10 Ways to Promote Social Skills & Help Your Kid Make Friends

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, also called ASD, see that their child is often left out of social activities, robbing them of the opportunities they desperately need to learn good social skills and make friends. The problem is twofold. First ASD kids are limited in their understanding and use of typical social skills.  Secondly, if you live in an area where the schools and community does not reach out and include differently-abled kids, your child will not have access to the activities/events that he or she needs.

Here’s how a parent can help their child learn social skills:

promoting social skills

1. Educate yourself.  Do you know the social skills your child has, and the ones he or she needs? Observe your child closely and learn as much as you can about him or her. Make a list of the things they need to learn. How are their conversation skills? Turn-taking skills? Can they read non-verbal body language? Decide on the most important things they need, and make a plan.

2. Model and teach explicitly.  Don’t assume your kid will “pick this up” or “intuitively know this stuff”. Calmly show them exactly what you want them to do. They haven’t figured out the social rule on their own yet, so there’s no sense in getting upset about it. Teaching calmly is key. Write it down, or show a picture. I love Jed Baker’s books for pictures – The Social Skills Picture Book (Elementary) and The Social Skills Picture Book for High School and Beyond.

3. Organize the playdates yourself. Your child probably won’t be able to do this, so speak up and talk to the other parents at school, church or in the neighborhood. Make the playdate yourself. Supervise to offer support or cut the activity short if your child gets overwhelmed.

4. Over-invite. Host a birthday, swim or Halloween party, and invite lots! I’ve invited 30 – 35 kids from a class and usually 3 – 4 show up. That’s enough for a good get-together/playdate. Drive to the friend’s house. Stay for support. Early playdates should be kept short. See how your child does.

5. Provide enticing activities. Many ASD kids love to move and be active (they’re sensory-seekers!) If you’re hosting a get-together, consider a bounce house, trampoline or obstacle course. Swimming, bike riding, playground activities, sand play (at home or at the beach), scavenger hunts, parachute activities – all of these give your child and his or her playmates something fun to do while they interact.

6. Befriend other families with “special needs” children or families who are understanding and compassionate. Be sure to reciprocate when they need playdates for their kids.

7. Invite one friend to everyday activities.  Going to the park, or beach? Invite one friend for your child to get more practice with social skills. See a connection there? Help your child develop that one friendship.

8.Keep it up. Don’t give in to discouragement. Keep trying. It’s hard to raise ASD kids, but hang in there. You might feel like you are not making much of a difference in the short term, but you will see benefits in the long run. ASD kids grow up to be ASD adults and many will learn. They will learn it intellectually, while typical kids learn it more intuitively.

9. Modify “your idea of fun” to be closer to your child’s idea of fun. If you have a kid whose special interest bores you, get over it! Take your kids to a museum for dinosaurs or aviation history if that is what he or she loves. Get involved with your child’s special interest and organize get-togethers around it.

10. Participate in organized clubs or sports. Try boy scouts or girls scouts, church kid’s clubs or youth group etc. Volunteer. They probably need the help and you can be nearby if you child needs support. Not every team sport will be accepting of your special needs child, but some sports can be a good fit. Tennis can be a good physical exercise while your child only has to deal with one or two people at a time. Bowling can be good if your child is sensory-seeking (those bowling balls are heavy!) and can tolerate the noise. Karate allows a student to go at his own pace, and can be a good fit for kids who need to improve focusing their attention. Snow skiing, as well as swimming/diving, have low demands to be social.



Let’s Get to The Point(er)

Today I am pleased to welcome my friend, and fellow speech pathologist, guest blogger Sanaz Amini of The Speech Chicks.


My little family and I had a nice getaway on 4th of July! We went to Monterey (in Cali) and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. As an SLP and a mom, I tend to use every event as a learning opportunity for my son. I can’t help it; it comes naturally!!! I feel like I’m always doing therapy on the poor dude 🙂 One of my favorite things to do with him is pointing. When we are out together I do a lot of pointing and naming.

