Wednesday, August 16, 2017

10 Tips for Conquering the Dreaded Speech Therapy Schedule

Making your beginning of the year speech therapy schedule?

10 Tips for making a speech therapy schedule

 Did I hear a deep collective SLP sigh on that one? It’s a task many of us dread. I cringe a bit thinking about getting started on it. Ok, a lot. I would rather find a million other things to do.  

Scheduling can feel like a frustrating game of Tetris.

Trying to fit all those students of different sizes and configurations in just the right place to suit their needs, their teacher’s needs, and your availability can drive you nutty.

You may need a lot of caffeine and will probably get plenty of steps in while you are running around campus trying to work out all the kinks. It can be a crazy process. How can you make it a little easier? 

 Here are 10 tips on how to conquer that crazy schedule:

1.  Check with your principal (or principals) before you get started.

Let them know how many children you will be scheduling, and any restrictions on your availability. Ask if they have any parameters you need to work with. For instance, for pull-out services, are there certain times or classes they don’t want you pulling from? For in-class services, are they good with you going in during language arts or social studies?

It really helps to have your principal’s support as you discuss scheduling with teachers. Then, if you find a teacher reluctant to let you schedule her student at a particular time, you can say…. “The principal said…”

2.  Make a spreadsheet with all your speech students.

This is definitely a must! I list them alphabetically. I have columns for grade, teacher, disability codes, IEP speech time, goals (A (artic), F (fluency), etc, IEP due, Re-eval due, and anything else I need to keep up with. You can easily sort a spreadsheet to see when IEPs or evals are due or group children by grade.

Once you know who you have, you are ready to start scheduling! 

3.  Get a copy of your school’s master schedule.

Fill in grade-level specials (if you are pulling from there), any other pertinent building information.

4. Don’t forget to include time for your other duties.

You will need to schedule time for assessments, Medicaid billing, writing IEPs and any other duties you have. Block off any time you are not available.

10 Tips for making a speech therapy schedule

5.  Color-code your students.

Many SLP’s like using self-stick notes, and write each student’s name on a note. These can go up on a wall or board as you work on the schedule, or draw a blank schedule on a file folder so you can carry it with you.

You can color code your students by grade or by goals if that is how you are grouping. It’s much easier to see how to group the children this way and easy to swap them around.

6. Use a spreadsheet to make your schedule.

I often start with notes, but then I like having a printed schedule I can carry around or even carry my laptop as I go talk to teachers and work out the kinks. I use a spreadsheet to list my time slots and then enter each student’s name (color-coded with a highlight). It’s easy to move these around in a spreadsheet. 

7.  Schedule students with the most conflicts first.

These may be the students with multiple services, or those in inclusion, or who leave for outside therapies. Consult with their special education teachers and other providers. It’s no fun when you finally think you have the perfect spot for a student a student and then find out OT or PT also scheduled that time.

8.  Schedule with your least flexible teachers next.

Many SLPs give teachers a list of their students and ask for 2 best times and one worst time. 

Personally, I find it mind boggling to sort that out for 60 or 70 children. I don't ask for preferences ahead of time. I think it is simpler to go ahead and schedule students during their grade level specials or subjects I am allowed to pull from, hand out the “provisional” schedule to teachers, and then make adjustments as needed. 

9.  Try something new… a scheduling party!

I haven’t personally tried this myself, but it is an intriguing idea that is a different method altogether. Make a blank schedule on large paper, and then fill in any non-negotiable items. (Yes, you DO deserve lunch!)

Set whatever “rules” you need… only so many per time slot, perhaps all articulation students on one day, language students on another, no students in a group more than 2 grades apart, etc. I would definitely let them know that you will likely have to make a few changes if a group doesn’t work out.

Put out a few snacks or water bottles with vocal hygiene tips for teachers in the workroom. Hang your big schedule and a pencil. Post the rules. You may want to let teachers sign up for two possible slots for each student so you can revise as necessary. Now invite your teachers to come down, first come, first serve!

10.  Run your new schedule for a week or so before finalizing it.

This will give you time to make those inevitable changes when things come up.  I put a “revised” date on the top of my schedule so I can tell at a glance if I’m looking at the latest version.  

SLPs can dread making that first speech therapy schedule of the year. Read these read these 10 tips for making it go smoothly!

I would love to hear what works for you! 

Just leave me a comment with your tips, or leave your links to blog posts about scheduling.

Wishing you a stress-free back to school!

Until next time, 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Preschool SLP? This is the Materials List You Need- Plus How to Get Them Cheap!

Are you setting up for preschoolers in your speech therapy?

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.

When I visit Facebook groups, I see posts all the time from SLPs who are asking for advice on how to get started with preschool-aged children. Maybe you have served older children before, or maybe you are a new CFY and are starting out fresh. (By the way, pre-k speech therapy is awesome, you will have so much fun. I promise. Pinky swear.)

You have a limited budget, right? 

Let's face it, setting up a speech therapy room from scratch can be expensive. If you are a CFY, haven't been practicing long, or have changed settings, you need to gather some essentials.

