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!

Books about Autism Spectrum Disorders

Books about Autism Spectrum Disorders by people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet
Painted Words and Paper Words by Judy Endow
Parallel Play by Tim Page
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Thinking in Pictures and The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin
Nobody Nowhere and Somebody Somewhere by Donna Williams
Aspergirls by Rudy Simone

Books about Autism Spectrum Disorders
Uniquely Human by Barry Prizant
Autistic Logistics by Kate C. Wilde
The Autism Acceptance Book: Being a Friend to Someone with Autism by Ellen Sabin
Alone Together: Making an Asperger Marriage Work by Katrin Bentley

Books to Help You Help People With Autism Spectrum Disorder
More Than Words by Fern Sussman of the Hanen Centre
Talkability by Fern Sussaman of the Hanen Centre
Asperger’s Syndrome and The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood
Asperger’s and Girls by Tony Attwood, Temple Grandin, et al.
Comic Strip Conversations and The New Social Story Book by Carol Gray
Just Give Him the Whale by Paula Kluth & Patrick Schwarz
The Incredible 5-Point Scale by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis
Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety by Nick Dubin
Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments by Brenda Smith Myles and Jack Southwark
Social Skills Success for Students with Autism/Asperger’s by Fred Frankel and Jeffrey Wood
Visual Techniques for Developing Social Skills by Rebecca Moyes
The Hidden Curriculum by Brenda Smith Myles
The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job by Brenda Smith Myles, Judy Endow and Malcolm Mayfield
The Social Success Workbook for Teens by Barbara Cooper and Nancy Windows
Floortime Strategies to Promote Development in Children and Teens: A User’s Guide to the DIR(R) Model by Andrea Davis, Lhahela Isaacson and Michelle Harrell
Movie Time Social Learning by Anna Vagin

Children’s Books about Autism Spectrum Disorders
Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap by Clay Morton & Gail Morton

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.


Voices from the Spectrum

Temple Grandin

Judy Endow

John Elder Robinson 

Sophie Webster

Amy Sequenzia

Ally Grace

Autism Women’s Network

Books by people on the spectrum:

Born on a Blue Day – Daniel Tammet

Painted Words – Judy Endow

Parallel Play – Tim Page

The Reason I Jump – Naoki Higashida

Thinking In Pictures – Temple Grandin

SLP and ASD: a FaceBook conversation about what Speech-Language Pathologists do

Parent I’m curious about what speech pathology has to do with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Do many children with ASD have speech difficulties?

Stephanie Harvey Children with ASD have a broad range of communication abilities, ranging from having subtle social language difficulties to being non-verbal. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) treat all communication disorders. Most of my work with kids with ASD involves working with social language difficulties. These include skills such as starting, continuing and ending a conversation, knowing how to play with other children, paying attention to other people, and expressing emotions. The ideal way to target social language is in a group setting, with lots of opportunities to practice with different people. I run groups for little kids (5-8), kids (8-12), and teens (12-16), and even an all-girls’ group. Most are run in conjunction with an occupational therapist (OT), Jen Fisher. As an SLP, I focus on communication skills. With an OT involved, we can also target thinking flexibly, self-advocacy, sensory integration, emotional regulation, self-awareness and independence. I love doing the group intervention. I want to start one for young adults (18-21) and a francophone group next. I do also work individually with children who have very little speech, and children who have delayed speech or language.

Parent Who knew all that was involved in speech therapy!!? Thanks for all the info, Stephanie! I’d love to know when you have a group for young adults! The poster reminds me of Michelle Garcia Winner. My son and I were at her recent conference and both really liked her. Are you familiar with her work? She was SO spot-on!

Stephanie Harvey Yes, we integrate social thinking into our groups. I love Michelle Garcia Winner, too. I attended her conference – and bought a pile of books there! Jen and I both have years of experience, so we integrate different treatment approaches into our work, depending on the needs of the participants. Our groups for little kids are more active – it’s amazing how many skills can be targeted with an obstacle course! Our groups for teens have more discussion and practice having conversations.

Parent It sounds like you love your work.

Stephanie Harvey Yes, I do!

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.

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.