Autism Awareness, Broadway, The Human Connection

You’ll Never Walk Alone: Carousel and Autism Spectrum Disorder

I can’t believe it’s already April, which means it’s Autism Awareness month. For the record, it is always Autism Awareness month in my speech room, but for this month, we get a bit more of the spotlight. I choose to use this time to show how the recent revival of Carousel taught me to better understand my students on the spectrum.

The show is a story about two truly different individuals that even the whole town considers to be quirky. This made me think of the way my students are seen by the people in their lives who may not understand everything about their worlds. It takes a lot for me to step outside of the world in which I view my kids, so this can be tricky. My kids can be viewed from obsessive to single-minded, talkative to mute, docile to aggressive. Like Julie, currently played by Jessie Mueller, I view all of my students as beautiful.

There is a reason for every behavior and action my students show me. Not all communication is verbal, and I find their expressions beautiful. Stepping into their worlds for as long as they’ll allow me is a gift. I cherish it every minute I work with them. I’ve learned more from these children than I’ll learn from most adults. I learn about the beauty of numbers, technology, and verbal and nonverbal communication between children. The reciprocity and value and strength of words is all theirs, and from the simplest requests to the most complex explanations, I get to view it all. I get to understand them, and this is not a gift afforded to all.

This week, I challenge you to learn something about yourself or someone else by experiencing something new.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Autism Awareness, Inclusion, Interview, Performances, The Human Connection

Are We or Are We Unique: A Conversation with Nava Silton of Addy & Uno

The greatest perk of my job is getting to experience the world from each student’s perspective. While completing one task, I can learn the annoyance of scissors for someone with fine motor difficulties, the frustration of complex multistep directions from a student working on language comprehension, and how uncomfortable obstacle course items can feel to a student with sensory sensitivities. I learn the value of slant boards, checklists, and Velcro. I learn how to engage all of the senses by watching my students learn, each in their unique way. Nava Silton, creator of Real Abilities and the recent off-Broadway production of Addy & Uno, has created a world where children with a variety of abilities can feel included and accepted. I got to speak with her about her work, her educational materials, and how to make theatre a comfortable experience for everyone who attended.

StageSLP: How did you become interested in theatre?

Nava: I have always been enamored by theater and the beautiful way in which music can reveal characters’ inner worlds. I acted a bit in high school, but mostly enjoy watching others take the stage.

S: What is your background with individuals with disabilities?

N: I have two exceptional nephews on the autism spectrum. I graduated Cornell a year early and I spent (what would have been my senior year) living with my dear sister, whose son had just been diagnosed with autism. I was deeply impacted by the pervasive impact of autism on her whole family and when I asked her, what is the most difficult aspect of this disorder for you, she responded: “The fact that children flock to my other kids and they treat Elie (my son with autism) like he’s part of the wallpaper.” I was devastated by that notion. Devastated enough to take up the charge of determining what intervention would be most efficacious at fostering the sensitivity and interest of typical children towards children with disabilities. After working at Nickelodeon before grad school and at Sesame during my Psych Ph.D. Program, I decided to use the disseminable medium of media to convey these messages to kids. I started off with storyboarded episodes of an animated children’s television program, then moved onto comics based on schools’ interest and then most recently to the stage with Addy & Uno.

S: Addy and Uno are more than an off-Broadway show, they’re also part of a comic book series! What can you tell us about that series?

N: While schools loved the initial storyboarded episodes of the show, they said: “We’re schools, we’d love to see these important stories in book format.” Very soon after, with the help of some wonderful students, I pursued writing a comic book series, with 10 distinct comics and two instructional manuals for teachers. These were immediately popular in schools and beyond the popularity, I was delighted to find how much students’ perceptions, attitudes and intentions towards children with disabilities changed from pre to post-testing of the full comic series. This has been beyond encouraging and thrilling. Comic books are available at http://www.realabilities.com.

S: Was the series’ primary goal to be for the individuals, the caregivers and educators, or all readers regardless of who they are?

N: The goal of the series is to teach typical children and their families about the realities of disabilities, while also focusing on a strengths-based perspective. I want children to recognize that children with disabilities are children first, with wonderful strengths, interests and abilities. They happen to also have disabilities and/or struggles, just like each one of us. Moreover, the series was created so that individuals with disabilities could see themselves reflected favorably in-print or on the canvas. Based on the research findings and a large amount of audience feedback, we feel very encouraged that we have achieved these goals.

