Learning and Sharing

The Escape Room


Several of my clients have attended birthday parties which included an Escape Room experience. They are so excited about it and I am enthused about the possibilities of using the concept in my therapy/coaching sessions. After searching for ideas and help, I am happy to report that the prospects are endless!  An escape room challenge solves a variety of puzzles or completes a variety of missions.  After each puzzle is solved, the players get a clue that leads them to a new location. Each new location includes a keyword to win and a new puzzle or mission.

Here are a few of the terrific creations that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I was looking for challenges applicable to my clients. I found articulation, social skills, executive function, reading and a variety of language challenges. These will get me started…


Not every escape room challenge uses a lock box.  I decided to get one and some fun word locks.



Not every escape room challenge uses invisible ink to add to the fun.  I decided to get some along with a blacklight flashlight.













One of my older clients, a high school student, suggested using video clues!  That sounds awesome! A video clue can be especially effective for a social skills challenge.  As I discovered, the possibilities are endless.

Think about what the purpose of the escape room challenge will be.  The activity will not do the teaching for me but can provide a fun way for my clients to apply and explore what they have learned in therapy/coaching sessions.  The puzzles don’t have to be overly complicated but it is a good idea to balance easy, moderate and challenging task.

I plan for about 30min. for a solo client and 45 – 60min. for two or more working as a small group.  So far, everyone has had a good time!!


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An Exit Strategy


The eyes are a remarkable tool for social interaction.  We rely significantly on non-verbal cues in our communication and interactions with others.  Observing and thinking with our eyes helps us to obtain information about the thoughts, feelings, intentions, and reactions of our communication partners.  At the same time, our eye gaze provides information about our own attention and inner experiences.

Recently, I have been working with teens who have not mastered the art of exiting a conversation or an interaction.  Sometimes they walk away without saying anything.  Other times, they say goodbye as they hurry away into another room or out the door and I am left looking at the back of their head.  So, I decided that we needed an exit strategy.  The foundation of the exit strategy is directed eye gaze.


Our eyes are like arrows…











…they are usually pointing at what a person is thinking about.  We can understand the thoughts of others just by observing where they are looking.  If I am looking at the clock, I am most likely thinking about what time it is.  If I am thinking about the time, I probably intend to leave because I need to be somewhere else.

Directed eye gaze serves many important  purposes.

  • We can observe our communication partner’s face and body language to determine how interested they are in our topic of conversation.
  • Our gaze demonstrates our level of attention to what our communication partner is saying.
  • We can read the room/group and decide when is a good time to change the topic or help us monitor our impulses to blurt.
  • If we are walking and talking with a conversation partner, checking in with our eyes keeps us connected.  We let them know that we care about them and what they have to say.




The Exit Strategy Plan of Action

  1. Think with your eyes and watch for “the signal”.  The signal informs that a conversation or an interaction is almost over.  Sometimes I give the signal and sometimes my conversation partner gives the signal.  It could be when I stand up from the table or I say “great session today”.  My conversation partner may signal by looking at her watch and saying, “nice talking with you but I have to go”.
  2. After the signal has been given, we start to walk together.  It is important that we check in with our eyes in order to stay connected.  We turn shoulders toward the other person to signal that we are open to what they are saying.
  3. While walking and talking we can ask “do you have any plans for the weekend?” or we can just say “have a good evening”.  Keep the response short and sweet!  But say something!


The exit strategy takes lots of practice.  Visual supports in the form of pictures help us to see the purposes of directed eye gaze and how an exit strategy keeps conversation partners thinking good thoughts and feeling good feelings about each other.

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Thoughts and Feelings

“How did Pete the Cat learn to be so flexible?  It all started when Pete was a young kitten and having playdates with his friends.”  This is how I begin an activity that focuses on thinking thoughts and feeling feelings.  In The Incredible Flexible You, Volume 1, the authors write, “to be a successful play partner, children need to be able to talk about what they are thinking and think about what another person is saying and doing”.

Pete the Cat books, by Kimberly and James Dean are perfect for showing young learners how to be flexible thinkers.  Thought bubbles and paper hearts are used to help visually support the concepts of “I have a thought about you and you have a thought about me” and thoughts affect feelings.  When we understand how our behavior affects the way others think and feel about us, we can try and adjust our behavior to keep people thinking good thoughts and feeling good feelings when they are around us.

First, we learn that our brain is our thought maker

And our heart is our feelings keeper



After reading Pete the Kitty and the Groovy Playdate, we have lots to talk about.


I start by modeling my own thoughts and feelings.


Next, we talk about Pete’s thoughts and feelings about Grumpy Toad’s behavior.  Grumpy Toad whines and won’t let Pete play with any of his toys(wow! that is unexpected for a playdate).  Does Pete whine or cry?  Heavens no!  He is flexible and tries to find something else to play with.





Pete thinks of a plan.  Pete uses his words to let Grumpy Toad know what he thinks and how he feels about his unexpected behaviors for a playdate.

Grumpy Toad uses hindsight to recall all of the fun times that the two friends have had together.  He then agrees that Pete is correct!  The two friends go on to have a groovy time.


Young learners do love Pete the Cat and they will enjoy this lesson many times over.


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Effective Strategies and Practical Ideas for Getting Things Done


What should you do if you often arrive at tennis lessons without your tennis bag?  What if you need constant reminders to go upstairs and put on your socks before putting on your shoes?  You put on your “future glasses”, start with the end in mind and then go back and figure out how to get there!

I have quite a few clients who need strategies to frame how they function in the world.  Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC-SLP http://( has given us a fantastic strategy from her executive function-directed therapy.

How do we get started?  First, we decide on an activity that is considered a constant issue.  In this case, it’s getting to tennis lessons with everything needed.  My first question is, “What will you look like when you are ready to go?” and with that “picture” in mind, we decide on a plan for what we need to get get ready.  Next, we decide on the steps to take.



This client told me that just having a list of words to guide him through the process was not helpful. His self-awareness prompted him to ask for pictures.


What about prompting and cues?  Sarah Ward tells us, “Don’t cue to do – cue to know what to do”. As we practice timed relays for getting ready and out the door with everything he needs, I ask questions such as, “How are you going to know when you are ready?” and “Would you do anything differently?”.

Slow processing speed can impact all areas of executive function.  Can slow processing speed improve?  Practice, practice, and practice!   Research shows that repeating a task makes it become more automatic and quicker to process.  Practicing timed activities that challenge learners to “beat their best time” can help build processing speed.  Strategies such as Get Ready-Do-Done and visuals including lists, schedules, and timers in addition to cognitive modeling and thinking aloud procedural steps provide a framework for successfully managing tasks.

Lucky for all of us using the Get Ready-Do-Done strategy, post-it pads and dry erase boards are available on Amazon or on the Cognitive Connections website



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Elevation is a social emotion. It is the positive feeling that one experiences after seeing an act of altruism, virtue or human beauty.  I received the following article from the parent of one of my clients with the question, “Do you have any recommendations for videos or movies that we can watch together as a family to give A. opportunities to experience the feelings of elevation and compassion?”

I was amazed to learn from reading the article that Thomas Jefferson described the emotion of elevation 200 years ago.  Witnessing unexpected acts of kindness, courage or compassion can make us want to help others, give unconditionally and become better people.  Jefferson wrote, “When any…act of charity or of gratitude is presented to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty or feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable or grateful acts also.  Observing good deeds can “elevate” our bodies and minds, opening our chests and hearts”.

There is a series of Thai commercials on YouTube that will make you “feel all the feels”.  The one posted below shows how one young man gives without any expectation of getting something in return.  What he does get from his altruistic acts is something money cannot buy.  He gets emotions, witnesses happiness and feels the love.  It is a perfect example of what my client’s mother is seeking to help to inspire her son to become a compassionate, caring young adult.



I have started using these video clips during therapy sessions with A.  The following books by Dr. Anna Vagin have helped me to construct a framework for discussions and social/emotional learning.



The following video clip prompted a lovely lesson on the Ripple Effect.

A. is hoping that his Bar Mitzvah project will create a ripple.

I have found that it is much easier for A. to describe what he is thinking as we watch the video clips. With some help from me to dig deeper, he is beginning to use his words to express the feelings.  His mother reports acts of kindness that she is observing (without the response, “What’s in it for me?”).  I think that he is beginning to understand that not all rewards are tangible and kindness is unconditional.

My best,


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Big Picture Thinking



Learners of all ages who experience difficulty with big picture thinking and concept imagery may struggle with:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Listening comprehension
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Following directions
  • Memory
  • Oral language expression
  • Written language expression
  • Grasping humor
  • Interpreting social situations
  • Reading “between the lines”
  • Understanding cause and effect

In order to become proficient readers, learners have to be able to understand the meaning of what they read.  This skill requires not only comprehension but good thinking.  Information is conveyed through concepts and not just facts. Most of my clients are able to answer fact based wh-questions about what they read because they are good at rote memorization of facts and knowledge.  When asked to summarize or talk about cause and effect, these same clients use a list of facts to retell a story.  Rote memory recall is not really thinking.  Conceptual processing difficulties impact reading comprehension, getting the main idea of what is read, and formulating written expression.




We can build our brains with critical thinking skills.  Below are a few of my favorite resources:

Develop concept imagery as a basis for comprehension and higher order thinking

Think about situations as a whole rather than parts.


My Best,






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Time Robbers

Time robbers are those things that steal valuable time away from us.  Some time robbers are out of our control as they are imposed on us by others or unexpected circumstances.  Time robbers are often self-inflicted as we allow our valuable time to be stolen.  Either way, it is an important strategy to learn to identify and manage them in order to minimize the damage.

As I coach clients who are working to strengthen executive function skills, I ask them to first identify what they perceive as their own unique time robbers.  The following is an excellent example of something that I might use to visually guide my clients through the process.







Managing time robbers requires a great deal of self-control.

The activities in Self-Control Boot Camp help learners to:

  • understand what self-control means, why it is important and how it impacts our daily life
  • how to stop and think before making a decision
  • understand impulse control and will power
  • use self-control to accomplish tasks and responsiblities
  • self-regulate emotions and use coping strategies
  • stick-to-itiveness
  • strengthen self-control over time


We often need to ask ourselves “what does a client really need?” or “in what way can I best support a client?”.  Self-control and managing time robbers are foundation skills that are helpful to all learners.


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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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