April 2018 -

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Pictures, Autism & Creative Language: Using Pictures to Increase Creative Language Use

 Note: This post was orginally published as a Guest Post on Joy's Autism Blog. Check out Child Talk readers for more informative articles as well http://www.talkingkids.org/

 Over the past thirteen years of working as a pediatric speech-language therapist, I’ve found that pictures can be a highly effective tool for working with children who have a diagnosis of autism. Children with autism are often highly visual and concrete learners; pictures have a way of slowing language down and making it more concrete. I use pictures in a wide variety of ways, but today I want to share with you how I use pictures to facilitate multi-word phrases with children who are just learning to use language creatively.

Most children with autism use echolalic speech. We think that this is because their brains process information as whole chunks—something we call being a gestalt learner. As a result, many of the children I work with have learned whole phrases that they use without actually understanding that each of the words in the phrase has individual meaning. For example, I’ll often see young children with autism say, “do you want to swing?” when they actually mean “I want to swing.” They do this because this is what they’ve heard asked of them when they were standing in front of a swing that they wanted to swing on. Not understanding that each word has specific individual meaning, they just repeat the whole phrase they heard in an attempt to communicate what they want.

One of my strongest beliefs as a speech-language therapist is that we need to teach children with autism that they can create meaning through putting words into a wide variety of short sentences. This is the generative aspect of language that makes it so that we can all create sentences we have never heard before, and it’s an essential aspect of language development. Without it, children are left to memorize sentences for specific situations and this highly limits their language skills.  When I work with children with autism, I make sure that they are using a wide variety of two-word phrases (see my list of early developing two word phrases here).

 As a speech-language therapist, I will ofen use pictures to show relationships between words in phrases so that children can actually see how changing words changes meaning.  Once they get this idea, the possibilities are endless! The actual pictures and words I use with a child vary depending on that child and his interests, but the general process I use goes a little something like this:

First, I find a situation where a child needs to create specific two-word phrases to communicate his specific wants. I look for a situation that is highly motivating for a child, one in which each specific phrase would be important to that child. Take, for example, a child who *loves* to play with a ball and hammer toy. His ball and hammer toy has a green ball, a red ball, a blue ball, and a yellow ball.  and he knows which ball he wants. Given this situation I would:

  • Make a picture to represent “ball” as well as pictures to represent each of the colors.
  • Place a Velcro strip on the front of a binder, and put Velcro on the back of all the pictures as well.
  • Get out the ball and hammer toy and place it on the floor next to the pictures.
  • Hold up the balls and allow the child to reach for one so I know which one he wants.
  • Quick create the phrase on the Velcro strip that matches the ball he wants. Say, for example, he wants the green ball. I would put the picture for "green" and the picture for "ball" next to each other on the front of the binder, creating a small picture sentence ("green ball").
  • Point to each picture as I say the word in the phrase (“green ball”).
  • Have the child imitate me.
  • Give him the green ball.
  • Repeat the process, exchanging the color word on the velcro strip to represent the color ball the child wants.
  • As quickly as I can, I back off of prompting him to create the sentences and let him create the sentences on his own.
  • And, as quickly as I can, I get rid of the pictures and let him just use his verbal words.

The ball activity is just one of hundreds of activities where something like this would work. You might use this strategy to teach your child to create the phrase “eat + (food item)” or “watch + (movie)” or “play + (name of computer game)” or “go (location).” The key lies in finding an activity that allows you to teach your child that he need to mix and match words together to create his own sentences that have meaning to him. Once he understands the power of creative language, he’s well on his way to being an advanced communicator.

Kids Making Their Own Language Toys

This is a repost from http://playonwords.com/ by Sherry Artemenko. Check out her blog and learn more about exceptional toys, games and books that encourage language, spark fun and invite creative play.

Okay, it’s an ice storm in the northeast today and I am once again stuck inside, so I found myself going through old pictures. I came across this one from a therapy session that exemplifies what I am constantly teaching parents and preschool teachers–the importance of having play figures in the toy mix. This child apparently got it as she added her own drawn mailman when one wasn’t available.

