Friday, January 21, 2022

At a Distance, Again

Well, besides the Jeopardescapade, this has been quite a crappy month for everyone. In Massachusetts, a huge surge in COVID infections after the holidays forced a lot of us to make changes again in how we are working with students. Schools have stayed pretty much as "new normal" here, with the exception of more testing and quicker on the draw to cancel school days for weather. Working in a private practice, we have made a shift to move as many sessions as possible into a temporary telepractice format for individuals and groups, while keeping in-person services for those that struggle to engage online (or are just over it). Of course we are taking extensive precautions: vaccine requirements, temp checks, health screens, powerful air filtration, double masking, distancing...

On that last one, I find technology to be a big help. We have an Apple TV (old ones work fine) with HDMI-ported TVs (just your basic TVs these days) in each clinic room. I have a Mac which can screen mirror to these, but if I didn't, an HDMI cable would do. The Mac just gives me more mobility. The use of a screen (like you would a board/projector in a classroom) can keep engagement up visually and can prompt session structure and communication from students in a variety of ways, while maintaining distance within the room. It can help also to reduce or eliminate shared "touched" materials, and though these really aren't the problem with an aerosol-spread virus, it's a step that can't hurt and can be reassuring to families. Here are a few examples:

-Use Jamboard activities that are game/play-like and prompt discussion and collaboration. I have mentioned Julia Dweck's collection and this week used the Traffic Jam game.

-Activities students can participate in actively via their smartphones. You can make a worksheet/thinksheet into a google form and email to them, or shorten the link with Kahoot is almost always a draw, whether you choose from topics of interest or social/language based games. Jackbox Games are worth an investment, and often on sale- these are joined by phone.

-Have a discussion and document the language in a simple Google slide like a flipchart. I guarantee they'll want to correct your typing, which means they are paying attention. Insert images! SlidesCarnival has good templates for free if you want to jazz it up visually.

-Anything visual that prompts discussion- consider infographics on topics of interest or something related to holidays or current events. With Chinese New Year coming up there are a variety of websites and graphics that describe the personality traits of the various animals/years. Great to connect to and have students self-reflect on how they might be same or different.

-Books that are visual with limited text. This week I used Jon Klassen's darkly humorous I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat on YouTube. You read 'em, sound muted, pause at will- there is plenty to discuss with some facial expression interpretation.

Saturday, January 15, 2022


Sorry I have been quiet here a few weeks, but I've been just largely managing myself in the excitement and other emotions around my Jeopardy! episode airing on January 7. I appreciate the shoutouts from people who watched and the discussions in some Facebook groups.

I'll say also from an SLP perspective, it has made a good personal narrative model to share with my clients!

I thought I would share a few photos here, and later--this blog won't become a blog about Jeopardy but one more post--an entry about how tech helped me to prepare, if I was prepared, haha. 

If you didn't see the episode and would like to, you can email me and I might be able to slide you a link...

Some notes I shared on Facebook I thought would be appropriate to share here too:

LONNNG POST. 21st Century Nonfiction, let’s call it. So I first want to thank you again all for the excitement and engagement around My Nerdy Life Event. Your positive and congratulatory messages and comments have kept me ebullient through what has been a thrilling time. 

Having been on Jeopardy is truly a gift, and I am so grateful for that too. I wish I could share my joy at first sitting down in front of that beautiful, gleaming stage, with the “stars” twinkling above it and the board. Especially after our long briefing at the dismantled, underwhelming-looking “Wheel of Fortune” stage. It was just gorgeous and I knew I would be on it soon.

I’ll confess I left that stage not feeling so great about the game, a feeling that persisted over these last long two months, having taped at the beginning of November, and which has improved greatly now that I’ve seen it and given your incredible response. It was tough, being encouraged when Matt Amodio lost and arriving and discovering Amy, someone maybe even stronger, was on a streak. Nope, we don’t get told that in advance or get the opportunity to opt out, lol. Waiting all day to play wasn’t exactly an advantage either- they say watching a winner like her win is kind of demoralizing and indeed it was. The contestant coordinator drew Patsy and me for the 5th game and I think could see it on our faces, ‘cause she took us aside and said multiple times “NO ONE IS UNBEATABLE” lol.