Unfortunately, many school-based SLPs are on their own reaching deep into their pocket for supplies and materials. If you are lucky, you may get a small allowance for supplies.

You need the most bang for your buck and are wondering what are the most recommended, just can't live without it basics you will need? You might have some ideas for your older students, but what about preschoolers?

So what materials do you really need?

You would be surprised that you can do with just a few items, some imagination, and willingness to sing, act crazy, silly, goofy and get down and play! Still, it’s very helpful to have a supply of age-appropriate toys, games and craft materials.  Here are my recommendations, along with how to get supplied without breaking the bank, if your district does not give you a generous budget. Or no budget (sad face).


1. Basic Supplies:

In addition to basic office supplies, you will need tissues, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer, and lots of it! Preschool means plenty of runny noses. It's a fact.

SLPs are always creating activities to meet their student's goals, and need some basic supplies. Here's what I keep in my speech room.

My must-haves:
  • Cardstock
  • Baggies- several sizes. I love the ones that zip.
  • Hook and loop tape or dots. Or both!
  • Plastic shoeboxes or tubs for water and sensory play-  fill with water, rice, beans, packing noodles, etc.
  • A cookie sheet to contain messes and provide a backdrop for activities
  • Hot glue gun
  • Page protectors
  • Permanent markers

My wishlist:
  • Large magnetic whiteboard. (Alternately, the side of a file cabinet works great!)
  • Magnetic tape or dots
  • Package tape
  • Lamination pouches if you do not have access to a school laminator.

Thrifty TIP 1: Check and see exactly what supplies are already available to you before making any purchases. In my school, I am welcome to use the supply of construction paper, tempera paint, the laminator and a few other items.

Thrifty TIP 2: Ask your district for hook and loop tape or dots.
You may need it for making visual schedules and not just games and activities. I like the dots, but you can buy a roll a bit cheaper, and cut it. Use pieces large enough to get the job done, but be conservative, and it will last longer. 

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.
These last a long time, my kids get to do one dot for each response.

2.  Arts and Crafts supplies: 

Even if you are not artsy-craftsy, I encourage you to do hands-on activities with your littles. They offer so many language opportunities and keeps little hands busy too. Resist diving in and doing too much of the project to "help."  Give your preschoolers the opportunity to do the work themselves and let them really create and explore.

Need arts and crafts ideas? Pinterest is chock full of them. Head over and check out Speech Sprouts on Pinterest here.

My must-haves:

  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Crayons
  • Washable markers
  • Gluesticks and white glue
  • Dot markers
  • Paint- tempera and or watercolors
  • Brushes
  • Play dough
  • Paper plates
  • Paper bags
  • A hole punch
  • Craft sticks
  • A large adult-sized button down shirt, for a painting smock.

My wishlist:

  • Glitter
  • Cotton balls
  • Colored tissue paper
  • Wiggle eyes
  • Ink pads and stamps
  • Shaving cream (Great for sensory play!)
  • Clothespins
  • Sponges
  • Yarn
  • Toothbrushes (for painting, sanitized old ones work fine)
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Pom poms
  • Cookie cutters

Thrifty TIP 3: See if your Pre-K and Kinder teachers are willing to share.
 Classrooms are usually stocked with supplies like paintbrushes and scissors, and teachers may not mind you borrowing. This usually works especially well if you do in-class therapy.

Thrifty TIP 4: Send your parents a "wishlist."
If you are in a school where parents can afford to send supplies, send home a "wishlist" at the beginning of the year asking for consumables. Send one home before the holidays too. Or post it on your school web page. I ask parents to send one or two items if they can.

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.
Be sure the doll can survive a bath!

3: Toys:

My must-haves:

  • A doll, preferably one that can stand a bath!
  • Plastic animals- pets, zoo animals, dinosaurs, ocean animals, farm animals
  • Toy food
  • Toy pots, pans, cups, and dishes
  • Cars and trucks
  • Blocks
  • A ball (Yay for eliciting verbs! "Throw it, roll it, catch it")
  • Magnetic bingo chips and a magnetic wand. (A million and one uses)
  • Foam dice
  • Bubbles

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.
A have a million ways to use bingo chips. 

My Wishlist:

  • Miniature toys for a "feely bag" or to bury in a sensory bin. (Little ones get so excited 'finding" surprises. Just be careful your students are old enough/ mature enough so they are not mouthing these, they can be a choking hazard.)
  • Themed play sets: a farm or a play house are my favorites.
  • Puppets for storytelling and imaginative play. 
  • Puzzles- I like to give a piece at a time as a reinforcer during drills.
  • Bean bags
  • Mr. Potato Head
  • A doctor kit
  • Ball popper toys- you squeeze them to "shoot" a ball. Fun!

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.
Use Mr. Potato Head to target body parts and pronouns.

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.
Use toy animals for position concepts, verbs and more!