S: Can you tell me about the characters, and how they came to be?

N: Uno was my first character, since he was deeply inspired by my two nephews on the spectrum. Uno presents with poor eye contact, a general discomfort and struggle with social interaction and sensory integration issues, but he is brilliant at math and spatial orientation. Melody has low vision, but she has perfect pitch, melody and rhythm. RJ (Rolly) has a physical impairment, but his strong arms and athletic skills come in very handy for his team. Seemore has a hearing impairment and uses some sign language, but he can “see more,” he has wonderful insight and peripheral vision. Finally, Addy has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She gets easily distracted and hyped up, but she is hilarious, gregarious and highly creative. Hence, each character has a disability, but wonderful gifts, as well.

S: Across all of your characters, how did you avoid falling into stereotypes, and how would you further educate that no two individuals with any disability present identically?

N: We think it’s very important for our audience to recognize that all disabilities fall on a spectrum of some sort. We try to subtly allude to this in the comic book series, in the show and in our debriefing sessions with students.

S: Why did you choose to express your theatrical production through puppets?

N: The research shows that puppets can often have a therapeutic effect on children. Animation can be very cost-prohibitive and the idea of using puppets in a novel way for this purpose became immediately appealing. I felt that puppets might help children better adjust to complex lessons about disabilities and bullying in a comfortable fashion.

S: From what I gathered, this show is about inclusion from the plot itself to audience participation, can you tell me about why you thought this was important?

N: Each individual with a disability has wonderful gifts to share with the world. Even if an individual does not have the ability to express their knowledge via verbal ability, there are a whole lot of wonderful things to explore in each and every child. I want typical children to have positive expectancies of their friends with disabilities, to recognize their special gifts and to take an interest in interacting with and getting to know them. Children with disabilities are at least two to three times more likely to be bullied than their typical peers. More than ever, we need to appreciate our peers, to look out for them and to celebrate them.

S: The students I work with may not be familiar with the usual theatrical experience, is yours different from other theatrical experiences?

N: We offered a trigger list and tried to be as sensory-friendly as possible. We also tried to keep the show to 50 minutes to ensure children could actively attend throughout the whole show.

S: Your characters, like my students, are very multidimensional. How did you come to tell their stories through comics and theatre and song? Was one medium easier to adapt to than another?

N: Each medium has been able to delve into another beautiful feature of these characters’ lives. The comics are a fun source of adventure and kindness. The musical allows us to dig deeper into the raw emotions, struggles and victories of each character.

S: What is the biggest takeaway you want all audience members or readers to feel or learn at the end of their experience?

N: Take the time to recognize and celebrate the beautiful gifts of your peers. Each individual in this world has unique gifts and it’s up to us to investigate and to determine what those gifts are. Bullying might offer you a superficial high, but kindness, empathy and being good to others will have the most enduring impact on you and on those who are fortunate enough to benefit from your goodness.

S: How would you encourage inclusion among student-student relationships, teacher-student relationships, and even adult-child relationships?

N: There are so many incredible models of inclusion out there in the literature and in real-life school settings. I think it’s very important for teachers, parents and students alike to have strong positive expectancies/expectations of what their students and/or peers with disabilities are capable of. Bracket out the labels and get to know the unique strengths and gifts of each peer, student or child with a disability.

S: What was the most memorable moment both in creating and performing this show?

N: I have really enjoyed seeing the sensitivity of the actors, who play all the characters, especially the characters with disabilities. The actors give their all and they allow these characters, who have been in my head for so long, to come to life on the canvas. I have also really enjoyed hearing the actors share their inner voices via Bonnie Gleicher’s beautiful music and lyrics.

S: Is there any opportunity for this show to be shared more widely in the future?

N: Yes, two wonderful producers have just optioned the show for an open-ended Off-Broadway run on Theatre Row on 42nd and 9th Avenue.  Tickets are available at: http://www.addyanduno.com. The show will officially open on November 4, 2017! We also have dozens of schools all over the country, who have reached out in the hopes of a tour. We will keep you posted!

S: Every week, I challenge my students and readers to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would you challenge them to do?

N: I would challenge them to a day of kindness and compassion. No matter what the situation, you must act kind, you must be patient with your neighbors or peers, you must recognize the beauty and benefit of even the most challenging situations. It feels “nice to be nice!” We should all get to feel that wonderful feeling more often.

