How to Actually Help Children With Autism

Autism Awareness Month is in full swing. I am starting to see several friends on Facebook with blue frames around their profile pic. Other SLP bloggers I follow are talking about it.

And that is all great. Really, I think awareness is awesome.

But today, I want to discuss three easy ways to actually help children with autism. After all, that is the end goal, right?


1. Teach your child(ren) how to interact with children with autism
Children are great at including others in their play. But when it comes to a child with autism, sometimes neither of them have the social skills to make the play actually happen.

The good news is you can teach your child some basic skills that will make play easier.

a) Explain the play/game before it actually happens. Children with autism often need concrete expectations and rules. Teach your child to say, ” We are playing ____________, do you want to play?” and then, “This is how we are playing it.” Yes, I know that sounds bossy, but children with autism may need that structure.

b) Teach your child to be good conversationalists. Children with autism may perseverate on one or two topics, and may not notice that their conversational partner isn’t interested. Teach your child to be a good listener, and then move into teaching them how to guide a conversation.

I know, I know. Easier said than done. And since I remember less-than-fondly textbooks with vague concepts with no examples, here’s how I would approach this:

  • Play turn-taking games with rapid turnover. Go Fish, Candyland and Sorry all come to mind. These lay the foundation for the concept of taking turns, including transition phrases like, “Now it’s my turn.” This easily translates into a guiding a conversation.
  • Play games like “Telephone” and “Simon Says” to encourage a child to listen more carefully.
  • Talk about how some kids LOVE to talk about one or two things. Maybe teach your child to learn 2 new facts about a topic when talking to another child. Then they could suggest a different topic. I would role-play to practice this.

c) Teach your kids about “cool-offs.” Children with autism tend to get overwhelmed easier, and they may manifest it in different ways. Some will shut down, some will cry, and some will hit or push. Teach your child that when they see these “signs” to let their friend “cool-off.” They aren’t in trouble, but they need some time alone to have feelings and calm down. What’s important here is that your child doesn’t forget about the other child; give them 5 minutes and then check in to see if they want to play or need more cool-off time.

See, not so hard, right? I mean, these are basically teaching your child how to be a good person. They’re just tailored a bit to children with autism.


2. Offer Mom and Dad some down time.
I have such respect for parents of children with autism and other developmental delays. Day in and day out they handle the struggles of daily living, putting out one fire as two more start. They just want the best for their child.

If you personally know a child with autism, offer to watch them for a few hours. Don’t give the quintessential, “If you need me to watch him/her, give me a call.” Say, “I want to watch your child to give you a bit of free time or even (gasp) a date. What day works this week?”

If you don’t personally know a child with autism, look into respite care. Where I live, there is a great resource called Kids on the Move. One of the great things they do is offer childcare at their center for parents of special needs children. You can volunteer for two hours a month, once a week, whatever fits your schedule. It gives the parents a few hours to focus on their relationship or attend one of their classes.

We all know the rule: You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. This gives parents an opportunity to do so.

3. Change the conversation. 

As an SLP I am used to speaking the professional lingo and using/avoiding specific terms. While this is starting to become mainstream, I thought I would mention it here.

  • Most parents won’t object to “autistic child,” but the term “child with autism” is a little more appropriate. Autism doesn’t define a child; it’s only part of who they are.
  • I can’t believe I even have to say this in 2017, but words like “retarded” are beyond hurtful and not even accurate. The only appropriate use of “retarded” is when talking about flame retardant clothing.
  • Focus on the positives. Parents of children with special needs sit through endless IEPs, doctor’s appointments, and specialist evaluations outlining their child’s struggles. Try to mention positive things about their child or comment on their progress (if you have known them for a while).
  • Try to avoid using absolutes when talking about a child. Things like “never” and “always” can be discouraging. Instead, use phrases like “not yet” or “starting to” or “learning to.”

Well there you have it! Three ways to make a difference in the lives of children and parents dealing with autism.


Painting Pinecones Language Therapy


So I don’t know the weather where you guys live, but where I live the forecast is snow, then cold, then rain, then snow again.

