Inclusion · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection

Together Wherever We Go: Social Skills and Friendships

One of the things I love most about a new school year is watching students reconnect with friends. Sure, it may have only been a day or two since they last saw each other, but it could’ve been months. Even sweeter than watching these reunions is witnessing the forming of new friendships.

While this seems like a simple skill, it isn’t easy for everyone. Some kids can bond over the design on their backpacks, but others have a harder time making connections with their peers. Maybe they’re shy, anxious, or maybe this is a new experience for them. Collaborative work and interactive classroom activities certainly help, as do social periods in the day, like lunch and recess. I’m fortunate enough to work in an environment that promotes inclusivity and making new friends. Of course, there’s always the inevitable (typically short-lived) drama that results in friends distancing themselves. Frequently, I am called upon to help resolve these issues among my students, and like any other speech activity, we talk through it. So far, my students’ friendships have not been a concern, and we spent a session talking about what keeps a friendship strong. Here’s what they had to say.

  • Listen to your friends.
    My students have shared they feel closest with their friends when they feel like they’re being heard. A conversation involves two people, but you can’t both talk at the same time. Make sure you’re listening to and really hearing your friends during conversations.
  • Understand the other person’s interests.
    You don’t have to like everything your friend does, but showing an interest goes a long way. If your friends like football but you don’t know anything about it, ask about the rules of the game. This way, when it comes up in conversation, you don’t feel left out and can follow the conversation going on between your group of friends.
  • You don’t have to do everything together.
    As mentioned above, separate interests are not a problem. These interests allow for personal growth as well as growth and cultivation of new friendships. They also allow for time to recharge and family connections. I am constantly explaining to my students that you can be friends and give each other space at the time.
  • Make time to be together outside of school.
    School is definitely a social environment, but it’s an academic setting first. There is a time and place to be social, but it shouldn’t take away from school work. Spending time together with less structure, such as a play date or family get together not only form lasting memories and inside jokes but teach kids how to navigate social situations with other people involved and in alternative settings.
  • Your friends will annoy you, just let it go.
    No one is perfect, and even your best friend will annoy you. Maybe they did something that didn’t sit well with you. If you find it really uncomfortable, you can tell an adult or tell the friend how their actions made you feel. If it was something small, my students think it’s best to let the little things go and move on.

My challenge to you this week is to implement one of these strategies within your friendships, old or new. Please share your own friendship advice in comments, this is an area in which we can all learn from each other. I hope you found my students’ tips helpful, I know I’m looking forward to seeing yours!

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

Improv · Inclusion · Performances · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · The Human Connection

Comedy Tonight: Freestyle Love Supreme

Hi readers! If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I had the opportunity to see the unbelievable improv musical comedy crew Freestyle Love Supreme in DC. If you’re not familiar with Freestyle Love Supreme, here’s how their website describes them:

FLS is a freestyle (hence the name), improvisational, hip-hop comedy show. Every night the performers take suggestions from the audience and spin them into instantaneous riffs and full-length musical numbers. Every night is different: no two shows are the same. We don’t know what we’re rapping about until YOU tell us!”

The crew has a rotating cast of characters, but I was fortunate enough to see Anthony Veneziale aka Two-Touch, Chris Sullivan aka Shockwave (whom I have interviewed about beatboxing here), Andrew Bancroft aka Jelly Donut, Ian Weinberger aka Burger Time, and Chris Jackson aka C-Jack.

FLS
Photo Credit: FreestyleLoveSupreme.com

You might be wondering why a blog with a focus on speech pathology and Broadway is writing about her night at an improv comedy show. This group of talented performers put together an experience that is founded on trust, the power of yes, and open communication. If I could take my students working on social pragmatics to see anything, it would be this. The performers were entertaining each other as much as they were making the audience laugh. The audience was as much a part of the show as the people on stage.

If you’re familiar with this group you know that the entire evening is built on the relationship between the performers and the audience members. How is that different from any other performance I’ve seen? Great question reader–this show only works if the audience and performers can work together. It was the coolest experience I’ve had of an audience being fully present and actively engaging with the folks onstage. There was no fourth wall, everyone was there to have a good time, especially the performers, and it was such a relaxed atmosphere, you felt like you were in a room full of people you already knew. Unlike a scripted show, each performance in completely unique to its audience.

This got me thinking about conversational speech and pragmatics, and how they are unique to the people participating in them. Sure, you can tell someone about a conversation you had with a friends, but it’s never the same as being there. That was exemplified by the friendship between the performers and by how inclusive they were with the audience and between one another. The exchanges are quick but meaningful, funny without picking on anyone, and easy to follow but entertaining. This is what I want all of my students to know about interpersonal skills and conversing with one another. There is no room for ego in this group, and all topics and ideas get treated equally, the same way they should in any conversation. The transitions were logical and smooth, which many of my students are also working towards. I couldn’t help but notice all of these parallels and had to share them with my readers.