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What I love about the characters Nava has created is that I can see parts of my students in each of them. I love the therapy materials, and they’re a hot commodity in my speech room. I strongly encourage you to check out RealAbilities.com and to explore what she’s created. I truly hope to see this production soon! It’s currently playing Off Broadway and being enjoyed by many audiences. I hope you be among them soon. I look forward to everyone taking on a day of kindness and compassion. It’s something we would all benefit from.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

 

Autism Awareness, Interview, The Human Connection

Women in the Sequel #Werk!

For the second part of my conversation with Bianca and Gillian, we talked about putting yourself out there and public speaking. This is something that is challenging for all of my students, and for many people in general. I’m an extroverted introvert, but I can talk to a wall  (or the internet when no one is listening). If you were to ask Gillian and Bianca, I am never at a loss for questions, comments, puns, or references.  These two do all of these things on a weekly (if not daily) basis, and I really admire them for this. Here’s the second part of my conversation with the ladies of The Hamilcast.

StageSLP: Were you scared/nervous/anxious to put something that you’d created out into the world especially knowing that no one had done anything like it at the time? How did you overcome nerves/anxiety about putting out your first episode, and do you still feel that way now? 

Gillian: I wasn’t scared/nervous/anxious because I HAD to create this podcast. It made so much sense to me, even though I hadn’t seen the show yet. I’d never felt called to create something like this before. But we were so excited to release our first episode that I uploaded it about 10 minutes after we recorded it, with zero editing other than the intro and outro. Like I said, the editor in me regrets that, but the host/creator/producer of the show feels a lot of pride to see our growth. It was so natural to me that I think on some level, back then, I knew I had to get this out there as soon as possible because I know now that people needed it. I didn’t know it intellectually at the time, but I’ve learned over this year and a half that the community was missing and I feel more than honored that I had a part in making it happen.*

Bianca: I wouldn’t say I was scared or nervous at all. We were so excited about it, I think any anxiety I might have experienced was just from that. When we realized there were no Hamilton podcasts yet, we jumped on it and just wanted to get it out there. I think mostly we didn’t put huge expectations on ourselves in the beginning. It was something we wanted to do, and thought would be fun and hoped that some other people out there would come across is and enjoy it as well. I think had we gone into it expecting it to blow up there would have been more nerves involved. So any success and traction we got was really exciting to us.

S: How far out of your comfort zone did this push you?

G: Reading Chernow is really the only thing that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I have ADHD which makes it even tougher. What these men did – as flawed as they were, and they were (to a sometimes-ridiculous degree depending on who we’re discussing) – is incredible and important. I want to make sure I’m explaining it accurately and I want to ensure I’m telling their story in a truthful and respectful way. I said on a whim during a recording that we’d publish the silly and reference-heavy outlines I wrote for me and Bianca to use for reference, and now we do! Because we can’t possibly cover everything that comes up in every chapter. But publishing those outlines adds to that feeling of responsibility. We have a disclaimer on our site that we don’t edit them, because I’m all about transparency. However, as I’m writing them up I have it in the back of my mind that this is going to be published, so if I’m confused about something I will say so in the outline.

B: I don’t think I ever necessarily felt out of my comfort zone. The only thing might be the more difficult chapters–and that’s only because we want to make sure we are summarizing the chapters accurately, properly and also entertainingly, so we want to get it right.

S: In school, a lot of the driving force is about outcome, not its process–what would you say to students who get stressed out/anxious/upset about the process or an unexpected outcome?

G: I totally get it, but if something out of your control is happening? Go with it. Because something amazing might come out of it. I’ve had to change plans on the fly and I’ve been so psyched and pleasantly surprised at the outcome. The ability to be flexible is key. But trust your gut! If something isn’t working and the backup plan doesn’t feel right, don’t settle. You have to make sure you can tell the difference. The process is the most important part because you’ll learn so much about yourself. You’ll be surprised at your not-so-hidden talents.

B: As an actor I really love process. I love rehearsal and crafting. I would say to someone who gets stressed over process, (and don’t get me wrong I definitely stress over it) to just accept that it’s a part of the whole package. You can’t get from point A to Z  without the rest of those dang letters. And when you finally get to Z look at where you are, look at where you started and it’ll most likely be obvious that the process was necessary.

S: In addition to the podcast, you both attended BroadwayCon and got to be on a few panels there. How did you find public speaking to be? Was it different than recording the podcast?

