Help Children to Participate in Conversation

Difficulty communicating may make children hesitant to talk, making it hard for them to participate in conversation. That can lead to missing out on valuable opportunities to practice communication skills. It’s a vicious cycle!

You can encourage a children to participate
in conversation! Here’s how:

  • Develop your relationship with them. This will make them more comfortable talking to you.
  • Talk to them as often as possible. Talk about things that interest them, or what they are doing or looking at in the moment.
  • Place yourself at their level, or even a little bit lower than them.  This can make them feel more comfortable. It’s usually best to face them, but some children feel more comfortable sitting next to an adult.
  • Use a soft, inviting voice.
  • Pause often to let them talk, but do not pressure them to do so.
  • Make lots of comments, since comments invite children to participate in a conversation without pressuring them to do so. Limit questions, since some children feel lots of pressure when we ask a lot of questions. Avoid telling children directly that they have to say something (Say “please” / Tell grandma what happened yesterday.)
  • Some children will finish your sentence if you start a sentence and pause before the end (I love cookies! You love…)
  • Reduce the stress of answering questions by giving choices. (What would you like to drink – water or milk?)
  • Support the child’s communication by accepting all of the ways that they communicate – gestures, sounds, words, drawings. When children look at an object or point to it, they are telling us something and it is our job to try to interpret the message.
  • At the same time, say what they would say if they could. Do not ask them to repeat. Just model words and sentences for them as often as possible.
  • Avoid criticizing them or criticizing the way they talk.
  • Look for situations in which they feel comfortable talking, and increase these situations. They may like playing board games, looking at pictures in books and naming them, singing songs, or talking about their friends. Increase their opportunities to do the things that motivate them to talk.

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. Contact us today!

Repetitive Questions – What to do when your child asks the same thing again and again

There are lots of reasons why a child might ask the same thing over and over. Understanding why can help you figure out what to do about it. Children may ask questions repetitively because

  • Other people use lots of questions to interact with them.
  • They have trouble saying what they want to say.
  • They have trouble knowing how to get someone’s attention, or how to start or continue a conversation.
  • They need to know the answer to the question. They may not remember the answer you have already given.
  • They feel more secure when they hear the answer again, and it hasn’t changed.
  • They feel more capable since the question itself lets them show their knowledge.
  • They can avoid doing something else by asking this question!

We can help children not to ask the same thing over and over!

  • Make lots of comments about what you see and do together, to model other ways of communicating.
  • Teach your child to talk about more topics. Looking at photos together is a wonderful way of talking about a variety of topics.
  • Use visual schedules and other visual supports to help your child feel secure.
  • Remind them of the answer and then make a related comment.
  • If they repeat excessively, tell them that they can only ask a question x number of times. After that you will ignore the question. Reduce the number gradually.
  • Occasionally, repeat the question to give your child a chance to answer the question instead of asking it again.
  • Do an activity together that makes it easy for your child to participate, such as a simple game with pictures to support their participation.
  • If your child reads, write the answer on a paper. Then you can show them the answer if they ask again.
  • Tell them that you already answered that question, “but we can talk about ____________.”

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. Contact us today!

I am not you! Pronoun Use

I recently posted these suggestions on FaceBook when asked how to help a child use pronouns correctly. The child has Autism Spectrum Disorder and is using “you” for “I” and “she” for “he.” I thought they might be useful for lots of children!

  • Use photos of the child, myself and other people, which makes showing the child how to use “I” and “you” easier. You can use speech bubbles to write out what each of the people in the photos is saying. Videos can also be really powerful, especially if you can get the child to use pronouns correctly and videotape them doing so – children with ASD learn better by watching a video of themselves doing something successfully than a video of someone else. Lots and lots of gestures help too.
  • To target the distinction between “he” and “she,” you could add lots of photos of girls and boys but make them really explicitly boys and girls – some kids on the spectrum are not very aware of gender. Playing turn-taking games (I like the Peaceable Kingdom ones) gives lots of opportunities for practice.
  • You can encourage the child to use “I” by just telling them directly, but then give lots of opportunities for practice. Cues (hints) that give less support lead to more spontaneous language use: from least to most support I use commenting, asking a question, giving support, giving a hint, making a suggestion, and telling your child exactly what to say.