I was telling the little dude all about the water here 🙂
For example if he looks at his bottle and vocalizes something, I point to the bottle and I say “bottle” or “This is your bottle.” I try to model pointing for him by pointing to objects/people myself and I supply him with the word/words he is looking for. Most children will start pointing to objects on their own. You can help them learn to point by doing lots of modeling for them. Pointing is a big step to naming and language learning. Here is what research says about pointing:
1- Pointing is a specialized gesture for indicating an object, event or location. Children start using pointing gestures at around 11 months of age (Camaioni, Perucchini, Bellagamba, & Colonnesi, 2004)
2- Pointing accounts for the majority (60%) of gestures by twelve months (Kita, 2003).
3- Pointing is a stepping stone to learning language (Goldin-Meadow, 2007)
4- Pointing gestures function as part of a shared intentionality even at early stages of development (Tomasello, Carpenter, & Liszkowski, 2007)
5- One of the best predictors of the size of a child’s comprehension vocabulary at 42 months is the number of different objects to which the child pointed at 14 months. (Goldin-Meadow, 2007)
There is so much I have to say about pointing but I will keep this post brief. If you want to learn more about pointing, check out the references I provided here. If your child is not pointing by 15 months of age, check in with your pediatrician to make sure everything is okay.
Sanaz Amini, M.A., CF- SLP, received her Master’s degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences from Washington State University and her Bachelor’s degree in Communicative Disorders and Sciences from San Jose State University. Sanaz has experience evaluating and treating children with a variety of disorders including language, articulation, phonological, fluency, autism spectrum, and childhood apraxia of speech. She also has experience treating adults with dementia, aphasia, and traumatic brain injuries. Sanaz’s professional interests lie in the areas of early intervention, traumatic brain injury, and social-pragmatic disorders. Sanaz provides therapy in a private clinic in San Jose. You can read her blog at www.thespeechchicks.blogspot.com.
Camaioni, Luigia, Paola Perucchini, Francesca Bellagamba, & Cristina Colonnesi (2004). The role of declarative pointing in developing a theory of mind. Infancy, 5, 291–308.
Goldin-Meadow (2007). Pointing Sets the Stage for Learning LanguageFand Creating Language. Child Development, 78, 741-745

Kita, S. (2003). Pointing: Where language, culture, and cognition meet. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., & Liszkowski, U. (2007). A new look at infant pointing. Child Development, 78, 705 – 722.

Cooking Group Favorite Recipes

During school this year we’ve done a weekly cooking group. Today I’m posting the favorite recipes of the kids. These are the recipes that worked well. I’m NOT including the recipes that were too difficult or messy, or the ones with too many steps. We call it “cooking group”  but sometimes we just assemble snacks – without cooking.

Our favorites:

m&wMud and Worms – Made with instant chocolate pudding, milk, crushed Oreos and gummy worms. I love instant pudding because if you have a large group, each student can have a turn stirring. The recipe says to stir for 3 minutes, but we have stirred for up to 8 minutes (so everyone got a turn) and it was fine. Have the kids crush the Oreos in a Ziplock  bag. They love to do it. These look so interesting (and kind of real) spooned into clear plastic cups, and they are very easy to assemble. (good for Halloween)

ricecakefacesRice cake faces – Rice cakes and peanut butter (cream cheese for students with peanut allergies) and toppings. M&Ms, chocolate chips, coconut, if you like sweet. Grapes, green peppers, tomatoes, carrots or cucumber slices for a more healthy snack. You can also include a lesson on body parts – eyes, nose, mouth, etc.

antsAnts on a Log – An all-time favorite. Celery, peanut butter (cream cheese for students with peanut allergies) and raisins.

Rainbow Yogurt rainbowyogurt– The kids love this one for the visual effect. Spoon vanilla yogurt into 6 cups (I prepped this ahead of class.) Use food coloring to have the kids make red, green, blue and yellow. Remember combining colors? Blue+red=purple, and red+yellow=orange. Then have the kids layer the colors into tall clear plastic cups. It looks like a rainbow and goes great with a rainbow activity, story or craft lesson.

strawshakeMilkshakes – Strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Can’t go wrong with this. Try different flavors. I brought my blender from home. The kids asked for more milkshakes many times after this cooking group.

Easy Deviled Eggs deviled eggs– Eggs (boiled ahead of time), mayonnaise and mustard. Skip mashing the yolks! Just have the kids peel the eggs, adults cut the eggs in half, and squeeze on a mixtures of mayo-mustard (use a plastic sandwich bag with a small hole cut in the corner). For kids with fine motor problems the peeling will take a long time. Some cooks say add baking soda to the cooking eggs and they will peel easier. Sprinkle with paprika.

quesadillaQuesadillas – Shredded cheddar or Mexican-style cheese and tortillas. You can heat these in a microwave. Have salsa available for the kids, if you like.

pbballsPeanut Butter Balls (no bake) – Peanut butter (not for kids with nut allergies), powdered milk, and honey. Mix together and roll by hand. Mostly the kids rolled them into “logs”, which tasted just as yummy.

monsterpopcornhandsMonster Popcorn Hands – (Halloween themed) Hand-shaped plastic bags, popcorn and candy corn. The kids place one candy corn piece in each “finger” of the bag. Popcorn goes in next, breaking it in small pieces to get it in the fingers. Tie with a twist tie. (good for Halloween)


These cooking group ideas are good for preschoolers and elementary, as well as older kids with autism and other disabilities.  Click on these links for posts on our other cooking group ideas – Summer Cooking GroupFall Cooking Group,  Winter Cooking Group,  Spring Cooking Group.

