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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Your Next Great Read is Here!

I recently responded to a request for interesting and educational picture books for children.  The article was published recently, and I think it's worth taking a look at.

Mine were not the only recommendations, of course, and some of the books listed I hadn't heard of.
So, in the interest of good read-aloud time, here is a link to the article and the list.
Each book has a brief description.  

Can you tell which books I recommended? 
 Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One was one
The Snowy Day was another

and Tommy at the Grocery Store (one of my own kids' favorites! and perfect for an SLP).  

The article itself contains links to the books, as well as my affiliate links here.

I love each of these for different reasons.

Aunt Isabel tells her niece and nephew a wonderful story while in the process teaching them how a story is created. I've taught many children about story elements with this one.

The Snowy Day is a classic. It's deceptively simple and good for talking about sequences in a story.  Not only is there the overall sequence of events in the whole story, but you can break the boy's day into 2 distinct parts: in the snow and in the house.  I used to work this book into my seasons theme in therapy.

And Tommy.... I can't say enough about this book that will tickle your funny bone.  Tommy's mother accidentally leaves him at the grocery store.  A procession of other customers move him about the store, each explaining why he belongs in a different department; "He has ears" so he must belong with the corn.  "He has legs" so he should go with the tables and chairs.
Poor Tommy finally is rescued by his mother.  Wonderful for part and whole discussions.


Keep on reading, and.... keep on talking (about books).

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Back to School Time Already?!

Thinking about a new school year already?  Here in Southern California, it is already that time for some districts.  So, to get the year started off the right way, I am reprising a post about the top 10 traits of an AAC classroom.

1. All students who do not have sufficient verbal language skills to meet all of their communication needs have an aac system that others them at least basic core vocabulary.

2. Staff are consistently using Aided Language Stimulation and modeling, and are familiar enough with the students’ systems to do so effectively.

3. Staff redirects students to their aac systems if they are not understood, or if they are relying on gesture and body actions when they are able to use more standard modes.

4. Staff model and require communication for a variety of functions - not just requesting.

5. AAC users are being taught literacy skills using effective teaching strategies.

6. Staff repeat, affirm, and then elaborate student responses.

7. AAC skills are taught and reinforced in natural, contextual activities, not drill formats.

8. Core vocabulary is taught, reinforced, and expanded continuously and topical materials for the classroom are modified to use core words.  Teachers are teaching descriptively, not referentially.

9. Student narrative skills are a focus of classroom activities.

10. Conversational interactions are a focus of classroom activities.

How does your room or school measure up?

If you're looking for some resources to help staff keep up with AAC this school year, try these: The AAC Implementation Plan Handbook and The AAC Core Word Modeling Plan Posters and Information for Staff (and Home).

Keep on talking - with pictures.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

What Have You Got to Say for Yourself?

Teaching a child to use AAC requires a level of familiarity and comfort with the AAC system itself.  Using the pictures while simultaneously speaking to the child provides a level of direct modeling that verbal children receive from birth.  And just as we provide verbal input 1 or 2 or 3 words at a time, we also model use of 1 or 2 or 3 symbols, keeping our models just 1 step ahead of where the child's expression is currently.

This Aided Language Stimulation - also called Partner Aided Input - is crucial to the child learning to use their aac system.
Language is learned through models. Children learn spoken language by listening to others using it. A child using picture-based communication is learning an entirely different language. They need to see models of people using it effectively. And models provided in response to their communication are most powerful.

What else can we do? 
  •  create a positive communication environment
  •  respond to all communication attempts

There is a positive communication environment when we respond to all of a child’s communication attempts, provide support as needed, focus on positive results, and find solutions to challenges. Even when you respond to an undesirable behavior, if you do so while also modeling how to use the correct message in the AAC system you take advantage of a communication opportunity.

As much as possible, do NOT ask yes/no questions, do NOT ask closed-ended questions

DO ask Wh-questions or other open-ended questions. If necessary, ask multiple choice questions.

Strategies to create opportunities to communicate include:
     providing choices, 
     sabotaging the environment, 
     giving small amounts of desired item/activity, 
     briefly delaying access, 
     using pause time, 
     using fill-in-the- blank activities.

Respond to all Communication Partner’s Attempts:

All children communicate. They don’t all communicate symbolically - that is, with pictures, words, text. And some of their nonsymbolic communication is undesirable.

