Communication Expansion Using the Repetition of Holidays in a Neutral Way

To expand any skill, we all need practice.  This same repetition is vital for your child to gain speech and language skills.  A good way to assure repetition and frequent practice which is necessary is by using your environment to help target these skills.  Consider the many opportunities possible in targeting everyday words related to various common holidays as they approach, while still maintaining your family’s beliefs.


That is, in supporting your child’s communication development, consider incorporating vocabulary and concepts related to the everyday objects found in your community’s holidays.  For example, in December, some people celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, however there are everyday objects in these holidays which can be found in daily life, such as candles and stars.  Consider using these everyday objects to expand your child’s communication skills during this time given the frequency of times s/he may encounter them during the month.  A similar example is in October when some people celebrate Halloween while others do not.  Consider the everyday objects seen frequently on t.v., in books displayed at the library, in your neighborhood, and in your local stores such as pumpkins and spiders to provide activities to expand your child’s targeted communication skills.  Around April, many bunnies and eggs appear in the community due to Easter.  Consider words related to eggs (yolk, shell, crack/break, chicken) or bunnies (animals, farm, hop, etc.), because there may be lots of opportunities while shopping, walking in the neighborhood, browsing the library, etc. to reinforce these words.  Perhaps there is another holiday or well-established tradition/event in your community, which you don’t participate.  Is there something from it which you as a parent would feel comfortable incorporating into an everyday context (to hold true to your beliefs) in order to have your child benefit from the natural repetition that happens due to its common occurrences?


Consider for a moment, not just the new vocabulary words which your child can learn, but also concepts and the multitude of other communication skills which can be targeted by using the repetition in naturally occurring contexts.  Conversational skills such as maintaining a topic can be targeted.  Communicating more words and/or producing longer phrases and sentences to talk about the objects can be reinforced.  Concepts such as “hard” or “white” for egg shells, “fluffy” for a bunny’s tail, “tall” or “green” for a tree, “hot” for the flame on the candle, “round” or “orange” for a pumpkin, and “big” or “small” for candle size can be targeted to help your child understand/use these high frequency descriptive words with everyday objects occurring often during specific holidays.  Articulation skills can be targeted, such as targeting two-syllable words (“candle”), final consonants (“pumpkin“), or initial /f/ (“farm” for pumpkins or bunnies).  Following directions in art (ex:  “Put two spiders on the web”) or during book time (ex:  “Find the big bunny” while reading a story about bunnies in April).  Sequencing skills can be targeted, such as following and describing the sequence of steps involved cooking an egg.  Reinforce a variety of communication skills (by producing and understanding interactive language) by playing games in which you and your child take turns finding and naming objects in words, phrases, or sentences or describing the objects based on a color associated with holidays (ex:  find objects that are black in October, orange in November, green or red in December, etc.).  You can play this at home with everyday objects and in the community to reinforce the color and other communication skills.  You’ll have lots of examples!


This is intended to provide suggestions and provide information on the importance of and increasing the frequency of repetition to help your child expand his/her communication skills.  As always, refer to your child’s Speech-Language Pathologist for specific suggestions relevant to your child’s needs.  


Disclaimer:  This is not intended to promote or negate any religious or cultural beliefs.  This is intended to provide examples of how to find commonly occurring themes throughout your community to make repetition likely in a neutral context as deemed by you and your family.

Posted in Articulation, Expressive Language, Pragmatic Language, Receptive Language, Seasons/Holidays and communication, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Communication Expansion Using the Repetition of Holidays in a Neutral Way

Supports for Children Going to a New School

My New School(PowerPoint)   My New School(PDF)

It’s back to school time!  Parents of young children, especially young children with special needs, are often aware of the challenges brought to their children by transitions to new environments and experiences.  Starting school, even preschool and play groups, is one such experience.  It may be the same school but a new teacher, or it may be a brand new school altogether.  There are some things you can do to make this transition a little easier on your child.

As part of my caseload, I run two pragmatic language groups for children 3-5 years of age at one of our centers.  To help new children prepare for their new class, I email the Power Point social story above with families.  It is recommended that a parent sits with their child to view the slide show and help him/her as needed click through the pages as the story is read aloud from my recorded narration.  If families don’t have Power Point software, then I will print a hard copy or forward a PDF version for the family to read with the child.  In either case, of course, reading the story several times, especially as the first day approaches, is recommended to help support the child in the transition to his/her new school.  Remember repetition is very important to learning.