Sit vs. Seat – Minimal Pairs Practice for ‘i’ and ‘ee’


sit seat minimal pairs practice 'i' and 'ee'ESL students can have a lot of difficulty with the ‘i’ and ‘ee’ sounds in English.

Short ‘i’ words like “rich”, “sit” and “live” often sound like “reach” “seat” and “leave”.  I encourage my students to practice minimal pairs (words that are almost exactly alike except for one sound).  This kind of practice will help students to learn the difference, and be able to correctly produce the sound in words.

Try these minimal pairs. Follow along with the audio of me reading the columns down.

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Follow along with me reading the rows across.

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bid       bead

chick  cheek

dip      deep

it         eat

lick       leak

live      leave

pip       peep

rich     reach

ship     sheep

sit         seat

Beginning students should practice down the columns.  Advanced students should practice across the rows.

Click her for a free printable for practicing the ‘i’ and ‘ee’ sounds.

Improving Your English Listening

ESL listening comprehensionESL students must learn to listen, an often overlooked portion of ESL teaching. You should be listening when you’re out in the community.  But listening to English speakers is very challenging, because of the speed, and because they won’t go back and repeat what’s said.

Therefore in additional to listening to native English speakers, I recommend listening to audio recordings to get more practice listening to, and understanding, English.  The advantages are:

  • you can replay the audio
  • you can study any time, and anywhere you have a computer
  • audio recordings are available in easy, medium and hard levels
  • audio can be normal speed, or slow speed
  • many audio recordings have the script (the words) printed alongside
  • audio recordings have different speakers – male female, American and British, etc.

Here are some sites I like with English audio recordings:

Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab – has audio in Easy, Medium and Hard.  Look for “quiz script” at the top of each page to read along with the audio.  American accent. Normal speed.

ESL Lounge –  has audio in Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate and Advanced with “scripts”. British and American accents.  Normal speed.

5 Minute English – has audio clips with scripts and additional resources for Spanish speakers.  American accent. Normal speed.

Many Things – has audio clips with scripts.  American Accent.  Slow speed.

Rong-Chang – has audio clips and scripts.  American accent. Slow speed.


Good luck! And keep up the good work learning English.


Teaching Classroom Voice Levels

Teaching Classroom Voice LevelsOur “special” school is filled with students whose behavioral challenges are so severe they were asked to leave their home school districts, until they get their behavior under control.  Our kids have meltdowns and can be aggressive. Despite that I look forward to working with the kids and helping them with social skills.  Some of my favorite boys are the “Don’t touch me” boy, “the Incredible Hulk” boy and “the Screamer”.

The following is a lesson I put together for their classroom to teach the correct voice level at school. Building off “The Incredible 5 Point Scale”  I found 5 photos (not mine, but internet pix) to illustrate 5 levels of loudness we use at school. I’m helping our ED and autistic kids to see (give them a visual of) what each level looks like. Get my free printable “Teaching Classroom Voice Levels” here.

1 Silent – it’s very important to have a silent picture.  Students can’t listen while they are talking.

2. Whisper – a voice they can use without disturbing others

3. Talking – the expected classroom voice

4. Yelling (also called shouting) – for out on the playground

5. Screaming – only in an emergency.  Our kids think everything is an emergency so I told them only if someone is bleeding or unconscious!

Ways to teach it:

  1. Write level numbers on the board.
  2. Discuss differences.
  3. Post “Teaching Classroom Voice Level” handout in the classroom.
  4. Have students act out the levels, and guess which one is being acted out
  5. Print out face pictures and have students match faces with numbers/names.
  6. Show visual prompts of the numbers. (See the Incredible 5 Point Scale book for sample.)
visual prompts The Incredible 5-Point Scalle

visual prompt from Incredible 5-Point Scale

When the students have learned the system, you ought to be able to cue them by saying the level you want – “3” or “Voice level at 3”.  If kids are overwhelmed with verbal language, just show the visual prompt and point to the level you want.

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Click here to read more about “the Screamer” and the “Incredible Hulk” boy.

Reading for Understanding 1

havefunteachingAny ESL student can read aloud.  But do they really understand what they are reading?