The best news I can share with you? Freestyle Love Supreme is going to broadway for 16 weeks beginning September 13, 2019, and you can get tickets at FreestyleLoveSupreme.com. I cannot encourage you to see this enough if you’re able. If not, there are some episodes of this crew doing what they do best on Amazon Prime, but be in that room and feel a part of the community of the audience if you can–there’s nothing like it. This week, I challenge you to engage in a conversation and stay in it–no distractions, no tech, no interruptions. Stay as in tune and present with your conversational partner as possible, and just have fun.

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

Inclusion · The Human Connection

Fundamental Truths: My Basics For Speech

Hi all! I’m spending my summer teaching summer school and taking continuing education courses. As I’ve been going through both of these activities, I’ve been able to reflect on my practices and beliefs that I hold in all of my speech groups. As different as each individual student is, I have the same foundational beliefs and expectations for them all. I thought I would share them with you readers here.

You are capable.

Every single one of my students is capable of achieving his or her goals. Each one learns in his or her own way, but each student, through whatever method of learning, is capable of achieving not only their IEP goals, but also those of personal interest, or goals they’ve created within their classroom.

You belong here.

I strive to make my space a safe space for all of my students. They know that I am there to help and support them. They also know that I create my groups in a manner in which the students feel accepted and equal to their peers. I am sure to always point out successes and valiant efforts in my speech room, be they for stamina, risk-taking, or progress towards a goal, personal or academic. All of this helps my students to feel that they belong.

You and your best are enough.

Unfortunately, there are circumstances in which my students are made to feel “other,” or as though they are “that kid” in the class. My students are themselves, and they are enough as they are. I only ask of them to try their best, and that their personal best will always be exactly enough for me. I stress that they are not in competition with each other or even themselves, and that we all (myself included) working on something in this space.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

I purposefully point out when I make mistakes around my students. The pressure to be perfect and high achieving is overwhelming to my students and many others. I encourage making mistakes. It means my students are learning. When I show them that I make multiple mistakes a day, they learn to understand that mistakes are a part of not only life, but lifelong learning.

Practice with me, practice with everyone. 

One of my favorite things to tell students and families is that the wonderful thing about speech is that it can be practiced anywhere and with anyone. Are you playing with your friends? You’re working on expressive and receptive language. Playing video games? That’s executive functioning and following multi-step directions. Having a conversation at the dinner table? That’s social skills and turn-taking. Speech is not restricted to the speech room by any means.

I hope you’ve found something useful or interesting in my fundamental truths. Do you share any of them with me? Have any you’d like me to adopt? Share them in comments below–I look forward to learning from you. My challenge to you this week is to identify your fundamental truths in any aspect of your life, and examine why those truths are foundational in that area of your life.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Backstage · Broadway · Inclusion · Performances · The Human Connection · Tony Awards

I Am What I Am: Tony Awards Musings

In my speech room, I ask all of my students to strive for their best. I do my best to teach them it’s not about winning, but about how you show up and put in the work. I believe that this is also the case for theatre. With the Tony Awards only a week away, I can’t help but think that it’s us, the audience members, who are the real winners.

Every individual involved in theatre, onstage, backstage, production, front of house is doing an amazing job every night to make sure the audience has the best experience possible. It’s easy to forget that those roles are in fact work and are by no means easy.

This is a world in which we escape into theatre to find ourselves. No award adequately expresses the magic found in a theatre. It can’t express the memories, emotions, or connections felt in that space. So as the Tony Awards air on television next Sunday, which I will certainly be watching, keep in mind there are more “losers” than “winners,” and it’s the theatre-goers who are the true winners. Theatre is designed to bring community together, and I challenge you all to keep that in mind as awards are handed out. How will you bring community together in your own way? Share in comments, I can’t wait to read them.

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

Autism Awareness · Inclusion · The Human Connection

I Talk To Him and He Just Talks To Me: Conversation Techniques for Everyone

April is Autism Awareness Month. There are plenty of articles out there that will attempt to describe how people on the Autism Spectrum interact with others. I’ve been teaching my students how to have appropriate conversations with people across abilities, with a highlight on ASD.Today, I’m here to make some suggestions addressing how we interact with people with ASD.