Other supports that children may benefit from include a visit to the classroom and/or the playground to help them feel more comfortable with where they are going, what they will do, and who they will see.  An easy adaptation of the new school social story is to take pictures (from a traditional or even a cell phone camera) of the classroom, the staff, and school common areas to review with your child many times.  A discussion with your child’s teacher or therapist or perhaps a sample schedule from him/her can lend itself to preparing your child for the planned activities.  Pictures, whether of the real activity or of a very similar activity (ex:  a group of children eating to represent the class having a snack or lunch period) found on the internet, may be helpful to support your child’s attention and language comprehension.

At bedtime, especially as school is only a week or two away, you may wish to have your child color, mark with an “X,” or put a sticker over the date on a calendar to indicate that the day is done.   Have a special fun sticker or bright color on the date of the start of school.  Have a brief nightly countdown to count the number of days remaining until s/he begins school.

A few final comments, remember to be positive about the new school.  Reinforce that you will pick up him/her from school, or will be waiting for him/her at the bus drop off point at the end of class.  If that is not the case, let him/her know what will happen and when s/he will see you again ( ex:  “After school, the bus will take you to day care.  I will get you from day care after my work, just like usual….. First school, then day care, then home with Mommy and Daddy”).  As always, refer to your child’s SLP for specific suggestions (such as the optimal utterance length and response time for your child’s receptive language skills) to support your child’s expressive and receptive communication skills in these transition preparation activities.

Best wishes for a good school year!

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Speech and Language Enrichment = Summer Fun!

School’s out, but you can support your child’s speech and language skills in typical summer activities.  They provide wonderful contexts to enrich your child’s communication development and still have lots of fun!  For specific guidance in skills to target, remember your child’s IEP goals and information on specific targets and strategies provided to you by your child’s SLP.  If your child is still in school, communicate with his/her SLP to determine the relevancy of this content to your child and any necessary adaptations to make your child successful.

Water Balloon Towel Toss or Air filled balloon toss (good for inside rainy/hot days….players kneel instead of stand)

Divide your children (siblings, play dates, neighbors, or even you [the kid at heart]) in pairs.  Provide each team with a bath towel or pillow case. Have the children grab the edges of the parachute, and place a water balloon on it. Work together to toss the balloons up and down until it falls and breaks.  If someone gets wet, it’s all the more fun!

** Traditional water balloon toss is fun too in which pairs toss a water balloon back and forth until it breaks.  

Remember please, natural language will occur.  You’re instantly targeting working together, using social skills, and taking turns.  Don’t forget, especially in the balloon toss game, you’re can use sabotage techniques by throwing your child the balloon after s/he practices 

  1.  Saying words/phrases/sentences containing words with his/her speech sounds
  2. Using a sentence with nonverbal skills (looking towards you, persisting when you don’t respond, gaining your attention by such means as calling you or tapping your arm) to effectively request the balloon.
  3. Commenting on the game or a pre-decided kid-friendly topic (ex:  family vacation, visit to the pool, etc.).  Remember, everyone has to make comments related to the previous comment, so that you’re encouraging back and forth conversation about the same topic.   
  4. As you toss the balloon back and forth, play a guessing game like “I spy.”  Every time a player catches the balloon, s/he either starts the game with “I spy something….” followed by a description or the player responds to the description by making a guess.  The third turn will be the initial player telling whether the “guesser” is correct.  Continue with guesses and responses until the object is guessed.

As always, remember to cue your child as necessary to make him/her successful…..and be sure to have fun! 

Walk around the neighborhood/park/zoo/grocery store/anywhere you venture

As always, when you’re going for a walk, talk about your environment and encourage your child to.  Listen to his/her comments and talk about the same things.  Add information to what s/he says.  Practice short back and forth conversations about it.  Take turns asking and answering questions with each other.  It may help to have an older child or significant other take the role of the conversational partner, so you and your child can act as a team for you to cue/model language for your child to use. 

Make special treats or even an everyday lunch with your child

Kids often love to “cook” (making pudding, chocolate milk, sandwiches, cakes from cake mixes, or decorating cookies/cupcakes, etc.).  Skills such as sequencing events (a precursor to story telling.…”First, we….  Then, we….  Last, we….”), using phrases/sentences, following directions, taking turns, etc. are natural targets in cooking activities.

Read, read, and read!!! 

