Learning and Sharing

Teens in the Kitchen


A cooking class has been on my mind for a long time.  I waffled on the notion of leading the class myself but realized I needed to go to the experts.  Publix Super Markets are new to the Richmond area and I was hooked on my very first shopping experience there.  On one of my visits I noticed the Aprons Cooking School at the Nuckols Place location and had an Aha! moment.  I found my experts!

I took my goals to Chef Brian:

Improve social executive functioning skills while participating in a fun, social event, by promoting 
Time Management
Sustaining Effort
Decision Making
Problem solving

The folks at Aprons were fantastic!  They were flexible, accommodating, and fun.

Chef Brian and Chef Kara planned a gluten free menu of French Toast, Grits w/ Sausage Gravy, Maple Brown Sugar Bacon and for dessert, a Berry Napoleon with Oatmeal Crumble.

Look at the teamwork!



Thank you, Aprons Cooking School, for making this event an awesome social experience!


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Are You Like a Magnet for Other People?


We want to keep other people thinking good thoughts and feeling good feelings when they are around us.  Just like magnets “attract” and “repel”,  we can say and do things with our body, eyes, and words that make people want to be around us, or do things with our body, eyes, and words to push people away.  Magnets can be used as an effective hands-on visual for learning the importance of why we want to attract other people and how to draw them close.

Each meeting of the Friday Night Heights group for Teens and Tweens provides a context for practicing social competencies. Currently, the group focus is on making small talk, situational awareness, and self-monitoring.



The list of behaviors that repel others from the conversation is long.  Arguing, interrupting, and tone of voice are at the top of the list.  Too much sarcasm is also important and can be a deal breaker when it comes to friendships and hanging out with a group.



The following video helps us to understand the difference between verbal irony and sarcasm.  It is all about intent and tone.


Giving compliments can make others feel good.  If we are not careful and keep in mind who we are talking to, what we mean as a compliment can be received as an uncomfortable comment.  Since we are in a climbing gym we keep our compliments to what is expected in that situation.  “You are brave on the wall” or “Great climb tonight!” are examples of positive compliments.

Browse the videos at Everyday Speech Social Skills.  One in particular, Uncomfortable Comments is very helpful in showing situational awareness.

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Helping Young Children Figure it Out


Michelle Garcia Winner writes in the Forword of We Can Make It Better! that “by kindergarten, children are expected to have a solid grasp on their emotional regulation as well as how to cope with the emotions of others.  They are expected to understand that they learn as part of a group, and that they are supposed to focus on what’s  being taught and not on their own personal needs.  They also are expected to try to read the intentions of the teachers and others around them, monitoring and modifying their behavior based on how they think others are thinking and feeling”.

Children with social learning challenges often need us to make the invisible visible.  After introducing the Social Thinking® concepts to preschoolers through the We Thinkers curriculum, We Can Make It Better! by Elizabeth M. Delsandro, is a wonderful next step for helping young children to be flexible, social problem solvers.

Thoughts and feelings are the heart of social learning.  Understanding how our behavior affects the thoughts and feelings of others will help us become better problem solvers.




With each short story included in We Can Make It Better!  a social dilemma is presented.  While working through the problem solving process, children have the opportunity to develop a better understanding of how one’s behavior, whether it is with our words or our actions, impact our relationships with others.  Each story invites the learner to “make it better” with an expected ending or outcome to the story.


I love adding these fun Kimochis to the activities.

One of the best features of the Everyday Speech Social Skills Videos is the use of thought bubbles. The learner has the opportunity to see what others are thinking about during problem solving scenarios.

Help young children figure it out.  Make the invisible visible.

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Self-monitoring is one of the most comprehensive research supported techniques of behavioral self-management (McDougall, 2008).  Techniques and tools reported in the self-monitoring literature include:  self-talk, video-modeling, and self-recording.

My teen clients spend hours of individual coaching sessions learning about expected behaviors (different for every situation), hidden social rules, and conversation skills by watching videos and practicing positive self-talk.  Now its time to apply what they have learned.  When we arrive at the climbing wall we will spend some time talking about expected behaviors in this particular group and some conversation starters.  Then, we will go out into the gym to climb and put these skills into action in a real time social situation.