Having paper, markers or crayons, scissors and tape or glue always handy is open-ended fun. Kids can “make” what might be missing in the toy box whether it is an accessory or figure to complete their story line. One time I was following a horse theme with a child who loves horses and we stopped to cut strips of yellow hay out of paper. We put them in buckets, carried them to the barn and fed the horses. At different times, we have made a leash for a dog, food for his dish and a crown. Possibilities are only limited by a child’s imagination.

That's why MrsRiley.com was created...


Nothing tops the feeling of receiving a gesture of thanks, kindness, or appreciation – except for sending a thoughtful gesture to someone so deserving.

Attention! Montessori teachers, Autism Specialists, Homeschoolers, Speech Pathologists, Social Workers, Parents, Grandparents, and Others: 

MrsRiley.com is a fun, creative, slick as a whistle website for designing picture cards. All for a monthly fee that’s less than the cost of your favorite coffeehouse espresso, latte, or cappuccino!

If you're a parent, teacher, or professional who’s working with visual supports, you know that creating a picture card with a custom image can be tedious.

That's why MrsRiley.com was created.

After experiencing the technical struggles and designing frustrations ourselves, we decided to wrap the entire process into a single website with these goals in mind:

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You'll have access to our ever expanding library of user-generated visual supports and you’ll love how easy it is to share your unique designs with others.

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Six Stages of Potty Training


When you just can't connect, don't feel like you are alone! I love this recent blog entry we found and had to share with you from http://not-your-average-mom.com/

When my husband and I got married, Number 1 was seven and Number 2 was 4.

I missed the whole potty training thing with them.

When Number 3 was about two years old, I started the potty training with him.

We got one of those pottys that made music every time pee hit the bowl.

He caught on to the peeing pretty quickly.

The pooping was another story.

He refused to go.

I bribed him.

I used m&m’s. Stickers. DVDs. Superhero costumes.

Since he was the first kid I really potty trained, I went through the four stages of potty training that all of us first-timers go through.





Projection. That he would be a college freshman and still shitting in his own pants.

And then, eventually,

I gave up....

Read on.....

Not Your Average Mom Blog - If you’re looking for a little reality, pull up a seat. You may want to buckle up. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. http://not-your-average-mom.com/


A Mother Shares What to Say and What Not to Say to an Autism Parent

 In a blog post written on Today Moms, author and New York Collaborates for Autism Board Member Karen Siff Exkorn wrote a piece on 11 Things Never to Say to Parents of a Child with Autism (and 11 You Should). In the piece, Karen shares that she created this list of statements after brainstorming with several friends and clients who also have children on the autism spectrum.

An excerpt of the piece is below.  You can read the entire piece here.

1. Don’t say: “Is your child an artistic or musical genius? What special gifts does your child have?”

We’ve all seen “Rain Man” and know about the extraordinary artistic and musical gifts that some individuals on the autism spectrum possess. But the truth is that most on the spectrum do not have these gifts. In fact, only about 10 percent have savant qualities.

Do say: “How is your child doing?”

This is what you’d say to the parent of a typical child, right? It’s perfectly acceptable to say this to the parent of a child on the spectrum. They can share with you what’s going on in terms of their child’s treatment and/or educational experience.

2. Don’t say: “You’d never know by looking at her that she has autism! She looks so normal.”

While the speaker might view this as a compliment, most parents of a child on the spectrum would not take it as such. Additionally, in the world of autism, the world “normal” is usually replaced with “typical” or “neuro-typical.”

Do say: “Your daughter is adorable”

Or offer any other compliment that you would use with any typical child.

3. Don’t say: “God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle” or “Everything happens for the best.”

Please don’t use clichés. Unless you’re the parents of a child on the spectrum, you don’t really know just how much there is to handle. Statements like these seem to minimize a parent’s experience by implying that this situation is something that they should be able to handle. Also, while it’s tempting to try to put a positive spin on the diagnosis, most parents of newly diagnosed children don’t feel that the diagnosis is the “best.” Over time, parents come to a place of acceptance, and some even view the diagnosis as a gift or as a way to gain a different perspective on life. But don’t be the one to instruct them about coming to those terms.

Do say: “Is there anything I can do to help you out?” or“I’m here if you need to talk.”

You can offer practical solutions to help a parent handle the diagnosis or the ongoing tasks, like help with grocery shopping, babysitting or other daily responsibilities. Sometimes, parents just need to vent and it’s helpful to have a friend with whom to share their feelings.


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