While I am more than happy to bundle up my kids and send them outside to play in said snow, the reality is we spend 30 minutes getting all their winter clothes on and about 20 minutes actually outside in the snow.

That means we need to find things to do inside. Because even though I don’t think TV is wholly evil and brain-draining, I don’t want my children watching it for hours on end.

A few weeks ago, pre-snow, the kids and I (asked) and gathered pinecones from a neighbor. We washed and dried them, and I displayed them in a funky vintage bowl I have with a pumpkin candle in the middle.

(In the immortal words of A Goofy Movie: saaaaaaaaaaaa-wanky).

But as Thanksgiving passed and the snow started to fall, I decided it would be fun to bleach the pinecones and let my kids paint them with glitter paint.

It would also justify my buying a cinnamon-y holiday candle. A big one.

As my kids and I were cleaning up, I thought of three ways you can utilize this activity to not only have fun inside on a cold day, but also sneak in some language therapy.

Now a few words to the wise: pinecones do not bleach quickly. I don’t recommend doing it. Also, unless you absolutely drench the pinecones in glitter paint, it is a subtle effect (as you can see in the top photo). If you want more wow factor, I would spray paint them white before painting them.

So, without further ado, here are my three language activities for use with Painting Pinecones:

A “P” Party

Just, for heaven’s sake, don’t call it that in front of your kids.

  • As you are setting up and gathering your supplies, emphasize the “P” sound. The Paint, the Pinecones, the Paintbrushes, the Paper (to Protect your table).
  • Have your kid(s) repeat the sound. You can put it to a little tune and say “P makes the ‘P’ sound.” You could also put it to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb- ” The letter P says Puh-Puh-Puh…”
  • As you are painting, brainstorm with your kids about other words that start with “P.”
  • Once you are done painting the pinecones, give your child a crayon and have them look for the letter “P” in the sale ads you used to protect your table.
  • If your kid(s) are old enough, have them write the letter “P” on the sale ads. If they are very young, write a letter “P” with a highlighter and have them trace it.

Following Directions

Part of language development is learning how to follow directions. If your child(ren) are younger, give them opportunities to follow one-and two-step directions. These include:

  • Washing the pinecones (put the water in, add the soap/vinegar, add the pinecones, rinse them, etc.)
  • Setting up the art table (laying down sale ads, putting glitter paint on a plate, etc.)
  • Cleaning up (set pinecones out to dry, wash out the paintbrushes, throw away the sale ads)

If your child(ren) are older, talk about what might happen if you did the steps out of order. For instance, what if you painted the pinecones before laying down the paper? Or just put vinegar in the sink with no water?  This helps teach them to think about sequencing, which is moving towards high-level, abstract language skills.


No matter where your child’s abilities fall, all kids need sensory exposure as well as the language to go along with it. This activity lends itself to a lot of sensory experiences and opportunities to teach your child sensory words.

  • Gathering the pinecones- words like bumpy, rough, fat, or sticky (if there’s pitch on them).
  • Washing the pinecones- words like cold and wet. Also, as the pitch comes off, the water color will change- so sneak in color word like clear, blue, and brown.
  • Painting the pinecones- if you’re brave, let your child paint them with their fingers. Practice words like sparkly, squishy, bright, etc.

Part of sensory language is being able to compare and contrast things. Don’t forget to talk about the opposites of the above words. For instance, you can compare the fat, round pinecones to the thin, long pine needles.

Well I hope this gives you a fun idea for ways to incorporate language activities into your child’s (cold) day. I would love to hear more ideas from you guys!

A Hilarious Halloween Book


So…by show of hands…who grew up with Goodnight Moon?

I guess a better question is who didn’t grow up with Goodnight Moon?

One of the best parts of becoming a parent is reading the same books to your kids that you remember from your childhood.

Well, I’ve got a Halloween surprise for you:

Someone (Michael Rex) has written a Halloween version of Goodnight Moon. 

It’s called Goodnight Goon and it’s done exactly in the writing and illustration style of Goodnight Moon. 