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. Contact us today!

Social Communication


IMG_0285Social communication helps people to have conversations, get along with peers, have good relationships and succeed at work. Social communication can be difficult for people diagnosed with Social Communication Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Delay, or Non-verbal Learning Disability. Some people have no diagnosis, but come across as shy, awkward, or even rude. They may start a conversation in an unusual way, such as “What colour is your car?” They may talk a lot but only about a subject that interests them. They may have difficulty looking at people when they are talking. Or they may just walk away abruptly at the end of a conversation.

Social communication skills come naturally to most people. If they don’t come naturally, they can be taught! It helps to teach the skills directly with visual support, followed by an in-person or video demonstration. Practicing the skill is key to being able to use it in day-to-day life. Group programs give the opportunity to learn with peers, to have fun, and to get lots of practice. Volunteers add to the fun and provide even more opportunities for practice.

I love running our Connect & Communicate groups for children, teens and adults to work on social communication! I also see clients individually to work on social language.
Call us today at 204-231-2165 to find out more!

Halloween and Autism

Halloween can be tricky for trick-or-treaters with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and related conditions. It is outside of the normal routine, and there are lots of surprises. They may have difficulty knowing what behaviour is expected at Halloween. They may also have such rigid expectations that when someone acts a bit differently (giving out toothbrushes instead of candy, or asking them to sing a song), they may not know what to do. They may have difficulty communicating with a wide range of people. Children with ASD often have sensory issues which make wearing a costume difficult. However, with some planning and understanding, Halloween can be less tricky and more of a treat for everyone.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

Prepare your child for what will happen. Carol Gray’s social stories can help. Here is a blog post from Speech and Language Kids about how to create a social story for Halloween, with a sample story that you can modify for your child.

Talk to your child about expected behaviour. Look at books about Halloween and talk about what kids are expected to do, and what we expect adults to do.

Practice the language that you want them to use at Halloween. If they can talk, practice yelling “Trick or treat” and saying “Hello” and “Thank you.” If they are non-speaking, think about how they will communicate when they go door-to-door. Do you need to program a few phrases into their communication device, especially for Halloween? Would it help to have a little card to hand people that says “I can’t talk but I wanted to say ‘thank you'”? You can also find business cards that explain ASD here. This can help children even if they usually can talk to people, since they may find it more difficult to talk in such a stressful and novel situation!

Consider trick-or-treating at the mall or only at a few people’s houses. You can talk to people beforehand about your child’s needs and about how to make them feel comfortable. You can do this individually, or consider putting flyers in your neighbours’ mailboxes with a photo of your child and what will help them have a successful and joyful Halloween.

You could even stay home and trick-or-treat at home – you could pretend each room in the house is a different house and pass treats out. That way they can practice knocking on the door, saying “Trick or treat!” and being polite, but in the comfort of their own home with familiar people! (Thanks to Amy Lorraine Davidson for the home trick-or-treat suggestion!)

Another option is to stay home and hand out treats to kids who come to the door. What a great opportunity to practice greetings, compliments, and sharing. That could be an especially good option for children who need more predictability and control or who have trouble going up and down all those steps.

Let your child wear a costume that is comfortable for them. This may take some creativity! Some children do better with makeup, others with decorations stuck to their regular clothes.

Consider having a couple of practice runs before Halloween, too – where your child puts on a costume and goes to one or two friends’ houses. This will help prepare your child and may also make it more apparent what is likely to cause difficulties at Halloween.

As your children grow more independent, make sure that they know how to be safe. Here are Manitoba Public Insurance’s road safety rules:

  • Look all ways for traffic before crossing the street.
  • Never cross between parked cars.
  • Always walk – never run – across the street.
  • Take care when crossing at traffic signs and stop signs. Pedestrians should wait for approaching vehicles to come to a complete stop and wait for drivers to see them.
  • Remember that cars cannot stop quickly in wet or icy conditions.

They also ask parents to be cautious of masks that may obscure a child’s vision and of dark costumes that may be difficult for drivers to see. Walk with your kids or have them travel in groups. (letter from MPI to Manitoba parents, 2015)

Happy Halloween from all of us at SpeechWorks Inc! We provide a variety of services for children and adults with ASD and their caregivers, including our Connect & Communicate groups for children and teens who have difficulty getting along with peers, individual therapy, and workshops for parents and professionals. Please contact us at 204-231-2165 or to discuss our services.