Summer is a great time to explore new interests or one related to a fun summer event (ex:  a book about the zoo or the pool before going there) through books.  Books give your child the opportunity to learn new words and concepts, to use words/phrases/sentences (depending on your child’s level), to answer questions, to hold back and forth conversations about each book, to practice sequencing events (retelling the story with supports as needed) and to reinforce reading skills (like moving your finger along with the words to model left to right and top to bottom orientation). 

Don’t forget your library!  There’s no need to spend any money there, and you might just practice communication skills with friends your child already has or one s/he meets while visiting the library! 

Also, please remember repetition is very important for children.  Read the same story over and over again.  Your child will learn more and more from each reading of the story.  Think about how you learn new information.  Things like reading and doing and seeing things over and over are how we all learn!  Consider something like when you learned your job or when you learned how to drive a car.  You needed to purposely think about each step like checking the mirrors and putting on your turn signal.  Gradually, you practiced and it became more automatic and required less thinking.  The same is true for your child in learning speech and language skills.

Blow bubbles

Blowing bubbles is a great time to practice using words, phrases, and sentences to request a turn to blow or pop bubbles.  Skills such as learning and using descriptive words (big, little, etc…..”I blew a big bubble”) and prepositions (in, on, under, over, etc……”Blow a bubble over the flower.”  “The bubble went under the patio table.”).  Also, things like turn taking, talking to peers/adults effectively, and social skills can be worked on between you and your child or between your child and another child. 

Pool play

Concepts like wet, dry, deep, one, both, cold, warm, hot and body parts can be reinforced by talking about them and having your child follow directions (ex:  “Dry both of your arms”).  Other related words are easy to model and encourage your child to use, as well (ex:  swim suit, pool, water, splash, bubbles).  

Play pool games like tossing a beach ball back and forth to work on interaction skills and hiding pool toys to work on directions (ex:  “Find the green fish” or “Find the turtle” or “First get the turtle, then get the crab”).

Have a picnic

Whether outside on your patio or lawn, at a park, or on your living room floor, pack and have a picnic together.  Consider reading one or more books about picnics with your child.  Plan a menu and write a grocery list (if needed) and a packing list with your child (pictures from the internet are great for this as your child can “read” the list too).  Let your child help make the food (see the bottom of page 1 for speech and language ideas).  Pack for the picnic together as your child helps “read” and cross off items needed.  Embed pretend play in the picnic, such as pretending to drive to a park (if you’re at home) or setting a place for and “talking to” a favorite stuffed animal, doll, or action figure.  Practice conversational skills while eating.  Consider having a second, third, or more picnic with other family or one or two friends to practice communication skills with peers.  Remember repetition is important for children.  You have to eat anyway, so why not make it more summer fun if you can!

By Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP/L

Posted in Expressive Language, Pragmatic Language, Receptive Language, Seasons/Holidays and communication, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Speech and Language Enrichment = Summer Fun!

“Talking Stick” and Other Verbal Turn-taking Strategies

A tool used in my pragmatic language group to support turn-taking skills is what I refer to as a “talking stick.” Literally, it is a skinny, plastic stick (like a magic wand) that, on one end, has a hand which is pointing. The “talking stick” is held by the person talking and passed to the next speaker to visually cue everyone of whose turn it is to speak.  The children practice talking when holding the stick and waiting for a turn to talk when not holding it. In addition, the children practice and are reinforced for looking in the direction of and listening to the person holding the talking stick.

This is a great strategy to try at home. Use it initially in a semi-structured activity, like playing a board game. Your child is seated, so s/he is more likely to be able to focus on this. Pass around the “talking stick” to indicate whose turn it is to play the game. Begin to talk when you have the stick. Encourage your child to do so, too.  Try it at other times such as the dinner table, too.

Something such as a glitter “princess” wand or a drum stick is of similar shape to the described classroom “talking stick” can help your child to develop reciprocal (back and forth) communication skills.  Later, you can fade out the use of the stick and transition to the use of your arm in a back and forth motion between your child and yourself (or other family member) as you move your child to independence in verbal turn-taking.  Remember to verbally praise your child and reinforce the specific skills, as well.  You might say something such as, “Great job! We talked back and forth about the same thing. We had a conversation about ____.” This can then be tied in with other reinforcement strategies such as a marble jar or a sticker chart, whereby your child earns something (such as a special toy or a special activity [trip to the playground, a play date, a visit to grandma’s, etc.]). For example, for each conversation sustained for 2-4 turns each (with the number of turns depending upon your child’s current ability to do this; speak to your child’s SLP for guidance in making your child successful and planning a progression of reinforcement), give your child a/some sticker(s) or marble(s), with an established motivating reward earned upon the child’s completion of a set number of stickers/marbles.

