Great PD at your fingertips

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.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Ways Students with Complex Communication Needs Can Read Across America!

I recently had the pleasure of being on-aid at NBC Morning News studios in Palm Springs. They asked me to come and talk to them about Read Across America Day and how to include students with Autism and other significant language disabilities participate in this day that celebrates literacy.

So many of our students have not been taught literacy skills historically, and many still aren't included in reading activities.

I talked about a couple of ways nonverbal students can participate in phonological awareness activities.
I've been invited back for April 2 Autism Awareness (and Acceptance) Day. I'll be talking about.... you got it! AAC!

In the meantime, keep on talking!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Playing Again?! Dramatic Play Units Build Language

Playing can be lots of fun.  It can also be hard work.  The work of young children is to play. Literally. So many skills are developed through playing. In particular, children learn language and build knowledge through play.  

They talk about what they are doing and listen to us as we describe what is happening.
They talk with peers as they play; building social skills and social language.
They learn about toys and what they can do, and build background knowledge about what the toys represent. 
For example, how many of you have used a play kitchen when “working” with children? What do you talk about? There are so many actions that happen in a kitchen, and action words (verbs) are core words.
And sequences of actions in the kitchen are often basic routine sequences that help students map out how things work.

 Thematic units lend themselves to play routines, as children build awareness of the vocabulary and sequences involved in the theme.  Children learn about things they may not have a lot of experience with.  Perhaps your student with a disability isn’t allowed in the kitchen during meal prep.  Or maybe your student with a disability doesn’t get to go to many of the same community events as his peers.
Many of our students with disabilities fail to acquire the same background knowledge as their peers, due to lack of exposure to the same activities.

One way to compensate for this lack is to use dramatic play themes.  A speech pathologist friend of mine creates dramatic play units which she sells in her Teachers Pay Teachers store.  
I recently took a look at some of her resources and thought how well they would work with my AAC users.

Thematic units allow therapists and teachers to build that background knowledge while incorporating the language needed within that theme. Students get the opportunity to learn the concepts involved and the vocabulary needed.  
And the same thematic vocabulary runs through lessons on various subject areas while maintaining stability of words and concepts throughout.  You might have a dramatic play kitchen, a related read aloud, integration with science or social studies or math.  And you might even tie your play lessons to Common Core State Standards.

Thematic lessons allow for hands-on activities that are related and provide multiple opportunities for repetition of the vocabulary within the teaching time for the unit.
You might have adapted materials in the play area. You should definitely have visuals; images that tie in with the topic and place.  You might create a customized book; either to read before or during play, one made with pictures of the student(s) playing in the area, with text describing the activity, the sequence, the concepts.

Tamatha from TLC Talk Shop, has a lot of fun dramatic play resources in her shop. The Vet Clinic can be found here.  It is packed with fun, information, and loads of visuals to use to create the topic.
Each one of her units comes with vocabulary cards, articulation practice using thematic vocabulary, categorization activities, play activities, a barrier game, phonological awareness activities, and sensory skills ideas.

I took a look at this Vet Clinic, and found lots of ways to use and play with the vocabulary cards, including labeling, writing, telling functions and categories, and more.  She provides opportunities to describe and compare.
Most fun for the students, though, are the dramatic play forms. 
Students get a chance to pretend being the vet, the vet tech, and the customer.  There are questions to be asked and answered, symptoms to list and describe, appointments to make, and even X-Rays to use.

Animal graphics can be used with the X-Rays, as well as bandages provided.  Work on body parts, directions, shapes, colors, and more.
Grooming tools allow for labeling and describing, as well as verb tense practice.

And if, after you’ve played hard and build up some language in context, move on to some related activities to build even more language with my language in life skills sets.  The Caring for a Pet set is available here. 
It includes vocabulary cards, sentence building activities, interactive books, sequencing activity, narrative production and predictable chart writing, and more phonological awareness activities.

Taken together, there is so much in these resources that you can use to build language along a context continuum.
Build your own thematic fun with dramatic play and extended activities!

And…. keep on talking!

Save 30% on select product(s) with promo code 3061JLMT on