But I’d rather have lost to Amy Schneider than I think anyone else. She’s historic in so many ways and I’m really happy to be part of LGBTQIA and especially trans history. She’s a marvel- and I’ll add, a cool person from all our interactions across the day. Having seen the game now, I’m at peace with all of it.

My feelings at the end of the game led me to initially give a “maybe” when Terry (Thursday’s game) tried to gather us all for drinks afterward. I had a sense of the game being worse than it actually was. But I went to my rental car, called Chris, gained some perspective, and went to hang for a bit. One of the best decisions I ever made, because this formed a vital support group that has helped us all as we waited the seemingly interminable time before our games…Amy’s first appearance coming a while into that! Love to my Jeopardy! FB messenger thread, one of the great prizes given me by this experience. Glad we have been there for each other in sharing this definitely unique experience. 

And to Chris and friends and family who big time helped me through what was a bit like a K├╝bler-Ross process. I had to wait over two months between taping and airing. Acceptance- I got on, I know that’s a big thing, and I pushed through some anxiety and did my best. And hearing from so many of you that building up to it and watching it meant something to you has been hugely gratifying.

So, a couple comments on this game:

I really didn’t remember much. I appreciate so many of the comments from you all that I looked calm and collected but I really was very very nervous. Hence the moving around quite a bit. I was on a small elevated step to even out our heights and I was surprised watching it that I didn’t fall off!

Amy obviously is a machine. Patsy is a blast, and she played with great composure. I am proud to have been up there with Patsy. She has become a friend as well- she had to take off after the game and get herself back to school, but knowing my way around a school website I tracked her down afterward via email and she became part of our FB group. Yesterday when watching the game I FaceTimed her in and everyone gave her a well-deserved cheer. 

Particularly in the first Jeopardy round where I felt more comfortable with the categories, I could see watching it that I was REALLY trying to buzz in on many clues, and this was so reassuring. As many have acknowledged it’s all about the buzzer timing and Amy had 27 games to get very good at that. It seemed I got better at it by Double as I had enough firsts to get in the Daily Doubles and a few other correct responses. There were a number of clues I responded to correctly that I didn't remember at all. The "Fog of Jeopardy" is real.

The DDs I’m told were where I made the funniest faces. I actually rolled my eyes when I found the first one. I believe I was scared of the math. Went as hard as I could on the first one. Common is on my radar- mostly I remember him introducing Hamilton on the Tony’s. The clue, tho it should have cued me into him regardless with the “sense” reference, just didn’t click with me. It felt like forever before I timed out- that “beep beep beep” is added in post-production, by the way. I found the other DD shortly after and with the first one not going well, and the way the DD explodes onto the stage kind of startlingly, I actually blurted out a completely involuntary and limbic “OH S&%T.” They did a good job editing that after I alerted Jimmy Clue Crew, now a floor producer, that I said a swear word. That weird bet was entirely about avoiding going to 0 or being in the red and missing Final Jeopardy. I think I thought Final was more imminent than it actually was, haha. In any case you could see Lady Bird came in my mind quickly- thanks to a number of trips to Austin!

Sorry, my fellow gays, about Cher. I love Cher as much as the next person but I really didn’t know that song. Yes, “turn back time” should have cued me but it’s hard to process everything. I was MUCH happier watching this game and seeing that I answered more than I recalled, anyway. Picking categories was something I should have practiced more. I actually sort of stumbled over a word in the category name on one pick but I was glad my timing was brisk- I always get annoyed when contestants don’t pick quickly but I can certainly see why that happens. 