G: BroadwayCon was the best. I’m comfortable with public speaking and I don’t find it any different than the podcast, really. I guess the big difference is that with podcasting, like radio, you can forget that it’s going to eventually go out to the internet. But I’m good with it either way.

B: BroadwayCon was NUTS. I went to the first BroadwayCon strictly as a fan. To know that a year later we were there representing the podcast on panels is absolutely insane. We’re so grateful to have had that opportunity and are so psyched to see what will happen for 2018. The public speaking wasn’t much different than podcasting, except we don’t have the luxury of editing while on a panel. Overall, I think we were just both ourselves and had fun with it.

S: For each of you, what is the hardest part about putting yourselves out there/ for putting your work out there?

G: I just want to make sure the podcast is the best it can be. I focus a lot – arguably too much – on audio quality. I’m an open book no matter what, so I’m really okay with putting what I do out there. The podcast isn’t the first time I’ve put myself out there.

B: I’m pretty comfortable with putting myself out there. Especially when I’m attached to a project that I love and am proud to be a part of.

S: Have you always been comfortable with public speaking? What would you say to people that find this challenging?

G: Yes. My advice is to take a breath, and think about it like you’re talking to one person. Visualize someone who you feel really comfortable with, and talk only to them.

B: Nope, not at all. When I was in college at Fordham and I’d get my syllabus for a new class, if the words “Oral Presentation” were anywhere on it, I dropped the class immediately. I was absolutely terrified of public speaking. Now, this has gotten MUCH better since I was in college. I’m still not totally comfortable giving speeches. I’m currently stressing out over a Maid of Honor speech I need to give in July.  But overall, I’m way more comfortable with public speaking that I used to be. I credit my acting training and stage experience with that. It took me a couple years but I don’t get sick to my stomach with nerves any time I need to go on stage anymore. For people who find it challenging, I’d suggest trying to visualize a person you’re comfortable with. Use them as a rock. Other helpful practices are meditation or even a beginners improv class. All things I found helpful as well. Oh and chamomile tea. Helps calm nerves. The anxiety might not ever go away completely but eventually you learn to manage it.

S: Music is a big motivator for all of my students, do you have a go-to song to boost your mood or make you feel more confident before tackling something outside your comfort zone? I know I’ve created an entire playlist just for this. I don’t get to play Hamilton, but we listen to a lot of Brave by Sara Bareilles and Moana in speech.

B: Oooo good question. I think My Shot will never not be an epic hype track.

G: Yorktown. There was a time where that song was on a loop for me, and Hercules Mulligan’s rap literally gave me life. I have a tattoo designed about it, that’s how much it saved my life. I love that song – the lyrics, the musicality, the choreography, all of it. But Mulligan’s rap… that will forever make me realize that I WILL get back up again, and it’s all gonna be okay.

*Note: I’d like for all of my readers to know that I felt the same way about creating this blog. This was something I felt was missing and needed to create it for my students, their families, and the human connection as a collective. I have really big ambitions, and this blog puts me out of my own comfort zone occasionally, but I cannot begin to tell you how worthwhile it is to pursue!

I know that my students find a great many things challenging for them that others do not; advocating for themselves, speaking up during  group projects, asking a friend to play. I have a few tips of my own for my students, and here they are.
1. Take a deep breath and think before you begin. This will help my fluency students speak clearly, my articulation students plan out their motor patterns, and my language students focus on the content they’re about to produce. For my pragmatic students, it’s to find common ground and ask them to engage someone their comfortable with about a topic of his or her interest. Even if it’s not a shared interest, it may start a conversation.
2. Know your role. What is your part in the group project? What are you bringing to this conversation? What makes your idea new and different? I challenge my students to  think about this. It’s like a character building exercise in every day life, so it’s happening much faster than building a role’s backstory. This is what makes my kids superheroes.
3. Have fun! This is yours. It’s your project, paper, friendship, turn to host the morning announcements. How long have you been waiting for this? So I encourage my students to do it, use the strategies they know to complete the “it,” and enjoy it. I also encourage them to find their song and sing it in their heads before they start. To me this changes daily. Sometimes it’s “The Life of the Party” from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. Sometimes it’s “Watch What Happens” from Newsies. Always it’s “Wait For It” from Hamilton. If a playlist would be interesting to you guys, let me know in comments and I can publish one–where words fail, music speaks.

So now, I challenge my readers and my students to find something that makes them inch outside of their comfort zone  and put themselves out there. You never know what could happen.

