Halloween & Autism

Autism & HalloweenHalloween can be a stressful time for kids with autism spectrum disorder. Try these ideas for helping your child with Halloween:

  1. Prepare him or her with a social story. There are many good books about the fun activities of Halloween.
  2. Pumpkin carving has a big sensory component. Have your child try new things but don’t force him or her.
  3. Consider sensory needs and use your child’s interests when choosing a costume.
  4. Keep activities brief (parties, parades) and leave if your child is overwhelmed.
  5. Practice the trick-or-treat script at your own front door.
  6. Watch the sugar intake and keep it to a minimum.
  7. Smile! If things are tough this year, there’s always next year!

Check out these additional resources for more info:

Halloween Activities and Ideas (positively autism.com)

9 Great Halloween Books for Kids (Reader’s Digest)

Parent Tips for Halloween Safety (pathfindersforautism.org)


Diagnosis Confusion – What to do when you don’t get answers

Diagnosis ConfusionYou are the parent and you know you’ve got a problem with your kid. But different people tell you different things. You’re not sure which diagnosis is correct for your child. What’s a parent to do?  The answer is: Keep searching till you have the right diagnosis!  How will you know it’s the right diagnosis?  You will have a clarity about it, and the treatments prescribed for your child will begin to work.

In our family, our son was developing in a unique way.  We knew he was different from his peers at an early age.  He had spectacular language skills, but was emotionally very immature.  He melted down at small, simple, normal things.  His easy frustration and rigidity had his preschool teachers calling us in for conferences to see how we could help him at school.  Diagnoses started to fly!  Could it be anger management problems (look up The Explosive Child)? Could it be ADHD?

(To tell this next story I need to use my son’s name, but since his privacy is important to me I’m using a different name) In kindergarten, his teacher took me aside, “Oh Mrs. G., I just wanted you to know in my 25 years of teaching I have seen 4 students like Aiden…..(long pause) ….. and Aiden has been the most ….. Aiden… of all of them.” What was the teacher saying?? Was she saying my kid is the worst kid she’s seen in 25 years? Well, that’s not very encouraging, but it did push me willingly onto “diagnosis road”. 

First grade teacher “Can you take him to an OT? I think he may have Sensory Integration Disorder.”

First grade developmental pediatrician “He certainly is smart, but this may be a Pragmatic Language Disorder? He needs to be in Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking Program.”

First grade school psychologist “His test scores indicate it may be Autism.”

First grade private psychiatrist “This is Bi-polar, and these are the medicines you need to put him on.”

Second grade teacher “Is this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? He needs to have everything the same and he can’t deviate from his routine.”

Second grade school counselor “He has Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). You need to send him away.  There is a woman in Colorado who treats kids like this.  She will hold him for 6 months and re-parent him.” My eyes glazed over with this one! Was this counselor insane? Really? That’s what abandoned kids in orphanages in Russia get, with no one to touch them or hold them all day. And what was my son reacting to? He comes from an intact family, he was a planned pregnancy, I stayed home with him, and I breastfed him past a year. I threw that diagnosis away immediately. I called for the removal of that counselor from that school. In an ironic twist, we left the school and the counselor stayed.

Third grade school psychologist (new school) “Emotional Disturbance or Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and we need to put him in a special day class, with other kids with ED.” Really? He’s been in a regular class since Kindergarten. I think we’ll take a pass on the SDC, and try our neighborhood school. Thank you very much.

Third grade teacher “Gifted but bored” (look up Kids in the Syndrome mix.)

Fourth grade school psychologist “Anxiety. And actually the school does not give an IEP for Anxiety, so we’ll be exiting him from Special Ed. now. Bye bye.” What? O.M.G. We went to the director of Special Ed. and in 6 weeks he was back on his IEP. (Sometimes I just want to smack school psychologists!)

Fourth grade independent psychologist, speech-language pathologist and educational specialist “This is Aspergers Syndrome, a developmental disorder related to autism and characterized by higher-than-average intellectual ability, coupled with impaired social skills and restrictive, repetitive patterns of interest and activities.”

HOORAY! You’ve arrived at your destination on diagnosis road! Congratulations on finding the right diagnosis for your child! It only took 6 years and 13 different diagnoses!

Parents – you know your child best. On “diagnosis road” you must keep going if you haven’t arrived at the right answer yet. Other suggestions are:

  • Read. Books, and also the internet, abounds with parents like you looking for answers.
  • Talk to other parents.
  • Talk to other professionals.
  • Keep records of your experience. When your “puzzle pieces” start to fit, the picture will become more clear.
  • Try different therapy ideas and see what works.
  • Never give up. The answer is out there. You will find it.

