A while back I wrote about my Most Requested Circle Time Song and while the “We All Go Traveling By” book that my preschoolers fondly refer to as “the bus song” is still a hot pick in my preschool circle times a new song has taken over top spot.
It is called “Can An Elephant Jump” by ELF Learning and it is so entertaining and targets several language skills that lots of my preschoolers are working on. Here is a YouTube video of the song with some cute animation. You can either play the song there or download the whole album here. I bought the whole album because I think they have some great songs and I wanted to be able to play the song during circle time.
The song is fantastic for targeting asking questions, answering yes/no questions and verbs. I created visuals with Boardmaker to go with each part of the song to give my kids visual supports and they love looking at those too. I hope this song stays popular with my preschoolers this year because I never seem to get sick of it unlike some of my other popular songs (I’m looking at you Spider on the Floor!).
**I am not affiliated with ELF Learning and earn no money from them, just a big fan!
My school has a wonderful occupational therapist (OT) who brings in loads of great sensory and fine motor activities to our preschool classrooms. We always say to each other that we should collaborate more but we never get around to doing truly joint speech therapy/occupational therapy sessions for our kids. What I have realized recently though is that our OT is including much more language stimulation in her activities that she ever knew!
The past few weeks I have made a point to stop in a preschool classroom during her OT group time and have realized that many of her activities are a gold mine of language. This week I got put in charge of an activity where the kids had to pick up a small fall themed object (learning fall vocabulary!), scoot across the floor on their tummy on a scooter board ( learning verbs!), and then put the object in a bean bag game board that looked like a jack-o-lantern (learning body part vocabulary!). Next, I was in charge of a game of hitting a balloon with a paddle up in the air back and forth (turn taking, verbs, and prepositions!). I was amazed at how much language is involved in all the OT activities.
In order to add a speech therapy component to these activities is really just a matter of making sure to add language to all the activities by narrating what the kids are doing and picking a language concept or two to emphasize during each activity.
Here are just a few of the language concepts that can be a part of OT activities:
- Action words: many OT activities involve actions – coloring, cutting, jumping, pulling, pushing, digging
- Prepositions: when working on fine motor skills while coloring, writing, digging, etc. there are many opportunities to demonstrate under, on top, around
- Descriptive concepts: our OT has a wealth of sensory objects that are bumpy, soft, rough, wet, and even slimy!
I could go on and on because the possibilities for language stimulation during OT is endless! Keep it up awesome OTs of the world!
Halloween is tomorrow and I realized I forgot to share one of my favorite Halloween/fall themed books to use in speech therapy with my preschoolers! Fortunately, this book is good to use all fall long. While Go Away, Big Green Monster is probably my favorite book to read this time of year, “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything” by Linda Williams is a close second.
It’s a repetitive line book that adds new things on each page as the little old lady is walking home. She encounters shoes that “stomp, stomp”, pants that go “wiggle, wiggle”, and other things until finally she sees the pumpkin head that goes “Boo!” In the end, she uses all the things to make a scarecrow. My kids love imitating the sounds and actions for each of the various items and of course yelling “Boo!”
The book can be used to address a variety of speech therapy goals including imitation, clothing vocabulary, answering questions, and sequencing. One of my preschool classrooms makes a scarecrow just like the one in the book which expands the opportunities for language elicitation even more!
Have a happy and safe Halloween!
Also, see my post about free Halloween speech therapy printable activities here and my free Halloween articulation word searches here.
This YouTube video demonstrates some great skills for caregivers of young children with autism to learn when it comes to encouraging joint play and language skills. A few of the highlights:
- Imitate: One of the best ways to establish a connection with a child with autism is to imitate their actions. Imitation is a core deficit for children with autism so trying to get your child to imitate your actions may often be unsuccessful and frustrating until they have mastered that skill. Instead of trying to get your child to imitate you, copy what they are doing and you may be surprised with the outcome!
- Reduce your language: It’s often our first instinct to think we should inundate our children on the spectrum with lots of words and asking questions to get them using more words. Instead, focus on a few key words relevant to an activity your child is interested in. Make sure to follow your child’s eye gaze so that you know you are giving them words that correspond with what they are looking at. Also, don’t forget to include words other than nouns – action words (“up!”, “go!”) and exclamations (“uh-oh”, weeee!”) are often great words to focus on because they are motivating and fun.