As for the third and final part of this conversation with Gillian and Bianca, you’re just going to have be “willing to wait for it!” Otherwise, you can find them on Twitter at @TheHamilcast, @GillianWithaG, and @_Biancajean_, their website is TheHamilcast.com, and they are TheHamilcast on Facebook and Instagram. You can find their podcast, the most recent episode of which was released Monday and makes me so so happy, wherever you can stream podcasts. Especially for my articulation students, you’re gonna want to hear this one, trust me!

This blog now has a Twitter account–come follow my speech and theatre adventures @StageSLP.

Keep playing with words and see what messages you create!
–Stef the StageSLP

 

Autism Awareness, Interview, Uncategorized

What Are The Odds The gods Would Put Us All in One Spot?

Let’s talk about community and belonging. These are the groups we create for ourselves where we can be exactly who we are, how we are and be accepted at face value. This is what the human connection is all about, and how it grows. We all belong to many communities, and for myself I’d include: Broadway, dance, speech pathology,  The Shondaland fandom, and avid podcast listener. Given all of that information, it comes as no surprise that I am OBSESSED with Hamilton. I was fortunate enough to see the show April 1, 2016 and my life has never been the same. I looked for everything I could and then I found The Hamilcast: A Hamilton Podcast,  hosted by Gillian Pensavalle and Bianca Soto. I listen to their podcast every week, and they were generous enough to  let me interview them for the blog. This is the first of a three part interview, and this portion focuses on community–building one, being a part of one, and finding your place.

StageSLP: How did you find theatre?

Gillian: I found theatre through my parents and my upbringing. I was lucky enough to grow up in and around the greatest city in the world, and my parents took me to shows all the time. They had original cast recordings on records and then a lot of two-disc sets.

Bianca: I grew up in a house that was already very much into theatre. My mother and grandmother especially were huge influences on me. My first Broadway show was the Damn Yankees revival in 1994. But even before that, I was always listening to cast recordings and familiarizing myself with film versions of musicals.

S: Were you involved with theatre in school? 

G: It’s funny, even though I went to high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I was only in plays because the school was so small they could only put on plays and not musicals. My parents’ living room, however, was a totally different story… I was every role in any number of shows.

B: I was not. I never went to any schools that had a drama department so the opportunity wasn’t there. Had it been I’m fairly certain I would have been a legit drama club kid. I was a dancer but that was separate from anything school related.

S: Were your theatre friends separate from your other friends? 

G: I always went to really small schools, and it kind of didn’t matter. Ashley, who has been on The Hamilcast, and I are closer than family. I have yet to find a way to describe how close we are, but I think it’s all about finding one person who gets you and you’ll be okay. And starting this podcast, I’ve learned that it doesn’t even mean that the person needs to live in your state, time zone, or even on your continent. I always think of the line from one of my favorite shows, “Freaks and Geeks” – and for context, the character is a freshman in high school which makes this even more poignant – “I don’t need another friend. I mean, I already have two! How many friends does a guy need?!”

B: I had a healthy mix of friends but the majority at least had a general interest in theatre. Regardless of that, I was often wary though of mixing friends from different areas of life. I was always nervous that they wouldn’t gel.

S: When did you realize that you created this space for so many people to share their experiences?

G: I knew from the very first interaction; the fact that we had interactions blew my mind. From the very beginning, people were being so open and honest with us. And not just honest, but the emails made it clear that our listeners felt this was a safe space. I wanted to be able to talk about Hamilton without the blank “uh huh” and glazed-eye response, so I totally get it. And while Hamilton is the icebreaker in many of the emails we receive, in the next paragraph they go in on their family, medical, emotional, medical, situations. And I make sure to take the time to really, truly respond to every message.

B: Pretty quickly actually. We started getting emails form people and the running theme in so many of them was that they felt like they were hanging out with us and that they had found a place where they could channel their fandom. So many of the people who email us tell us they didn’t have any friends or family that share their enthusiasm for theatre, and we’ve helped provide an outlet for them. Right away we were amazed by that. It wasn’t at all expected or anticipated but we love that it has become a byproduct of the podcast.

S: How do you feel about having created such a space?

G: It’s unreal. Our listeners are the greatest and most wonderful people in the world, and they deserve the best podcast I can possibly give them.

B: Incredible! We really take pride in the casual approachable nature of the podcast and it’s really awesome to know that that feeling that we have while recording manages to stay intact and have an effect on people listening across the globe.