I’m glad the way the story came out in the interview. I’ll share some stuff about prep another time but I had the opportunity to pick the topic and that was an interesting enough one in which I had the chance to honor Chris (though I forgot to say his name), and be Out naturalistically and I wanted to represent, not knowing in advance that I'd be up there with another LGBTQIA

Final. People have asked me in not so many words what the hell I was thinking and the answer is: not much. Lol. I felt confident with 20th Century Nonfiction. Books and Lit are really in my wheelhouse. I just kinda thought I wanted my score to be as high as possible so I went for that, not really caring about 2nd vs 3rd place, to be honest. The money difference after taxes (1000 vs 2000) is not really a huge deal. I had never heard of Thor Heyerdahl in my life. Hemingway (many have reached out to say they guessed the same, thanks) was really the only author I associated w Europe tho pretty much off in period and genre. Hence the additional faces, which I’m glad people enjoyed. 

Obviously historic yet again with Amy passing $1M in this game. Ken screwed up something in her final response and wager reveal so we had to tape this whole sequence again! Don’t ever say I can’t act a little, I guess! Haha. 

The chat over the credit sequence is something filmed in each game. We had actually had somewhat of a long break in our game where we all chatted with the contestant coordinators (I’m not sure why) and Amy, Patsy and I talked about traveling in Scotland and Ireland. I was a little shell shocked in the final conversation haha but again, it didn’t come out too badly. Jeopardy sometimes releases these so you can hear the convo and did here:

Thanks again for all the interest and support.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Another Kind of Game...

It seems appropriate after presenting at ASHA 2021 (glad we squeezed that in, huh?) about play, playful activities and games in language and social interventions that I get to tell you about a game of my own...

Hearing "A speech and language pathologist from Dorchester, Massachusetts, Sean Sweeney" (not by Johnny Gilbert, they edit him in, thanks again COVID) is truly an exciting and maybe terrifying intro. I hope that you will watch the show on Friday, January 7, 2022, and I will have more to say about it as we go! For now I have to keep quiet on any details including whom I played. 

Have a great holiday and New Year!!

Friday, December 10, 2021

My Self Care Toolkit

Another take-away from ASHA Convention 2021 is the importance of self-care. Presentations I attended focused on strategies for ourselves and also those we can promote within our students and supervisees. It seems a pretty obvious message in some ways after another tumultous (but hopeful) year, but I thought I would take a moment to recap some ways I am using (and not using) tech for self-care as we change our calendars soon. Many of these are works in progress and not always done religiously, but they help.

#1 Light

There are cuter models, but having seasonal affective disorder, and being on the eastern edge of a time zone, on top of pandemic anxiety, is aided by white light such as that provided by the Verilux Happy Light. It produces an instantaneous caffeine-like effect and helps with regulation of your melatonin and circadian rhythm. Highly recommend- could easily be purchased for school for a passive effect while you check emails in the AM.

#2 Breath

I highly recommend checking out the free (or paid) features of both Breathwk and CBT-oriented Aura (and the free-for-one-year Balance, or Sanvello which is paid for by some healthcare plans) for various kinds of mindfulness and self-regulation coaching. Breathwk is revolutionary in its varied content and provision of scientific rational for different breathing exercises, all of which you would be able to carry over to outside the app (e.g. when you wake up and can't sleep, before an IEP meeting).

#3 Distraction

Podcasts are a great distractor. They actually make me look forward to a ride here or there for work. Get lost in a conversation or narrative. I love Good Job Brain and Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend Maybe not True Crime, folks.

#4 Bibliotherapy

Overdrive via my public library card in addition to a Kindle, a real one, not the Kindle app that can walk you into social media less-great distraction on your phone, leads me to reading that brings me places and won't break the bank. Right now Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith (the poet, not the Dowager Countess) is helping me quite a bit. I also like to keep a semi boring nonfiction title on my Kindle at all times to aid in sleep. Avoid books about the End of the World like I didn't (below, also see A Children's Bible, Weather, and Good Morning, Midnight). 

#5 Movement

I'm still a huge fan of exercise as a key component of self-care- In my case, my Apple Watch is my key motivational tool; closing my rings (except this week when I had a cold, then a booster shot!) is a daily thing.

#6 Presence

Above all, we can watch how much we are consuming news and social media. I have been practicing intentions and timed logouts of particularly Facebook. iPhone's latest operating system (there are 3rd party apps for this and Screen Time settings, previously released) has a Focus feature where you can limit notifications or app use of particular channels or contacts.

