How to Learn Idioms

Using Google search images to teach idioms, I found some interesting pictures.

Keep your nose to the grindstone





This devise was immediately recognized by my student, so she could imagine how this idiom could mean to continue working very hard, without stopping.

Break the ice was harder because it can’t be taken literally to initiate social interchanges and conversation.  But it did launch a discussion of the childhood game, Don’t Break the Ice,





and that got us into Walking on thin ice, which means you are on the verge of getting into some trouble or some danger.





Recommendation: Search images (pictures) to learn idiomatic expressions. Don’t just memorize idioms. Try to imagine the situations where you can use different idioms. That will help you remember. There are lots of websites that list idioms and give their definitions, too.  Here is one to get you started.


Communicate Successfully with 2 Choices

Children with autism usually have language problems, both understanding and speaking. One way to help them is to be aware of how you ask your questions to them.

Open-ended questions can be very difficult, so I recommend, whenever possible, you ask questions using two choices. For example, when talking to your child about lunch, avoid open-ended questions. Do not say “What do you want to eat?”

Instead give two choices, like “Would you like to have a toasted cheese sandwich OR a peanut butter and jelly?” (2-choice question). Your child will be more successful in responding. By giving him 2 choices you have focused the ideas for him. Be sure to pause for his reply.

It is normal for children with autism to need a few extra moments to process what they heard and form a response.

For non-verbal children, using pictures (picture icons), you can hold 2 pictures up and give the choice that way. Say “Do you want (picture 1) OR (picture 2)?” Hopefully he will point to, or reach, one for his choice.

You can do this with activities, “Do you want to read a book OR watch a DVD?”

With getting dressed, “Do you want to wear your blue shirt OR red shirt?”

There  are many situations where you’re asking your child questions. Help him be more successful by giving him two choices.

ESL vs. Pronunciation

ESL (English as a Second Language) is the study of English that focuses on vocabulary, grammar and basic English pronunciation.   Students of ESL learn listening, speaking, reading and writing of English.  

Pronunciation, also called Accent Reduction or Accent Modification, is an advanced study refining the pronunciation of the sounds of English, as well as speech rhythm, stress patterns, intonation, reduced word forms and word-linking.

It is a companion to, not a replacement for ESL lessons.  And all levels of students (beginner, intermediate and advanced) can benefit for accent training.  Many students of pronunciation say it helps them to understand English better because it helps them to hear many sounds in English that they were unaware of before.

How’s My Child Doing?

developmental milestonesIf you’ve ever asked “how’s my child doing?” you are interested in knowing if he or she is developing like other kids his or her age. After years in Early Intervention, I learned to look at children’s growth and development in a more holistic way than just looking at speech and language. I’d like to recommend the best way to know how your child is doing is to look at developmental milestones. Researchers and educators have compiled the most common skills that kids are likely to develop at certain ages. When looking at a development chart, always find your child’s age (on the left of the chart in the link below). A little delay or advance can be normal, but if your child shows a big delay you may want to get help. The areas of development parents should look at include:

  • Communication
  • Social Skills
  • Self-Help Skills
  • Motor Skills
  • Academic Skills

Below is a link to a comprehensive developmental chart for children from birth – 8 years. For additional help, contact me or a professional in your area.

Milestones Checklist – corrected link – added 4/22/15

Which Language to Use at Home?

bi-lingual familiesFrom time to time, I meet a family with a bi-lingual home where the child is not talking yet.  The parents often tell me that they have been advised, by well-meaning adults like the child’s preschool teacher or pediatrician, to give up one language and concentrate on the other one (usually English).

This is a mistake.  As a therapist  I would recommend your child have access to your native language for learning first.   Especially if you know and use the proper grammar and vocabulary of your first language.  You will be the best role model for them in your native language.  Children need an accurate foundational language.  Then they will be in a better position to learn a new language.   If you are speaking Spanish, Chinese or some other language in the home, while living in an English-speaking country (like here in the U.S. for example) your children will likely get English exposure through television, school and community activities.  When living in an English-speaking community, learning English should be fairly easy for children age 7 and under.  If you have older children they may need a tutor, and that’s often easy to determine by how well they are doing in school.

Are you speaking English with proper grammar and vocabulary and pronunciation?  If you are not, I recommend that you continue your native language with your children at home.  Children will benefit from hearing English from native English speakers.  Generally though, most children  have little difficulty learning and functioning in two (or more!) languages.