S: There’s a lot of people out there covering both Hamilton and Broadway across social media platforms and outlets. Can you talk about setting yourselves apart from everyone else out there, and the importance of creating your own space instead of joining in something similar that already exists?

G: To be honest with you, I don’t think about that. When I created this podcast in January of 2016, Hamilton was INSANELY POPULAR but no one else had a podcast about it. I’m really proud that The Hamilcast is the first Hamilton podcast to exist. We are an inclusive community and the minute someone emails or tweets at us, I feel an instant connection and my welcoming response is 100% genuine. When I tweet “welcome to the party!” I mean it wholeheartedly.

B: Hamilton is unique in that it seems like the first show to really take social media by the horns and find creative ways to use it. Which, in turn, inspires other people to do the same. When we first started, we reached out to people who were already on that track: Kathleen Cameron who did the #KathDoesHam dubsmashes, Hollis of @hamiltonssquad, Lizzy of @thehamwing, Amber of @hamiltonasdogs…. Essentially, we are all doing the same thing just in different forms. We all are obsessed with this little show called Hamilton, and found ways to create around that and interact with others.  To us, it only made sense to want to talk to those awesome ladies because our projects share some DNA already. I think it’s been really fun and exciting to be able to become a part of the culture.

S: How did you feel about having guests on, especially as people who admire the work of whomever the guest was? How did you keep your composure while talking to them?

G: Having the guests we’ve had on is on is incredible. I know that word is overused, but it’s accurate. The thing is, they’re all just super fun and amazing people. I’m actually sitting on my floor talking to people who are living our the “look around, look around” lyric. My goal is to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible – since they’re coming over to my apartment – and once I hit record, it all falls into place. But yeah, we do a little YAS IT HAPPENED  dance whenever someone leaves (and I make sure the conversation actually recorded because who knows).

B: It’s just the best. I can’t stress that enough. I think no matter how excited we might be to talk to a particular guest, we recognize that in the end we want to put a good conversation out into the world. So we just stay focused on that. Also, we really want to make our guests comfortable and have a good time. So we roll out the red carpet treatment, the comfy chair, and reassure them that we can talk about literally anything they want. We’re not stuffy journalists out for answers. We are interested in fun and engaging conversation.

S: You two get quite a bit of interaction from your listeners. Do you ever find the community you created to be overwhelming or too much? 

G: No way. We LOVE the interaction. It means so much to us that the show is resonating with people and they want to include us in their conversations.

B: No way, it’s not overwhelming at all. It might take us some time to respond to an email, but we always will. Even if we don’t respond to a tweet, we’re still so grateful that the tweet exists.

S: You two have known each other for a while. Anyone who listens to your episodes can hear that you’re close, and it seems like you’ve created your own little family of recurring guests that are friends of yours. Can you speak to your collaborative process and the importance of finding your people?

G: It’s so funny because we’ve known each other for over 10 years, but we’ve only been officially back in touch since October 2015 because of Hamilton. And then we started texting constantly and by January of 2016 I asked Bianca if she’d be down for the podcast. But yeah, we’re basically long lost sisters; we’re both lefties, both only children, both people who can have musicals and 90’s alt rock and Tori Amos on their iPods, and we just understand each other. Plus, Bianca is a Gemini and they’re always looking for their twin and I think it’s clear she found her. #youwillbefound

B: I think eventually everyone finds their people. Gillian and I may have met over a decade ago but didn’t find the real friendship part until a year and a half ago #ThanksHam. I think as adults it’s easier to weed out the junk and decide who your people really are.

S: Growing up and as adults, did you/do you find it difficult to make and maintain friendships?

G:  It is hard to make new friends, but, like they say on every reality show ever: “I’m not here to make friends.” I’m doing my thing and if a new friend comes down the pike, which happens, then awesome.

B: It wasn’t hard necessarily. I’ve had lots of friends come and go as it’s just the nature of life. And the ones who were really solid have never left. And as an adult I think we grow tired of games and nonsense so you can figure out pretty quickly if someone is worth your time or not.

S: Can you speak to the welcoming and accepting atmosphere that you’ve created among your listeners? 

B: It’s definitely organic. It might sound foolish but we really didn’t have a plan. So everything that has come as a result of the podcast both with our guests and listeners are all happy accidents and a product of genuine enthusiasm and wanting to connect with people.

G: We didn’t have any plans for this podcast other than: we love this thing, we love talking about it, maybe people will want to hear us talking about it and then want to talk about us talking about it?!