After climbing, we will regroup for some pizza and feedback.  We will all (adults included) use the Rating Your Own Impression form to start the feedback conversation. Did I show interest in others? Did I stay out of people’s personal space?   Did my tone and facial expression match my message? Do others see me as friendly and approachable?

Social Thinking® Thinksheets for Tweens and Teens                                                                                                                          

Looking forward to another fun Friday evening at Peak Experiences!




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Conversation Mapping




I love combining resources to make an outstanding lesson/session for a client.  A few of my teen clients are working on conversation building.  Here are some of the resources that we use:


First, I like to start with this Conversation Mapping activity



After practicing several conversation scripts, we move on to video modeling



The social skills videos on the Model Me Kids app are excellent for teaching perspective taking.  The narration, graphics, and visuals, all done by teens, help explain the hidden social rules of conversation.



Most of my teen clients find it difficult to start conversations based on other people’s interests.  With the photos provided and the visual prompts of connecting comments, wondering questions, and compliments in this free download the groups have what they need for more guided practice.


Finally, we use what we have learned by building conversations using the Conversation Builder Teen app.

After lots of practice, it is time to venture out into the real world to try all that we have learned.  A great place for real world practice is the Friday night Teen Social Skills Group at Peak Experiences climbing wall!  For more information on this group contact me at



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Cause and Effect in Reading Comprehension

The world is full of causes and effects, so it is no surprise that literature and non-fiction writings contain cause and effect references.  Cause and effect is a literacy tool used to help students comprehend when actions and reactions occur. Identifying cause and effect relationships within a story helps students focus on two important elements of comprehension: what happens in the story and why it happened.

  • The cause is why or the reason something happened. It answers the question Why or How. Authors often identify the cause using signal words: Because… Since… Cause… Reason… So that… Unless… The main reason… Due to… For the simple reason that…
  • The effect is the result of what happened. It answers the questions: What happened? What was the result? Authors typically indicate the effect using these signal words: As a result of… If… Consequently… Effect… Therefore… Thus… So… Because of this… So that… For this reason…

Sometimes, before we can understand cause and effect in the stories we read, we must first understand cause and effect in our daily lives.




I find that I weave the Social Thinking® vocabulary throughout therapy and reading tutoring sessions. The concepts are applicable no matter what we are doing. “Think with your eyes and find the clues”.






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The People Skills that Teens and Young Adults Need to Succeed in School, Work, and Life


There is a reason that I keep going back to Chick-fil-A and it is not because I particularly love their chicken.  I did love the Asian Chicken Salad but it was discontinued. That salad is no longer on the menu, but I keep going back when I want fast food.  The reason I keep going back is because of their customer service.  Chick-fil-A trains their employees well.  The smiling face at the window who greets me as if my order really matters to him/her and responds to my “thank you” with “my pleasure” keeps me going back.

I pay attention to customer service because I own a business.  I employ young adults and I coach teens and young adults in developing  effective, accurate, and persuasive communication skills.

Many of my teen and young adult clients are preparing for their first job interview, the high school/college application and interview process, or the volunteering/community service experience. Smile & Succeed for Teens by Kirt Mancke is a valuable resource for me as a coach.


The young employees at Chick-fil-A never respond to my “thank you” with “no problem”.  The Smile & Succeed for Teens handbook supports my feelings regarding that cringeworthy phrase.  It is a hard habit to break but so worth the effort to replace a negative response with a positive response. Phrases such as, “You’re welcome” or as they say at Chick-Fil-A, “It’s my pleasure”, end the exchange on a very positive, respectful note.


The same goes when responding to a request.  “I’m happy to…” or ” Of course, I’ll do that right away”. Small stuff matters! The last thing that an employer wants to hear is an excuse or an argument.

In addition to the Top 10 People Skills discussed in Smile & Succeed for Teens, I also focus on the following:

  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Accepting and learning from feedback and criticism
  • Problem solving skills

It is my pleasure to coach young people and assist them in obtaining success in school, a first job, or in their community.