As they grow, if you continue living in an English-speaking community, you will find your children may resist talking in their native language.  But it is important for you to keep speaking your native language with them.  When you speak to your teenagers in your native language they will probably respond in English.  That’s okay.  Most teenagers grow up into adults who come to understand and appreciate their parent’s rules and decisions, so they come to appreciate your native language after they get into their 20’s.  Just think of your bi-lingual home as a gift you give to your children.    They are many benefits for children being bilingual, including increased intellectual growth, and better job opportunities as adults.

On the rare occasion that your child is having difficulty learning language (whether in a bi-lingual home or not) consult a speech-language pathologist or other professional near you for help.

What You Need To Do to Get Ready for School

The summer is an odd time to write about being prepared for the start of school, I know. But parents, if this last year was a rough year and things did not go the way you wanted at school, I’m going to recommend that you spend some time preparing for next school year.

Find a copy of your child’s current IEP (individualized education program). You can get one from your child’s school if there is anyone at the office this time of year. Just go in and ask nicely. Review it and note what services will be offered and what modifications will be available to your student. It will be your job in the next year to check on your school to see if these are being offered.

What if you haven’t been successful getting an IEP  for your student? It is very important to keep a record of how things are going. If you have notes from the teacher, or discipline notices, or any other documentation from your school, you need to 3-hole-punch it and keep it in a binder. Any conversations you had with the school should be saved here too. Write down what you remember and include the date. Keep everything in chronological order.  Are you going to request a psycho-educational evaluation?  See a sample letter here. Get the letter ready to bring into school as soon as it resumes in the fall. (It will take 4 – 6 weeks to get the testing scheduled and completed anyway.) Paper is everything! You can have dozens of  conversations with the school BUT if your request is not written down and given to your school – nothing is going to happen!

How to get Ready for SchoolPrepare a letter for your student’s teacher(s). I write a letter to my student’s teachers at the beginning of EVERY school year, since it is often the case that teachers do not receive their lists of kids identified as special education students until several days, or even weeks, into the new school year. In my letter I gently remind the teachers that my student has an IEP and encourage them to go read it. Then I identify the things my student is good at, the things he has trouble with, and the things that help him to do his best. I invite the teachers to contact me any time about any issue with my student, as I want my son to have a successful school year even more than they do! Click here to see what to include in your letter.

Need to learn more about the process for kids with special needs in school, and how to help your student?  I recommend From Emotions to Advocacy by Peter and Pamela Wright.

One more thought for summer: Now is the time for your student to go try out the things that he couldn’t get involved with during the school year, like a summer sport, a hobby or an activity he didn’t have time for. Our kids need to focus pretty hard just to get through the school year and they don’t usually have a lot of energy left over. Now with some free time those things can be tried. Lastly, take it easy! Give your student the gift of free time, to rest, to explore, to invent, to imagine, and try out all the other things we did in the summer when we were kids!

Thanks for reading these posts!   I welcome questions and comments, or subscribe to my newsletter by adding your email address to the box on the lower right.



Speech & Muscle Memory

Muscle memory describes the type of movement with which the muscles become familiar over time.   By practicing a movement you are using your brain and building neural pathways that give your muscles a sense of muscle memory.  Your muscles become accustomed to the movement, and you won’t have to concentrate or think about the movement.  You will just be able to do it automatically.

Let me tell you – When muscle memory kicks in, it is exciting!  I am learning to play the piano, and when I attempt new pieces, I always fumble, and it feels awkward.  Usually I have to go slow, which I can tell you is very frustrating!    What a payoff when I start to experience muscle memory!  It feels wonderful. (And the song starts to sound good too.)

Speech works the same way.  Speech is an automatic activity.  When you learned your first words, you practiced them many hundreds of times, and refined them by listening when someone corrected you. Over time your speech became automatic.

Learning a new language?  Trying to correct a speech problem?  You must practice the new sounds enough to get that muscle memory to kick in!   So get good teacher or a helpful friend (or both!) and practice, practice, practice your new sounds.  You will love the effects of muscle memory.

Polite Phrases in Conversation

ESL students can use these polite phrases for agreement, or to interupt:

Agreement or Encouraging Phrases:

I like that.

That’s great.

That’s interesting.

Tell me more.

What happened next?

What then?   Then what?

Polite phrases for Interrupting:

Excuse me.  I have to _________.

I’m (so) sorry.  I have to _________.


The AW Sound

The AW soundThe “aw” vowel sound is characteristically American.   It’s a little tricky to pronounce because it’s spelled so many different ways.  Let’s look at some common words with the “aw” vowel sound, and their spellings.