You must be your child’s advocate. Keep looking until you find the right answer. You can do it!  I salute you and cheer you on!  You will find the right answers for your child and your family!





“My Bad” Admitting Mistakes in American Teaching

big mistakesI teach bright, perceptive, eager adults.  I teacher English pronunciation to adults from Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Russia, Iran, India, Mexico and Latin America (sorry if I missed anyone else) at an ESL program 2 days a week.  One thing I have noticed is that students from other cultures tend to be more reserved and probably will never correct their teacher if she/he makes a mistake.

However as an American teacher, I expect my students to speak up when I get something wrong.  I make mistakes.  I make mistakes all the time. Usually every day, and usually while teaching.  To an American, making a mistake is not as important as what you do to fix your mistake.  Here’s what I do as soon as I realize I made a mistake. I stop and tell the students.  I might say “My bad!”  This is a newer phrase we use to let others know we made a mistake. Then I take responsibility for the mistake, I apologize for it and I move on to correct the mistake.

I coach my ESL student to let me know when I make a mistake.  I tell them I am expecting them to say something when I make a mistake.   It is a big cultural difference for some, but I am hoping that my students will learn to be more comfortable with this behavior.

I’m so proud of all my students!  Keep up the good work learning English.

Z vs. ZH


IPA symbols in this post are /ʒ/ and /z/.

My Korean students this year are substituting /ʒ/  [zh as in measure] for words that have /z/ [z as is puzzle].  The words are:

exactly, excellent, exercise, expert (spelling pattern – x)

busy, easy, Jesus, Moses (spelling pattern – s)

appetizer, freezer, razor (spelling pattern – z)

Substituting [zh] for /z/ is usually not a good solution when pronouncing unfamiliar English words.  That is because there are very few words in English that have the [zh] sound.  The [zh] sound is borrowed from the French and is the least common sound in all of English.  When pronouncing words with X, S or Z, students should try the /z/ sound first to see if their listener understands them.

Pronouncing [zh]  is a little tricky since we don’t spell it ZH.  Instead it is spelled using X, S or Z.   Words with the sound [zh] could be memorized.  There are only about 200 of them in English.  The best thing you can do is schedule regular time with English speakers so you will have lots of opportunities to use and remember the correct pronunciation of words with/z/and [zh].




English Words with the “ER” Sound

I’m posting tonight on words with the “er” sound again.  This has come up twice this week, so let me “have another whack at it” (an idiom which means try to explain it again.)

Pronounced with the EXACT same vowel sound, the following words have different spellings.  Common spellings are “er”, “ur” and “ir”.  You should also learn these others listed below.  If you want to understand American speakers, and pronounce your English for Americans to understand you, it is very important to get these words right. Pronounce them all with the “er” sound.  Memorize these to improve your pronunciation.

her, were, serf, o-ver (and all those words that describe jobs: teacher, painter, lawyer, plumber etc.)

doc-tor, word, work, wor-thy, wor-ship (Be careful here!  don’t say work like “or”. If you do, that will sound like wark.)

sir, fir, whir, stir, dirt, bird, skirt, shirt (Be careful here!  Don’t say bird like “ear”.  If you do, that will sound like beard.)

turn, burn, hurt, fur, pur-pose, mur-der

heard (this sounds just like herd), earth, earn, yearn

for-ward, back-ward, up-ward (These words are unstressed on the second syllable, and that “er” sound is actually a “reduction”.)

pronuciation tipAlso if you speak Spanish, German, Russian, Farsi or any language where you roll your /r/ (sometimes called the trilled R), try not to roll your /r/. This way you will achieve a more American English accent.

By now you have figured out there are many words in English that do not follow the rules for pronunciation.  Don’t depend on your English or ESL teacher to help you with pronunciation learning.  You may need a specialist like a speech-language pathologist who has received special training in how we pronounce our sounds, words and sentences.





More on Long Vowels + L

Pronunciation Long Vowels + LMy Asian students needed help pronouncing “fail” as in  “I hope you don’t fail your test”. Words with a long vowel sound + L follow this pattern: long vowel + linking sound + vowelized L.

Long a, long e, long i and “oy” use /y/for linking.  Long o, “ow”, and “oo” as in “school” use /w/ for linking.

