ASD Workshops

I regularly present to parents, alternating between presenting about Autism Spectrum Disorders and Quirky Kids. The ASD workshop helps parents with children in the beginning stages of communication. The Quirky Kids workshop helps parents with children who talk but cannot have a conversation.

I also present to groups of teachers, counsellors, school assistants, and community members. Workshops can be tailored to fit your needs! Please click here for a PFD of the ASD Presentations or see the snapshot below.

ASD Presentations

If you are interested in our group programs to help kids get along with their peers, that information is here.

Help Children to Organize Their Language

We can help children to organize their language, whether written or oral. Many of these suggestions are particularly helpful for condensing language when the child uses lots of extra words and sentences.

1. Graphic organizers – let her use a visual template to help organize her ideas before writing them down. This can be used for oral language too. There are lots of good ones in Success for all Learners, which is available from Manitoba Education and Training, or you can make your own.

2. Provide examples before asking her to do her own work.

3. Repeat – if she is talking and uses a lot of words to say something simple, repeat it back in as few words as possible. This will model of more succinct language and will encourage her to organize her ideas more concisely.

4. Use the same questions to do the same kinds of activities. For example, you can ask her to describe her day:

  • What happened first?
  • What happened next?
  • And then?
  • What happened last?

or to describe an activity:

  • Who were you with?
  • Where were you?
  • What did you do?
  • What was the best thing about it?
  • What was the worst thing about it?

Using the same set of questions over and over will help her to organize her language.

5. Practice being brief – ask her to write something, but set a limit on the number of words or sentences.

6. Barrier games are great for teaching more organized language. To do a barrier game, supply two sets of material. In partners, each person tries to make the same thing without seeing what the other person is doing. For example, both draw the same thing or colour a picture the same way. A barrier between the partners stops them from seeing each other’s drawing, and forces them to use words to describe the drawing to the other person.

Help Me Talk Better

Some children talk like younger children. Some make lots of mistakes when they talk. There are some simple ways we can help them develop their language skills.

Talk to them as often as possible. Talk about what they are doing at that moment. If they are playing, talk about what they are playing with. If you are looking at pictures together, talk about the pictures that catch their eye. If it is dinner time, talk about what they are eating and what their favourite foods are. Use sentences that are the same length as theirs, or a little bit longer. If your child uses 2 to 4-word sentences and you reply using 12-word sentences, they may lose interest! Likewise, you can use new words but not too many at a time.

If they say something, but incorrectly, repeat it back correctly. This way they hear the correct form of what they just said. If they say something correctly, repeat it back to reinforce their good language skills. You can also add a word or two to what they just said, to help them use longer sentences.

If they make the same mistakes often, you can teach them the correct way of saying it by using the structure you want them to use. If they say “he” for “she,” you can make lots of sentences about a female family member using “she.” (“Oh, look! Mom’s home. She is back from work. She looks tired. She looks happy though. She is happy to be home.”) To an adult, this may sound boring and stilted, but to a child it can simplify language enough to make learning to talk a little easier.

To give them the best chance of benefiting from your language models, face them and place yourself at their level. If they are a lot smaller than you, you might put them in a bigger chair and take the small one for yourself. Eliminate background noise, or reduce it as much as possible. Speak a little more slowly and clearly than usual. It is also important to pause often, to allow them to participate in the conversation.

One activity that is especially helpful for language development is looking at photos together, especially photos of events in the child’s life. Most children love looking at themselves and their family! You can label the photos so that they hear a consistent language model each time they look at the photos. When the label gets too simple, you can replace it with more advanced language. One family I know has a blog with lots of photos of events in their life. There are also apps available for tablets such as the iPad that help put photo albums together, such as Story Creator and Pictello. They make it easy to label the photos for consistent language stimulation.

The most important thing about activities for language learning is that they have to be fun. Children learn best when they are enjoying themselves.

I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.

Transitioning With ASDs

I saw a really sweet little girl with autism today. We had a great time playing with this ball. Her mom had the brilliant idea to take a photo of the ball so that when they come back, she can show her the photo. Then she’ll remember the fun we had, and want to come back. This is a great example of using visual supports for children with autism, and also of transitioning towards the next activity instead of emphasizing stopping the current activity.

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.

Speaking Spontaneously

I see a number of children who can talk, but they repeat what they have heard other people say. This is called echolalia. Here are a few things that you can do to help a child who echos but doesn’t speak spontaneously:

  • Break apart the chunks – if they repeat a sentence often, say different parts of it back to them. If they say “Have some milk,” you can say “Milk. Mmm, milk is good. I want some milk. I’ll have some milk now.”
  • Accept any communication – gestures, sounds, echolalia. Pay close attention to what your child is telling you. Respond to their message. At the same time, model how to say it in words.
  • Say things as you would like your child to say them. This teaches your child to communicate in a way that other people understand.
  • Model language that is a bit more advanced than your child’s spontaneous communication. If they only echo, and don’t have any spontaneous phrases or sentences, model 1 – 3 word phrases.
  • Spend lots of time interacting with your child.
  • Do the same thing your child is doing, and talk about it.
  • Play the same game several times, and then stop part way through. This encourages your child to communicate that they want you to continue.
  • Put some preferred objects out of reach, or in clear but in tough-to-open containers. This encourages requests.
  • Make funny or interesting changes to your child’s surroundings. Wear a funny hat or put a shoe on the table. This encourages comments.
  • Work on lots of different reasons for communicating: to keep a game going, to refuse, to ask for more, to request an action, to request an object.

In the past, people discouraged children from echoing, but now we know that it can lead to spontaneous language. Encourage all speech!

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.