Think about how this child responds to his/her own name; what (s)he does when a routine is interrupted; what (s)he does when wanting an item, action, attention, or help; or tells you when something is wrong. What we’re talking about is how this child communicates to reject/protest, request, comment. Those are some of the main, early functions of communication. The earliest communication behaviors are social regulatory - regulating another’s actions.  What we need to do is to respond to those other communication behaviors, while shaping them into more acceptable or understandable forms.

The more you practice using the aac system during real contexts, and increase the number of those contexts in which you use the aac system, the more automatically the child will learn to use the system.  

More to come.....
Keep on talking!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Please! Don’t Believe That!

Once upon a time, Romski and Sevcik wrote an article about the myths of AAC . They wrote that “Despite the advances, the inclusion of AAC services and supports into early intervention service delivery for young children has been hampered primarily by myths about the specific types of roles AAC plays.”

That was more than a decade ago and the myths of AAC are still running rampant through our practice.  Here we are, years later, and many of these myths are still found throughout our service delivery - or lack of it.

So, I think dispelling those myths bears repeating.

Romski and Sevcik listed 6 myths of AAC:

1. AAC is a “last resort” in language intervention and shouldn’t be used until all hope of being verbal has been given up.  Research has shown that it is actually important to introduce AAC before the child fails so that he has a communication mode before frustration sets in.

2. AAC hinders or stops further speech development. Research again has shown that use of AAC can actually help children develop speech.  
Many children with significant communication needs do have some words they use.  However, if speech is not functional to meet all communication needs, if there is not sufficient vocabulary, if the child is not understood by all partners, if the child only repeats what he has heard - then he needs AAC intervention.

3. Children must have a certain set of skills to be able to benefit from AAC. While the exact relationship between cognition and language is unknown, we do know that many children cannot demonstrate their abilities without a way to communicate.

4. Speech Generating Devices are only for children whose cognition is intact. 
Advances in technology mean that advanced cognitive skills are not necessarily needed to use high tech systems and, as a wide range of options are available, there are many tools that children can bee taught to use effectively

5. Children have to be a certain age to benefit from AAC. Again, research shows that providing children a mode of communication early is beneficial and will not hinder speech development.  
AAC has been cited as an evidence based strategy for facilitating speech in young nonverbal children.
Waiting too long to provide AAC intervention in the belief that the child is too young denies the child the opportunity to learn language, acquire vocabulary, and express himself appropriately.  Research shows that intervention provided after 3 years has a less significant impact.

6. There is a representational hierarchy of symbols from objects to written words. Romski and Sevcik site the research that shows that children do not actually learn less abstract symbols better or faster. To the child, all symbols work the same way. We just need to teach them consistently.
Requiring the child to use multiple systems as they work their way through some artificial hierarchy only makes learning to communicate harder.  Having different displays, different arrays, and constantly moving vocabulary targets is discouraging to some children and takes the emphasis off of communicating and puts focus on the system - which is not where it belongs.

In fact, according to ASHA (the American Speech-[Language]-Hearing Association), all individuals are considered potential candidates for AAC.   ASHA and the Joint Commission for Persons with Disabilities have a “zero exclusion” criterion and consider not whether an individual is eligible for services, but rather consider where along the continuum they are currently operating as a starting point .  As long as there is a discrepancy between needs and abilities, an individual qualifies for services in AAC. 

Voice output is closer to the back and forth of the natural language learning process, it provides auditory feedback while the child is learning symbol meaning, and allows the child the opportunity to “play” with his voice, the way that typical children do.  The high tech system also provides better opportunities in most cases for scaffolding and modeling.  Only a ‘smart partner’ assisting in scanning or a good provider of aided language stimulation provides more feedback and models.

One more misconception is that teaching the student to identify and discriminate the pictures is all that is needed by way of teaching students to use them.  Too often, students are given this skill training, provided with a communication system, then deemed to have “failed” because they don’t use it effectively.  We must remember that we are EDUCATORS.  We need to provide appropriate intervention; including operational, linguistic, social, and strategic use.  We need to teach these kids to communicate with this mode - one that they have no prior experience with.

For a brief handout explaining these myths, click here to download.

Get ready for the new school year with confidence. 
And, keep on talking!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Summer is Here! How to Keep Communicating and Beat the Heat

The days are finally warmer.  I know that sounds a little crazy, since I live in Southern California. But, it's been a pretty rainy and chilly Spring.  While we need the rain (drought, drought go away), it's kind of messy in an environment where we don't expect it so much.

But when the rain goes away, we can go out to play.  Keeping your children busy and happy during the summer can sometimes be a bit difficult.  Over the years, I've created several different summer free resources with fun language-based activities.  I'll drop the links below, and hope that you enjoy.