Movement Can Help

Some children learn more easily if they move. Sometimes, sitting at a table and naming cards or playing a board game is not the best way to work on speech or language. Here are some ways to integrate movement into working on speech or language:

  • Get your child to jump  – each time they jump, they say a word or sentence.
  • If they are playing on a slide, get them to say a word or sentence before going up the stairs.
  • If they are on a swing, face them and catch them once every few swings. Get them to say a word or sentence before you let them go.
  • If they enjoy throwing things, have a container with balls (or even scrunched up paper) that they can throw into a basket. Get them to say a word or sentence before giving them a ball.
  • Get them to say a word or sentence, and each time they do they get to do a movement. This is more fun if you make some movement cards and mix them up. Movement cards could be things like “Jump 3 times.” “Walk to the wall and back.” “Touch the floor.” This also works with yoga cards.

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.

Bilingual Language Development

Research is clear that speaking more than one language with a child does not cause language disorders. In fact, some areas of language develop more quickly if children speak more than one language. However, some children hesitate to talk in a language even if they understand it. Here are some suggestions to help children to express themselves in your language:
  • Take every opportunity to speak your language to your child. Speak about what interests them.
  • Face your child and place yourself at their level. Make lots of comments and minimize questions, because some children feel lots of pressure when we ask questions.
  • During conversation, repeat back what your child has said, but in your language. Do not make your child repeat, because that may embarrass or frustrate them.
  • Avoid criticizing your child’s way of talking, and avoid criticizing others when they are speaking your language. 
  • Expose your child to as many people as possible who speak your language. It is helpful if they are exposed to the language in many different contexts.
  • If your child is just beginning to express themselves in your language, give them choices verbally, and at the same time, show them an object or a picture for each choice. While you ask “Would you like cereal or toast?” show them the cereal and the toast so that they can point to the one they want.
  • Start a sequence such as counting, saying the days of the week, saying the months of the year, and pause to allow your child to say the next item.
  • Say a sentence and pause before the last word to allow your child to complete the sentence.
  • Look for activities that your child enjoys in your language, such as games, reading or singing.
  • Repeat the same books, songs and finger plays often.
  • Photographs are a wonderful tool for developing language. Make a book of photos (You can use printed photos or use an app to add text to photos). Most children enjoy looking at photos of themselves or their family. Adding text allows you to repeat words and phrases, which makes it easier for your child to remember them.

If you are interested in more technical information about bilingual language development, here is a nice article:

Myths About Early Childhood Bilinguilism

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.

Word Finding

Some children have lots to say but they seem to have trouble finding their words. They might use general words such as “that thing” instead of more specific ones. They may use related words, such as “dog” for “cat.” They may use gestures instead of words. They may describe what they are talking about instead of naming it: “You know, the round thing that you bounce.” They may take a long time to express themselves. Children who have word-finding difficulty often have difficulty answering questions, even though they know the answer. They may be very frustrated by their difficulty accessing words.

We can help them! Sometimes we know the word they are looking for. However, if we are too quick to say the word for them, they do not make the brain connections that help them find the word the next time. Here are some things that help make those brain connections, and that therefore help in the long term:

  • Wait a moment to see if they can come up with the word on their own.
  • Give them a choice between 2 words. You can slowly increase the number of words you get them to choose between.
  • Say the first sound or syllable of the word.

If we don’t know the word they are looking for, we can re-start their sentence – just repeat what they just said and then pause. Sometimes this is enough to help them find their words. If that doesn’t work, we can ask them to show us – draw it, mime it, or take us to something that will help us figure it out.

When words are well-organized in the brain, they are easier to find. They are also easier to find when they are connected to lots of other words. Therefore, the following activities may also help:

  • Name as many items in a category, such as animals, as possible.
  • Sort items into categories, such as fruit and vegetables.
  • Think of things you need to do different activities. What do you need to play hockey?

It is no fun getting stuck on words, but try to have fun with the above activities. Children learn best when they are having fun.

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.