Thrifty TIP 5: Ask for donations of used items.
Put some of these toys on your wishlist, and share it with your staff and parent organization too. If you are a member of a church, let them know you are accepting donations of preschool books, toys, and games. Parents with older children are often glad to donate used toys when they clean out their children's toy boxes.  If you receive something you can't use, just donate to a classroom or charity.

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.
Collect toys for imaginative play.

Thrifty TIP 6: Shop yard sales and garage sales. 
You will be amazed at what you can find on the cheap. Dolls, miniatures, buckets, and bins are usually easy to find. I only pick up games when they are simple, quick play and do not require batteries!  Enlist your bargain-hunting friends and family to keep their eye out for your wishlist items when they shop yard sales too.

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.
Saved this from when my boys were little! 

Thrifty TIP 7: Buy consumables with your school budget.
Do you have a budget from your school to spend, but plan to spend some of your own money too? Use your school budget first for consumable supplies (like paper, paint, baggies, and cotton balls) and buy therapy materials with your money. That way, your materials are yours to keep and take with you if you change settings or schools.

Thrifty TIP 8: Shop thrift stores for games, puzzles, books, and toys.
I stop by our local thrift store often, as the merchandise changes all the time.

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.

3: Story Books

Engaging story books that help you target specific goals are definitely a must-have item and fortunately, most schools and communities will have a selection in the library you can borrow. Free is good! Just be sure to check out the books you need well in advance, so they're not out when you need them. But how do you find the right ones?

My favorite books for preschool language are those that have a simple storyline, repetitive text, and wonderful pictures. 

You can spend a ton of time sorting through them in the library, or let me introduce you to my favorites!

Check out this list of   Speech Sprouts posts that review my very favorite story books.

Follow me on Pinterest. I have boards dedicated to repetitive storybooks, storybooks read online and I am always pinning more storybooks and storybook activities.

For articulation

Be sure to head over and read my post on Sound-Loaded Books for Articulation. Next, grab the FREE list in my store HERE. Please remember to leave a sweet comment in feedback when you do, I truly appreciate it, and read every one.

Awesome FREE list of Sound-loaded story books for articulation sorted by phoneme from Speech Sprouts
This huge list is FREE! Click  HERE.

Thrifty TIP 9: Check with your school librarian to see if books are sorted for discards, and when. 
See if some of the less circulated or worn books may be given away at some point. My school does this a couple times a year. Let them know you need specific books. See if you can make your selections as soon as this happens (before the books are too picked over), to build your therapy library. I call dibs!

4. Articulation Materials

My must-haves:

  • A good comprehensive collection of words and pictures for early developing phonemes and phonological processes. There are many books available commercially, such as the Webber Articulation Drill Book. (I receive no compensation for this recommendation, I have just personally used this one.)

My wishlist: 

  • Articulation cards and activities- there are plenty available commercially. Buy cards ready made, or purchase from SLPs on Teachers pay Teachers and print them out yourself. 

  • Remember those miniatures? I have baggies of them sorted by phoneme. For instance, a star, a stamp, a stick, a stop sign, "storybook", a stocking, and a guy I named Steve for initial /st/. I pop these in a Christmas stocking in December, and we practice as we pull each item out of the stocking. Works great for sentence level articulation too "I found a stop sign in my stocking." 

Thrifty TIP 10: If you don't mind spending some time printing and laminating, you will save money and you find a bigger variety of resources by SLP authors on Teachers pay teachers. You will find packs with cards that are often packaged with fun printable activities to keep preschoolers engaged and busy. There are also many resources for free.

Having versatile therapy materials that are ready to go makes planning your sessions easy.

I love materials that I can use with a variety of children and goals, such as this build a scarecrow game /sk/ articulation fun) from my Articulation and Language Activities for SK.

You can also find this pack available in my S-Blend Speech and Language Articulation Bundle:

Build a Scarecrow Game from Articulation and Language Activities for SK by Speech Sprouts

I'm all set, now what?

Read About My Favorite Service Delivery Model for Preschool

There are many service delivery models that work well for our littles, depending on their needs. The traditional pull out, in-class services, and co-teaching all work well for many students. I have dabbled in all of these, and love my current literacy-based large group model.

Read about it here:  An Intensive Service Delivery For Preschool Speech Therapy  Questions? Ask me any questions you like, because I really love sharing about it!

What are your favorite tips and materials for preschool speech therapy?

Calling all you experienced SLPs to share your must-haves and know-how with those just getting started. Leave me a comment, I would love to hear from you!

Oh, and before I go, if you haven't gotten your free download of "Where's Froggy", you really need to to grab this great preschool prepositions activity now.  It is only available to my newsletter subscribers, so sign up in the sidebar or in the pop-up and I will send you the link pronto!

Until next time my friends, 

The materials SLPs need for preschool speech therapy plus 10 thrifty tips on how to get them for cheap.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Social Skills APP Review: Social Detective Intermediate App

Learning Social Skills Can Be Challenging for Some Children

Social Detective Intermediate App Review by Speech Sprouts

I usually have several students who need work on social skills. I am always on the lookout for resources, so when Social Skill Builders offered me the opportunity to review their new social skills app, Social Detective Intermediate for iPad, I said yes!