Take care!

Friday, November 26, 2021

ASHA Wrapup

ASHA Convention was different, but it happened! Thanks to all the organizers for providing a safe and very educational event. I was honored to present on Thursday to a great in-person crowd. 

The focus of the session was on "playful" activities for language and social interventions across the age levels.

A few resources I presented:

Improv games are supported in our literature and mirror the format and communicative behaviors of conversation. Be sure to teach the nuance of "yes, and..." and couple with lessons on when we say no, and that it is OK to disagree (avoid ableism and support neurodiversity)..

Books are their own therapy tool and give you great ideas for playful followups. In this case Spencer's New Pet gives lots of opportunity for nonverbal situational interpretation and narrative development. (see this post for tips on using Youtube to present picture books). Balloon Animals! app made a nice pairing for a playful post activity here, following a quick lesson to pre-load some social strategies. See my free booklet on Pairing Picture Books with Apps!

You can use game contexts (e.g. Minecraft, Pokemon) without ever actually playing those games. A recent example: I have been leveraging a student's interest in Pokemon to use Pokemon Adventure comics (available via my public library on Overdrive which exports to the Kindle app) for nonverbal and emotional interpretation, narrative retell, and identifying and working with vocabulary. The vocabulary words need not be in the text to be relevant and motivating!

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 12, 2021

Free Options for Group Games

I have previously written about the motivational and engagement value (thus promoting communication) of "room based" games. Now that we have transitioned back to in-person groups, we are incorporating some distanced card play, but this tech-mediated piece still serves a purpose (kids can use their own devices, stay far apart). Jackbox is a bit pricey and I wanted to share a few free options I have tried out. 

VXN's Mutter Nonsense and Drawn Out offer good potential for building communication skills in a fun way (including joining in a paced manner, using humor, visualization, association).  Here's a trailer for Mutter Nonsense (think Apples to Apples).

I also recently discovered that Jeopardy Labs has millions of pre-made games that you can choose from, including many related to vocabulary and social skills. Choosing and using group topical interests can also be a great way to use a resource like Jeopardy Labs. Don't fully love the content of a board? Clone it and make some changes. Do I have anything else to say about Jeopardy? Stay tuned...

Speaking of play, if you're headed to ASHA Convention, come see my session next Thursday!

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Come See me in DC!

I'll be presenting in-person at the 2021 ASHA Convention in Washington, DC! I hope that if you are attending, you'll come by for my session on Thursday, November 18. This presentation is listed in the Telepractice category, and is partly informed by my experience earlier in the pandemic when that was the only option, but I assure you has many tips, tricks and resources applicable to in-person interventions. See you there!

Play on Words: Thoughtful Uses of “Game-Based” Apps and Resources In Language-Based Interventions 

Session Description
Playful activities provide an avenue for targeting language skills, social cognition, and executive functioning across the grade levels. This session will demonstrate how technology resources across several platforms can be “gamed” via pre- and post-activities to engage clients in developing skills across the domains of listening, speaking and thinking. Apps, webtools, and Alexa skill games will be discussed along with task analyses and sample lessons developed in real-time telepractice during the COVID-19 emergency. Activities particularly target group social interaction, participation, planning, organization, time management, and self-monitoring. The session will also discuss research and resources in our literature supporting the use of play in interventions across the grade levels, and how technology can be used thoughtfully within these contexts.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Consider This: Meaningful Current Events

I'll wrap up Consider This with an example from this week. I have a student who is a Red Sox fanatic (a husband too) and they are of course in the playoffs. This story surfaced and has a lot of nuance to it, with targets regarding story grammar, perspective taking (which is really just story grammar times 2, 3, or however many people are involved), figurative language and body language. For brevity's sake I'll let you check out the link and the couple of videos there for the context.

This is the kind of scaffolded discussion that could take place via telepractice or in person, but I happen to be working with this student online. Zoom's annotation tools are a bit clunky (easy to click off your text box and need to make another, you scroll down on a webpage and they stay in the same place), but did the trick. If this annotation drives you nuts, it's an easy shift to Google Slides to toggle between tabs and use your preferred story grammar frame. In this case we just took some notes as we discussed; it's almost always better to provide visual support, which aids in working memory, processing, and further formulation.

Not to alienate any Astros fans, we did go on to note Correa's response to the incident was pretty positive, though there may be some nuance there too.

To go from the specific to more general, using current events can:

-activate students' interests

-provide contexts for story and expository text structure (and microstructure: sentence formulation and vocabulary)

-within the former, open doors to targeting social cognition, emotional vocabulary, or Zones®

My biggest trick in this regard has been keeping up with news myself, listening to the local news radio station, NPR, or subscribing to digests from local news sources to skim. As I've mentioned before, newsela is also a great go-to. I also have a student who loves CNN 10, a video resource.

Interested in professional development for your department, school, or organization? Sean is booking in-person or remote trainings for the 2021-2022 school year

Friday, October 15, 2021

Consider This: Civics!

Consider This has mostly been an exploration of resources used a bunch of different ways, but we also can consider how different curriculum topics can be used to target many speech and language and social communication objectives (and in this case, some resources that go with this idea). Speech and language pathologists can wrap interventions in contexts; check out this recent study, one that I'd like to describe in detail at some point, on science and Tier 2 vocabulary.

I think of civics as important world and social knowledge. Though it's unlikely to fix everything, we could do worse than helping students understand how government and laws work. Within civics contexts, there's much opportunity to target narrative, expository language, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and sentence formulation.

Years ago, Social Thinking® recommended Munro Leaf's (quite old) picture book Fair Play, which in its opening pages explores social norms in terms of moving from why we don't all get to do everything we want to do to why we have government. There are also several vignettes about a character he calls JustMe who behaves without considering others's needs that Social Thinking® formulated into a concept around JustMe vs Thinking about Others. We want to handle this topic with nuance and acknowledgement that everyone has JustMe "moments" to model the concept carefully, of course. The book is hard to find, but there is a read aloud version below. Skip the weird intro, consider handling the JustMe vignettes with further nuance, e.g. what the kids could have done to help JustMe be part of the group, and avoid the latter parts which are just way too harsh! I have generally used just up to about 4:30

In a much more straightforward way, iCivics remains a very useful tool. Sign in as a teacher and you can access lesson plans, worksheets, and of course the interactive games (varying in length, so explore) which can open up great expository conversations and vocabulary development. Sign-in also allows you to save games and pick up in later sessions. Recently I used Cast Your Vote with some students to explore the local election process and vocabulary like infrastructure, juvenile, enrollment, and minimum wage

Fablevision's Civics! An American Musical (free with signup) will delight fans of Hamilton and engages students in civics topics while targeting comprehension of primary sources. The language underpinnings, however, include situational interpretation of pictures and comprehension of texts. The game contains multiple paths you can return and reroute to (e.g. making a few musicals about a few different topics, if you have a group that gets into it), and again, saves your progress.

Civics topics are also great to explore with very simple resources such as newsela!

Interested in professional development for your department, school, or organization? Sean is booking in-person or remote trainings for the 2021-2022 school year

Friday, October 1, 2021

Consider This:

The V in the FIVES criteria is for Visual! Visual supports are a simple Evidence Based Practice- give students something to explore with their eyes and you can tap:

-description/main idea
-narrative language and complex sentence formulation
-social/situational awareness
-their interests/humor! is an oldie but goodie, and has been around forever. In addition to its classroom tools such as Random Name Picker, a simple Soundboard and such, there are many visual activities you can use to create an "opener" or have students create something themselves. This may be particularly useful for older students.

Consider These:

Twister: create a "tweet" from any character, tap main idea, perspective taking, sentence formulation

Image Labelling Tool: upload an image and create text "hotspots" for part/whole thinking, abstract or advanced categories, description

Breaking News and Headline Generators: main idea of a narrative or expository topic, with humor!

Image Reveal: Gameify "Thinking with the eyes"

Interested in professional development for your department, school, or organization? Sean is booking in-person or remote trainings for the 2021-2022 school year