I like these exercises from this website Have Fun Teaching. Each includes a story, a page of comprehension questions and a page of answers.  With my teenage ESL distance learners, via Skype, I send the exercises by email ahead of their lesson.  Then during the lesson they will read it aloud, and we’ll review pronunciation and any vocabulary they don’t know, and then answer the questions  The stories are a little juvenile so you may not want them for your adults, but they’re fine for kids. Try these graded reading exercises:


ReadingForUnderstanding1st grade

2nd grade

3rd grade

4th grade

5th grade

6th grade

7th grade

8th grade


Click here to see ALL GRADES for reading passages and comprehension questions at HFT.

Reduced Forms – To You Your & For

ReducedToYouI’m working with ESL students who are some of my best students.  They have nearly learned every point of English pronunciation so that “code-switching” in easy and automatic. However we’re still having trouble with the reduced forms “to”, “you”, “your” and “for”

In connected speech we reduce the vowel sounds in these words to the schwa, the “uh”. Listen to the reduced words and paragraph here.

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To    “tuh”

You    “yuh”

Your   “yer”

For   “fer”

 I have lived in this neighborhood for 10 years. I came to this area for my job, and my children attend school here.  They walk to school every day.  The neighbors are friendly.  They wave when they see you in your car, or stop to chat if you’re walking your dog. I’m glad we moved to this neighborhood. 

Make this change and you’re on your way to using an American English accent.

See a list of common reduced English forms here.

Summer Cooking Group Ideas

chocolate banana sundaeCooking group has been fun this summer with my students!  This week was Chocolate/Banana Sundaes. Yes, it’s called “cooking group”  but sometimes we just assemble snacks – no cooking involved!

Ingredients needed:

  • Bananas
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate sauce (you can include caramel and strawberry to increase choice-making and communication)
  • Sprinkles/nuts, if you like

The students loved making these and it was so easy.  Some of the kids needed help.  There was lots to do with peeling the bananas, scooping, pouring and sprinkling!  A cool treat for the summertime!

Our craft lesson this week was a “Summer” book, from the DLTK”s Make Your Own Book resources.

Other cooking group ideas that went well this month were:

  • Instant Pudding – instant pudding mix and milk (use a wisk and don’t worry about mixing it longer than 3 minutes.  It will be fine. Each of the kids can  have a turn mixing.)  With cooking group, involve the kids in all the steps – pouring, measuring and mixing. Print up some simple picture directions if they can’t read the packaging. At school we’re using Boardmaker Studio.
  • juicerHomemade Lemonade – lemons, sugar, water, ice cubes.  Have the kids cut the lemons (roll first for an easier time juicing them.) Use a juicer.  We used one like this.  Have them measure out the sugar (good for counting).  Add the ice cubes and talk about “cold” “melting”, “wet’ and other related words. With the leftover ice, we took it outside and dumped it out on the sidewalk in the sun, watching it melt while we sipped our lemonade.
  • Green Vegetable Salad – iceberg lettuce (or any green lettuce), cucumbers and green peppers.  These could be great if they came from your own garden.  Vocabulary topics could be “planting”, “growing”, “taste”, “texture”  “Veggies are crunchy!” etc. Have the kids chop the veggies using plastic knives.  It’s a great fine motor activity. Top with green dressing, like Green Goddess.  (Green Vegetable Salad  is also a great activity to try in March around St Patrick’s Day since teachers usually do some “Green” themes that time of year. )

These cooking group ideas are good for preschoolers and elementary, as well as older kids in autism and other disabilities.  Click on these links for other cooking groups ideas – Fall Cooking Group,  Winter Cooking Group,  Spring Cooking Group.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Pronunciation Lessons

Getting the Most Out of Your Pronunciation LessonsYou’ve decided to improve your English speaking and listening skills.  Good for you!  Studies show that ESL learners living in English-speaking countries do better at school, and make more money at work when they use clear, understandable English.

Here are the things you can do to get the most out of your pronunciation lessons.

1. Take notes. Take notes in English if you can.

2. Ask questions if you don’t understand.

3. Practice during lessons.  If you don’t feel you’re getting adequate practice for a new sound or technique, ask your teacher for more practice in class.

4. Review your lessons each day.

5. Complete your homework each day.  If your teacher does not give homework, ask for it.

6. Listen for your lesson points when you hear English speakers.  Make a note of when you hear, in real life,  the lessons you are working on.

7. Listen to English radio, and watch English TV with the captions on.

8. Look for opportunity to practice speaking in the community, when shopping, at school, at work, etc.

9. Find a native English speaker to practice with on a regular basis (in addition to your pronunciation teacher.)

10. Tape record or video record yourself reading or speaking.  Over time, you should hear improvement.