Change Words That Don’t Work

social skills pragmaticsStudents need speech therapy for different reasons. Some more obvious reasons are articulation or stuttering. But sometimes a student is referred to therapy for social language. We call this “pragmatic language”.

Social language problems include not knowing and following social rules (which are often not taught explicitly) like:

  • take turns
  • use a voice that is the right pitch and loudness for the situation
  • read the social cues (like facial expression and body posture of your listener)
  • make guesses when you don’ have enough information
  • gauge your listeners understanding and provide more (or less) information when needed

Students with autism and other non-verbal learning disabilities often have trouble using language in a practical and effective way.  They can get stuck on certain things. I had a student get stuck on the word “guess”. Eddie (not his real name) came to see me for speech therapy because he had difficulty with pragmatic language. One of his goals was to solve hypothetical problems.

I asked “What would you do if your TV wasn’t working?”

“I don’t know.”

“Guess” I said.

“I don’t guess. DON’T make me guess.  No Guessing!” He was very clear in communicating this. He knew he could not guess. (Not if you called it guessing, anyway.)

I changed the word. “Ok, no guessing. . . . let’s think of a way to solve that problem.”

He began to come up with ideas for solving the problem. I never again called it guessing. That’s just semantics! Or the meaning of a word. If you need to get around a semantics problem, try another word. It just might help.


Scents and Sensibility, Autism and the 5 Senses

Autism and the 5 Senses“You smell like barbecue sauce!  Did you have barbecue sauce for breakfast?” my student greeted me with this unusual question.

“No, I didn’t.” I replied.

“Well, you smell like you did.”

We talked a few minutes about smells and being sensitive to smells. This student went into great detail about what he smelled, when and where. He remembered and experienced smells nearly everywhere. He knew that his experience was not like other kids. Smells were not nearly as important and prominent for others. But this student knew he was sensitive to smells and he did what he could to manage how upsetting they were to him.

He also had difficulty with touch. When I touched his arm during a lesson he bristled, and rubbed his arm where I touched him. He was rubbing off my touch to help himself to stay calm and regulated. Many students with autism, and other disorders, are overly sensitive to sensations of smell and touch. We call this human ability sensory regulation. Most people have little difficulty with the sensations they experience each day. Most people are aware of 5 senses:

  • touch
  • smell
  • taste
  • sound
  • sight

But we need to add to those:

  • proprioception (the sense of the position, location, orientation & movement of the body & body parts)
  • vestibular (the sense of balance & acceleration)

Researchers argue for even more human senses, but these 7 are the ones I see the most with my work.

How can you support a student who has sensory sensitivities?  First be aware of them. Then learn what you can about the different sensesThe Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz is an excellent resource. Do what you can to manage your classroom and your activities to support students that become overwhelmed with sensory stimulation. And when your student says you smell funny, remember to him, you probably do, but that’s ok.


A vs. An with U-Words

My students know that we use “a” before words that start with a consonant sound.  For example,

  • a house
  • a book
  • a shoe

and we use “an” before words that start with a vowel sound,

  • an apple
  • an elephant
  • an umbrella

But they wanted to know the way to handle words like university or uniform or used car?  The problem with some U words is, although they are spelled with a “u” (a vowel sound), the first sound is actually “y” (which is a consonant sound).  Correct pronunciation always focuses on how a word sounds, not necessarily on how it is spelled.  So say the U-word outloud.  If it starts with a “Y” sound, use “a” because the beginning sound is a consonant.

  • a university
  • a uniform
  • a used car


Kids not listening? Write a letter!

Parents, are you frustrated your kids don’t listen to you?   Worse yet, do your teenagers think they already know everything and tell you to (for lack of a better word) shut up?  Then stop talking and write a letter.