- Choose related toys: If you notice your child enjoys putting items in and taking them out of a familiar toy try to find other toys that have this feature and show your child how to use the new toy. Other aspects of toys that a child may be drawn to are spinning things, items that roll down, and noise making toys. Don’t be too disappointed if you think you have discovered a perfect toy that your child will love only for them to show no interest, that has happened to even the best teachers many times!
I think the most important aspect that the video shows is that “intervention” should be fun for the child and can be implemented by any person – not just therapists and teachers!
An essential language skill that is very difficult for many children with autism to learn naturally is asking questions. It is also not an easy skill to teach! We often work so much with children getting them to answer questions but I think that the skill of asking questions is actually more important. A typically developing child gains loads of language input by asking questions about the world around them while a child with autism who is not asking questions is missing out on all that possible input.
It is possible to teach the skill of asking questions and with spring upon us plastic easter eggs are one of my favorite tools to do it. I start by hiding some motivating objects or stickers in the eggs and drawing the child’s attention to them by shaking the egg. Then provide a model of a question such as “What’s that?” or “What’s inside?” for the child to imitate or if the child is already able to ask questions but needs a prompt I’ll give a gestural prompt like holding my hands up looking confused. When the child has asked a question they get to open the egg and we get excited about what he found inside.
This same type of activity can be replicated using an opaque bag or box with objects inside but for some reason easter eggs just seem to make it a little more fun!
I do a weekly speech therapy circle time/whole group activity in each of the special education preschool classrooms at my school so I am always on the lookout for engaging books and songs. We All Go Traveling By PB w CD (Sing Along With Fred Penner) is both!
The book comes with a CD that includes the song that goes along with the words and pictures in the book. Each page contains the repetitive text of “I spy with my little eye, you can hear with your little ear” and then adds a new vehicle and the sound that vehicle makes. For each vehicle, I use big gross motor movements for the kids to imitate (stomping feet for the rumble rumble of the truck, arms out for the vroom vroom of the plane).
The book is useful in many ways to address speech therapy goals. Working on requesting is a given because when I let kids pick a song, the “bus song” as we call it is usually the first request. The book has also increased the gross motor and verbal imitation skills of many of my students. The last page of the book shows all the vehicles so we use it to work on question asking and answering (“What’s your favorite?”).
The best part of this book is its amazing ability to capture the attention and bring out more communication from preschoolers of all different skill levels! The song is catchy so don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming it in the shower!
As a speech pathologist working with preschoolers with autism of various communication levels I get lots of questions from parents and teachers about when we should use pictures to help a student communicate. My answer: All the time! One thing I hear a lot is “but he’s verbal he doesn’t need pictures” and I happen to disagree. For students with autism, especially those that are just starting to use words, pictures can be a tremendous support to expanding their communication.
The most common way to use pictures is to request items using the sentence structure of “I + want + item” which can be used for children who are just starting to put words together. You can see one of my little guys using pictures to make a request here. Prior to introducing picture supports to him, he was able to make many one word requests but was having a hard time learning to combine words. Giving him the visual supports seems to have given him the boost that he needed and he is now combining many more words in his expressive language even when picture supports aren’t present.
It’s very important to realize that we can use picture supports for many more language forms than just requesting items. We can also use them for requesting and commenting on actions by providing pictures representing subjects, verbs, and objects. Once a child starts to learn that they can combine nouns and verbs to express requests and comments they are on their way to using true generative language.
The picture above shows a placemat for a student to use during snacktime that helps her make requests and comments relating to actions that may occur during snack. To use it she selects a subject (i.e. herself or a teacher), a verb (i.e. open, eat, pour), and an object (i.e. milk, crackers) and puts the pictures on a velcro sentence strip. This type of placemat can be modified to a child’s level to be one or two word combinations also.
Another way to work on word combinations using verbs is to use pictures of the student and familiar people involved in various actions. We work with the child to create phrases using the subject + verb + object structure. Kids often love looking at pictures of themselves and peers so I have found this activity to be very engaging for many kids. Because it is difficult for many children with autism to make spontaneous comments, the picture supports give them the structure and support they need to begin creating phrases to comment and describe actions.
These are just a few ways that we use picture supports to help expand verbal language. Hopefully they have helped to demonstrate why we should continue to provide picture supports to students even once they start using words.