AW – paw, saw, raw, law, lawn, dawn, yawn

AU – because, August

ALL – all,  fall, call, ball

ALK – walk, talk

AUGHT – taught, caught 

OUGH – cough

OFT- soft, loft, often

ONG – long, strong, song, belong

It may be tempting to pronounce the O as a long O in the word long, but remember, for these words, this sound is “aw” like in yawn.   To practice “aw” in the word long it might help to say an “awn” word first.   The vowel in both words is pronounced in a similiar way because of the consonant sounds N and NG that follow.

Say lawn – Then say long and keep the vowel sound the same.  Here are the words to practice outloud.

lawn – long

lawn – belong

lawn – song

lawn – strong

That’s it.   Keep practicing!

To find the ‘aw” sound for long on the vowel color chart, go here and click on “auburn dog”





The Challenges of Aspergers & Growing Up

Someone once told me “Little children, little problems.” It was years ago, and I was struggling with my toddler in the grocery store. This older mother knew something that I did not know. That these simple and small problems, when kids are babies, are fairly easy to solve. What she could never have prepared me for was the raising of a teenager with Aspergers syndrome (a type of high-functioning autism).

I am a speech-language pathologist by trade, and have worked with many individuals over the years, providing therapy for people with a range of different communication and cognitive challenges. I’ve loved the chance to give my patients and their families the tools and resources they needed to function better in their daily lives. But even as a trusted therapist (and for some families, a friend) I was always the outsider. I never had a vested interest in the persons I treated. Whatever happened, I could walk away.

It was a different story when it came to my own child. We have a son diagnosed with Aspergers. Our son showed differences from his peers beginning when he was a toddler. He had difficulty with flexibility in preschool. He took language literally. He was intensely interested in only a few subjects, did not intuitively understand social skills, and became easily overwhelmed. In the early years we adapted our son’s environment to support his sensory needs. He benefited from deep pressure, and his occupational therapists taught us ways to support him at home and school using the Alert-How Does Your Engine Run? program, and the Wilbarger brushing protocol. When he got to school, we put accommodations into the classroom (he needed a posted schedule and warnings for any changes like a fire drill, a substitute, or a holiday party). We modified his homework assignments. I carefully adapted school field trips. Some we skipped altogether. Others we researched ahead of time, so he could see photos of the place, and the activities they would do. I, or my husband, took him in our car (no bus, which was too overwhelming for him). He was tested and qualified for school services.  We set up his IEP (individualized education plan). I advocated for him, and educated the teachers at his school.

He got an AlphaSmart to use in school to type papers and reports rather than handwrite them. That made a huge difference and he went from 1st grade-like writing to grade-level (5th grade) overnight. We always knew he had something important to say! His social skills programs in school were very useful in explicitly teaching him the correct words and behaviors to get along with his classmates. I taught him from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking program, and I remember when I showed my “little professor” that others had thoughts that were different from his own. We adapted camps and family trips (or gave them up altogether). Each year our son did better than the year before. We learned not to compare him to other kids his age. We only compared him to how he did a year ago. He lagged behind his peers, but was always moving forward.

In middle school and high school he learned to navigate his classes, activities and obligations. He rode his bike to school. He had a part-time job he enjoyed, and worked hard at. He had classmates who were real friends to him. He got his driver’s permit. He did his chores, and walked the dog. Today he did his exercises by swimming in the pool. Then he worked in my garden digging up the hard clay soil in order get the ground ready for new vegetables. I’m so proud of him. He’s come so far. These are the shining moments. Sometimes I look at him and I think “The autism is behind us now.” Then some point of stress, discomfort, or perceived insult comes up, and my son melts down, or yells and calls people names, or generally upsets his family and others around him. All the words and behaviors we’ve worked so hard to extinguish come flooding back.  And we have to take him aside and support him, and teach him again.

Then I hear the other parents saying, “What’s wrong with your son?”  More to the point,”What’s wrong with you as a parent, that you can’t teach your son to control his words and his behavior?” These come from folks who have typically-developing kids. It might be said outloud, but often it’s a look or gesture that condemns me. Or a question disguised as compassion. My parenting confidence starts to shred. One of the hardest things about Aspergers is that it’s an invisible disability. Look at my son and you a see a kid that looks like everyone else. Spend time him, get to know him and you realize he’s unique. He does not experience  the world like you.

Now with all this neurodiversity, throw in adolescence, with its emotional sensitivity, self-centeredness, impulsivity, desire to “individuate” and all the rest . . .  and sometimes, I just wonder if I’m gonna get through the day, or the minute!  If you have a child like this you may know my world. And right now I am trying to make my home a peaceful one. I am trying to keep my expectations realistic. I’m trying to help my son. It’s really hard. Some days I don’t feel like I’m gonna make it. But I know I just have to hang on. I know how to hang on. I’ve been practicing hanging on for a long time. I know things are going to get better. They always do.