S: I personally believe that we all eventually find our people. Some of my students have a hard time making friends or engaging with others. They either are learning how to do so or the idea of putting themselves out there  makes them uncomfortable. How would you suggest to these kids reach out to others?

G: Oh man, this question resonates so much. I’m an only child and I’ve always been a bit of a weirdo. I grew up in a time where finding my people had to happen face to face. I’m happy to say that’s not the case anymore. As Javier Munoz stressed in his second episode, if you have an internet connection, you can find your people. The good news is that you’re not alone – someone else loves the thing you love. Whatever it is! Someone else loves it, somewhere. If you can’t find that person in real life, look online. And if you can’t find them, email us and we’ll help you out. Even if you’re not into Hamilton, we’re here to help.

B: This can be really tricky, I’m sure. Especially if you’re currently in a place of feeling alone and without a support system. I think being an only child for me was helpful because I learned early on to learn how to have fun with just me if need be. I didn’t feel too much stress to always be in the center of the action. But on the flip side it really is true that eventually we all find our people. If kids are having a hard time engaging with others I’d say to start small. Maybe it starts with talking about the latest episode of a TV show you love. There’s usually a gateway topic that suddenly opens the doors to more.

S: I know I listen every Monday as part of my morning routine, but where can we find you?

G: I’m @GillianWithaG on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  We’re @TheHamilcast on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, our website is TheHamilcast.com.

B: I’m  @_biancajean_ on Twitter and Instagram and my website is biancajeansoto.com  and you can email us at TheHamilcast@gmail.com

It’s safe to say that the ladies of The Hamilcast have created a warm and welcoming community for all who choose to become a part of it. This is the same kind of environment I want for all of the students I work with; where they feel accepted, equal, and welcome just as they are. As a member of the special education community,  I know the value of a community like this one.  There are people I can talk to about a topic that no one else understands on such a level. This is not unlike the dance community, speech community, or truly, any biological or chosen family. For those of you still trying to find inclusion opportunities near you, contacting local schools, social skills professionals, or athletic groups are great places to start. My students and their families have been successful across these avenues. Further, don’t be afraid to ask your IEP team for inclusion opportunities, and get their opinions on the potential for increased inclusion opportunities at school, or resources they may have for extracurricular activities.

Stay tuned for part two of three of my conversation with Bianca and Gillian on Wednesday. And, please, if you’re not already go listen to The Hamilcast. New episodes are released every Monday, wherever you can stream podcasts. It is the best way to start every week, and I’m lucky enough to call myself a part of this community as well. I hope you all join us, as we pretend we’re in Gillian’s apartment listening to the unbelievable stories that get told #InTheRoomWhereItHappens.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Autism Awareness, Lesson Plans

I Won’t Grow Up!

Tomorrow is the last day of school before we go on Spring Break, and both my students and I are ready. Weeks going into and coming out of break are always the hardest on all of us–trying to get things done before everyone enjoys some much needed time off. So, how do I engage my students who just want to play? Play with them of course! Yes, that’s right; for all the paperwork, assessing, and teaching I do, sometimes I just want to play. Getting older is inevitable, but no one said I had to grow up!

Act It Out–a perspective taking and language activity.

I love this and came up with it in graduate school. My students on the spectrum love it even more. It’s how we identify feelings and understand the perspectives of others. This week, I’ll be using the Pigeon books by Mo Willhems and Laurie Berkner’s song. “We Are the Dinosaurs.” First, we read or listen to the material and talk about the character traits and actions we heard or saw and I write them down on a white board. I also use pictures to help solidify concepts. We all talk about our respective favorite parts, causing us to engage in a conversation also adhere to the rules of conversation, or in some cases, just learn about the rules of conversation. Once everyone has had their say, it’s time to play! Each child gets a turn to act out their favorite part of the book or song, adn the other students get to guess which part it is Once it’s guessed correctly everyone gets to act out said part together, then a student is chosen (either by the first student to act out or myself) to act out their favorite part. This continues until everyone has had a turn. That’s right–I fit turn taking in there too! The last round of Act It Out allows for the students to act something out  from ANYTHING they like–movies, TV shows, books. This is their reward. It really helps my students understand the emotions of a character in a book, and for my more advanced students, helps generalization of understanding the feelings of others while building their knowledge of story elements and vocabulary.

Articulation friends, I didn’t forget about you either. We’re working on joke books!