The Social Detective Intermediate app is a collaborative project of Social Thinking by Michelle Garcia Winner and Social Skill Builder.

It is based on the book You are a Social Detective by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke. I have had the privilege of seeing Michelle speak, she is an engaging and talented therapist who has developed many great resources for teaching social skills. Needless to say, I am very interested in any project she is involved in. 

First, the legal stuff: Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the Social Detective App app in order to review it from Social Skill Builders. However, this review is completely based on my experience using the app, and the opinions are mine alone. I receive no additional compensation of any kind. Whew! That should do it!

Using the Social Detective Intermediate App

Social Detective Intermediate App Review by Speech Sprouts

When you first open the app, you can choose an avatar and enter your name. 

The cartoon character avatars in their bright yellow detective coats are cute and appealing, but not too juvenile. The intro explains that everyone has "social smarts" and that we can grow our social smarts by using our tools.

Social Detective Intermediate App Review by Speech Sprouts

Students take the pre-test by clicking the Social Detective Notebook

When you click the notebook, the app shows 14 video clips. I found it a little difficult to hear the video clips, but you get the idea of the scene if you watch carefully.

 The job of the student is to determine what the people are thinking, what they are feeling and to make a "smart guess" about the scene based on what they know.

There are three questions per video clip, with four written multiple choice answers for each question. The questions are also read aloud.  After watching the video, the student is to drag and drop the correct answer choice onto a thought bubble (thinking) or a heart bubble (feeling). Finally, the student makes a "smart guess" about the scene.

I found the sound effect you hear when the answer is correct to be a bit jarring and annoying, rather than reinforcing. I imagine my students with auditory sensitivities might dislike hearing it. Fortunately, you can turn the sound effects off.

Social Detective Intermediate App Review by Speech Sprouts

Next, the student clicks on the flashlight for more social thinking practice. 

This time the student clicks on one of three answer choices.  The student is asked to think about what the character sees, hears and is thinking to make a smart guess about the scene. The student then makes a prediction about what will happen next. After answering the questions, the student is shown a short clip of what happens.

As the exercise progress, up to five answer choices are given, and the student chooses multiple correct answers with the prompt "Keep looking, there is more." The student is asked to tell what tools they used to make their guess: eyes, ears or brain.



  • I like the use of real video clips
  • The various ages of children in the clips make it appropriate for a range of ages
  • Pleasant narrator's voice
  • Students must analyze each scene for both thoughts and emotions.
  • I like that students are lead to use their knowledge about feelings and thoughts to make a "smart guess" or inference. 


  • The voices in the video clips were sometimes difficult to hear on my iPad, even at full volume.
  • Glitchy: It sometimes took several tries to get an answer to "stick" on the thought bubble unless you "held" the answer on the bubble for a couple seconds. The arrows to advance also sometimes took a couple of taps.
  • Annoying sound for correct guesses. I suggest turning it off in the beginning. 


Overall, I give the Social Detective Intermediate App a thumbs up

The use of real videos is valuable in teaching children about social skills. I like the emphasis on using all your "tools" to analyze a scene. The app has sufficient clips for several sessions worth of practice and plenty of repetition to teach the method of using "all of our tools (remembering, seeing, hearing, knowing and feeling)" to make guesses about the social world.

What do you think? Is this a tool that you would use?

Watch this Youtube preview by Socialskillbuilder to see this app in action.

Find it HERE

Until next time my friends, 
Social Detective Intermediate App Review by Speech Sprouts

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Letter to Me as a New SLP - 5 Things I Really Needed To Know

Are you starting your SLP career as a CFY or will be soon? Or maybe you are a veteran speech-language pathologist, looking back and thinking "When I started, I wish someone had told me....  Well, today I am going back in the time machine, to have a chat with that younger me.

A Letter to Me as a New SLP - 5 Things I Really Needed To Know by Speech Sprouts

I am teaming up with the Frenzied SLPs today to share what I wish I had known 17 years ago.

To be more confident, more inspired, more prepared for my SLP journey. I hope you read through all the posts in this wonderful linky below because you will be inspired, laugh a little and maybe see yourself there too. So here we go.

A Letter to Me as a New SLP

Dear Lisette,

Congratulations! You made it through grad school and are ready to embark on this new chapter in your life as a speech-language pathologist. First of all, you have a right to be proud. You have worked so hard to earn your entry ticket into this awesome profession. I know you've been trying out writing your signature with those precious letters after your name just to see how it looks! Your hard work and dedication have brought you to this point. So revel in it with your family and fellow grad school friends. It's exciting!

So now you have been hired for your first job as a speech-language pathologist. Along with the excitement is that knot of uncertainty in the pit of your stomach as you think about what is ahead. Did I learn enough to really do this? Will others take me seriously as a professional? What will I need? How do I get started?