I've been hopping through some t.v. studios recently, too, providing helpful tips and information, and plugging my book.  It's been fun getting to share ideas with a larger audience. I'll try to keep you informed of my next appearances if you want to tune in.

Here are the links, as promised:






I'll have some more for you next week!

And, if you haven't signed up for my newsletter yet, here is a sneak peak at the latest.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Our AAC users need a lot of skills to be able to use their ‘talking tool’ competently.  I call it a tool, because that is what it is; a tool that individuals can use to help them to communicate with the world around them. And it is our job to teach them how to use the tool.

Janice Light listed 4 areas of competency that AAC users need to develop:


Linguistic refers to receptive and expressive language skills; including grammar, syntax, word relationships

Social refers to those social skills needed to communicate; such as asking & answering questions, greetings, repairing breakdowns

Operational refers to the ability to use the system; such as powering a device on and off, or moving between pages

Strategic refers to understanding and use of the skills needed to facilitate communication; such as getting a partner’s attention

[You can learn more about this is my AAC Implementation Handbook, available here].

Today I’d like to talk for a minute about the operation skills needed to use an AAC system; in particular the navigating between pages that are necessary in any dynamic display system (note that in addition to electronic devices this also includes the navigation conventions of a PODD book or other flip-book-type system).
The ability - or inability - to navigate is often cited as a reason why a child is not given a dynamic display device.  But, like any skill, this is something that needs to be taught.

 One of the ways we teach this skill - as with any skill in AAC use - Aided Language Stimulation is our friend.  It is always the first step in AAC implementation.  Children who need to use pictures to communicate need to see models of others using this language system, just as speaking children need to hear us talk.

Unfortunately, while using ALgS is crucial, it is not always sufficient  For many of our students more direct instruction is required.  One of the important skills in AAC use is that of categorization.
Now, I’m sure all the SLPs out there reading this will recognize a skill we spend a LOT of time working on with many of our children receiving therapy.  This skill helps a child know that if he wants an apple, he needs to look in the “Food” page, and then, maybe, even on the “fruits” page.  If he wants to talk about where he went over the weekend, he'll need to find the “Places” page.  You get the idea.

Fortunately, we don’t necessarily need anything fancy or new or different to teach categorization skills to our AAC users.  All of the therapy materials you are using to work on these skills can be used with these children.  Only the mode of response is different.  Rather than naming the category, or listing its members orally, the AAC user will need to find the item after navigating to that page.
The AAC user needs to understand that to get to a specific item, he will need to find its category page.

One of the fun ways I work on this skill is with sorting tasks and games.  For instance, in my Category Catch All resource, students sort transportation into air, land, and sea vehicles, or sort animals into zoo, ocean or farm habitats.

Another favorite is Categorizing & Describing Flower Power.  There are many different ways of sorting and categorizing items in this resource; including general categories (animals, foods, clothing), descriptor (green things from red things and bumpy things from smooth things), family members, land forms, and more.

With either of these resources - or using whatever you have in your therapy room or home - you have the student respond using their “voice” - their AAC system. In this way they get practice with finding where things are, without it feeling like a test.  Turning learning into a game helps to keep kids engaged.

AAC users need to learn where to find words in their AAC system, but without us constantly asking them to “Find (X).” or “Point to (Y).”

Till next time, keep sorting, and….Keep on talking!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

My 5 Top Tips for Shared Reading

I’ve written a number of times previously about shared reading and ways to infuse read-aloud time with language skills and meaning.  So today I thought I’d reiterate some of my top ideas for using shared reading.

  1. First of all, READ.  Good books. All kinds of books. Fiction and nonfiction. Funny books and meaningful books.  Enrichment books, which have interesting text which is supported by illustrations, provide students with experiences they might not otherwise have, can offer them characters they can relate to and places that feel familiar. They can also provide a window to activities the child might not be able to do himself.
  2. Storybooks can be relatable because of their characters, setting, or problem with which the child may be familiar.  They teach the child about the relationship between characters and settings, the steps to solving a problem, and the story elements of plot sequences.
  3. Nonfiction books can provide valuable information, teach concepts, and give access to topics the child might not be able to see, touch, or feel otherwise. Informational texts introduce children to things in the world around them.
  4. Talk about the book while you’re reading.  Point out illustration details.  Ask questions about key concepts or story details. Talk about vocabulary. Describe characters and settings.  Predict solutions.
  5. Retell the story.  Practice this retelling with the child.  Use visuals or the illustrations to support the retelling.  Extend the story by having the child “write” or co-create his own stories that use the same basic story structure as a book he likes, but with the personal connection of himself as the character or his environment as the setting, or his experiences as plot lines.  Children love books about themselves, so create his own personal bookshelf of familiar stories.  Experiences with which he is familiar become easy-to-tell stories.

