Help Children to Participate in Conversation

For some children, difficulty communicating makes it hard to participate in conversation. Other children are hesitant to participate in conversation because they are introverted, shy or anxious. It’s important to encourage children to participate in conversation – by participating more they improve their conversational skills and become more comfortable conversing.

Here are some ways to encourage children to participate in conversation:

  • 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.
  • Provide pictures or visual supports, such as pictures of past events or a 5-point scale, to help them participate in a conversation.
  • 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.
  • Consider enrolling them in a social communication group, such as SpeechWorks’ Connect & Communicate groups. In these groups, we provide a caring environment with lots of support. We teach communication skills using direct instruction, and then we practice the skills in fun activities.

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 is tons of fun! Dressing up, trick-or-treating, and getting candy all add to the excitement. It can be tricky, though, for children with autism.

Halloween is special – it’s different from any other day! Children dress up, go door to door, and yell “Trick or Treat!” For some children, this may be too far from their regular, predictable routine. They might not know what we expect them to do, which can be stressful. On the other hand, they may know exactly what to do – so long as everyone does what they expect. Not everyone follows the same script on Halloween though. Some people give out toothbrushes instead of candy! This might confuse or upset some children.

It’s fun when children come to the door and yell “Trick or Treat!” Most people also like it when children say “Thank you,” and even chat a bit. Children don’t often stay long enough to have a good chat, but it’s still fun to exchange a few words. Some children have trouble communicating, though. Some speak like younger children. Others use a device to speak. Some don’t understand spoken language. Some can talk to people they know, but find talking to strangers stressful.

Halloween is a treat for the senses. There are lots of unusual sights, sounds, and sometimes even smells. Yet this isn’t always fun. Some children have trouble making sense of what they see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Costumes are sometimes itchy. Some children hate to wear masks. Others cannot tolerate makeup. It’s hard to find a costume that is not too hot or too cold. If that is not enough, the other children yelling “Trick or Treat” may be too loud. Some houses have loud, scary music or noises, as well.

Changes in routine, problems communicating, and sensory differences can all make Halloween tricky. If we plan ahead, we can make Halloween less of a trick and more of a treat for all children. Here are some tips that might help your child:

Help them know what to expect

Talk about what will happen on Halloween. Show your child what to expect using photos, pictures or even videos. Read books and do Haloween-themed activities. Relate Halloween to a favourite activity – if your child loves to colour, then give them Halloween colouring sheets. If they love cooking, make some Halloween treats together. If they’re fascinated by maps, look at the planned route for Halloween.  You could even pick a costume related to something they’re passionate about.

Write about Halloween from your child’s perspective, and read it with them at least a few times. This lets the child rehearse what will happen, much as an athlete mentally rehearses before a big game. Try to use “I” sentences, and use language at your child’s level. Describe what will happen, when and where, who will be there, and how and why it will happen. Write about what your child should do, keeping the language positive. Describe how they might feel. Stories that are written in your child’s voice to help them figure out social situations are called social storiesTM (or personal stories). You can find out more about social stories from Carol Gray, who originally developed them, or from Autism Canada. Speech and Language Kids has a blog post describing how to create a social story for Halloween, with a sample story that you can modify for your child.

If your child has trouble communicating, practice what they will say on Halloween. If they can talk, practice yelling “Trick or treat” and saying “Hello” and “Thank you.” If they don’t speak, think about how they will communicate when they go door-to-door. Do you need to program some Halloween phrases into their communication device? Should they hand people a card that says “I can’t talk but I wanted to say ‘thank you'”? You can find business cards that explain ASD here. This can help children even if they usually can talk to people, since they may have trouble talking in such a novel situation!

Consider having a couple of practice runs before Halloween. Your child can dress up and go to one or two friends’ houses. This will help prepare your child. You might also find out more about what is tricky about trick-or-treating, so you can be better prepared for the real day.

Make Halloween simpler

Consider trick-or-treating at the mall. It is helpful for children who find bulky costumes uncomfortable. It also helps those who are afraid of the dark – let alone the witches and vampires out there!

Another possibility is going to a small number of houses. Ask friends to make it easier for your child – let them know about your child’s needs. If you are going to more houses, think about putting a note in mailboxes with your child’s photo and some helpful hints to make Halloween a joyful, fun time.

If your child is not ready to go door-to-door, you could trick-or-treat at home! Pretend each room is a different house. 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 for staying home is handing out treats to kids who come to the door. What a great opportunity to practice greetings, compliments, and sharing. That could be especially helpful for children who need predictability and control, or for those who have trouble going up and down all those steps. It’s something you can do together, too.

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.

Help your child stay safe

Make sure that your child knows how to be safe. Here are some Halloween safety tips adapted from Manitoba Public Insurance:

  • Cross at stop signs or lights.
  • Avoid crossing where there are parked cars.
  • Look all ways for traffic before crossing the street.
  • Wait for traffic to stop completely. Make sure drivers see you before crossing.
  • Always walk across the street.
  • Be extra careful when it’s wet or icy. Traffic cannot stop quickly.
  • Make sure you can see and be seen. Wear a light-coloured costume. Avoid masks that make it hard to see.

Celebrate success!

Take lots of photos of your child having fun. Let them know what they did well, and remind them of the fun they had. That way, trick-or-treating will be even less tricky next year!

Happy Halloween from all of us at SpeechWorks Inc!

Stephanie Harvey, RSLP, MA, SLP (C)

Stephanie Harvey, RSLP, MA, SLP (C), is a Speech-Language Pathologist at SpeechWorks Inc. She runs Connect & Communicate groups to help children, teens and adults to develop social language skills, and provides individual speech and language assessment and treatment in English and French. Contact her today at 204-231-2165 to book an appointment.



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.

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.

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.

Stephanie Harvey, Speech-Language Pathologist

I love helping people to speak and understand so they can live the life they love. I  specialize in post-stroke communication disorders including Aphasia, and social communication difficulties (often related to Autism Spectrum Disorders) in both adults and children. I am passionate about supporting parents, partners, siblings, peers, professionals – anyone else who supports people with communication challenges. I run Connect & Communicate groups for children and teens to help them communicate socially, so they can connect with friends and family.

Fluent in English and French (and I try hard in lots of other languages!), I worked for the Franco-Manitoban School Division for 16 years, which contributed to my extensive experience working with bilingual clients.

I am registered with the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Manitoba and certified by Speech and Audiology Canada.

MedicAlert regularly invites me to write for their newsletter. Here are my recent articles:

Contact me today!