I am here to say that you will be awesome! I also want to share with you some things you really need to know.

5 Things You Really Need to Know Now

1. You will have a million questions, and that's okay. 

You need a mentor. Or two or three.  Don't worry, you are not annoying them. They will expect you to ask questions. It is not a sign of incompetence or weakness. Go ahead and write yet another e-mail asking how to do something. Your mentors were there once, they get it, and will respect you for wanting to do the job right. There is still so much to learn.

 You didn't learn the daily nitty-gritty of the job.

Everything you learned in grad school was essential and is a rock-solid theoretical foundation for your career. You do have the knowledge and skills to make a difference! But which box do I check in this software program? What test would you recommend for this student? How do I conduct an ARD meeting? How can I get this preschool student to participate? Just exactly what kind of activities will work for this student with autism? Ask.

2. Others will see you as the professional if you do. 

Approach every conversation with that mindset. You are the expert in your area. Yes, you are. The other educators in your building will assume that you can do the job because you are in it.  So speak up and approach your conversations with teachers, parents, and administrators with confidence. Also, don't be afraid to admit "I don't know, but I will find out."

3. Most people do not understand your role. Sorry. 

Most people have no idea. They don't realize the complexity of your training you are so proud of or understand what you bring to the table for students. I am still puzzled as to why this is, but it's true. Teachers and parents often don't have a clue. Yep, even your principal. Maybe even your special ed director.  Years later, even your family still doesn't understand it, really.

I know it annoys you to be called "speech teacher"  because that title does not represent your true role and your specialty. Besides, you worked super hard through anatomy and physiology, motor speech disorders, statistics, audiology, phonetics and all those other classes, and you would love to be recognized for that. Sorry- but that is going to be an ongoing issue. You will have to educate others throughout your entire career. It's part of the job. So speak up and spread the word about our profession.

4. Advocate for a decent workspace and materials.

 Let me say that again. Advocate. Respectfully and in writing when necessary.

Do not accept the crowded corner of the storage room that is unsafe for your busier students or the noisy space next to the cafeteria, that sets off your student with autism. If you need materials, state why they are necessary to your student's progress.

Don't just say I would really like x-y-z. The job of administrators is not to keep you happy, ultimately. It is to provide an appropriate education for their students. Back up your request with facts about your student's needs to provide a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE). Tell how the lack of an adequate, distraction-free workspace or materials may be denying FAPE. State how it is detrimental to your student's progress and that it could lead to the school's liability if a parent has a concern.

5. Simple activities can be awesome!

You do not have to have the most awesome activity ever to engage your students and have a great therapy session. You do not need 10 different individualized activities each day. That's exhausting!

Almost any activity can be modified to meet a wide range of goals. Sometimes you will want to to do that oh-so-awesome project, but it is not required at all. Get on the floor. Read a book. Throw a bean bag. Or a wadded-up paper "basketball". Play, sing, dance, create and have fun. Just make sure you are getting plenty of responses.  Bring your enthusiasm and a simple plan and you students will love it. You will have so much fun too!

No worries, you've got this, Lisette!

You will adore your students, and they will love you too. Your heart will be touched. Some have been
"my kids" for 7 or more years. They will delight you, frustrate you, make you laugh, make you cry and make you feel like they are family.  It doesn't get better than that.

Enjoy every minute of the ride!

Here's the Frenzied SLPs Link-up.

I hope you read all the posts, so worth it!

Until next time my friends!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Made These 3 Mistakes Teaching The Picture Exchange Communication System, Have You?

If you have any experience with the use of AAC for communication, you are probably aware of The Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS. 

I Made These 3 Mistakes Teaching the Picture Communication System, Have You?

The PECS System is considered low-tech and does not require an electronic device. PECS was developed in 1985 by Andrew Bondy, Ph.D. and Lori Frost, SLP.  It was a unique augmentative/alternative communication system developed to meet the needs of learners on the autism spectrum or those with developmental learning disabilities with significant communication challenges or who were non-verbal.

PECS is a well-known, widely used system of AAC. You have probably seen those communication notebooks, with Velcro and a sentence strip on the top cover, filled with more Velcro strips and laminated picture symbols inside. In classrooms for children with disabilities, you'll see children pull a picture off their book or a choice board and hand it to an adult to request a snack item or toy.

The PECS system was based on behavioral teaching techniques. In the beginning level in the system, a learner exchanges a picture with a communication partner to request something... which is then quickly honored.

Pretty simple, certainly low-cost, and easy enough for anyone to implement, right? 

Actually no. Not if you want your learner to become a fluent, successful communicator that acquires a robust set of communicative functions and an ever-growing vocabulary. Not if you want to be as effective as you can be.  You need training for that. Why? Because the research-based system will help your learners reach their highest potential using the system if you know what you are doing. I thought I did. But I had forgotten about many details that can make a big difference.


I just completed PECS LEVEL 2 training and I have a lot to think about going forward. 