Talking More

Some little children seem to know what they want to say, but it is really hard for them to get their mouths to cooperate! They say few words, and the ones they say are pretty difficult to understand. This may be due to a difficulty coordinating the movements for speech. See if these suggestions help:

  • Pick a few words and short phrases to model during an activity.
  • Say them as often as you can.
  • Say them slowly. Occasionally say them very slowly.
  • If your child makes a sound, repeat it. If they say a word, repeat it correctly. If they take another turn, keep it going as long as you can.
  • If they say a few words, do activities that encourage them to say those words. If they say “Mom” and “Dad,” look at photos of “Mom” and “Dad” together. If they say “eyes,” look at lots of creatures together, pointing to their eyes.
  • Reduce pressure to talk. One way to do this is to ask fewer questions.
  • Start sentences for your child to complete: “Oh look! It’s a _____” is easier and more encouraging than “What’s that?” for many children. If you don’t get an answer you can finish the sentence yourself and keep playing.
  • Pause frequently, so that your child can choose whether or not to take a turn.
  • Watch them closely and interpret their gestures and sounds. Model what they seem to be saying, without asking them to say it.
  • Sing songs, do nursery rhymes and read simple books – the same ones as often as possible, and as slowly as possible. Slowing down reduces pressure and makes it easier to coordinate the movements for speech.

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. We provide services in English and French for children and adults to help with speech, language, swallowing and memory.

The Link Between Paying Attention and Learning

Some children have difficulty paying attention. Sometimes they have difficulty staying in one spot for longer than a few seconds. Sometimes they get so focused on what they are doing that they have trouble shifting their attention. They may miss much of what you say. They may miss the beginnings of sentences or words. Here are some suggestions that will help small children to pay attention:

  • Follow your child’s focus of attention. Talk about what interests them. This helps them connect your language to their actions.
  • Speak slowly. Repeat new words in a few different sentences.
  • Minimize distractions. Shutting off appliances, shut off the radio, and shut off the TV. Have only one or two toys available at a time.
  • Do not get your child to shift attention too often. If you direct their attention to something else, give them time to shift their attention before talking about it.
  • A gentle tap on the shoulder may be a better way of getting them to shift their attention than just talking.
  • Talk to your child face to face, at the same level. It is much easier to pay attention to someone who is “in your face.” If you are holding an object and talking about it, bring it close to your face so that your child can pay attention to it and to you at the same time.
  • Use lots of gestures and facial expression as well as an animated voice to get your child’s attention.
  • Use what your child is interested in to capture their attention. For example, many small children like to open and close containers. Put small objects or pictures into clear containers with lids – then talk about them as your child opens and closes the containers.

I hope these suggestions were helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. We provide services in English and French for children and adults to help with speech, language, swallowing and memory.

Early Language Stimulation

It is easy to talk to a chatty child who engages in conversation easily. It’s a lot harder when children don’t talk much – and especially if they don’t talk at all.

If they don’t talk yet, you can use single words and short phrases to talk about what they are interested in. Observe what they are looking at or what they are doing. Talk about that! Getting down to their eye level will help you to know what they’re interested in, and will also help them to see and hear you better. I like to sit in a smaller chair and put my little clients in a bigger chair, so that we can see eye to eye. With some of my smallest clients, they sit facing me while I lie down on the floor!

It helps to speak slowly and to pause often, to give them more time to understand and respond to what you say. Switch off anything that makes noise so that they can hear you clearly. Repeat the same words often to give them more chances to learn words and sentence structures.

They may already communicate by using gestures or noises, like pointing to what they want. You can imitate what they are doing to encourage them to keep using gestures and noises, and to let them know that they are effective communicators. You can also use a word or phrase to say the same thing. It is always helpful to model language that is just a step more complex than they are using. Don’t get too complex, though – you may lose their interest!

If they are starting to talk a little, pay close attention to what they say and respond to it. Repeat what they say as well, adding a word or two. Short, simple, correct phrases help. Give them lots of opportunities to use the words that they already say. For instance, if they can say “uh oh,” take turns dropping things on the floor and saying “uh oh.”

It’s tempting to pressure a child to talk, but pressure often makes children less likely to talk. It’s important for children to feel relaxed for their brains to work optimally!

Is “baby talk” helpful? Talking to children in an animated way, with lots of facial expression and a voice that captures their attention, is definitely helpful. It tells them that you are talking to them! And it gives them information about the sound system and helps to highlight important words, too. One word of warning, though – some people change the sounds of the language when they use “baby talk.” It is always best to model correct speech and language for children.

Hearing is crucial for language development, so if you have concerns, get your child’s hearing checked. Even fluctuating hearing loss from ear infections can affect a child’s ability to learn language. Talk to your doctor about a referral to audiology as a first step to making sure your child can hear well.

I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.


Starting a New School Year

Transitions can be difficult for anyone, and especially for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, including Asperger Syndrome. The new school year is a major transition – even more so if a child is changing schools.

Many children with ASDs have areas of intense interest. Whether they are trains, LEGO, fireworks, primates, or art, their interests can help the new school year get off to a great start. Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz describe how to use special interests to achieve a variety of goals in Just Give Him the Whale, an excellent resource book. Some ideas to try:

  • Paste photos related to an interest in the child’s agenda and in notebooks or binders.
  • Use magnets to post pictures related to the interest in the child’s locker.
  • Work the interest into lessons.
  • Ask questions about the interest during class, to give the child a chance to shine and to be known.
  • Ask all the children in the class to make a short presentation about anything that interests them.
  • Let the child start a club related to the interest.
  • Have materials related to the interest handy to help the child to calm down in times of stress.

Simply asking about their interest can help you connect with the child, and get the new year off to a great start. We often hesitate to let a child talk about their interest, because we want them to talk about other things, too. Show an interest in what is important to the child, and they will more easily show an interest in others.