I think I have read this book every day this week with my kids.

It is hilarious and charming and not too scary.

This book would be a great one to add to your holiday book collection.

You can purchase it on Amazon or check it out from your local library.

What I love about this book is it gives parents and educators a great way to practice compare and contrast while still feeling festive.

Can you imagine- comparing the original book and Goodnight Goon for similarities and differences?

You would win Halloween. Hands down.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween!

The Funniest Book You’ve Never Heard Of….

book final

So guys…I have GOT to tell you about this book.

I grabbed it completely at random at the library.

We had gone to the library for storytime, and the librarians’ “tip of the day” was to use books-on-tape paired with the book because they engage both visual and auditory input.

Once storytime was over, me and my littles went over to the book-on-tape section. I found that most of the them seemed too advanced (after all, Chicka Chicka is only 4), but then I saw this one.

i want my hat back

I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen.

Well, we’ll give it a go, I thought.

After all, it had a Theodor Seuss Geisel (re: Dr. Seuss) Honor sticker on it.

A few days passed, and on Saturday, while we were eating breakfast, my husband asked me, “Hey, so have you read that book?”


He started laughing and handed me the book.

And guys, this book is seriously so funny.

Not in the usual, only-makes-kids-laugh kind of humor.

It’s subtle- so subtle that my daughter didn’t get it until we explained it to her.

It’s like those gems of kid’s TV shows where there is humor for adults (not adult humor!), if you listen carefully.

So go check this book out! If your children are older than mine (probably 6 and up), it would be a great book for practicing inference.

And if your children are younger, read it to them anyways, and throw your head back and laugh while your children stare at you.


How to Teach with Scaffolding


Happy Wednesday! Even though school has been out for a few weeks here, and I’ve already gone on one vacation, I still feel like my 8-year old self on the last day of school.

And, call me Hermoine Granger, I wanted to KEEP LEARNING during the summer.

My mom would sign me up for summer school (back when you didn’t have to “need” summer school to attend), the summer reading program at the library, swimming lessons…basically everything you could possibly sign a child up for in my small town, she did.

So today’s speech-therapy technique is inspired by my love of learning. I want to teach parents how to use the “I Do, We Do, You Do” method of teaching.

Also known as scaffolding.

Why does this work so well?

Think of a building under construction. There is all the scaffolding on the side of the building, supporting the structure and allowing the workers to reach all areas of the building. As the building’s structure gets stronger and more complete, the scaffolding is removed little by little, until the building is complete and doesn’t need additional support.

Now apply that to a child learning something new. They are going to need a lot of support before they “get” it. They are going to need you to show them what to do and to practice it with you before they are ready to try it on their own. Depending on the child’s abilities and their interest level, they will need more or less scaffolding. And yes, it may be exhausting and frustrating, but when it transitions from completely dependent to completely independent, you swell with pride.

So here is what you do:

I Do: Model what you want the child to do or say. 

We Do: You have your child and yourself do or say the modeled behavior.

You Do: The child does it all by his or her self.

Okay, that is the super-simplified version of what you do.

Here’s how it usually goes: 

Scene: You want to teach your child how to put stuff in a bin.

I Do: You get your child’s attention. You show him the bin and then the toy. You physically put the toy in the bin. You verbalize, “Put in.” You take the toy back out and do/say it again. And again. 

We Do: Give the toy to your child. Putting your hand over his, put the toy in the bin, once again saying, “Put in.” Take it back out and do it again. 

You Do: Let your child handle the toy by himself. Give the direction, “Put in.” Go back to step 2 after two failed independent attempts and then let him try again. Shower him with praises when he does it independently. 

See how you gently remove the amount of support? It’s slow enough that your child won’t feel abandoned and/or overwhelmed, but quick enough that you can (hopefully) maintain his attention to the task. 

You can apply this to teaching in all aspects of your child’s life. Just remember to utilize patience, persistence, and encouragement. It will pay off. I’m yet to meet a kid that didn’t respond to this method of teaching.