A vowelized L is the schwa vowel + L.

fail = [fay (y) uhl]

peel = [pee (y) uhl]

I’ll =  [I (y) uhl)

oil = [oi (y) uhl]

howl = [how (w) uhl]

bowl = [bo (w) uhl]

pool = [poo (w) uhl]

You can see some earlier posts (and hear audio) on Long Vowel Sounds + L Powerful L Sound and How to Pronounce April Fool

How Long Will it Take to Change My Accent?

how long will it taket change my accent?Of course, each student is different.  Students exposed to English at an earlier age usually have an easier time learning the English accent. Students who are around native English speakers frequently (at work or school) have more opportunities to practice their skills, and so learn the English accent faster.  My experiance has shown that most students need 12 – 20 hours of weekly training to make significant changes in learning the English accent.

Here are recommendations for an effective English accent learning program:

Find a teacher who has special training in speech, such as a certified speech-language pathologist or a teacher with Compton P-ESL (Pronouncing English as a Second Language) certification.  This is training above and beyond what a regular ESL teacher has, and it includes multiple facets of speech communication such as sounds, rhythm and intonation, linking patterns and reductions. I have both certifications.

Participate in a weekly lesson for 12 – 20 weeks, or 3 – 6 months of dedicated study. Do not give up after 5 or so lessons!  That’s the point where frustration is the highest for a student.  At 5 lessons you’ve learned just enough to know that you have LOTS more to learn, and it does seem overwhelming at that point.  Don’t give up.  Every student I’ve had go through 12 lessons or more was grateful they continued the program long enough to make a significant change in his or her accent.

Do daily homework.  You won’t make changes to your accent if you don’t practice what you’ve learned.  Practice (30 minutes – one hour) should happen on a daily basis.  If your teacher does not give you practice homework, ask for it, or find a teacher who does.  Language and speech should be automatic skills.  You become automatic in a new accent by practicing.

Find a native English speaker for practicing conversation. Watching TV with English subtitles is great, but by interacting with an English speaker you will benefit the most and learn the fastest. One added benefit of learning to speak with a more English accent (you can never completely change your accent) is you will become better at understanding English speakers!

English Sounds App

K12 phoneme videosIf you want to review your English sounds, here is a great FREE app! K12 Phoneme Videos available for the iPad and IPhone.  You can see short videos of an American English speaker saying all the sounds of standard English.  I love this free app for practicing your English vowel and consonant sounds.

This app has a phonics foundation and the sounds are represented by common spellings.  It’s a little different from how I teach it in class but the sounds are the same.  (My approach is founded in IPA, International Phonetic Alphabet.) This app includes 2 extra R-controlled vowels [ar] and [or].  In class, I cover only [er]. Also the qu” sound is called ‘KW”  and the “x” sound is called “KS”.  Students, if you have questions, please let me know.

Note:  On this app be aware that they show the long /u/ sound with a /y/ as /yu/ in the word use, cute and music  – here they have added the /y/ but many words in American English with long/u/ do not have the /y/next to it.  Examples without /y/ are Luke, Sue, true, duty, nuclear, pollution. British new  has a /y/ – /nyu/.  American new does not – /nu/.



Many Spellings, Same Sound, Pronouncing “ER” Correctly

ER soundBe careful about the “er” sound in English. There are MANY ways to spell it, but only one way to say it! The most common error is with the OR in word, work, worse, worth and world.  For an American accent, don’t pronounce “word” like “OR” or you will say something that sounds like “wark” .  Remember every word on this list is pronounced with “er”!

  • sir
  • fir
  • bird
  • dirt
  • third
  • thirty
  • circus
  • circle


  • burn
  • turn
  • church
  • curve
  • purple
  • return
  • nurse


  • her
  • fern
  • serve
  • term
  • verse


  • earth
  • earn
  • learn
  • early
  • search


  • word
  • work
  • worry
  • worse
  • worth
  • world




Early Screening for Autism – M-CHAT

mchatimagePediatricians today do a better job of screening for autism. One of the forms you may encounter at your child’s pediatrician visit is the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers). The M-CHAT is a series of questions designed to help your doctor determine if your child needs a more thorough evaluation. The screening for M-CHAT is done at ages 16 and 30 months. But you don’t have to wait.  If you have a concern you can get the screening questionnaire and scoring online at M-CHAT.org. There is even an iPad app for $2.99. Below is a free printable screening form, or visit the M-CHAT website above.

Screening for autism sometimes produces false positives, so use the M-CHAT in collaboration with your pediatrician.

PDF printable form of the M-CHAT