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.


Autism Teaching Strategies

I was excited to find this resource:  Autism Teaching Strategies.  This website has tool kits for teaching and supporting students with autism.  They include cards with pictures and statements that your student can learn to use for successful communication with others.  For example, there is a set of pictures/statements for communicating with sisters and brothers.  Other topics include dealing with bullying, and the problems with and alternatives to social isolation.  Students with Aspergers and other higher-functioning autism spectrum disorders often find the social world and expected behaviors confusing, and these products may help them make sense of these things.

You will find products for sale, as well as free downloads at their website, so why not check it out.

Disclaimer: I do not recieve any money from this company  for recommending their website.   I simply like the products and I think they may benefit students.

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 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 three 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 ed. 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

When teaching students a new sound, I often give them the assignment to go home and practice it 100 times each day!  Does it seem a little harsh?   It’s not.  What I want my students to achieve is the muscle memory to say the new sound.

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 _________.