Each student gets a file folder, where they get to write down their favorite jokes containing their speech sounds. These can be jokes they know or jokes they make up. As they write them, each student has to practice their jokes with the other students in speech. I intervene to provide specific instruction on how to correctly produce targets. This allows for many trials and practice opportunities for the kids. Meanwhile, the kids think it’s just a “play day” in speech. And we all get to be creative. We all win.

Between now and my next post, I will be in New York City taking in  more theatre and will post about that next Wednesday. Can’t wait to share with you! Have a great week!

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Autism Awareness, The Human Connection

We’re All In This Together

I can’t believe we’re already in April, and you know what that means…it’s Autism Awareness Month!
Today is Autism Awareness Day, and my spotlight this week will be on Autism. This month allows me to continue to educate the other staff members about Autism Spectrum Disorder. These are the really big points I like to share:
1. Autism Spectrum Disorder is just that…a spectrum!
I cannot stress this enough. There is no cookie cutter for Autism. There is, within the school I work in a specific Autism program. I have students who are nonverbal, low-verbal, and extremely verbal. I have students who tantrum, students in self-contained classroom, and students in the mainstream classroom. Whatever your stereotype is for ASD, throw it out the window. There is no such thing.
2. We all have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses.
I have students with high linguistic skills and low academic skills, I also have the reverse. I have kids who are great reading, and kids who are great at math. I have kids who need different supports in different areas. This is true for all of my students, and I teach this to students and staff alike. None of us are perfect, and no one’s good at everything. Every strength should be celebrated.
3. Everything has a purpose or intention. Stop telling me and my student to “stop it.”
Maybe my student is having a tough time with something. This could be because someone skipped her turn in a game or because he’s not wearing the shirt he wanted to wear to school today because it’s in the wash. Maybe my student is uncomfortable. Any of these, may lead to potential non-compliant behavior, crying, screaming, or other behaviors. This is my student’s way of communicating dissatisfaction with something because either 1. he’s so frustrated that words are insufficient, 2. She doesn’t understand why you don’t understand she’s not happy and it should be as obvious to you as it is to her, 3. this is how my student is expressing themselves in this moment. 4. Any combination or alternatively, none of the above. Maybe my student asked me to go to the bathroom 3 times during a session–this could be an escape or avoidance behavior because what I’m doing isn’t interesting to them. Please stop asking my students to stop it, or say “Can’t you DO something about that?” How do you feel when your needs aren’t met? Not pleased, I’d imagine, and quite frustrated. My students do not react this way without purpose.
Now here’s the take-away, you ready? WE ARE ALL HUMAN. ALL OF US.
My students have feelings, and so do their families, friends, teachers, and service providers. They are not less than you. Their lives are remarkable, and we can learn so much from them if we only take the time to watch, listen, and learn. These are people with unique experiences, just like the rest of us. They are not “motivational” or heroes; they are not to be pitied. There are things they love and things that annoy them. They want and deserve what we all want and deserve, and that’s acceptance and inclusion in this world. They are not other. They are people, and I count my lucky stars every day that I get to work with the varying abilities of my students. We’re all works in progress and we’re all learning every day. These people are NOT their disorder, they’re people to be valued as much as any other person you know. This month will largely focus on what I do with my students and what works with a variety of different abilities. We are ALL equally as extraordinary as we are ordinary, and we all need support in many aspects of our lives, even if it doesn’t always look the same.
In addition to all I will share about Autism, this month is also my one year Hamilversary–when my life was forever changed by witnessing the magic that is this show. It’s transformative and reflective, while making you want to take immediate action towards whatever you want to do with your life. Angelica said it best, “I have never been the same.”
 How did this translate into the speech room? I’ve used some of the songs and raps to teach articulation, increase or decrease rates of speech with the use of metronomes and different rhythms. I went through 2 highlighters to teach a student /r/ which is the most evil of all speech sounds. I’ve used nonfiction text relating to Hamilton–taught in my school’s fourth grade curriculum–to address main idea, key details, summarizing all with graphic organizers and lots of discussion. As a reward (possibly more for me than my students) we get to have dance parties to the songs that are permissible for me to play. Since April usually coincides with spring break, there may be some bonus posts or mention of shows I’ve seen. Spring break hasn’t begun for us yet, but I will be spending it in part in a few theatres, and I’ll bring back my thoughts as well as how I can incorporate what I saw into the speech room.
I look forward to sharing all of this and more with you!
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP