Study Finds Increase in Autism in U.S. Kids

CNN reported a study published on Monday in the Journal of Pediatrics that found an increase in the number of children with autism and related disorders in the United States. The number is up to 1 percent of children from the age of 3 to 17.

The study is based on the results of the federal government’s 2007 national survey of children’s health, where parents were asked by telephone if a health care provider had ever told them their child had an autism spectrum disorder. In a follow-up question, parents were asked if their child was currently considered to have ASD. Nearly 40% of the respondents said no.

The question is whether the original diagnosis of ASD was accurate since the disorders are not considered curable. To that point though, as therapists we see children who receive massive hours of early intervention after a diagnosis of ASD, and years later they are “undiagnosed,” due to great improvement in their social and language skills.

The new statistics may be accurate and autism may be on the increase or maybe we are better diagnosticians. According to the CNN article,

“The researchers urged caution in interpreting the change, noting that an increase in diagnoses does not necessarily mean that more children have the disorder. It could simply reflect a heightened awareness of the disorder.”

In any case, heightened awareness is good if we can identify children with ASD early and get them the early intervention services they need to make maximum progress.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Autism, Birth-3 year-olds, Speech and Language Delay | Leave a comment

Speech Therapy Halloween Ideas for Autism, Language and Articulation

Toddlers in Halloween costumesHalloween is a fun time of year for kids and an easy theme to introduce into therapy. Today I want to share a few books on that theme that are simple, yet fun and can be incorporated into a language or articulation lesson.

Last week I went to the home of my little friends on the autism spectrum. Books aren’t always his favorite activity and I try hard to find stories with simple, funny, stories linked to his experiences. First we popped popcorn in a pot with a glass lid. What fun to see the kernels pop and overflow, just like the story, Popcorn, by Frank Asch. We took pictures of the steps so we could order them later in re-telling our activity. Then we read the book and took advantage of all the opportunities to ask wh-questions relating to the pictures supporting the story, and describe the action, especially on the party page.

Sheep Trick or Treat by Nancy Shaw begins with “As the Halloween moon rises, sheep are fixing up disguises.” These well costumed sheep go trick or treating through the farm and encounter some wolves on the way home. Good thing they are dressed up to scare their enemies and arrive home safely to eat their treats! Shaw’s clever series of sheep stories in rhyme are great for pre-literacy skills as well as articulation practice with the /sh/ sound.

Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Lydia Monks is one of my favorites for the season. This tale is about a lovable, persistent spider who wants to be adopted as the family pet. It is a good story to talk about feelings and associated facial expressions of surprise, fear, happiness and excitement.

Apples and Pumpkins by Anne Rockwell is another seasonal book that is a simple, concrete story about the experiences of going to the farm and picking apples and pumpkins, and returning home to carve the pumpkin and go trick or treating. This book could be used as a social story for children on the autism spectrum before a fall field trip, pumpkin carving or trick or treating.

If you work with children on the autism spectrum, please let me know what books have been interesting to your little clients. I would like to develop a list to share with other speech therapists and parents. You can comment below or e-mail me directly at Thanks!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Articulation, Autism, Language, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Talk to Your Baby, Says the New York Times

toddler looking

Today’s New York Times includes the article, “From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk” by Jane Brody. The author has observed what we are all seeing–too many moms and nannies stolling their babies while distracted on their cell phones and BlackBerrys. Too many caregivers are missing the opportunity to label the world in their walk around the block.

This summer I strolled my 1 1/2 year-old grandson around the block and kept pointing out “treasures” for us to collect in his cup holder. When he found the walk a little too long to be sitting, I picket up the pace and started to collect acorns, huge leaves, sticks and bugs. I kept up my verbal entertainment to keep him distracted until I heard him say, “treasures!” That was a new word for him. Every treasure I named and declared while giving it to him had helped him learn a new word.

The author does a good job of pointing out the importance of talking a lot to your baby, labeling their world and inputting language related to their experience. I often tell parents to give a running commentary about what they are doing and what their baby is experiencing. A baby who can’t talk yet, can begin to hear and discern sounds and understand words. All of your talking to your baby with focused attention and eye contact promotes language development.

Many good points are made in the article such as:

  • don’t use baby words and baby talk but talk to your baby like an adult
  • repeat what sounds your baby makes as you begin to carry on a conversation of coos and goos
  • Repeat familiar songs and rhymes that your baby will begin to memorize and be able to join in with you as they get older
  • Read, read, read from birth. Babies are listening to the rhythm of language and actually hearing tiny differences between languages as they hear your sentences.
Most important, spend one on one time with your little one, showing him that he is the most important person in the world as you express your love through language.
Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Speech Language Therapy Books

I try to work on all of my language goals while using excellent children’s literature.

Recently, I was working on brainstorming ideas with a student to prepare for a writing assignment about a “memory.” The teacher read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partirdge by Mem Fox to the class and asked them to define a “memory.” Her teacher asked the class to bring in a souvenir from a fun adventure. Based on the souvenir, they organized their writing assignment around where it came from, when they got it, described the big event around the memory (a trip to grandma’s, the zoo, the beach etc.) and concluded with how it made them feel.

As speech pathologists, we are responsible for the speech language goals for oral language which precedes written language. Therefore, I am often involved in the process of brainstorming ideas, organizing thoughts, adding details and description and building a conclusion. Visual organizers are helpful to students before the writing process and rehearsing their ideas verbally.

What books do you find helpful in language therapy? Let’s share in the comments below.

Posted in 6-8 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Language, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Speech Therapy for Apraxia

preschooler playing pretendAs I have said before, I think many children are labeled apraxic prematurely. Often I will say to a parent that their child is apraxic-like, meaning he or she appears to be having some motor programming difficulty with speech and finds it difficult to imitate at the appropriate age.

With the 2 year-olds that are referred to me who have very few words that might appear and then be gone, I have found an effective way to “get them going” in a therapy session. If they have a word or two that seem easy for them to produce such as “ball” or “dog,” then begin with those words. Plan an activity where you can use the word in many different ways through play so the child has an opportunity to be successful and get his vocal mechanism going. I even tell parents to help “warm up” their child in the morning before they are going off to preschool and they seem to talk more and be more successful.

Yesterday I used a little push-activated toy, a dump truck, that we kept making and putting play-doh balls into as we made it go across the table. Every little activity with a ball was an opportunity for success.

Posted in Apraxia, Birth-3 year-olds, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Autism Alerts at 2 years of Age

Like other professionals today, I am always on the alert for signs of autism in children that I see, so that if needed, I can help parents get the best help, fast and early for their child. I am amazed at the progress many children can make if they are diagnosed early. When I worked at the Early Childhood Center in Fairfield, I would start with children when they were 3 years old. When I looked back at reports of their status just a year earlier, at 2 years, I couldn’t believe it was the same child. They had had many hours of therapy, and it showed.

Recently, I was having a play session with a little boy, whom I was seeing for my “play on words” session, where I show parents how to talk, read and play with their typical youngsters, to enhance language. This little boy was 2 1/2 exhibiting some “red flags” for autism. At first nothing appeared to be off. He was playing nicely by himself with his little Fisher Price animals and talking in short sentences of a typical length for his age. This can be misleading because one might think that language is fine if they can talk in sentences. But, language is more than grammar. Pragmatic language, or social language is a key component in a child’s overall language age. A child at this age still typically plays next to another much of the time but also engages in play with peers and adults and has conversations back and forth, looking the other person in the eye. But when I came into hir play with a figure or piece of the action, he didn’t “let me in” by looking me in the eye, responding to my questions about his play scheme, or seem to acknowledge that I was there. HIs mom began describing situations that she had observed her son in recently that were cause for her concern.

They were at the beach and his peers were busily playing together while she observed her son off by himself, not seeming to be interested or aware of their play. He kept throwing stones in the water repeatedly, not changing his activity.

Often between 2 and 3, when children are expanding their language into little sentences and developing the use of language to manipulate their environment–request things, show their dislike for things, ask questions–it may become apparent that your child is not using his language flexibly as he should.

If you have concerns be sure to discuss specifics with your pediatrician and/or call your local Birth to Three Services to have an evaluation. Autism Speaks is an excellent organization and has helpful descriptions of the signs of autism on their website.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Autism, Birth-3 year-olds, Speech and Language Delay | 2 Comments

Stuttering Newsletter

I just got the Stuttering Foundation’s Fall 2009 newsletter. For those of you who stutter or work with clients who stutter, this is a great resource for you. This month’s featured articles deal with the use of cognitive behavioral therapy with stutterers and recent research being conducted at Purdue University by Hayley Arnold, Ph.D., who is studying “how language, motor, and emotion factors may influence stuttering in young children.”

I think it is important for us as speech therapists to keep up with current research in our field, especially in relation to the types of clients we work with.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Stuttering | 4 Comments

Language Therapy Book Resources, Elementary Age

I love to use great picture books when doing language therapy so I wanted to share a few that have been rich for teaching certain language goals for elementary aged kids.

Recently I was working with a fourth grader whose goals include being able to: summarize a portion of text read to her, re-tell relevant facts in order, compare and contrast concepts and vocabulary, predict what will happen, and answer age appropriate wh-questions.

I checked The Sea, the Storm and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry out of my public library. What a treasure that was for teaching language skills to an elementary aged child. She is also the author of The Great Kapok Tree. The story begins with a propagule seed floating to its new nesting area to start a mangrove tree. Each layer is described and beautifully illustrated with the creatures and foliage and its protective purpose for the animals. A hurricane disrupts the calm but illustrates the refuge that this mangrove tangle can be.

We took a long paper, placed it vertically and drew the different levels of the mangrove tree, the animals that lived there and the plants that provided refuge and food. We compared the different levels, animals and plants, before and after the storm in an exercise of comparison as well saw how the levels were linked through deep, tangled roots etc. We summarized sections after we read them aloud and offered three facts to back up our summary. We answered “Why? questions concerning the importance of certain structures and habitats.

I often try to link a book to today’s experiences so we looked on the internet for mangrove trees and found a site that explained the controversy surrounding cutting down the mangroves to make way for a shrimp farm, just as was mentioned in the book.

Posted in 6-8 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Language, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Word Finding, Building Vocabulary

kid's bike drawingWhen working with a preschooler with word finding difficulties, I design my lessons around the vocabulary that she experiences most often in their everyday activities. Using the words to describe and tell stories, draw pictures and explain them, all give the child the opportunity to improve retrieval of basic vocabulary.

Yesterday, we read Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen, by Cari Best. Sally Jeans life is chronicled by the bikes that she has ridden on from sitting on the seat behind her mom, to a tricycle, to training wheels to…oh, no. She has outgrown her bike and doesn’t have the funds to buy a new one. Getting the parts from her junkyard friend, she assembles her new bike. My little girl had just gotten a new bike and compared the parts that Sally Jean had to those on her bike (she didn’t have streamers but did have a basket!) She drew this lovely picture of her bike and names the parts, which can be hard for her. Note the basket with her stuffed bunny in it and the streamers coming out of the handlebars.) As we used the vocabulary of bikes, outside fun and family and friends, she re-told the story, and compared the bike to her own.

Using useful vocabulary within categories helps with word retrieval as she rehearses using the words in many contexts.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Word Finding | Leave a comment

Bilingual Children Learning Letters, Colors

little boy swimmingI recently heard from a mom who had a question about her child’s ability to learn letters and colors since she is raising her bilingual:

Hi Sherry,
I have a small concern and I was wondering if you could help.  As you know, I’ve been raising my daughters bilingual.  Katerina will be three in September and she’s always been ahead on most developmental milestones, but now I see that her classmates can identify the letters in the alphabet and know all their colors and she doesn’t.  She’s self conscious about it as well.  I try to work on them at home with her, but she loses interest quickly.  Is it common for this to happen when she’s been doing so well?  Any pointers?
Here was my response:
My guess is that raising your Katerina bilingual is not influencing her ability to identify letters and colors but it may take her a bit longer since she is learning two systems. Letters and colors are fairly abstract so you might be conscious of teaching them within a meaningful experience, like finding her name on a paper, toy or clothing and point out a few of the letters and see if she can retain them over time. Associate a color with a common object like red apple, blue sky etc.
In talking to some kindergarten teachers they tell me that their incoming classes range from kids that know all their letters and those who know only a few.
Good luck!
Posted in Bilingual, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment