Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Toca Boca Kitchen

So far, I have not been disappointed in any Toca Boca app that I have purchased.  It hardly depends on which app it is, my students love Toca Boca apps (as do I)! One of the great things about Toca Boca apps from a speech therapy perspective is that they lend them selves to elicit novel language and increase utterance length. In general, most of the Toca Boca apps allow for a variety of specific choices using descriptive language.  The types of descriptions can be modified depending on the goals of the student (e.g. long/short, fast/slow…. blue man with orange hat and orange glasses, cut finely, cut coarsely etc.).  For a full list of Toca Boca apps, check out:  http://tocaboca.com/ (...and be ready for hours of entertainment!)

The latest app I have downloaded is called Toca Kitchen.  The purpose of the app is to feed a character. Using perspective taking and (Michelle Garcia Winner's) "smart guesses" on what the person/character would like, you select food from the kitchen. The food can be cooked and processed using a variety of kitchen tools, which is a great way to practice using a variety of functional cooking verbs.  There is a free version of the app called Toca Kitchen Monsters which is equally as great, however has less options of characters to feed. 

I use these communication boards (can be found on boardmakershare.com) to encourage students expand utterances, diversify verb use and specify descriptions. 

I love apps that use food because it is a great way to teach “likes it/ doesn’t like it.”  It is also a great way to practice reading body language and interpreting non verbal vocalizations.   When you try to feed the people or characters  they either like the food a lot and have a big reaction (using big facial expressions and loud vocalizations), or like it a little (more subtle facial expressions and vocalizations), or do not like it at all and refuse the food. This activity lends itself to working on reading body language and nonverbal communication, an activity that is often more challenging for my students with autism. 

As usual with Toca Boca apps, there are no written (or spoken) words in the app, it is easily adaptable to be multilingual and loved by kids (and adults) of all ages. 

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


If you don't already know how wonderful Class Dojo is, I highly encourage you to sign up for this FREE service to experience first hand how it can shape the lives of students with autism.   ( www.classdojo.com )

Class Dojo is a service that I use to provide visual feedback to my students about their behaviors during speech sessions. My students with autism are visual learners and the "tallying" of behavior "points" helps motivate them to use more "expected" behaviors across our sessions. Class Dojo is an easy way to keep track of the behaviors as they happen and provide instant feedback without saying a word! 

Most of my students love the avatars.  They seem to also feel very empowered and in control of their own behaviors when using Class Dojo.  I have one student that is so motivated to use Class Dojo that he asks for it as we start our individual speech sessions. 

What's great about this website is that you can customize the positive and negative behaviors to meet the specific needs of a student or class. For example, with one of my students, the green/ positive points are given for "whole body listening" and asking questions (his targeted speech goals).  The red/ negative points are given for when he is "moving too much" or when he is taking all the "talk time."

When I run groups, I also use Class Dojo to motivate the entire class to meet my goals of good group participation including: seated with the group,  looking at the speaker, quiet  listening and safe hands.  If the group is doing all this, I can give everyone positive points all at once. If someone breaks from our group plan, then I can also give individual points (positive or negative). 

At the end of sessions, I can show the class or student a graph of how much positive vs. negative behaviors they used. Even better than that, I can show students exactly which behaviors they are great at, and which they need to improve on. 

I mostly use it on my computer or iPad. If using it on an iPad, it seems you have be connected to the Internet. In addition, it is a good idea to set up the targeted behaviors from a computer or laptop.  If working with a class, I can see how using it with apple TV would work perfectly! 

I don't even use Class Dojo to its fullest potential. There are options to print or email reports to parents and have student and parent logins. 

I know Class Dojo is designed for classroom management, but as a speech therapist, I love it in my individual sessions too!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sounding Board: easy access AAC

Lately, I have been turning to SoundingBoard (TM) by AbleNet more and more when I am in need of a customized AAC voice output device on the fly. It is a free app, but it is one of the most valuable ones that I have. 

You can choose any where from 1 - 9 customizable buttons to be on one screen. Each button is quick to program. The icon choices available are not always perfect, but I use the camera to take pictures of objects or of other icons I have used with my students.  It offers voice recording for the voice output, and each recording takes less than one second to make. I can easily set up a new page even while working with the busiest of students.  In my practice, SoundingBoard (TM) comes in handy as an AAC supplement when working with kids with imperfect voice output devices. 

There are times I have used it as a schedule as well. I set up each square as an activity to complete. The visual plan usually helps organize and motivate my students with autism. Then, during the session when I ask my student, "What's next?" he is able to answer using a customized voice output device.

One of my favorite new ways to use it is during my introductory "hello" song. The visual and audio feedback help engage and focus my students. In addition to providing a voice for my non verbal students, the pictures help visually prompt my verbal students to use speech. I find the auditory feedback from hitting the "button" also helps my verbal students vocalize. 

NOTE: This app is actually an iPhone app, so you will have to search iPhone apps to find it in the iTunes store. 

Friday, February 1, 2013


This app was probably one of the first I ever bought. Although it is traditionally for art or drawing, it is easily adaptable to help kids with autism use expected behaviors during therapy or classroom sessions. It can provide visual support and real time feedback for kids so that they know how other people feel about their actions.  

I often use the stickers when tracking behavior. This makes the tracking fun and playful. Some kids get really into the funny noises that you can hear when you "paste" a sticker on the board. This also creates a strong motivator to act in a positive manner so that they can earn the stickers

Here are just some specific examples of how I modify this app to help give real time feedback on behaviors:

1) I use the stickers (located at the bottom of the screen) to keep track of how many positive behaviors the student has. I might keep track of how many comments a student does during a play session. I might also keep track of how many questions the student asks of other people. Sometimes, I give stickers to keep track of how many times the student initiated an interaction with a peer. It's nice to use as a visual reinforcer and a great way to keep track of how much success they had across the session. 

2) I use a smily face to show every time I have a positive thought about the other student. If it is a bigger more important thought, I might change the sticker to be big (a choice once you press the stamp icon (the stamp icon is the 4th from the left on bottom). 

2) I modify Michelle Garcia Winner's curriculum to show students when I have "green" (positive, comfortable, happy, expected), "yellow" (confused, slightly unexpected, weird) or "red" (uncomfortable, unexpected) thoughts. There are actually yellow, red and green speech bubbles that I put on the page and use the stickers to visually illustrate each of my thoughts as they happen.  We can talk about each behavior right then in the moment, or wait until a different time too. 

3) I often use Doodle Buddy on the fly to replace my pen and paper. In fact, it enhances my old analog tools because it provides colors for when I don't have a pencil box with me. As one example, I've modified Kari Dunn Buron's Incredible 5 point scale in the heat of a moment to illustrate where my student's behaviors fell on the 5 point scale vs. where they should have been based on what happened. The sound for the emoticon stickers can be particularly funny and helpful when trying to explain how behaviors are perceived by others.

The best part about using visual supports for behavior management is that I do not have to make any comments as behaviors happen. I can mark down my feelings about a behavior or tally the behavior. Usually, the visual cue can be enough to help guide the behaviors to being more expected than unexpected. Making it digital and having it include sound just enhances the reward factor for my students. 

Toca Boca Band: a fun way to get specific

Toca Band  is a fun way to get students to use more descriptive language. Students can choose up to 8 band members that automatically coordinate and perform a song. Students can change the sound by changing band members and dragging them on and off stage.

Since each band member is a little silly, students have to use descriptive language to say which band member they would like to include: the tall blue one with the red hat, the short blue monster with the orange hat and glasses, the blue balloon, the green spider, the round pink one etc.

The players play at different speeds depending on where you place them on stage, the slowest being up front in green and the fastest in back in blue. One player can be highlighted on the yellow spot and the student can request to play the instrument.

Students can also use descriptive language to describe what they hear: high pitched, low pitched, I like the guitar, I like bells, he's singing fast, she plays slowly etc.

I use this communication board (can be found on boardmakershare.com) to help my students with autism organize and use language while using this app:

It can also be a fun way to work on the L sound: "Let's use this one!"

On a basic level it is a great way to work on "on," and "off," or "play" and "stop."

Since there are no written words in the app, the app is easily adaptable to be multilingual. 

For $1.99,  is it s motivating way to work on more specific language and turn taking. Also, I just can't get the beat out of my head!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.