Please try this method of scaffolding, and let me know how it goes!

Don’t Ask Questions! A Technique to Expand Conversation

dont ask questions

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

Woman, you just did a whole series on questions.

Buuuuuuuuuuut…today I want to share yet another trick for your toolbox.

Did you know it’s possible to get more conversation out of kids by not asking questions?

Because I didn’t. Not until grad school.

The secret here is to not ask questions, but only comment on what your child is doing. 

In my humble opinion, this is so effective because it puts the child in charge of the conversation (even though you still really are in charge of the conversation). This, in turn, makes them feel validated and confident, and they want to share more information with you.

It also teaches them about longer responses. Asking questions, you run the risk of only getting one-word answers. If you have an open-ended comment, typically a one-word answer isn’t going to cut it.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of how a conversation can go.

Scene: Your child is playing with Duplos.

Parent: What are you doing?

Child: Playing with Duplos?

Parent: Where are they?

Child: The house.

Parent: What are they doing in the house?

Child:  Playing.

See how it sorta feels like 20 Questions? And you’re not exactly getting stellar responses.

Let’s run this scenario again, but with the parent NOT asking questions.

Parent: Ooooh! Duplos! I want to play!

Child: Okay! Here’s one guy for you.

Parent: Thank you! Let’s see, you’ve built a great house, but I don’t know where my guy is supposed to live.

Child: O we need to build one.

Parent: I might need your help. I want a house my guy can have his friends over.

Child: Let’s build a big, big house! They can all play in it!

See how much better the conversation flowed? And the parent still got all the information they wanted, plus some!

Now, obviously, this technique is not going to be as effective for toddlers, or those with only 1-2 word utterances. But you can still use the concept of commenting to identify words in play. In fact, I recommend it since it keeps things simple and clear for very young children.

You will be surprised how difficult this strategy is. Asking questions is so ingrained in our minds as the only way to get information, especially from children. You have to actively remind yourself to not ask questions. Once you get used to this different approach, though, it becomes easier and the responses you get are much more satisfying.

So go ahead. I dare you. I double-dog dare you. Try NOT asking questions, and see what responses you get!

I would love to hear from my readers, so please comment down below on how this went for you!

Wh-Questions: The When, Why, and How

wh questions when why how

Aaaaaaah. The when, why, and how questions.

Otherwise known as “the intangibles.”

I’m going to break these up, because I approach each one differently.


For when questions, you first have to teach the concept of time. No, not the whole thing. But you do need to pick 3-6 different “time” words you want your child to learn first. Personally, I would teach “morning,” “noon,” “night,” for sure, and then I would also think about words like “before” and “after” or “first” and “then.” This will also help with teaching “how” questions, since they tend to be sequencing questions.

Now, I’m not gonna lie, I have an awesome activity to teach “when” questions. You will need:

  • 3 plates
  • pictures of undeniably breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods

You have your child pick a picture- this could be out of a box, out of a hat, or show two and have your child pick one. Then, you ask your child, “When do we eat ______?” Your child then answers morning, noon, or night. You then repeat their answer as a full sentence (“We eat pancakes in the morning!”), and they get to put the food on the correct plate.

People, I have done this with special needs preschoolers. It is awesome and they catch on quickly. Just remember a lot of modeling and a lot of praise.


Why is the BIG jump- where a child moves into logical thinking, empathy, and all the other goodies. For these types of questions, I would teach a “carrier phrase.” Or, in this case, a carrier word. Teach your child to answer “why” questions with “because…” Sometimes having that carrier word is enough to get them talking. There is always time to teach other responses later.

I would caution you to be mindful of asking “why” questions that are too vague. Practicing “why” questions should focus on everyday items, routines, and people. Think “Why do we brush our teeth?” or “Why do we eat lunch?” Giving your child something familiar to refer to helps a lot.

This is also a great question to sabotage. I know I talk a lot about sabotage, but kids seriously think that grown-ups saying the wrong thing is downright hilarious. So maybe say, “Why do we eat dinner in the morning?” Then, totally let your kids call you out on it.


