Behaviour Management in Speech Therapy? I do speech. What behaviors could possibly happen in speech? They didn’t say anything about behaviors in grad school! Yet, there I was, the second year in my school sitting under my table attempting to coax a student out with promises of playdoh, games, and stickers. I probably would have given this kid my next paycheck to come out. Did I mention I was being observed by my principal too! Yeah…that was fun. Thankfully my principal then was amazing and very understanding. He was an SLP in a former career 🙂
They didn’t mention this in grad school. My interactions with kids in the clinic were fairly mild and the kids and my school site during practicum were really well mannered. Just the occasional prankster now and then but nothing a ‘look’ and the possibility of not getting a sticker for the day couldn’t fix.
I want to preface this by saying that I am talking about behaviors in students who do not have a diagnosis of a behavior disorder or disorder where behaviors are secondary and/or not in their control. The behaviors I am talking about are the ones that come up in just about every session but grad school never taught you what to do when that happens. Sure they may have mentioned using rewards but not how to handle the student who keeps interrupting the group to tell you about the birthday party we went to two weekends ago.
Types of students: Behaviour Management in Speech Therapy
The Chatter Box: Behaviour Management in Speech Therapy
OK, this probably doesn’t seem like a problem. Having a kiddo who loves to chat seems like the ideal speech student, right? Well, in most cases, probably yes. However, when they keep going and wanting to share so much that you cannot move on and work with the other students, or have to frequently ask them to wait for their turn to chat with you, it can become an issue.
Here’s what you can do:
Sometimes a visual schedule with a set time for sharing can help because kids will see it as part of their session and know it is coming. Also, give them something to work for ( iPad time, choosing the game or book next time in speech, sitting in your chair, etc ) Simply telling these kids to quietly wait is not enough. Once they have their eye on the prize put 3-5 counters, tokens, paper clips, whatever you have on hand in front of them.
Tell them each time you need to give a reminder to quietly wait you will remove a fill in the blank. If they have at least 1-2 remaining they get their prize. Something else to keep in mind with these friends. They may have some wiggles that need to get out and instead are chatting their energy away. Try giving them a stability ball to sit on, putting a bungee cord or resistance band on their chair, or putting a stability cushion on their chair, or just let them stand.
Also, do not engage them further. They want your attention and to have a conversation. If they persist remove the tokens in front of them but do not anything. No, “I’m taking a token now.” Just slide it out of the way. Another strategy is Asked and Answered. You can read about it HERE.
The Shy Guy: Behaviour Management in Speech Therapy
Not all behaviors in speech are disruptive or naughty. Sometimes we will get students who are quiet and timid. Now, I am not talking about our students with disorders like Selective Mutism or Autism who have a different reason for not verbally communicating. I am talking about those students who sit there after being given a task or direction. Who looks back at you with wide eyes and a quiet mouth. Who answer in whisper-quiet voices and as few words as possible. We don’t want to pressure them for a response but when the clock is ticking away and there are three other kids around your table waiting for their turn, what can you do?
Here’s what you can do
First, find out why they are being quiet. Are they afraid to be wrong? Low self-esteem? Being in speech can be intimidating for some children, especially if they don’t fully understand why they are there. Make sure the student understands they didn’t do anything wrong, or ‘fail’ anything, and are now coming to speech. These students also need to be worked with a bit differently than others. Their accomplishments perhaps shouldn’t be met with loud cheering, but a more subdued celebration.
These students typically don’t want the limelight on them and lots of “WOOHOOs” or “Way to go!” can be intimidating. Instead, a big smile and a soft ” That was great ” or ” I’m so proud of you ” can go a long way. A lot of the time our students need to build their confidence because after years of things being hard and frustrating, that is how they perceive all things to be now.
Then, we start to work with them on the things that are hard and difficult. Work on forming a bond with these kids. Make sure you say hi to them in the hall, ask them how they are, give them a compliment. Also, think about seating arrangements. Usually, shy or quiet kids have some bit of anxiety. Allowing them to sit on the end of a row, so that they are not blocked on both sides, can help to decrease some stress in their surroundings.
The Goofball: Behaviour Management in Speech Therapy
You know these kids, the ones who are over the top and love all eyes on them. They always have a one-liner ready or a comment ready to make their fellow students giggle and they are more than happy to share these at any moment during your sessions. The downside is that their antics are taking away precious time to work on goals. Not just theirs, but other students.
Here’s what to do
Make sure you have a management system in your speech setting. If you don’t have a designated speech room you should still have a plan in place. Something that simply and clearly lets students know expectations and boundaries. These kids benefit from knowing where the lines are. They will probably still push things right to the edge of them but will pull back when they know they are about to cross them. Usually, these kids act they have their own sitcom because they are not feeling like they get enough attention ( of any kind ) in other places. Your room is a smaller more concentrated audience, so less competition.
Do your best to give them positive praise for expected behaviors like sitting in their seat, waiting quietly, following through with their task. Praise them when they are not in your room too. If after a bit they haven’t gotten their attention fill, designate the last two minutes of the session for them to share something. Give them three tokens, popsicle sticks, paperclips, etc. Let them know that they have to have X remaining at the end to share.
Remember though, sometimes consequences need to be invoked. If the student loses all of their tokens, not only do they not get their limelight time, I speak with the classroom teacher about what the consequence would be in the classroom for the behavior. This helps things become consistent and shows that you and the teacher are on a united front.
The Fireball: Behaviour Management in Speech Therapy
They are rude, and at times downright mean. Usually, this has nothing to do with you. There is something going on in this child’s day or life that is causing them to react this way. First, ask them in a thoughtful way what is going on. I wouldn’t say, ” What is wrong with you today?!”, trust me you will not get the response you are hoping for. You may want to try, ” You seem frustrated/upset, what can I do to help?”.
It could be you are making them work on something that is hard and challenging for them and they feel defeated. Who wouldn’t be frustrated right? Talk to them, allow them to feel it is a safe place to let you know when things are getting hard and that you are there to help. Most likely it has nothing to do with speech or you. Sometimes our focus needs to shift from our student’s goals to simply our students.
Here’s what you can do
Try and talk with them after the other students have been dismissed. No one wants an audience for sensitive matters. They may insist that nothing is wrong and storm out. This is when that ‘team’ aspect of working in school kicks in. Talk with their teacher about any notice in behavior change. Talk with your social worker too. If everyone is coming up with nothing then reach out to parents. I typically leave this to the case manager. If that is you, you call. If that is the resource teacher, they call.
Parents may share information, they may not. If parents insist everything is fine then your course of action is the creation of rapport of trust and compassion for that student. No matter what they dish out at you, remind yourself it is not you, they are trying to deal with something. Compliment their efforts, highlight their talents, just let them know that you are happy to see them at school each day. These are the students who will test your strength. DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOURSELF OR THEM!
Behaviour Management in Speech Therapy: What I Use
I have had a few different management systems over the years. I had a big game board for a while that worked really well, but after a few years the kids, and myself, got bored of it. At that point, the bulk of my caseload was grades 3-5 and they felt the game board was a bit young for them.
Then I switched to brag tags, these did the trick for my older kids. I made sure to display them in my office by the window to the hall so people could see. When they earned one, I emailed parents a quick message. It was simple and easy.
Of course, kids cycle, and my caseload was filled with little ones again, and brag tags didn’t have the same power. Little ones tend to need something physical/tangible to help make connections and provide some immediate feedback. Putting a tag on a hook that they only could see twice a week was not enough. So I shifted to a token system and have found this works best for all ages on my caseload.
Here is how it works:
My bulletin board says HARD WORK HELPS EVERYONE then has these expectations. They are clearly set and we review them every time before we start our sessions for the first two weeks of school.
Present: Is your brain thinking about speech? That is my kid-friendly way of asking students to make sure they are focused and engaged in their tasks
Positive: We cheer on ourselves and our friends in speech. A kid-friendly way to talk about growth mindset. If you don’t know what they are you can read this post. This means not only saying good job to your friends but reinforcing that we are learning new things and shouldn’t get down on ourselves for not understanding something right away.
Participate: I give you a task, you complete it, or at least give a decent effort of trying to.
HARD WORK HELPS EVERYONE
If students come and abide by my rules and expectations then they can choose a pompom from a jar and place it in another. The pompoms are black, white, and pink and all kept in a ‘No Peeking’ box I made years ago. If they pick a white or black one, it goes in the jar and grows the total ( <– more to come on this in a sec ). If they get a pink one they can choose a prize. I HAVE NOT BOUGHT ACTUAL PRIZES IN YEARS.
After spending a hell of a lot more than a dollar at the Dollar Store for trinkets my kids’ parents probably cringed at seeing emerge from their backpacks, I moved to non-tangible prizes and the list has been the same since. They can choose from: sitting in my office chair for speech, choosing the game we play ( if we are doing it that day ), iPad time ( 3-5 minutes ), play with an old game boy I have ( 3-5 minutes ), or having lunch with me and a friend. I will tell you, 9 times out of 10, they choose lunch we me 🙂
Now, for the kids who don’t pick pink pom poms, they still get a ‘prize’. The black and white ones work towards filling a large mason jar. Once that is full to the top everyone in speech gets a game day. This way even though they may not have gotten the big prize they still feel as though they earned something and will get a reward. The jar fills up about once a semester so having a game day doesn’t take away from therapy.
Behavior management in speech therapy is not everyone’s strong suit, very few people got real information on this during school. Guess what, that is ok! I put together this little quick list of behavior supports you can use if you find yourself stumped and in a prickly situation. Keep a card by your computer, work table, binder/planner, etc. You can download it HERE.