Using Fundamental Skills

Otterman on Fundamental Skills Pt 4

Questions I Ask Myself

I ask myself these questions as I work with my students in order to get the most benefit out of Speech Kingdom's fundamental skills mini-stories.

How will I help my student remember this skill?

Focus is critical to memory. As focus heightens, memory increases. Speech Kingdom places the student in the scenes to dramatically increase their focus. It also helps them accurately remember what they see. We use their avatar to accomplish this.

Episodic memory is the part of our long-term memory where we remember information from events that we have been involved in. If they "trick" their brains by using their avatar in events, students are likely to store those events in their long term memory. Using an avatar versus human interaction reduces stress, not only in students on the autism spectrum, but lowers anxiety in neurotypical students as well.

Low stress environments produce better memorization and retention.

I always pay attention to my student's anxiety level and consider their background knowledge. This awareness helps to increase my student's success. Creating a low stress environment and adjusting plans when necessary helps my students master new skills.

Creating what I call background knowledge is vital for students absorbing new information. Background knowledge creates the "glue" that new knowledge sticks to. The more we can link together, the higher the likelihood that we will store information in our long term memory.

Fundamental Skills create background knowledge for students, providing a 3-step process to successful outcomes.

Sometimes, I even create hand signals or cues for each scene. I then transition the student to use only the cues. By reducing the level of prompting, I help the student transition to using the associated skill in real-life situations.

What vocabulary do I suspect that my student is lacking?

Studies show the part of the brain that produces speech is also responsible for the understanding speech. The fact that these abilities are tightly linked demonstrates the importance of working on speaking and understanding simultaneously. Working on a student's ability to understand a concept as well as verbalize it increases the likelihood of success in both skills.

Lack of vocabulary causes anxiety, stress and behavior issues.

Even as infants, we experience feelings of anxiety. When our needs are not met, our cries change and continue changing, becoming more anxious the longer it takes for those needs to be met.

Toddlers express their needs however they can, earning the label, "the terrible twos!" Everyone needs to express their wants and needs, and vocabulary is necessary to be understood.

Fundamental Skills provide necessary vocabulary. They teach the language a student needs to be successful in a variety of scenarios using simple easy-to-understand sentences.

Repetition works like a hook, creating a connection between vocabulary and the corresponding skill. As language increases, so does success.

Increased ability to communicate lowers anxiety, stress, and undesirable behaviors.

Through their avatars, students see themselves using vocabulary successfully, which increasingly helps students make more and better attempts. Speech Kingdom's Fundamental Skills provide language, and allow the student to see themselves accomplishing a task using that vocabulary. The three scenes in each Fundamental Skills mini-story give pictorial cues, which increase the student's ability to retain new language and the pinpointed skill.

How can my student identify the speaker in each scene?

When a character speaks, they glow with an orange halo. This helps students identify who is speaking and draws their attention to that character. The student can click the glowing character or the play button.

Both options cause the character to speak out loud. If not, I probably forgot to turn on the audio or turn up the volume!

Context is so important. If the student does not clearly see who is speaking, the message can easily be lost. With the orange halo, Speech Kingdom clearly identifies the speaker and provides both meaning and relevance to each conversation.

Students with ASD often do not pay attention to detail. This leads to trouble identifying who is speaking. This detracts from their ability to follow a conversation or prevents them from understanding that conversation.

Speech Kingdom makes it simple to identify who is speaking, giving context to conversations.

Can my students use this skill in every situation?
Can they generalize this skill?

Generalizing is a student's ability to learn a skill in one setting or environment and apply it in a new setting or environment.

Children with ASD often struggle with generalizing. Instead, they need to categorize.


Generalizing happens when a student who learns a skill in one specific scenario also uses that skill in other scenarios. For example, a child with ASD who learns to raise their hand at carpet time also realizes they should raise their hand when seated at their desk.

Fundamental Skills address a variety of scenarios and provide opportunities for conversations with students to indicate when they will use a specific skill. Using Speech Kingdom in a variety of settings, such as home, school, and therapy sessions encourages students to further generalize their skills. Speech Kingdom provides uniformity and consistency. Consistency helps students generalize new skills, thus becoming successful in multiple settings.

If Mom uses Speech Kingdom at home, I use Speech Kingdom in my classroom, and the therapist uses Speech Kingdom in their clinic, a student will quickly learn that the expectations are the same in all of these settings. Students work towards independently repeating the skill without cues or reminders. Speech Kingdom provides parents with a concrete visual tool to reinforce school expectations, and offers therapists the opportunity to work on home and school skills, such as safety and executive functioning.

Speech Kingdom works well in a team approach-to-learning environment.

Rewards and Reinforcers

Speech Kingdom's reinforcers help solidify Fundamental Skills mini-stories while maintaining a student's interest and focus.

These animated rewards spotlight the student's accomplishments in a very positive light. The student's avatar might be hitting a baseball out of the park, doing a cannonball into a pool, performing gymnastics or one of many other choices. Speech Kingdom's reinforcer library is extensive and can celebrate most students' interests.

I quite often change the reinforcers that I use. It's easy. When I do so, my students look forward to the unexpected positive experience of being surprised with a new animation, such as my student ice skating, swinging a lightsaber or performing karate.

Positive reinforcement encourages increased retention and a desire to repeat the experience.

As I make changes, my students often express their desire to see specific reinforcers. I take advantage of this by including the student in the process and I encourage them to choose a reinforcer, or randomly cycle through all of the reinforcers. This gives the student a choice and a feeling of independence. My students love this aspect of Speech Kingdom and take great joy in choosing their own reinforcers!

Downloadable Workbooks

Each Fundamental Skills mini-story includes a three-page downloadable PDF workbook. I highly recommend printing the workbook for each mini-story you will be working on, prior to using that story with a student. Workbooks include coloring pages and writing practice from each scene. Students read, trace, and print the actual spoken words from the associated Fundamental Skills mini-story. Pages include story information to aid in record keeping.

I cannot stress enough just how helpful it is to sit in a parent meeting or IEP and pull out an example of exactly what a student is working on. I often say, "This is exactly what the program looks like and this is the exact language we are using."

Having that example with me puts me at an advantage when it comes to explaining what I am doing with a student. What a great tool for getting others on board!