As a speech-language pathologist who has been working with autistic children and adolescents for over 20 years, I could not be more thrilled about the release of the Flummox and Friends iPad app, FlummoxVision, this week. This is the app clinicians, teachers, and parents have been waiting for. 

Why? Because my 6–12 year old clients love media. They love the iPad. But when I visit the App Store to search for excellent iPad apps for kids with social communication challenges, I find an overwhelming selection of educational apps designed for very young children and targeting everything from voice output to understanding prepositions to producing a perfect “r” sound.

And while speech therapists are grateful for these apps, there has been a gap in the offerings for our older kids with autism: well-designed social emotional apps. 

Central to any autism diagnosis is a difficulty with “social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.” We can help autistic kids find success in social relationships when we work with them in a motivating, dynamic, natural context, supporting their social understanding with visual supports in real time. But, when we want to break down the skills and focus on social interaction using visual materials in the moment, there have been no apps specially designed to support this important work in a way that is interesting and entertaining for kids.

Now we have one. The brand new Flummox and Friends app, available free on the App Store, allows kids to interact with a team of quirky inventors who navigate the murky waters of social interaction with each other and a couple of good friends. The live-action show is engaging, entertaining, and smart: perfect for kids who love to laugh and are turned off by educational offerings that feel heavy-handed or didactic. It’s ideal for “quirky” kids who struggle with social communication and emotional regulation, whether they have a formal diagnosis or not.

My clients love the Flummox and Friends app and ask to work with it repeatedly. I have seen many kids look up in surprise, saying, “I’m just like Milo!” or “Wanda gets lost in her books just like me!” Kids are amazed to see characters depicted who share some of their unique strengths and challenges.

Without exception kids have been enthusiastic about the episode that is pre-loaded on the app, “The Party,” which focuses on why and how to stay tuned in to a group activity and the importance of keeping one’s body and brain in the group. I can then reference our shared understanding and vocabulary from the show in the moment when the kids are playing together in a social group as a positive way to remind them to practice the skill. Because they have learned the “how and why” of this skill it has meaning for them, and they understand why adults suggest they stay in close proximity and on topic with their peers while playing together. 

Many engaging activity suggestions for extending the learning concepts in “The Party” at home and school (including sample goals for teachers and clinicians!) can be found in the Curriculum Guides created by fellow Co-Creator/Curriculum Developer Liesl Wenzke Hartmann, MA, CCC-SLP and myself. The Curriculum Guides are available for purchase on the Flummox and Friends website.

The kids I work with love to turn on the show’s subtitles, which supports their language comprehension as they watch. I’ve observed that they prefer to watch the videos in “Discuss Mode,” where characters appear on the screen to ask an interactive question about what is going on in the show, a perfect feature to assist teachers, clinicians and parents who want to support this type of learning in varied settings. The kids are excited about the new video shorts that will be available for purchase on an ongoing basis. An excellent new short called “The Alternate Method” is already there, available for purchase for those who download the app. 

The team at Flummox Labs is excited to bring high quality, entertaining material to smart, quirky kids with iPads everywhere. Enjoy!

Jordan Sadler, MS, CCC-SLP is a co-creator of Flummox and Friends and a practicing speech language pathologist in Chicago.

 

Co-creator and Speech Lanugage Pathologist Liesl Wenzke Hartmann had these reflections recently on watching Flummox and Friends with one of her students. 

I watched Flummox recently with a student and really loved seeing how much he connected with it. He is a moderately autistic 10 year old boy with delayed language and processing.

But he gets humor. He always has. So ever since I first met him at age 3, I've looked for opportunities to laugh with him.

My goals for him have changed over the years as he's grown, but I've always included these two goals for myself:

  • Make sure he does not lose his “spark.” 
  • Connect with him and his love of a good joke.

He’s gone from simple fart jokes to understanding that:

"It’s kind of funny when Wanda doesn’t respond to Suzie."

"It’s really funny that the inventors make a robot friend who is not what anyone expected."

"It’s really funny that Professor Flummox is so distracted and making loud crashes."

All of this humor has reached him and piqued his interest enough to start to get him to think about how some of his actions are unexpected and might seem funny to others.

And this gentle, humorous approach continues to increase his understanding of himself and his world and those of us who are in it with him – loving him, appreciating him, laughing with him and above all trying to connect.

Now what kid wouldn’t want to leave their safe inner world and connect with us on those terms?

Do you have a story about the way Flummox and Friends has made a connection with a child you know? Tell us about it at info@flummoxandfriends.com! 


 

One of the inspirations for Flummox and Friends came from a certain kind of conversation I found myself having over and over again. At the time, I was blogging quite a bit: writing about raising a kid on the autism spectrum and sharing experiences about learning strategies worked for well for him. This stuff often came up in my conversations with other parents, regardless of whether they had a special needs kid or not.

Sometimes I would describe the types of things my son was working on - perspective taking, conversational skills, managing the expression of emotion. I talked about how he was learning it in the context of school activities as well as social skills groups of same-age kids where play is used to build these foundational skills.

Then - and this happened more times than I can count - a parent with a typical child would say something like, "Why aren't they doing this for every kid?" or "Can my kid get something like that?"

It's been pretty clear to me that families like mine with file folders full of IEP paperwork at home aren't the only ones who care about and recognize the importance of social and emotional development for our kids. 

We developed Flummox and Friends in the hopes that it would appeal to lots of different kinds of kids and families. We didn't set out to develop an autism intervention or a special education product, but instead, a comedy for families that's a springboard for learning, connecting, talking about challenges, differences, strengths...and laughing together. Because we believe that social and emotional learning should feel positive and fun.