When I started as a speech pathologist working with student’s with autism no one ever told me I should have gotten a degree in behavioral techniques as well! Thank goodness I have been able to work alongside teachers and aides skilled in applied behavioral analysis and structured teaching so I could pick up lots of their tips and tricks. Here are some of my favorite strategies for getting the most out of my kids and preventing tantrums:
- Relinquish control (but not really): Provide the child with two choices that are both acceptable to you (i.e. Do you want to get dressed or brush your teeth first?). Children with autism (and really any child or even adults!) like to think they are in control. By providing choices instead of giving a direction or asking a question that is sure to get a “no” answer, the child feels they have control and is more likely to move forward in the activity.
- First…then: When I run up against a child resisting an activity, I always back up to the “first…then” strategy because it is so simple and frequently effective. To implement “first…then” you need to identify a reinforcing activity or object then either verbally and/or paired with visual supports state “first (fill in non-preferred activity)…then (fill in preferred activity or reinforcer)”. Make sure your description is short and clear so the child has a clear idea of what they must do prior to getting their preferred activity or object.
- Show me the schedule: Visual schedules can be helpful to reduce anxiety and help a child with autism anticipate what is coming next. I use visual schedules in a variety of ways that have proved helpful in reducing behavior issues.
- Activity Schedule: pictures of each activity we will be completing, can be predetermined by me or collaboratively with the student to take turns picking activities
- Within Activity Schedule: pictures showing the steps of an activity or craft (i.e. first color the picture, then cut the picture, then glue the pieces)
- Momentum is your friend: Pair a hard task with a few easy tasks to take advantage of positive momentum. I think of this of tricking the child into providing the desired response before they can think “Hey! I don’t want to do that!” or “That’s too hard!” For example, to get a child to follow the direction to sit down, first give easy/fun directions then give the direction to sit down as the final direction (i.e. “Clap your hands! Tap your head! Sit Down! Hooray!”)
- Everyone can use a little reinforcement: Using a reinforcement chart or “penny chart” can help a child visually see what they can earn by doing a certain behavior. Make sure that the desired behavior is clear to the child by providing visuals and other prompts. One of my favorite forms of behavior charts for kids is printing a picture of the desired reinforcer and cutting it into puzzle pieces relating to the amount of pieces the child will have to earn to get the reinforcer. Each time the child performs the desired behavior they get a puzzle piece to glue or velcro and when all the puzzle pieces have been earned the child gets the reinforcer. (Update: the puzzle piece reinforcer is shown here)
I am still a work in progress when it comes to being a behavior expert but using these strategies have helped my speech therapy sessions become more peaceful and productive! I think with a little bit of practice they can be easy applied by parents, teachers, and speech pathologists alike!
One of my favorite books for preschool speech therapy is If You See a Kitten by John Butler. The book has helped me elicit sounds and words from some of my most reluctant talkers. Each page has an adorable illustration of an animal along with an exclamation you can say when you see that animal. The kids love yelling “peee-youuu!” when they see the pig, “yuck!” at the slug, and all the other silly exclamations in the book.
The book is great for working on commenting and expanding utterances with kids with autism or language delays. It is also helpful for eliciting sounds with kids who are just starting to communicate.
Many of my preschoolers with language delays or autism are learning how to ask and answer questions. A resource that I have found that works well for targeting questions is the Question of the Day Chart Kit from Lakeshore Learning.
The kit comes with 100 different question cards and corresponding possible answer cards covering a few different topics such as family, animals, and yes/no questions. The activity is great for working on answering questions, asking questions, and vocabulary.
I like to use the chart during circle time in the preschool classrooms. I begin by reviewing the question of the day and the answer choices then I draw a name out of a bag. That student comes forward and chooses his/her answer and picks another name out of the bag. The student then goes and asks the next student the question of the day. This continues until all the students have had a turn. During the course of the activity, the students get numerous models for answering and asking questions.
I also have extended the activity beyond the questions that come with kit by creating my own question and answer cards that relate to whatever the classroom’s theme is for the week (i.e. this week’s theme is community helpers so I printed out pictures of a policeman, firefighter, and mailman to go along with the question “What community helper do you want to be when you grow up?”). I use the Boardmaker computer program to quickly make pictures but Clipart would work just as well.
This kit can also be great as a home activity for any child who needs extra support to ask and answer questions. I recommend to parents that they create name cards for each member of the family and have the child ask each person the question. Of course you don’t need the kit to create this type of activity but I find it to be a good starting point.