Read it! What’s life without a good book?  And…….keep on talking - about books.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Autism Numbers - Oh My!

In case you haven't been following me, I have recently published a book on AAC implementation. Augmentative-Alternative Communication is a relatively young area of speech-language pathology and one in which there was limited research until relatively recently.  Which meant that we often didn't know a lot about what we were trying to do for a number of years.  And, like many fields, information derived from the research wasn't always good about making it into practice.

But we now have a lot more information to inform our best practices.  We have determined some of the best Evidence Based Practice and clinicians have that available to them from a variety of sources.

Even so, it's tough to get the many thousands of speech-language pathologists to be comfortable with an area of practice they often have limited cause to use.

Well, in case you haven't heard about my book, Make the Connection!: A Practical Guide to Parents and Practitioners for Teaching the Nonverbal Child to Communicate with AAC, it is aimed specifically at providing parents and therapists with a plan.  

In the book, I outline the types of AAC, the myths and misperceptions, and the terminology.  Because we don't want anyone left hanging because they don't know the vocabulary!
Then I go on to outline steps needed to go from nonverbal to communicating with pictures.  
I offer simple steps, tips, strategies and ideas for implementing AAC.  I give examples. And, I hope, I give - well,  hope.

In my 45 years working with kids with nonverbal autism - and so many other conditions that impact language - I have watched literally thousands of parents cry in frustration. And that doesn't need to be.

So, if you or someone you know and love needs this book, hop on over to the website ( or go straight to Amazon and grab it. (That's an affiliate link).

Want to know a little more before you buy?  I'll be making my second appearance on NBC Morning News in Palm Springs on April 2 and will post a link to the interview as soon as it's available.
In the meantime, here are some free handouts I hope provide you with some useful information. No opt-in necessary; just a free link.

And, as always, keep on talking!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Getting Physical in Speech-Language Therapy

Recently, sensory bins are a big “thing” in speech therapy and a big hit with students.  While I never used sensory bins in therapy (my last therapy gig was more than 20 years ago), I can see why kids would like the process of “digging for buried treasure.”

Two of my favorite goals to target involve increasing students’ abilities to describe and increasing their ability to tell a story.  So I thought I’d make a few suggestions for using sensory bins with your students with limited language - or AAC users who are developing language skills.

First, for those of you unacquainted with sensory bins, these are containers of almost any sort (shoe boxes, plastic tubs, big baskets) filled with any of a variety of filler materials - beans, cotton balls, raw pasta shapes, rice, sand.  (Warning: that last one can get messier than the others).
Students “dig” through the filler to find the treasures; which can be laminated pictures, small figures, or other objects related to your topic or theme.

I’ve suggested using sensory bins with books to colleagues. You know me; gotta get that literacy tie-in everywhere I go!

Choose a story to work with.  Copy the illustrations of people, animals, even places (it is legal to make a copy of a book you own for a student who has difficulty accessing print) and laminate them.  Cut out the figures and bury them in the filler.

You can also purchase small plastic figures in thematic sets.  If you happen to own Playmobile or Lego figures that are pirates, animals, superheroes, etc. that’s terrific.  But they can be expensive to purchase for all your sensory bins.
A bit less expensive are sets like this one: (contains affiliate links) 

Next, set your target.  If you’re working just on describing and defining, You might have a random collection of items to hunt for.  Or you might stick to a single category with a variety of members.
If you’re working more on narratives, you might choose items that represent characters and objects in a specific story.  
Then set the parameters for the ‘treasure hunt’ itself. You can have students find items randomly and describe whatever they’ve found.  This is great for having AAC users practice using the core words on their describing page. 
Or, you can have students choose one figure at a time and build a round-robin story. The first student begins the story by saying something around what he has chosen from the bin. The next student builds on the story, and so on.  AAC users can get lots of practice with people and actions pages of their system.

Or, you might hide story elements from a single story, and have students identify the element and describe it or tell about its place in the story.  You can also have students pick items from the bin and re-tell the story once everyone has a piece.

There are many ways you can use these sensory bins in therapy to make building language more fun for your students.

Have students who have a hard time grasping small items?  Try these, from Amazon: 

Looking for more ideas for implementing AAC in therapy and at home? Try my book; Make the Connection!: A Practical Guide to Parents and Practitioners for Teaching the Nonverbal Child to Communicate with AAC.