Similarly, consider activities such as rolling or throwing a ball back and forth to each other to reinforce similar verbal turn-taking skills. Think of a child-friendly topic (perhaps a trip your family will take, a special upcoming holiday [the child’s birthday], a fun activity the family just did earlier that day [made a cake, went to the playground, etc.]), make a statement to initiate the conversation, and pass the ball to your child. Your child will then comment based on your previous statement and pass the ball back to you. Continue as long as you can. If your child needs help, cue (try not to model unless necessary) him/her to think of a comment. End the topic if you need to provide him/her with 1-2 models to avoid frustrating him/her so much that s/he won’t be willing to try this again.

* As always, please consult with your child’s SLP to determine the relevancy of this information to your child and to provide guidance in determining an effective reward system for practicing communication behaviors (the specifc behavior to be targeted and the number of instances expected before receiving the established “prize”).

                                                              By Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP/L

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How Full is Your Bucket? for Kids

"How Full is Your Bucket? for Kids" by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer
“How Full is Your Bucket? for Kids” by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer

One book I read in my pragmatics language group following a unit on feelings is the story How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer (see for more information).  This book demonstrates visually for children how we each feel and how our actions and words impact ourselves and each other.  The premise is that we each have an invisible bucket, which has “water” added to it when words/actions make us feel better (so that we feel great when it’s full) and has “water” removed from it when words/actions make us feel worse (so that we feel the worst when it’s empty).  The idea is to have the children begin to understand how their own feelings are impacted by the environment and others and to understand that their actions and words positively or negatively affect others.  They also begin to learn that filling someone else’s bucket can fill their own bucket, too! 

At home, use a small bucket or other container (maybe a plastic cup) for each family member.  Keep a stash of small objects nearby to use to fill them, such as pompoms, cotton balls, paper water droplets, or marbles.  Add and remove them throughout the day, or start with just an activity like a family board game or dinner.  It may help initially to draw or attach a face representing the feeling for each level of the bucket (ex:  very sad/crying face at the bottom, an “o.k.” face in the middle, and a very happy face at the top).          

Consider pairing this with looking at books on feelings or pictures in magazines or story books to identify whether each person is having water added to or removed from his/her bucket.  Initially, you can comment on them, and then begin to help your child identify them.  As your child gets good at identifying whether the actions/words are resulting in added or removed water, you can talk quantitatively about the amount of water that might be added or removed.  For instance, a little water might be removed when someone gently bumps a person (something that’s a little deal), but a lot of water would be removed when a child’s favorite toy has broken (something that is a big deal).

* As always, discuss this information with your child’s SLP for information on its relevancy and any appropriate accommodations to his/her communication needs.

                                                                                By Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP/L

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Educational iPad Apps for Preschoolers

The document below was created by Cheryl Straw, MS, CCC-SLP and Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP.  It contains a list of some educational iPad apps for Preschoolers, which are alphabetically arranged by category (ex:  art/fine motor, articulation, books for preschoolers, play, language, etc.) and provides information on the function and price of each app.  Please remember, many of these apps are available for iPhones and iPods as well.  We hope you find this list beneficial.