So, I was delighted to discover a report called "Missing Piece" by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) that talks about the essential role that social and emotional learning plays for every kid; how it actually boosts learning and can transform a school culture. 

Then a few days later, I caught this wonderful Edutopia video featuring Pamela Randall, CASEL's Director of Practice talking about these issues, along with educators who are applying best practices for social emotional learning in their classrooms. 

I can't help feeling there is a movement afoot to bring social and emotional learning into the center of curriculum, into the heart of school culture, and we're excited at the possibility of being part of that!

 -Christa Dahlstrom

Liesl Wenzke Hartmann, MA, CCC-SLP and Jordan Sadler, MS, CCC-SLP, are experts in social communication and practicing speech language pathologists. Here, they describe the curriculum they developed to inform the teaching approach of Flummox and Friends.  

The Flummox and Friends Tune in, Connect, Have fun curriculum is based on years of clinical practice and research¹. It's based on the foundational developmental milestones that are vital for children to complete in order to be successful in maintaining fulfilling relationships with others.

Each episode focuses on one or more of the goals within the Tune in, Connect, Have fun levels. The program and associated resources for parents and educators help adults learn along with the child and develop a shared understanding as well as a shared vocabulary for the dynamics in social situations.

Tune in

Social interaction starts with basic awareness of ourselves, of others, and the environment. The first set of goals relate to tuning into oneself (self-awareness), tuning into others (perspective taking and joint attention), and being able to assess what’s going on – the social context - in the moment. 

As we learn how to balance incoming information while staying calm and regulated, we're able to participate in interactions that "flow" easily back and forth flow between people.  

  • Observe your surroundings to learn what’s expected in a situation by observing others and sharing attention with them.
  • Be aware of your own body, voice, and energy level relative to a group.
  • Understand that every situation has expected and unexpected behaviors.
  • Join in to group activities by being present with your body and your thoughts.
  • Identify your own emotional state and mood. Use levels or “zones” to understand the relative states of emotions and moods.
  • Recognize others’ emotions based on context: facial expressions, tone of voice, and the situation.
  • Notice your body’s reactions to stress and different kinds of sensory input.
  • Recognize that others have different thoughts and feelings.
  • Show the other person you are listening with your eyes, your words and ideas, and your body.
  • Participate in reciprocal turn taking by knowing when to take a turn and what's expected in the moment.

Connect

As we "tune in" to ourselves, others and the environment, we can make many more connections. When we can make more connections in our thinking, we become better social problem solvers. This leads to a better ability to put our ideas and feelings into words so that we can share them with others as well as make inferences about what others may be thinking and feeling.  We can handle things not going our way because we have a better ability to share our frustrations, connect with others and get support.  Our play expands as our ideas build on each other and when we are able to connect our plans with the play plans others introduce.

  • Recognize how our behavior affects others’ thoughts and feelings, which in turn affects how we feel.
  • Recognize that it’s normal for people to like and think different things.
  • Recognize how others react to unexpected behaviors.
  • Ask questions to show interest in people and get information about them. Initiate and maintain conversation topics (stay on topic, ask questions, introduce a topic that you think your friend might like).
  • Take turns in activities and conversation. Recognize that social interaction goes back and forth and isn’t all one-way.
  • Share the short version first, then check in with your friend to see if they want to hear the long version.
  • Be aware of and control your tone of voice. For example, offer suggestions instead of commands or directions.
  • Notice if others don’t respond or understand and adjust your communication.
  • Connect your ideas to the group’s ideas.
  • Make inferences about what someone means based on context.
  • Reach out to a friend to share feelings and experiences.
  • Tell a story about a difficult event to help make sense of what happened and reflect on past and future experiences.

Have fun

The rewards of social learning continually build and reinforce each other. When we are tuned in and making more connections within ourselves and with others, our capacity to have fun and to make friends grows even stronger.  To have fun and rewarding relationships, our ability to more deeply understand someone else's perspective needs to grow.  Friendships where both people get to share and explore their interests together are the most fun!

  • Distinguish between a big problem and a little problem.
  • Stay flexible; accept and expect change. Adapt and be able to come up with a “plan B.”
  • Share the agenda, compromise and take turns with ideas and leading.
  • Recognize things don’t have to be perfect.
  • Think about tradeoffs and accept compromise, for example: “What’s more important: to be right or to have friends?”
  • Accept losing gracefully. Be a good sport.
  • Filter your thoughts. Recognize when to keep some kinds of thoughts in your head.
  • Recognize when it’s time to take a break. Identify what things you can do to make your body feel calm.
  • Regulate and adjust your energy level to the group.
  • Use self-talk to stay calm and stay positive.
  • Recognize that sometimes it’s best to ignore a situation or remove one’s self
  • Come up with multiple causes for why something might have happened.
  • Identify the “big picture” or “big ideas” in a situation (rather than focusing on less-relevant detail).
  • Identify an internal standard of behavior: “That’s okay for him, but that doesn’t work for me.”
  • Articulate when a relationship makes you feel good about yourself or if it makes your feel uncomfortable and why.
  1. Greenspan S.I. & Wieder (1998). The Child with Special Needs. Encouraging intellectual and emotional growth. Reading, MA: Perseus Publishing.

    Wetherby, A.M., & Prizant, B. M. (1995). Facilitating language and communication in autism: Assessment and intervention guidelines. In D. Berkell (ed.), Autism: Identification, education, and treatment (pp. 107–133). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Gernsbacher M.A., (2006). Toward a behavior of reciprocity. Journal of Developmental Processes, 1, 139–152.

    Fogel, A. (1993). Developing through Relationships. U of Chicago Press.

 

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