When introducing how questions, I would stick with basic sequencing questions like, “How do you make lemonade?” or “How does the Three Little Pigs go?” The key here is that you have to ask about routines, stories, and tasks that have a specific sequence. For instance, if you don’t have a strict bedtime routine, it’s not really fair to ask your child about it.

There are tons of ideas on my Pinterest board for sequencing activities. Most of them have free printables and/or are paired with a story.

I am sure you will get sick of hearing this, but these are also perfect questions for SABOTAGE! Put the pictures in the wrong order, do steps in the wrong order, whatever. When else can you do something wrong on purpose?!?

I hope this has helped. Just remember that wh-questions are hard, and some are more abstract than others.

Please comment below if you try some of these strategies! Also, follow me on Pinterest and Twitter for ideas and updates!

Wh-Questions: What, Where, and Who

wh questions who what where

Today we are continuing our discussion on wh-questions, and moving into activities to teach children how to answer them.

The focus of this post is the easier question types on the hierarchy (see THIS post for more information on this)- the what, where, and who questions.

As I mentioned on Monday, these questions typically deal with something tangible and present. You can use that to your advantage in teaching them!

The first step is to teach your child the meaning of “who” and “where.” Depending on your child’s abilities, you may be able to phrase it as ” a who question is a what-person question” and “a where question is a what-place question.” You can also teach that a “who question is a person/animal question” and “a where question is a place question.” Either way works, it’s just a matter of which one your child responds to.

To do this, try having several pictures of different places and people/animals. Basic flashcards would work for this, as well as just a quick google search. Just go through them with your child and have them identify “who” or “where.” This step may seem silly, but it will save you a whole lot of repetition of “who/where is a person/place question.”

Once your child knows what each question word is asking, you can start asking questions. Once again, stick to the here and now. Books with great pictures like the No David! series, and basic look-and-find books are a great place to start. I would stay away from I-Spy books and Where’s Waldo? books at this point because they are visually very overwhelming.

I had some great resources as a speech therapist with a few products from Super Duper. The first was silly scenes with accompanying questions. I don’t know if my brain is foggy because I’m battling a cold, but I couldn’t find this particular product on their website. But it is easily reproducible with a scene in a book or a picture. Or you could even draw one if you like. To make it even more relevant to your child, a picture of a family reunion or something like that would be awesome! Also, if your child is able to play a board game like Guess Who? you can modify it so that you are practicing wh-questions.

If your child responds well to flashcards or technology, Super Duper also sells wh-question cards. Here’s the deal though- apparently it is about $70 for the five question sets! Yikes!! Buuuuuuut… they sell the app with all the flashcards for just $11.99! HERE is the link.

Finally, there are play-based games you can do to sneak wh-questions into your child’s day. You could play I-Spy in your house- just be sure to use the question words! I also want to share a game I play with Chicka Chicka that has a 100% engagement rate. Take 3-6 stuffed animals and hide them around your house. Turn off all the lights, and give your child a flashlight to find the stuffed animals. When your child finds one, ask them, “Where was that animal?” and then they have to answer before you retrieve the stuffed animal. This typically works better if you hide them in places your child can’t reach- like up on top of a curtain rod or in a cupboard (with a leg or arm sticking out, of course). Chicka Chicka has never not wanted to play this game.

I also have lots of fun ideas on my Pinterest boards, as well as lists of wh-questions. Go HERE to check them out!

I hope this has inspired you to find fun ways to work on simple wh-questions! Stay tuned as I move into why and how questions, and then, finally, the toughie- having your child ASK questions!

How to Ask Questions to Get Answers

wh question series final

When I worked in the special needs preschool, I would say about 60-75% of my caseload had an answering wh-questions goal. I also added a wh-questions goal to lower-functioning students as soon as I thought it fell into their zone of proximal development (re: the fancy term for what they can do with assistance).

So why is answering wh-questions so important? I could rant about how the school system is flawed and only wants kids to able to answer standardized questions, but that’s simply not true. Everyone needs to be able to ask AND answer wh-questions in order to gain and process information in both academic and social settings.

