open doors to the hallway because he/she has trouble hearing in noise. Students with this problem have brains that cannot ignore noises: all sounds compete equally and nothing is understood.  Fans and heating system noise should also be considered.

Another student with auditory processing difficulties told me that sitting in front with the best ear towards the teacher worked best. In this case, the signal to noise ratio is better (S:N). The teacher can be heard above other noise. There is less competition between the teacher’s voice and background noise. This only works when the teacher instructs from one place. Taking tests in a quiet setting including another room also would be considered preferential seating.

Second language learners and hearing impaired students and students who have difficulty attending will also benefit from any conditions that improve the signal over the noise.

A student with attentional difficulties may benefit from a placement away from distractions (windows and hallways or students who are loud or chatty).

A student with a visual impairment should be close to visuals. This may mean close to the board or it may mean access to classroom notes at the student’s desk or a computer screen if the board is rarely used. Always consider this student’s reliance on his/her auditory system!

As you see, preferential seating varies for each child and requires matching the conditions that benefit the student with a disability to the teacher’s use of the classroom space.


Autism Research

Many people are curious about autism and ask me about causes and treatment. So I attempt to keep up with the latest autism research.

HERE is an interesting article about gene defects that result in autistic-like behaviors and the possible use of medication for autism treatment in the future.

Language Comprehension

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to understand what’s said to you or what you read. First you need to attend to a voice, which requires that you localize or direct your attention to the person talking. Or while reading, attend to the words on the page. You also have to identify what words are most important to attend to, so there’s a hierarchy of attention. For some, the stream of language goes by too quickly to understand. You also have to add meaning to the words you hear or read. You may be shut out of the meaning, if you don’t know the vocabulary. And the meaning often changes as new information or words are added. So you need to be flexible with your ideas. To follow along, you must visualize what’s being said or what you read, which is easier if you’ve had some personal experiences that relate. Plus you need to use your short term memory to hold on to the ideas and visuals that you’re creating. Then the clincher, you have to put it all together to form conclusions, understand the main ideas, make inferences, compare and contrast, make associations, make predictions, understand the mood or if there’s humor involved. And there can be competing noise in the room. Truly, it’s amazing that we can understand each other! And then respond!

If any one of these aspects aren’t working well, it may make understanding difficult. And some people have multiple problems. Think of being in a country where you hardly know the language. I find that my students who have comprehension problems get exhausted at the end of the day after trying to make sense of the stream of talk all day. Or they talk a lot so they can control what the topic is about and show that they are as smart as others. Or they say, “I don’t know” frequently and give up trying. Or all of the above.

I spend a lot of time trying to identify where the comprehension breaks down, so I can help my students use appropriate strategies or compensations to understand more language around them. My most useful strategy is self-advocacy. Asking for repeats, or telling people to slow down, or telling people to say your name first to help you know that they are talking to you can make a huge difference. Turning off the faucet, or facing the speaker, or shutting the door to a noisy hall….I want my students to know there are things they can ask people or things they can control in the environment. I want them to know that they have a right to ask these things so they can understand like everyone else.

Just thoughts of my day…

Do you know anyone who would benefit from language comprehension support? Let’s talk.


Barrier Games Tell the Story

One of my most important functional communication probes is just a piece of cardboard and some colored blocks.

Two people face each other with the cardboard blocking their view. One gives instructions to the other about how to set up the blocks. They can only use words, no gestures. They’re allowed to ask questions. The goal is for the structures to look the same (in mirrored form since their rights and lefts are opposite). Usually, lots of skill levels are revealed. For the instructor, can they take the other’s perspective? Can they explain clearly with lots of description? Do they anticipate the mistakes the listener might make, and adjust what they say to avoid the mistake? For the listener, do they know when they’re confused? What can they do if they’re confused? Can they do exactly as instructed? Are they ready to listen to the instruction? Do they know how to explain what their difficulty is?

So typically the first few times, they make mistakes. I point out the breakdowns and ask what they could do differently next time. Then they switch roles. In each session, I watch how they get better at giving and listening to directions. Sometimes, I mix it up so the student has a different listener. The instructor’s communication may need to change for a new person if their learning style is different. This teaches the flexibility that’s built into the fast, dynamic social situations in our everyday lives with many communication partners.

I believe the communication breakdowns in this exercise are a metaphor for the miscommunication leading to fights, misunderstandings, even wars! And the more my students are aware and adapt to different people’s styles and abilities, the better equipped they’ll be to handle what happens at school, home, and at a job.

I had two students do this exercise recently. The instructor didn’t communicate well and the listener just did whatever he wanted. It took about 4 sessions before they were on the same page. By that time, they understood what was hard for the other student and what to do about it (ask more questions, repeat it several ways, etc.).

One of my students did a barrier game with his parent. It turned out, the parent wasn’t always ready for the initial instructions the student gave and kept asking questions that required the student to start all over (“which block?”). The student became very frustrated. We discussed what happened and figured out what they could do differently (parent should attend to the first part of the instruction; student should take a deep breath and calm down). In the next session, they had really worked it out. Each one really made an effort to use the strategies we discussed. Their block structures were a perfect match due to their efforts!! I was so proud of them. I’m hoping that they can now carry the strategies over into their daily communication. I’ll be sure to ask at the next session!

Do you know anyone who would benefit from a barrier game? CONTACT ME.

Silent Movies for Therapy

I have always loved silent movies. I find the actors’ gestures to be more powerful than stiff acting with tons of dialogue. Blah, blah, blah! When I was in graduate school, working with stroke victims, I was told that silent movies could be used for rehab therapy to help brain injured people to analyze nonverbal body language and facial expression. I now use them in my sessions with young students to encourage social thinking skills, nonverbal reasoning and inferencing (making educated guesses), facial emotion identification, and prediction. I guide them to notice the “facts” they are seeing by stopping the action and discussing what they see and then moving to the motives behind the body language. I mostly use the fun slapstick classics, W. C. Fields, Charley Chaplin, and Buster Keaton. For some big belly laughs I use Fatty Arbuckle. There is nothing as wonderful as the sound of that joyous laughter! For many, it is a moment of freedom from the straight jacket of their rule-bound rigid thinking.

Do you know someone who needs a good belly laugh while they work on what is hard for them? Let’s talk! CONTACT ME.

Living with Strengths and Challenges

Whenever I do a speech and language evaluation, I use measurement tools to tease out individual communication strengths and challenges. But, I was also trained to put these skills together to get an idea of the functional communication of the person in the real world. I am eternally grateful for this training, because to look at one or the other (individual competence vs. the whole picture) would only tell half the story. And I am constantly surprised that some of my clients are great at individual skills, but cannot put them together functionally; while other folks struggle with individual areas of communication but look competent during functional communication.

Why would any of this be important? Because it impacts our confidence and success in life to know our strengths and challenges so we can enhance a strength, or learn and use strategies to compensate for a challenge. To boost young children’s confidence, support teams can set up good learning environments and provide opportunities for practice.

When we know that there is a way to solve our difficulties, it eliminates a sense of failure. And what a different world it would be if no one felt like a failure!

Does your child/student know that there’s a way to solve their difficulties? Let’s talk. CONTACT ME.