This week at our house my teenage son was learning to drive using his provisional permit, not a license.  It seems he’s forgotten that he is still learning using his permit.  He became ornery with me and a little unreasonable when driving in the car.  Write A LetterI provided appropriate instruction and guidance, and he wanted me to stay quiet while he did his own thing. Needless to say, I directed him to drive home.  After that I wrote out a letter that went something like this:

Dear Son,

This is to inform you that I, your mother, will not serve as your licensed driver for the next week, due to the following reasons:

  1. You called me a “backseat driver” and told me not to speak, when your provisional permit requires that the licensed driver with you “must ride in a position to instruct you and to control the vehicle, if necessary.”
  2. You yell, and sometimes you criticize the other driver’s behaviors.
  3. You sometimes drift out of your lane, and pull up too close behind cars at stops.

Should you be willing to address the above issues and correct your behavior, I am willing to serve as your licensed driver (at my convenience) after one week.

Your Dad may serve as your licensed driver, any time that he wishes.


Your Mom

(I have learned that when he or I are upset it’s best not to say anything, but instead to wait and calm down first before trying to discuss a problem.)

Now that letter was received with some grumbling.  But the breakthrough moment came after he read my letter, and he had some time to think about it.  He realized his behavior was unsafe and problematic.  Then he approached me to talk about, and try to solve, the problems.  He needed time to process the information, and his strength is in his reading (not in his listening).

Have your kids developed “mommy deafness”?  Next time this happens, consider writing a letter.  It may be just what your son or daughter needs to learn an important lesson.

AW Words: Silent L in Walk & Talk

There’s a vowel sound in English that’s hard to master.  It’s the “aw” sound and it is often confused with other sounds.

  • The “aw” sound is sometimes spelled “al” like all, wall and also.
  • Spelled “al” like talk, walk and chalk. (Careful!  The L is silent here!)
  • Spelled “aw” like paw and yawn.
  • Spelled “au” like caught, haul, applaud and August.
  • Spelled “oa” like broad.
  • Spelled “ou”: like cough, thought, fought, bought and brought.
  • Spelled “o” like off, soft, dog, long, cost and cloth.
  • Spelled “ah” like Utah.
  • Spelled “a” like salt, and  false.

It is important to remember those “aw” words spelled with “al” where the L is always SILENT.  Never pronounce the L in these words:

  • balk
  • chalk
  • stalk
  • talk
  • walk
Can you walk and talk at the same time?  I bet you can!





Speech Therapy at the Pumpkin Patch

speech therapy at the pumpkin patchToday was a fabulous day to visit the pumpkin patch. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing. Brightly colored orange pumpkins lined the walkways, and surrounded the haystacks as we, and our students, went on a hunt for the best pumpkins to take back to school. I love October! And my favorite field trip of the school year is the pumpkin patch. I love the colors: orange, red and brown! I love the flavors and scents: pumpkin, spices, fire smoke from chimneys! Time to wear sweaters and enjoy the outdoors.

So we took students from our upper grades (ASD level 2) to the pumpkin patch. If you think older kids can’t enjoy these outings, you are mistaken. They have the sense they are too old to go on the air slides, and climb up the climbing structures, but they enjoy picking out their own pumpkin to take back to school.

Activities at the pumpkin patch:

1. PE – tromping around the patch, and carrying pumpkins back to the bus

2. Math – counting and adding at the checkout counter, handling money transactions, counting change

3. Social Skills – with the cashier, greeting and closing, asking questions, turn-taking.  With their classmates – attending to verbal and non-verbal cues, paying attention, conversational skills, cooperating with a class photo

We picked 14 pumpkins to take back to school, along with carving tools and scoops.  In the afternoon we launched into face designing and carving as students created their own jack-o-lanterns.

Activities in the classroom with pumpkins:

4. Auditory Comprehension – listening to a story about pumpkins, Halloween or jack-o-lanterns

5. Fine Motor – drawing and cutting a face on their pumpkin

6. Sensory – tolerating scooping out the messy pulp and seeds, and tasting them once they’re toasted

7. Functional/Adaptive Skills – using the oven (supervised, of course)  for roasting a pan of pumpkin seeds

Keep in mind your therapy can (and should)  go outside the walls of your school, if possible. You can have lessons in the community, and in, of all places, the pumpkin patch!  Click to read my post on having successful field trips with your autistic child.