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Note to Self

Sarah Ward, at Cognitive Connections, gives us a working definition of Executive Function Skills:

            “Executive Function is the ability to integrate a present awareness with future anticipation and past experiences to develop a reasonable goal and plan for the present action (while still accounting for and flexibly managing the space, time and people around you).”

When I am working with clients as a social executive function coach, I often use Ms. Ward’s Note to Self strategy.

Some ways that we can use the Note to Self strategy:

  • Recall the benefits of hard work
  • Review past decisions and the impact
  • Review situation to avoid making future mistakes


When we play a game of Trouble our goal is to have fun.  To achieve a good outcome, we have to reflect on the last few times that we played the game together.  If someone moved minions that belonged to another player, what was the impact of that behavior?  Did it stop the fun?  Did a player take someone else’s turn over and over?  Bringing up those memories helps us create our Notes to Self.

The ultimate goal is to store the notes to self like sticky notes on our brain. Until we can do that we will use a sticky note at our place at the table.  If a problem pops up, I will state the problem and point to the sticky note.  In a future game, I may just have to ask them to call up their Notes to Self.


Using the Note to Self strategy is a great way to stay calm and help young clients learn self-control. Children learn to reflect on their behavior and how it affected the thoughts and feelings of others.  It relieves the facilitator of always telling the child what to do and what not to do.



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Reading Strategies


The goal of all reading instruction is to help students become expert readers so that they can achieve independence and can use literacy for lifelong learning and enjoyment.  Learning to use strategies effectively is essential to constructing meaning.  Readers who are not strategic often encounter difficulties in their reading (Paris, Wasik, & Turner, 1991).  These early difficulties in reading may influence the way readers learn throughout the rest of their lives (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wildinson, 1985).


Comprehension is the reason for reading.

One of my clients loves color and coloring.  She wants to decorate every paper she encounters with color in a variety of forms.  I have discovered that this Find the Evidence strategy keeps her focused as well as teaching her how to go back to the text to find the answer to comprehension questions. For all of my clients, visual supports help to make the invisible visible.

Social knowledge is vital to reading comprehension.  Perspective taking activities help my clients make connections to their own experiences, read between the lines, and make inferences.




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Reading Comprehension and Social Thinking

There is a connection between reading comprehension and social thinking.  Children who struggle with reading comprehension usually have difficulty using social judgment on the playground and when working in cooperative groups.  Children who have social learning challenges usually struggle to make inferences and draw conclusions as they read.  Both social thinking and reading comprehension require a high level of perspective taking.  When we are around other people, we need to think about their thoughts, motives, and intentions.  When we read, we have to get into the characters heads and imagine what they are thinking and what they might do next.

In social settings, children must read the facial expressions and body language of others in order to make a smart guess about which groups to attempt to enter and which ones to avoid.  They need to be able to anticipate how problems can occur in order to take steps to solve them.  They must be able to compromise, negotiate, and be flexible thinkers in order to make and keep friends.  To comprehend what they read, children must imagine what their characters are thinking.  They must use the words to create a picture or use the picture provided to imagine what the characters are thinking.

I use a variety of strategies with my clients who struggle with reading.  I have found great success when I help them make the invisible visible.  I Get It! by Audra Jensen gave me a kick-start on how to apply the Social Thinking® vocabulary and concepts to reading comprehension.


I’m a Frog! by Mo Willems is an example of a book that I would use when working on the concept of a shared imagination.



In this book, Piggie understands what it means to pretend and wants to help Gerald share in his pretending.  Gerald just doesn’t get it!

I hide the text and ask my clients to make smart guesses about what the characters are thinking.  I ask them to think with their eyes by pointing out facial expressions and body language.





Then we look at the text to see if our guesses were correct or close.


Wambat Walkabout by Carol Diggory Shields and illustrated by Sophie Blackall is the perfect text when working on the concept of keeping your body in the group.



For an extensive list of books to support reading comprehension and Social Thinking® concepts, visit


We, educators and therapists, must be careful that we do not assume that reading comprehension is not a concern if students have high cognitive skills, a robust vocabulary, can decode, and are able to answer general WH questions about what they read.  We need to help them dig deeper and help them to put themselves into a story and understand perspectives and how different people and situations affect each other and their environment.

My Best,