Fish Preschool Adventures Matching, counting, ID colors,& finding differences in fish $1
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox Random practice of color, size, shape, letter ID $1
Preschool Adventure Colors, numbers, shapes, body parts, matching, sounds $1
ChronAge Calculates exact chronological age in years, months, & day $1
Documents to Go Premium-Office(DataViz) Allows iPad to edit, create, email MS Word, Excel, PP doc. $15
Geek SLP – Apps & Technology
Access blog & tech reviews for speech therapy. FREE
Jumbo Calculator Turns iPad into a large calculator FREE
Percentally Set up various goals & calculate/email percentages $3
Talk Time Large digital timer counts down from any set amt of hr/min FREE
Alphabet tracing Trace letters on dotted lines – models given by a train FREE
Doodle Buddy Draw/paint/write on paper w/any color/line thickness FREE
Dora’s Skywriting ABCs (Dora the Explorer) Follow demo to draw each individual line of letters; $2
Egg a Sketch (Easter theme) Choose a color and draw on the eggs to decorate them FREE
Hand Paint Color scenes using back and forth “coloring” motion FREE
Little Sky Writers Trace letters on dotted lines – models given by a plane $2
Pocket SLP for Articulation (Synapse Apps) Picture drill by selected sound(s) & pos/data sum/models $30
Minimal Pairs (Synapse Apps) Recep & Express modes for 12 most common phon’l proc. $30
Speech Tutor (Synapse Apps) Side & front views of sound production $10
iTake Turns Vocal output for “my turn” or “your turn” in boy/girl voice $2
Scene Speak (Good Karma) Allows creation of visual scene displays for communication $15
Old McDonald (Hamway) Sung at little slower pace-child nonverbally picks animals $1
iSign Sign Language video dictionary $5
ABC Dinosaurs Single pic of a dino. is labeled on each page – one/letter FREE
Misty Island Rescue (Thomas the Tank Eng.) Reads story w/interactive pages; song ; coloring; dot to dot $5
Monster at the End of this Book Reads Sesame St. story aloud and has interactive pages $4
Thomas & Toby (Thomas the Tank Eng.) Reads story to child, coloring pages, and 6-12 pc. Puzzles $3
Trucks! A pic of a type of truck on each page is shown & labeled FREE
Dora’s Coloring Adventures! (Dora Explorer) Choose Dora char. & obj to create a scene & color $5
Dora’s Skywriting ABCs (Dora the Explorer) Follow demo to draw each individual line of letters; $2
Elmo’s Monster Maker (Sesame St.) Choose facial features for monster & make him dance & play $4
Misty Island Rescue (Thomas tank eng.) Reads story w/interactive pages; song ; coloring; dot to dot $5
Monster at the End of Book (Grover) Reads Sesame St. story aloud and has interactive pages $4
Thomas & Toby (Thomas the Tank Eng.) Reads story to child, coloring pages, and 6-12 pc. Puzzles $3
Adam’s Game Receptive identification of nouns in field of 3 pics $1
I Hear Ewe Labels animals & their sounds when pics are touched FREE
iFarm Pick animal for photo scene/touch animal to hear sound $1
My Very First App (Eric Carle – Night & Day) Color + object utter. match or animal + home matching $1
Old McDonald (Hamway) Sung at little slower pace-child nonverbally picks animals $1
Touchables – Old MacDonald’s Farmyard interactive scene names farm animals & sounds they make $1
ABA Receptive Ident. ( Receptive identification of nouns in field of 3 pics $1
Smack Talk Spontaneously imitates any sounds/speech production $1
Talking Tom Cat Spontaneously imitates any sounds/speech prod. FREE
ClickySticky (Invocore) Reinforce utter length/grammar/vocab to make scenes $2
iTouchiLearn Words Simple, short “movies” to show sequence related to word $2
Speech with Milo – Prepositions Demo/label prepositions in isolation or sentence $2
Speech With Milo – Sequencing Tell 3-step seq. after ordering each pic/watching “movie” $3
Speech with Milo – Verbs Demo/label actions in isolation or sentence $3
Wh Questions (By Smarty Ears) Choose question form to be answered w/supporting pic $15
Adam’s Game Receptive identification of nouns in field of 3 pics $1
ClickySticky (Invocore) Follow directions to place theme-related objects in scene $2
Dora The Explorer Coloring Adventure! Follow directions to create a scene w/Dora & friends $5
ABA Recep. Ident-by Feature ( Receptive ID objects by feature in field of 3 $1
ABA Recep. Ident-by Function ( Receptive ID object by
function from field of 3 pics
ABA Recep. Ident-Combined ( Recep ID of obj by categ., function, features -field 3 $1
ABA Recep. Ident-by class ( Receptive ID object in category from field of 3 pics $1
ABA Receptive Ident. ( Receptive identification of nouns in field of 3 pics $1
What’s that Sound?(Different Roads to Learning) Recep ID of obj by associated sound (bark/dog) -field of 3 FREE
Speech with Milo – Sequencing Order pics in 3-step sequence – can watch “movie” of each $3
ABA Problem Solving – Which Does Not Belong? Pick pic that does not belong from a field of 4 pics $1
ABA Problem Solve – Which Go Together? Pick two pics from field of 4 that go together (association) $1
Five Little Monkeys (LoeschWare) Visually reinforces song/actions – interactive hot spots $1
Head Shoulders Knees Toes (Last Legion) Tap along to “sing” song, play puzzle, & follow 1-step directions $4
iTouchiLearn Musical Morning Routines Sing song & reinforce a.m. routine events, scene puzzles $2
Itsy Bitsy Spider (Duck Duck Moose) Sing & manipulate objects on the screen $1
Working on the Railroad (Tiger Stripes) Sing,build a train, & manipulate train-related scenes $1
Old MacDonald (Duck Duck Moose) Interactive page for each farm animal $2
Wheels on the Bus (Duck Duck Moose) Sing & Manipulate song (wheels, horn, etc.) & other obj. $2
Animal Memory Match Kids Play memory by 4 levels of difficulty (6, 12, 20, 30 pics) $1
Cookie Doodle Play sequence for making & decorating cookies $1
Cupcake! Play sequence for making & decorating cupcakes $1
Dress Up Baby Choose clothes, access, & hair/eye color for dolls FREE
Elmo’s Monster Maker (Sesame St.) Choose facial features for monster & make him dance/play $4
iWash my Farm Friends Play sequence of giving farm animals a bath $2
Little Cook Choose add-in items to make eggs, pizza, soup, salad, & sandwiches $1
Shape Puzzle Complete various puzzles to create a scene $1
Monkey Preschool: When I Grow up Dress up a monkey for different careers $1
SEASONAL (Theme)    
Christmas Tree Maker (Christmas) Choose background, tree skirt, tree, & lights for tree FREE
Egg A Sketch (Easter) Choose colors and draw on eggs to decorate them FREE
Egg! (Easter – by David Chung Tap on eggs many times to open & see/hear animal inside $1
Five Little Pumpkins (Halloween) Verbalizes/signs fingerplay & reinforces matching # 1-5 $1
Starfall Snowman (Winter) Make snowmen, “10 Little Snowmen” song, count memory $1
Winter Land (Christmas) Board game for 2-4 players (like Candyland/Chutes & Ladders) $2
Winter Pop-Save Magic the Snowman(snow) Touch falling snowflakes before they reach the ground FREE
ABA Flash Cards – Emotions ( Emotion flashcards – labeled aloud $1
Look in my Eyes: Dinosaurs! Reinforce looking in other’s eyes by earning dino for scene $3
Social Skills (MDR) Two Levels of six premade social stories $7
Story Buddy Create stories using photos or drawings $3
Play 2 Learn Label/recep. Id/assess func’l words (body parts, home,…) $2
My Very First App (Eric Carle – Night & Day) Color + obj utter. match or animal + home match $1
iPrompts Create visual schedules, timers, choice boards $50
iRewards Set up/track star charts with pic of reward to earn $5
My First Yoga – Animal Poses for Kids Colored drawing flashcards of animals yoga poses $1
Short Sequence: Kids’ Yoga Journey Lite Photos of children in 7 yoga poses w/verbal descriptions FREE
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Exciting New Program for Kids with ASD

Children's Museum of La Crosse, WI has introduced a program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Children's Museum of La Crosse, WI has introduced a program for Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The Children’s Museum of La Crosse, WI has introduced a new program to enable children with ASD to enjoy their facility.  It’s a messenger bag that they call an “Adventure Pack” which contains tools that support the children’s ability to visually select and schedule their own activities and control their environment (i.e. headphones to control the noise levels).

Here’s a link to the news story by WEAU News.  Here’s the link to the Children’s Museum of La Crosse.Visual Schedule

A visual schedule used by the museum
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“Marble Jar” as Positive Reinforcement for Social Skills

A behavioral strategy used in my pragmatics groups is a marble jar.  This type of positive reinforcement strategy was presented by the well-known and respected Jed Baker, PhD. ( in one of his conferences.

Several marbles are in a bag, and students work together to move all the marbles from the bag to the marble jar over the course of approximately 4-5 classes.   One or more marbles are moved into what I refer to as the “Super Friends” jar (a recycled water bottle) by each child when s/he is caught doing something a “super friend” would do (see next paragraph).  This takes the idea of Dr. Baker’s marble jar and pairs it with the idea of a super hero, which many children love.  Children are given numerous opportunities to earn marbles, and not only are the appropriate social skills themselves reinforced, but also the quality of the skills are reinforced.  For example, all students who helped clean up get one or two marbles for the jar, but one may get 3-5 marbles for being the person who cleaned up the most toys.  In addition, a child may get more marbles based on improvements in their own performance, such as a child who typically needs lots of reminders/assistance to clean up any toys but who today independently cleaned up a few toys.  That child would be given additional (say 3-5) marbles because this behavior was a big improvement which we really want to reinforce!  Children are reminded visually and/or auditorily that when all the marbles are in the jar, we have a special play/party day for the entire class. 

There are a variety of reasons for this in the class.  First, each marble is given to reinforce/teach positive social skills, such as those taught in our weekly social stories, those your child may specifically need work on, and/or those which make everyone a better friend (talking to/playing with others, working together, cleaning up/following the rules, using nice words/voice/touches, etc.).  Second, the special play/party day provides lots of practice at peer interactions within a play context, which is so vital.  Third, we have our regular “free play” for about 30 minutes, then each child gets a turn to pick a play activity that everyone does for about 15 minutes.  This provides opportunities for the children to explore toys they might not otherwise play with, to learn to accept other kids ideas, and to develop/encourage flexibility (given the change in our regular routine).

You can try this type of system at home too using a small container.  You may elect to use marbles like used here, or perhaps something like cotton balls or small pompoms, especially if you have little ones in your home.  In doing so, think about 1-2 particular new or emerging skills you want your child to learn/improve upon.  It helps to have a picture attached to the container (perhaps an internet image or even better your child successfully completing that skill).  Consider how often you will reward him/her.  Remember lots of reinforcement is especially important in establishing a new behavior.  You may wish to make this solely for your child or perhaps make it a family “marble jar.” A family marble jar allows for you and other family members to model correct and incorrect instances of the targeted behaviors for your family to reinforce other family members as well as your child.  This allows indirect reinforcement to take off some of the pressure from your child to always perform.  Make sure your child knows what motivating item/activity is being earned when all “marbles” are in the jar, and consider your child’s ability to wait for the earned item (a day, a week, etc.).  It is recommended you speak to your child’s support providers for specific guidance on the relevancy of this strategy to your child as well as specific suggestions for possible implementation.

By Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP/L

Posted in Pragmatic Language | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on “Marble Jar” as Positive Reinforcement for Social Skills


  1. Upon WAKING AND GOING TO BED, encourage kids to greet all family members.  Remember to cue as needed for eye gaze to direct the language to each listener. 
  • At bedtime, consider reviewing the current day’s events and sharing tomorrow’s events as well.  This can be done verbally, although use of a calendar is a nice visual representation.  You can add a simplistic drawings (ex:  toothbrush to represent a dentist visit; a swing to represent the playground), a letter/word for older children (ex;  “G” to represent a trip to Grandma’s), etc. to represent special events on the calendar.  You and/or your child can “X” or color completely the box representing the day that is ending.  This will help him/her understand time concepts also (ex:  tomorrow, next week, today). 
  • In the morning, you can remind and/or help the child to share the day’s events. 

 2.  At FREE PLAY, reinforce your child for playing, sharing, helping, and talking to each other (family members, friends, etc.). 

  • Play Area Set-up:  Group and store items into categories (puzzles, books, food/kitchen toys, tool work shop, cars/garage, art supplies, stuffed animals) to help your child organize him/herself (in both play and knowledge of categories to support language).  Consider rotating their toys, so s/he has some toys to play with but not so many that s/he can’t figure out what to play with and/or can’t stick with an activity for long.
  • Games
  • Puppets
  • Pretend /role playing with family/action figures/stuffed animals

3.  In CONVERSATIONS, introduce topics vaguely to encourage your child’s participation by:

  • Giving clues (ex:  “Today we’re going to visit someone special.  They live far away in a brick house.  You play with their dog, Sam.  You love to watch and feed their fish, too.”).
  • Having your child gain more information by asking questions (ex:  “Today, we’re going to visit someone special. . . [wait for/cue as necessary for your child’s questions]).

4.  When doing an ART PROJECT, describe and/or have your child describe three or four features of the art project.  For example, before or after making a spider, say “It’s an animal.  It’s black.  It has 8 legs and spins a web.  Have your child request needed items from family members and/or stuffed animals/puppets/action figures (ex:  give all the spider bodies to your child, all the spider eyes to his/her sibling, all the legs to you, and all the pictures of webs to a stuffed animal that sits close to you for role playing) to encourage him/her to make requests and respond to family members’ requests.

5.  At DINNER, have your child help to pass out food items (if needed, you help hold the dish while your child talks) to family members by asking everyone if s/he wants the object being distributing.  For example, “Daddy, do you want some potatoes?”  Also, encourage back and forth conversations about everyone’s day.  Remember to encourage eye gaze, staying on the same topic (ex:  sister’s soccer game, your child’s trip to the playground, Mommy’s dentist appointment, etc.) for 3 or 4 turns, asking other’s questions about the topic, and adding a comment related to the topic.

6.  Play GROUP GAMES that encourage skills in using and listening to language.  Examples include:

  • Simon Says – have your child and family members/toy figures (stuffed animals, puppets, action figures, etc.) take turns giving and following directions.
  • Musical Chairs – have the family/toys listen for music to stop playing and find a chair (one is removed once the music is started again); consider having them share chairs with peers when there are less chairs than children…this also creates a none competitive game.
  • Play Chirades – use pictures in books, flash cards, etc. to take turns acting out simple objects or actions to guess – this reinforces understanding and use of nonverbal language (gestures, facial expressions, etc.)
  • Play simple turn-taking games (ex:  Candyland, Memory, Don’t Break the Ice, etc.) – consider making the game shorter to keep your child’s attention for an entire game (ex:  for Candyland, use only double colored cards and the pictured cards for spaces near the end of the board and ignore the rule about staying on a square with a black dot until the player draws a card of that color)
  • When naming players to take turns in a game, give descriptions of each player as it’s his/her opportunity to take a turn (“The next player to take a turn is . . . a boy wearing jeans and a blue striped shirt” or “….is a yellow bear wearing a red shirt.”).
  • Give conditional directions in games (“If you’re a girl with brown hair, stand up, etc.).

7.   If possible, utilize SMALL GROUPS for activities.  Encourage listening and talking to adults and peers in the activities.  Consider this when making play dates, having parties, or planning other events, if possible.  Think about how your child is with one or two peers versus three or four versus several children.  In what situation or with whom will s/he be most likely to play interactively with the child(ren) independently and/or with a little support?

By Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP/L


Strategies to Enhance Language Processing Skills in the Home and School Environments

  1. Seat the child as close to the front of the room as possible, minimizing visual and auditory distractions.
  2. When giving verbal directions, gain attention first.  You can prompt the entire class by saying “Everyone look at me.  I’m going to give you a direction”.  You can position yourself in front of the child you know is having difficulty and watch to make sure you have that child’s attention.  Singling out the particular child should be done as a last resort due to the potential negative social repercussions.  You may also find it helpful to present directions several times to smaller groups of children since it is rare that there is only one child who may be having difficulty. 
  3. Present directions in small “chunks” and allow a second or two between to help with processing.
  4. When you need to repeat directions, repeat slowly and verbatim.  That way, the child can concentrate on listening for the pieces of information that were missed.  Rephrasing the entire message is like starting over with a brand new message.  You may cue the child by saying something like “I’m going to say it again.  Listen for what you missed”.  If necessary, break the message down into simpler chunks to assure that the message has been processed. 
  5. Make sure that directions and questions contain vocabulary that is at the child’s language level. 
  6.  Activities that require more intensive listening should be kept short (5 to 15 minutes).  You may need to regain the child’s auditory attention several times throughout the activity.  It helps to keep the child actively engaged through use of simple discussion and question/answer tasks.  This is also a good way to make sure that the activity is at the child’s language level.  A child will more readily tune out when the language level is too high. 
  7. Visual and picture cues are always a good way to help with processing the language used in stories and daily routines.  Pictures arranged in a sequence help the child stay focused and organized during a task or activity.
  8. Keep in mind that a child with language processing difficulties may also have difficulty organizing his expressive language.  You may get a lot of “I don’t know” responses to questions.  This may occur because the child actually does not know or because his is trying to gain more time to process the incoming message.  He may also be trying to gain time to organize his response.  Try giving extra time for the child to process what he has heard as well as to organized his response before you ask the question again.   
  9. Maintain routines for daily activities, using the same vocabulary and directions/questions to increase predictability and potential for success.  As the child becomes more successful, slowly add new directions/questions and change vocabulary used to encourage language growth. 
  10. Keep in mind that listening to and processing spoken language is an active process that requires energy and concentration.  Be sensitive to signs that the child is becoming overwhelmed and reduce demands for a period of time until he is able to tolerate more input.  A child that is already challenged in this area will be more challenged when tired or sick or dealing with other distractions, both physical and emotional.  Teachers and parents need to adjust expectations accordingly. 

By Catherine Costello, MS, CCC-SLP/L

Posted in Receptive Language | 1 Comment