Minimal Pairs Listening Excercise

ESL studentsMy students get in trouble with the pronunciation of English vowels sounds that sound alike. Many times that is because they don’t hear the difference.

Here’s a technique that helps.  Pass out large index cards and have your students write one sound on end of the card and one sound on the other.  (These should be opposite from one another and upside down.)  

This picture shows the card we used when we worked with /i/ in “sit” and /I/ in “seat”.  When identifying the sound they will have to hold the card up.  There’s only one correct answer.  Put the phonetic symbol on it to help your student know the two different sounds.  Students start with their cards down and you say a word with the target sound.  Then students lift up their card and show you what sound they think they heard.

You will quickly know which of your student cannot hear the difference between the two sounds.  First say the word by itself.  Then try the word in a sentence to help the student.

“The ship is sailing in the harbor.”

“The sheep is grazing in the meadow.”

Other ways for your students to improve their listening skills:

  • listen to English audio books.
  • listen to English radio stations.
  • watch English television with the subtitles (close-captioning).
  • get your child or grandchild to read English children’s books to you.
  • listen to English language clips online (easier ones will post the text along with the audio.)
  • have more English conversations.

Click here for a free printable worksheet for minimal pairs practice.





T Changes to D – Words with Middle T

Middles T changes to DHave you noticed in English, T is often pronounced as a D sound?

When /t/ is in the middle of a word, we usually pronounce it as a /d/.   See the proper spelling and listen to the pronunciation [in the brackets]

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  • waiting  [waiding]
  • eating  [eading]
  • Rita [Reeda]
  • Patty  [Pady]
  • later [laider]
  • pretty [pridy]

Most of the time, when a middle T is the beginning of the unstressed syllable, it is pronounce more like a D.  This is not lazy or sloppy speech.  It is common and expected.  More words with Ts that sound like Ds:

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  • little [lidl]
  • kettle [kedl]
  • pitter patter [pider pader]
  • sitting [siding] short i
  • getting [geding]

and the list goes on and on!  Good luck and keep up the good work!



Ear Training

A very brave student told me, she can’t hear the difference between /I/ in “sit” and /i/ in “seat”.  This is the difference between short I and long E.  I call her brave because most students go along, and don’t let me know when they are having difficulty hearing the difference between sounds.  I was so glad to hear my student ask about this, and how could she learn to hear the difference?

I talked to her about Ear Training.

When you grew up speaking another language, your ears got trained for the sounds of that language. So learning English is not just learning to speak the new sounds.  It also means you must hear the new sounds.  This is ear training.  How do you train your ears?

Try the following activities:

  • Watch English TV and movies with the subtitles. The best ones to watch are where they are closely matched, and the subtitles do not lag behind the speaker.
  • Interact more with native American English speakers.
  • Read more English – books, newspapers, magazines, and computer stories, news, blogs, etc.
  • Google “ESL listening” to find websites and blogs where you can listen to English spoken.  Many sites will also have the scripts so you can read along.
  • Try accent reduction books with CDs. Lots are available at the public library for free.

Good luck! and keep up the good work!



The Nasal Sounds

A student asked today about the nasal sounds – M, N and NG.  All these sounds are made by pushing air through the nose (nasal).  The M is the only one made with the lips closed.  (All the air comes out the nose.)  But N and NG can sound alike to many foreign speakers of English.  Here are some tips to say them correctly:

N – lips are open and tongue is up in the front of the mouth.

NG – lips are open and tongue is up in the back of the mouth.

This N vs. NG  illustration is from Lisa Mojsin’s Mastering the American Accent, a wonderful book and CD set that I recommend!