Speak The Language: Pictures

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Have you noticed that kids with autism often don’t seem to process auditory information, but instead rely on what they see?  They seem to be unable to hear, but that is far from the truth.

When my son was a toddler, if I called his name he’d act as if he couldn’t hear me calling him.  But if I were to quietly whisper nonsense sounds, he could hear them a mile away.  This was baffling as new parents, not knowing about autism.

We had no idea what was normal and what was not.  We had his hearing tested and sure enough, he could hear sounds most people could not. He just didn’t know his name. He didn’t know that anything had a name, except for letters, numbers and shapes.

Once we figured out that he was born without a language, we made use of pictures. After all, he learned by what he saw:  if I put on my shoes, to him that was a firm promise that we are going outside to play.  If that didn’t happen, then there were tantrums to deal with.  If we drove toward Lincoln Street, then that was a sure promise we were going to the park. Telling him we were going elsewhere was of no use.

To make life easier for everyone, we took a bunch of pictures.  Pictures of things… like “Outside”, “Juice”, “Puzzles”, "Park".  Then when we were going outside, I would show him the picture of  our backyard and say, “Do you want to go outside?”

Highlighting the word and pointing to the picture made a whole lot more sense to my boy. He quickly learned how to receptively “get” pictures. And we were finally communicating.

We also used pictures to teach him his name, and the other family members names. One of my favorite memories of these early years is when I was quizzing him on our names by tapping his sister on her head, or tapping Daddy’s head and I’d say, “Who is this?”

He’d answer correctly until I asked him what my name is. I said, “Who am I?” as I tapped my head with my hand.

“NINE!” He shouted!

“What? Nine?” I asked confused.

And then Daddy burst out laughing. Because he could see what I could not. By putting my hand on my head while standing up, My body made the shape of the number 9!

Learning to think in pictures helped us explain many things to him as he got older. From single words, to a picture schedule (or list of pictures “to do”), to sentences, to stories.  As soon as he got the concept of things having names, his language exploded.

  • He went from 0 words at age 3, to  5 word sentences by Kindergarten!
  • By 2nd grade he didn’t need pictures anymore (except for a picture schedule).
  • In 3rd grade, his Developmental Pediatrician said, “I can’t even believe we (her and my son) are having this conversation.  If you asked me before if he’d ever be able to have conversations, I’d have said, “I don’t know”. But here we are! This is truly amazing!”
  • And today? He is going to be entering 7th grade. He says as many words as he wants. He still has issues with pronoun reversals, but besides that his language is amazing (well, except for the bad words. Why do kids learn those so easily?).

There is a TON of information out there on pictures in the forms of PECS, social stories, pictures schedules, etc.  One of my favorite free resources is www.Do2Learn.com.

Here are some examples of what we did for our kids:

Early on, we used actual photo's of what we wanted them to do:


Then came first sentences:

( Beneath this sentence strip, would be pictures of commonly asked for items.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.01.23 AM


Schedule boards are just awesome, providing independence and structure:

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.05.51 AM

Then we had some social stories. Some were very graphic, some very simple. Here is one that worked very well:
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.02.16 AM

and as he got older, his social stories became more cartoon-like:

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.02.04 AM

and then, he started making stories for us!: Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.01.35 AM

And for your amusement: 
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.05.24 AM

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.01.48 AM


This is part 2 of a series on speaking the language of our kids on the spectrum. To read part 1, click here: Speaking The Language: Scripts

Coffee Time:

Let's help our new autism parents out with a lot of ideas!

How have you used pictures to teach your children?

Please Don’t Send Him To Music Class

Please Don't Send Him To Music Class

Stevie loves music.

He loves to watch music videos, and loves to listen to music in the car. He loves to sing. He loves to play instruments. He just loves music and music loves him.

They have a thing going on.  When Stevie is upset, music will calm him down. When Stevie is happy, music complements his joy. Wherever Stevie goes, the music within him makes it’s way out with his beautiful singing.  Robbie has incredible abilities to imitate sounds, including instruments.

To hear a clip of him singing a classical piece from Baby Einsteins, click here.  In the DVD, this song is played by violins, and that is exactly what Stevie has made his voice to sound like!

The music he listens to and enjoys is usually really good too.

But don’t you dare even think about singing near him, no matter how good you are. He hates it when other people sing.

And don’t pretend to play the drums, or cluck a beat in your mouth. Or snap your fingers, or "bee-bop" for that matter.

And you know what? Don’t even dance. Because maybe you might get carried away and accidentally sing.

And absolutely DO NOT make him go to music class. He hates it.

For some reason the teachers and therapists at school thought Stevie didn’t like music. But that is not the case at all. He LOVES it. He is gifted in music. He has perfect pitch and an amazing range, and if he could learn to play an instrument without first destroying it, he’d be an instant celebrity on YouTube.

But he hates going to music class.


Some of the kids sing off key. Some play instruments wrong or their off-beat.  The sounds they make are not only jarring, but also unpredictable.  Loud screeches, and unexpected banging on percussion instruments overtake his ability to enjoy learning about music.

But that is because his sensory processing disorder interferes with his natural love for music; not because he doesn’t like music.

In music class he has no control over the noises exploding discordantly in the air around him. He must breathe in and breathe out the offending sounds as they vibrate through his body uninvited. There is no escape and there is no control. Sounds that are soft may make his skin crawl and sounds are loud attack his ears and body. So many sounds and frequencies just plain hurt.

He doesn’t like the way noise canceling headphones feel so he doesn’t wear them. Instead, he prefers to plug his ears with his fingers and hum (or script) to himself to try to cover up the cacophonous sounds that attack from all sides.

I’m am sure it just. hurts. too. much.

Stevie tried all he could conjure up to avoid having to go to music class.

He would bolt away,  he would drop to the floor and flail about in the middle of the school hallway. He’d push and pull and yank and grab and scratch and well, you get the picture.

But unfortunately, the powers that be did not understand him.

They did not want him to think he would be rewarded for his challenging behaviors.  Instead of listening to his behavior as a cry for help, they chose to not let him control the situation and provided an “escort” into that aversive classroom.  When he became unsafe with his behavior in the class, they would perform a 2-person stability hold in his chair to keep him there until he was safe enough to go back to the classroom.

I bet you can guess how much he enjoys music class now.

They gave up and he won (not really) being able skip going to that class.

Nobody should be required to sit through something that is painful to them, no matter how little we understand about why it is uncomfortable.

So please, please do not ever make him go to music class.

(Disclaimer: What happened in music class is pieced together based on what we learned happened from IEP meetings. Since the school would not let us observe what was happening for ourselves (due to misinterpreted “privacy” laws), I can only use my imagination as to what music class was like for my son.)

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