I took the Level 1 training a few years ago. Alright, maybe it was a lot of years ago... probably 15 years give or take. Since then I have used it to teach picture exchange for requesting, but not recently. Now I'm getting ready to start it with learners of mine, so I jumped on the chance to take the Level 2 training at our Educational Service Center and I'm glad I did.

In case you are wondering, I am using the term "learners" because I have heard that this week and I really like it. It works for a variety of terms and settings: including student, client or patient.

I realized that there are a few things I was doing while implementing PECS that I need to change.

I was definitely due a refresher and I learned a lot of additional tips and tricks. I think I have a deeper understanding of the process of the Picture Exchange Communication System. I also realized where I have messed up and was missing implementing parts of the protocol that can make a difference. Have you made any of these mistakes? Confession time- I have. Here are three, but there are certainly many more!

I Made These 3 Mistakes Teaching the Picture Communication System, Have You?

1. I attempted to teach phase one, the basic exchange to request, with only one trainer- me. I remembered that two trainers were recommended, but finding another adult to work with you can be hard to do in a school setting. Teachers and assistants are super busy and engaged with the rest of the children in the class. I figured I was pretty good at multitasking and could just work harder without the extra help to keep the student engaged and learning. So I went it alone. 

There are several reasons this is not a good idea. A huge one is that we don't want our learners to become prompt dependent. A second trainer reaches from behind the learner to provide gentle physical prompts without talking to or engaging the learner. This method of prompting is much more natural, less intrusive, and is less likely to build an expectation and pattern of waiting for a prompt to begin a communication exchange.  It's really not possible to subtly prompt while facing the student as the communication partner. 

The job of the communication partner is simply to entice, then deliver the reinforcer with lightning speed as soon as the child hands over the picture. That works so much more smoothly when we use two trainers. I really think that using two trainers will improve my learner's rate of skill acquisition and become ready for phase 2 more quickly- which doesn't need a second trainer! So get creative, and find some help.  The need for two trainers should be short-term. 

Our presenter, Anne, offered several suggestions on how to find a second person to work with you.
The good news is, you do not need to use the same second trainer to be available every session. In fact, it's preferable to rotate communication partners because you will get better generalization. No-else is formally trained in PECS? That's okay because YOU are. ( I hope! If not, I strongly recommend attending training if possible). So where can you find someone to help you?

See if a teacher or an assistant can spare 15 minutes a couple times a week, Consider co-treating with your occupational therapist. If you have a behavioral trainer, ask them. That could be a great partnership. Or perhaps you can use a volunteer if confidentiality concerns are taken care of. High school and university students are often looking to volunteer or to observe in schools. Even a peer or older student may be able to pitch in. 

Keep in mind, when trained correctly,  the phase one skill of grabbing a picture and releasing it into the communication partner's hand will be learned quickly. Then you won't need any help- because you are ready for phase 2!

How do you work with an untrained helper? Have your helper do the enticing, and you do the physical prompting. If they are untrained, just tell them to hold the item up and show it without saying anything. Have them put out their hand when the learner reaches toward them, and as soon as the picture is in their hand, they will quickly give the item to the learner and name it out loud. 

 Great Tips for teaching vocabulary and language skills to students with autism or developmental delays using Picture Exchange Communication

2. I wasn't keeping the communication book, my hand and the desired item all in line. 

In the beginning phase, you are teaching the learner to reach for the picture and exchange it. I have placed the communication book off to the student's side and sat next to him. Now I know that you do not want the learner to have to shift eye gaze too far from the motivational object to find the picture and drop it in your hand. You don't want them distracted and losing interest.

So the best way to arrange the materials and yourself is to line it all up with the reach. Sit across from the student if you are the "enticer". Be sure you position your open hand in front of the desired object. Now you are ready to deliver that reinforcer in a split second!

3. Sometimes training stalled at requesting and commenting.

The PECS system provides wonderful visual support for expanding sentences and teaching all kinds of vocabulary. Anne brought along so many great activities that can be used with our PECs learners. I am showing you a few here.  You can teach colors as adjectives with a fun selection of items in multiple colors. You can teach size, number, and shape.

How great is the little dog activity for teaching positions?

Great Tips for teaching vocabulary and language skills to students with autism or developmental delays using Picture Exchange Communication www.speechsproutstherapy.comGreat Tips on how to teach vocabulary and language skills to students with autism or developmental delays Picture Exchange Communication

Picture Exchange Communication Tips and 3 Mistakes I Made

Do you have students that are more interested in flicking the paper of the pictures than exchanging them? The "flicking" can become the motivator and some students tend to stim with them. Solution? Mount your pictures inside baby food jar lids for "flick-free" pictures to exchange! Genius.

Would you like Free Templates to create your picture cards? 

Read these posts and download them!

Autism Supports: Free Templates To Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in PowerPoint

Autism Supports: How to Make Photos With No Background Using Your Smartphone

I hope you got some great ideas, I know I did.

Great Tips for teaching vocabulary and language skills to students with autism or developmental delays using Picture Exchange Communication

Until next time my friends,

Friday, April 14, 2017

Autism Supports: Free Templates to Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in PowerPoint

Create Your Pictures for Picture Exchange Communication in Powerpoint.