  • Say hello.
    The person you are speaking to is exactly that, a person. This person should be treated with the same respect as any other individual you encounter. Say hello. This may be met with a verbal hello, a nonverbal greeting, sign of acknowledgment or no response at all. There is absolutely no reason for this person not to feel accepted during any interaction.
  • Listen.
Listen to the response you get. Listen to what is being said and how it is being said. Related to your topic of interest or not, listen and hear. All people have interests and different methods of communicating and all are valid. Keep in mind, nonverbal reactions are just as valid a form of communication as verbal reactions.
  • Talk to the person in front of you.
    I cannot stress this one enough. People should not be talked about in any situation. Just because someone isn’t neurotypical doesn’t mean they should be talked about, they should be spoken to. If you find yourself speaking about the person instead of to them, please know they’re taking in every word you say.
  • Have a conversation.
    You are an active participant. Ask questions. Learn about the other person’s perspective on the topic of discussion; you might learn something new yourself! Make sure you’re taking turns talking. Remember: a conversation ges back and forth and is not an interrogation of one individual from the other.
  • Ticks happen.
    Some people flap their hands. Some people don’t maintain eye contact. Some people, fidget with objects or the hems of their shirts. This is not an uninvested conversation. This is how the individual is coping with incoming sensory information. Do you ever doodle while you’re on the phone or in a meeting to keep your focus? This is the same logic–using another skill to help take in all of the sensory information around us.
  • Politely end the conversation.
    Conversation does not end because you’ve decided it should. You do not simply walk away from someone you’re having a conversation with. You conclude the conversation using a concluding statement. What are those? “I have to go now.” “It was nice talking to you.” “Thanks for helping me.” “See you soon!”
This week, and every day, I challenge you to talk to someone new and different.Open yourself up to what conversations with anyone have the potential to become. Share your interactions in comments.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
— Stef the Stage SLP
Broadway · Inclusion · The Human Connection

When I Think of Home: BroadwayCon 2019

I have known for some years now that home is not a place, it’s a feeling. A feeling usually centered around people and experience. For me, it’s getting to do something I love with people I find it easy to be around–no frills. At my third BroadwayCon, this continued to be true. I got to see dear friends and support the art and causes I love. I got to experience community at BroadwayCon, which we know I am ALL about. Allow me to share my experience with you.

I got to reunite with so many of the folks who allow me to interview them and continue to support them. I got to see all of my friends involved in Broadway Makers Alliance,  some of whom are #FriendsOfTheBlog including Andrea Kohler of Coloring Broadway, Mindy and Liz of Petite Seat, and Will Barrios of TatroTatro.  I got to continue to support some of Doug Otero‘s new Intermission Beauty products. I got to cheer on and support Gillian Pensavalle of The Hamilcast and Patrick Hinds, who was the first person I saw ask the questions I wanted asked on his podcasts. All of these folks have been supportive since minute one, and it’s always a joy to connect with them.

I felt insanely grateful to thank so many #FriendsOfTheBlog, Lesli Margherita, James Monroe Iglehart, and Susan Egan. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being able to thank these folks in person. I hope they know how much their time means to me, and that I didn’t look too foolish trying to say so eloquently.

As you can imagine, BroadwayCon is a non-stop experience, so there is a real magic involved in being able to be yourself without being “on” over the course of these three days. As fast-paced as the weekend was, it all felt really natural and completely comfortable. Of course I had my obsessed fan moments with many of the folks there–speaking at panels or walking through the marketplace–but that behavior was not only accepted but expected. And not just by attendees, but the guests at the convention! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, theatre people are a very unique, special, wonderful group of people. I made new connections with folks I’ve never met before, and not once did I feel unwelcome or out of place in a room full of people I’ve never met. Who knows, maybe I’ve even met you, dear reader! If not, I certainly hope to do so!

The human connection is strong at BroadwayCon, where any two people can strike up a conversation. This week, I challenge my readers to have an unlikely conversation–a conversation with someone they wouldn’t normally speak with at length, or a conversation on a subject they normally wouldn’t speak on at length. What you learn from new, untapped perspectives can be extremely powerful. Listen, and really hear what’s being said.

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

Inclusion · The Human Connection

I Got You, Babe: The Strong Friend

It is this wonderful time of year when we are appreciative than thankful for all of our family and friends. Sometimes, this is expressed through gifts. Others through gestures and acts of helping out. These are those wonderful friends and folks who are always there, no questions asked. Many of my students are these people to their friends. I am this friend to many, and I have many of these friends. This post begins a series of posts inspired by my students, who have been working on describing and explaining their friendships with each other.

Who am I talking about? The kids who always have a smile on their face and seem like they can take on the world. The kids who get dismissed as “fine” or “having everything together.” The friends who listen to you, day or night, without complaint. The friends and family who tell you they’re fine.

As a “fine” friend, I can tell you there are a zillion things going on. My students, when they do open up to me about their lives, are anything other than fine. They’re under pressure, exhausted and people-pleasing. They’re afraid to be real around their friends. Many of the adults are the same.

What do these people in our lives want? They want us to ask how they really are. Beyond the “fine.” They want to be seen and heard. They want to be validated. They want to be appreciated. This can be especially hard during the holidays, when they are being strong for everyone having a hard time. Listen to your strong friends. They are often the most in need of care. Listen to the stronger students, they are most often in need to positive attention and demonstrations of caring.

This week, I challenge you to really hear that “strong friend” beyond their response of “fine,” and show them some extra appreciation.

 

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