This appeared originally on Jordan Sadler's Communication Therapy Blog.
Nearly two years ago, my good friend Christa Dahlstrom (whom I met initially through her excellent blog Hyperlexicon) approached me tentatively over brunch. It seemed she had an idea to share, and she was looking for advice. As it turned out, Christa's idea was to write a children's TV show, one that would help children like her own son Ben learn to improve his social-emotional development in a new way.
You see, many kids - like Ben - learn language in its gestalt form: in "chunks". They learn it through books and videos they find compelling, reading and watching over and over and over, and memorizing what they hear. Many, but not all, later repeat that language in real-time social interactions with other people. This is called delayed echolalia (here is a great post from blogger MOM-nos on her son's stages of echolalia). Still other kids like to re-enact scenes they've watched or read, enlisting other children and adults to play the roles of the characters. And, finally, there are a great many children who simply find it easier to process information that is presented both verbally and visually in a high affect way that makes them laugh. When they can watch it more than once, all the better.
Ben's mother had thought for a while that it would be incredibly beneficial if there were a show that her son found compelling which actually gave him strategies and models for appropriate social interactions - that he could watch with his parents and reenact, that his teachers and classmates could watch together and learn from, that his social skills coaches could watch with him and role play. Imagine the results if a child's whole team were to use the same vocabulary and draw from the same examples! And what if we added episode guides for the adults, with suggestions for expanding beyond each episode with role-playing exercises and other interactive ideas to extend the learning into real-time social interaction? It was clear that this was an idea with wings.
There are products targeting social emotional teaching on the market. But, thus far, there's nothing quite like the show Christa has created. Flummox & Friends is a live-action show that uses humor and playfulness and teaches without talking down to kids. When I read the first script I laughed out loud over and over and had a strong urge to send it to everyone I knew. We all recognize the difference between mainstream movies made for children that adults enjoy watching with our kids and those that we try to avoid. I knew right away that this would be a show parents would really have a great time watching, too. Families of kids who are on an atypical path of social-emotional development will watch, learn, and laugh together watching Flummox & Friends.
Liesl Wenzke Hartmann, MA, CCC/SLP of Communication Therapy San Francisco and I agreed to consult to the project as curriculum consultants and have worked closely with Christa to see that Flummox & Friends reflects therapeutic best practices and explains concepts in a way that our years of experience have proven works with children.
After many months of writing, rewriting, curriculum development, and consultation, the team has released a Kickstarter fundraising site in order to raise the money to shoot the pilot episode of Flummox & Friends. We have 42 more days to raise $30,000 and while we are off to a very strong start with many generous backers, it remains that this is a huge sum of money. I encourage each of you to visit our site, watch our short video - where you can get a glimpse of the show and a summary of our developmental, play-based philosophy - and help us out by backing our project and sharing it with other parents, educators, therapists, and anyone who has an interest in children with all kinds of minds.