Autism Supports: Free Templates to Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in PowerPoint

Many people use Boardmaker to create their communication pictures, and it is a great program that has an extensive library of pictures. If you want to use your own photos or pictures, and want the flexibility to customize your pictures and photos, give PowerPoint a try. It's easy to use, and most of us have a copy already on our computer, so there is no extra cost. Love that for sure. 

I just completed PECS LEVEL 2 training and we talked a lot about using pictures for communication.

My level 2 training went in depth over all the phases of the Picture Communication system. In phase 3, pictures are now stored inside the book. This is the phase where learners are taught to discriminate between pictures and choose the correct picture.  The learner must truly look at the pictures and determine which one will get the enticer to deliver the goods!

In earlier phases, the learner picks up a single picture and exchanges it for something they want. In phase 3, there is no more simply reaching and grabbing. The learner has to begin to scan for the picture they need. To teach this in increments, two pictures are placed on the front of the book. We can start with a picture of the preferred object, and a blank square. This makes it easy to differentiate which one to choose. Next you gradually change the second square to be a picture of a non-preferred item. 

You need progressively lighter pictures for training phase 3.

 Our trainer, Anne,  suggested doing this in increments by going to the copier and producing a super light/faded copy of the picture, then several more copies that get progressively sharper and more clear until the picture is fully visible. See what I mean in the picture of the glove above.

Another way to do this is with PowerPoint if you are using photos or clipart. No worries, I created templates for you to get you started. You will need a copy of PowerPoint to use them. 


First, you will need pictures to use!

 In my last post, I showed you how to create awesome white-background photos of real objects using just your smartphone. Read the post HERE. You can also use photos or pictures you find on the web, just be sure you are following copyright laws when you download them. Be especially careful if the finished product will be posted online. The Edublogger wrote a post on The Educator's Guide to Copyright, Fair Use and Creative Commons. Read the post to find out more about online images and copyright. 

Smarty Symbols is a popular alternative for picture symbols that can be downloaded and used.  They offer a paid membership. There are many free and low-cost clipart images available on Teachers pay Teachers. A wonderful site with cartoon-style clipart that is free to use is My Cute Graphics.

Use the FREE templates two ways for picture exchange training.

1. Create a grid of various pictures to keep interest high. In Levels 1 and 2 you will want a variety of pictures of preferred items that your learner will want to use to request.  Pop a copy of each picture on top of a square in the grid and print. Save your file and you can re-print easily if pictures become lost or worn. I like to keep a file for each student, so I can find their pictures quickly.

  2. Create multiple copies of the same picture that become progressively less opaque for Phase 3 PECS training. Create a grid of the same picture in progressively lighter intervals. Pop a copy of your picture on each square. Then bring the grid to the front (directions are provided for PC users) and print: No messing with that copier, and it will be ready to reprint any time you need it. Grids are provided in 2x2 inch and 1.75 x 1.75 inch squares. The grids can also be re-sized if needed.
 Download the free PowerPoint templates with instructions HERE.


I learned of so many more great ideas and tips during our training. 

 What else did I learn? I have lots to tell you about and many great  photo examples of activities that Anne brought to show us. I'll be sharing these in my post next week, so be sure to stop back by! If you are not already following, you can get notice of new posts by following Speech Sprouts on Bloglovin HERE

I would love to hear what you think if you use the templates, feel free to leave me a comment.

Autism Supports: Free Templates to Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in PowerPoint
Download the Free Template HERE.

Until next time my friends! 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Autism Supports: How to Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone

Many children with autism need photos for visual support.

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts

I am a speech-language pathologist who has young children with autism on my caseload. I am also a friend and family member of people with autism. I have seen how using visual supports for children with autism can make a huge difference. 

Years ago, there was one sweet little boy with autism I knew well. He would get very upset and have huge meltdowns when his mother ran too many errands with him in the car. He could tolerate one or two stops, but no more than that. I helped mom make a visual schedule by taking photographs of the storefronts of her usual stops, and making a visual schedule with the photos for running car errands. It helped tremendously. Photos work!

In the beginning- working on communication skills with young friends who have autism and are not yet verbal.

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board
What will your student want to request?
I have a basketful of nifty toys. I begin by allowing my little friend to explore the toys. I want to see what he will enjoy and find motivating. We then use the preferred toys in therapy. I want my visits to be fun and establish rapport before moving on to more challenging activities. 

I can target many goals with my basket of bubbles, vibrating ball, rainstick, a noisy shape shorter, a light stick, wind-up toy and more goodies. For students who are non-verbal, I begin by encouraging them to engage more in interchanges with another person, take turns, increase shared attention and move toward requesting. When it goes well, we are soon calmly waiting our turn instead of crying. 

We establish a little play routine. I use lots of pauses while playing and watch to see if my little friend is anticipating what comes next. My friend looks at the toy, then at me, then back at the toy. I love when he shifts his gaze to look me and see if I am about to deliver the goods! Great stuff, we are laying the foundation in becoming a communicator.