So now to the inspiration for the above image. Have you ever felt like you go around and around with your child trying to get answers to basic questions? You ask “What did you do today at school?” and you get the dreaded “Uuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh……,” or even better, you get one-word answers like “fine” or “okay” or “I don’t know” to any inquiry about their day.

It’s enough to drive any parent crazy!

Well today I want to explain the question hierarchy and ways to phrase your questions to get real answers and spark conversation with a child of any age or ability.

The question hierarchy has to do with the level of processing required for different types of questions. Trust me, it’s not as daunting as it sounds.

  • “What” questions are typically the easiest to process. They usually deal with the here and now, like “What are you doing?” (note: exasperated mom voice optional).
  • “Who” and ” Where” questions come next, only because they require the knowledge of what “who” and “where” means. Since they don’t have any tangible meaning, this has to be taught.
  • “When” questions are the next level up, since time is an abstract concept to many children. (If you’ve ever tried to get a child to school or church on time, you know what I mean!)
  • “Why” and “How” questions are the most difficult to process. “Why” questions usually require more of a thought process, and probably empathy or theory of mind to some degree. “How” questions typically require sequencing of steps.

Consider this hierarchy when asking your child questions. It may be that asking them “Why did you do that?” is too difficult, but they could answer “What were you trying to do?”

Next, two rules for getting answers!

One: Make your questions tangible.

Children do much better answering questions about the here and now. They also do better with visual cues. This makes reading a great opportunity for getting great answers. One of my personal favorites is the “No David!” series by David Shannon. Each page only has a few scolding words, but the pictures are vivid and obvious. It’s so easy to read the actual words and then follow-up with a question like, “What did David do?” Your child can look at the pictures for clues, rather than trying to solely rely on auditory recall.

Two: Make your questions specific.

Questions like, “What did you do today?” are just too broad. Most kids know you expect an answer, but they don’t know what answer you are looking for. Does Mom want to hear about lunch? or that new kid? or my art project? or the homework that was due today?

So take the guesswork out of the question. Rephrase it so they know exactly what you want to hear. ” Who did you play with today?” is much more specific and triggers better recall. It also creates a metaphorical springboard for a conversation. “Oh you played with Kate? She sits next to you for reading time, doesn’t she? What story did you guys read today?”

I also have a few side notes for conversations. First off, once you ask a question, wait for the answer! Go HERE to read a whole post on this. Second, sometimes not asking a question gets you a better response than asking incessant questions. In the above example, you could also say, “Oh you played with Kate? She seems like a good friend.” Then, pause and let your child tell you why Kate is so great (or not). I plan to have a post about this, but I think it’s worth mentioning here as well.

So there you go! Remember the question hierarchy, as well as making your questions tangible and specific! All my posts this week will have insight and activities for teaching your child to answer various wh-questions, so stay tuned!

The 5-Second Rule

5 second rule final

So originally I was going to have a cute picture of food on the floor and make a clever remark about the “5-second rule.” Buuuuuuut, it turns out it’s really hard to get a “cute” picture of food on the floor. Who knew?!

Today’s post is a simple reminder to have patience with your child. We are so used to having adult conversations where the communication is quick and our minds are able to process what someone is saying and respond in a matter of milliseconds. For children of all abilities, but especially for those with language and/or social impairment, information is processed much slower.

So while it may seem that they are ignoring you, or they don’t understand, it may be, in fact, that they require longer processing times.

When you are giving your child directions, or asking questions, count in your head and give them 5 seconds to respond before repeating or rephrasing. Of course, this can be adjusted as necessary, possible even up to 10-20 seconds. By that time your request was either processed and ignored, they didn’t understand, or didn’t hear you.

I know what you’re thinking- this is too easy! But actively monitoring your own wait time makes you realize how quickly you expect your child to respond. It also helps you to slow down and simplify your communication, which also benefits children.

So give it a try! In honor of Finding Dory coming out soon, I’ll end with “just keep counting, just keep counting…what do we do we COUNT!”