Time to work on requesting with a picture exchange. But we need photographs!

I will be introducing my friend to requesting using a picture exchange. He is not yet ready for understanding symbolic pictures, so I need photographs of his favorite items. This is where I love having learned a few things about photography using my iPhone! So… I took these photos to make a communication board. We are all set. You may be wondering how I got that great white background and eye-catching contrast?

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board
Plain backgrounds help children focus on the subject.

I am going to show you how to take great object photos with just your smartphone to use with your students.

I own the iPhone 7, but you can get a great shot with a good android phone too.  I wanted a well-lit shot with no distracting background. Much easier to understand.  

Here’s how you can do it:

Take the Photograph.

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board
How to get a great photo using your iPhone
  1. Use a white backdrop. You can place your table against a white wall or better yet, use white poster board or a sheet of white paper taped to a vertical surface and curved like this photo of the little alien.
  2. Try to use bright natural light, but not direct sun. Near a large window is great.  If you don’t have natural light, try two lamps pointing at the object from opposite directions to help eliminate shadows. Forget the flash, it will make harsh shadows
  3. Get close to your subject. Using the zoom on many cell phone cameras will make your picture grainy. Get closer instead.
  4. Be sure your camera lens is clean- wipe with a soft cloth.
  5. Try lowering your phone/camera to the level of the table instead of an overhead view. Figure out the best angle for your subject.
  6. If you own an iPhone, lock in the focus on your subject by holding your finger down. You will see a yellow box and it will say AE/AF lock in yellow on your screen.
  7. Adjust the exposure by sliding the little yellow sun up or down... Be careful not to over-expose.
  8. Now hold still (I hold my breath) and shoot!

You may have a terrific shot you are happy with now. 

If not, you can edit it a bit. This might seem a little daunting at first, but once you do it a couple times, you will get the hang of it!
You can use the built-in editing features in the iPhone (which aren’t bad) or an editing app. Snapseed is a free app that’s awesome for editing, and not too hard to learn.

Editing on the Iphone:

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board
Edit your photo to make it "pop"

  1.  Open your picture in the camera roll, then touch the icon on the bottom that has three lines with circles or “sliders” on them.
  2. Touch the icon on the bottom that looks like a little clock. You will now see three options: light, color and B&W. Touch the arrow for the “light” icon. From there you may want to adjust a few things to whiten the background a bit, try making small adjustments to the brilliance, highlights and contrast. You can also up the exposure if the shot is altogether too dark. Just don’t over-expose.

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board

Editing with Snapseed

If you want to learn to edit with Snapseed, this tutorial on the iPhone Photography School log can get you started. Learning it is more than I plan to cover today, but definitely worth it if you love taking pictures with your camera phone! Another good tutorial is by Pink Pot. 
In Snapseed, you can adjust your white balance if your shot is too yellow. Here’s my super secret for getting a bright white background with little to no shadows: use the brush tool, and overexpose just the white background to make it brilliantly white and eliminate shadows. You do this with your finger!

Setting up and editing your photos may take a bit of time to learn at first, but is terrific for creating those “no background” photos for your choice boards or AAC devices that really help your student focus on what the image represents. As an added bonus, you will learn some great tricks to making your other smartphone photos extra beautiful!

Create your choice board:

1.   Send your photos to your computer. Email yourself your photos, or upload them to a service like Dropbox, and save to your computer.

If you have Boardmaker, you can import your pictures and use them in the program. Here’s a tutorial from Boardmaker:

I made my board in PowerPoint. Give it a try if you do not have Boardmaker. Do NOT use Microsoft Word, trust me on this, you will get frustrated!

 Don’t worry, if you are unfamiliar with PowerPoint, I will have a free template download for you HERE.  Just open it in powerpoint, and save to your computer.

If you want to do it yourself, here's how:

2.   Email yourself your photos, or upload them to a service like Dropbox, and save to your computer.
3.   Open a new file and draw a table with the number of cells you need. Format it to have no fill and all borders showing. Change the dimensions of the cells to be the size you need. I made mine 2.5 inch squares. Center your table on the page.
4.   Now click insert picture and insert one of your photos. You can re-size, crop, and move your photo into one of the squares. You can add text by clicking on a cell and typing.  When finished, print! (if you have any trouble printing in Powerpoint, click Save As and save as a pdf file before printing.)

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board
This noisy shape sorter is a favorite!

By the way, this shape-sorter is awesome. The shapes make noise going down the tubes, and my kids love the silly noises. If you want one, you can find several vendors by searching "noisy shape sorter".

Here’s how my choice board turned out.

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board
This board encourages matching. I also made a mat without pictures - so I can change and  move around the photo choices.

I can’t wait to try it out with my young friend. Let me know if you give it a try.

Read my Next post for more templates and Ideas:

Autism Supports: Free Templates to Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in Powerpoint

Have a lovely week, my friends! 

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board