Monday, December 2, 2013

Balloonimals for core word practice

Balloonimals is a  basic app that goes far! The app is designed so that the person using it can select a color balloon, swipe to inflate the balloon.  Then, the user touches and moves around the balloon on the iPad in order to change it into the balloon animal.  The balloon can be changed in one long movement or in multiple, shorter movements. After it is created, the user can choose to take a picture or continue to inflate the balloon animal so that it will pop!

There are plenty of learning and language opportunities for this app. It is a great app to practice using CORE words (basic but POWERFUL words that can be generalized across multiple situations)  such as, "make," "do," and "more."

The opportunities I chose to focus are incorporated into the visual support below.  The visuals create guidance for both partially verbal students and ones who use AAC. This visual support can be found on or click here

Instead of focusing on requesting color balloons, I decided to work on creating opportunities to use core words and also to ask "what is it?"

This is how I use it: 
1. I allow the student to pick the balloon.  I model "I do" on the topical board as I inflate the balloon. 

2. Then, using the visuals and gestural prompts, I suggest the student say "I/ you do" or " I/ you make" or the expanded utterances "I/you do it," or " I/you make it."  Then, we can start making the balloon animal. 

3. After a few attempts to make the balloon animal, I move the iPad away from the user. This creates opportunity to practice " What is it?" or " Do more" or expanded utterance "make it change."

4. I model asking the question "What is it?"  The student can also practice making a guess what they thing it is with "it is + animal."  

5. After it is created, I model "make it big," or "make it pop."  It usually takes a few pumps at the end to make it pop, so I usually inflate it a little and work on the comment "it is big" or "make it big" or "do more."

There is a lot to work on with this app. For many of my kids it allows practice of some core words rather than the use of carrier phrases. Sometimes the hardest part working with this app is picking the language to practice!

Hope you have as much success as I do!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Learning to ask "where are we going?" and "where is + (location)?" with visuals and google maps

I wanted to share this new activity I made to help teach answering and asking *functional* where questions. 

I created this "book" in boardmaker, found on here:

Often times with students with autism, low tech paper visual supports are sufficient in order to help them understand and use the expected language for the activity.  But, to make it slightly more engaging, I saved the Boardmaker book as a PDF and saved it in iBooks so that it could be read from my iPad. (This also helped the book be more available to me across my various locations). 

The most fun part about the activity is that most of the activity is completed in song. What's great about using song is that it allows for natural repetitions of expressive language within the activity. 

I sing each page to the tune of "where is thumbkin."  For example this page:

Would sing like this: " Where is are we going? Where are we going?" Then, I would stop and ask a comprehension question "Where is the place where we buy food?" The students can use the two icons to point to as a means to answer the questions. 

Then, on the next page here:

I sing: "Going to the store, going to the store!" 

In the next verse, we  practice the *functional* question: "Where is the store? Where is the store?" and follow with: "There it is! There it is!"

A great follow up activity is to practice looking up where places are located on google maps or using yelp. Following up with a google or yelp search makes the asking of "where" questions really functional (and not just for fun practice). 

Hope you find this activity as fun as I do!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Free ebook with GREAT learning opportunities!

I downloaded this FREE ebook just the other day. I have to say, after using it 3 times, I am already impressed. It is a simple story about a hedgehog named Ned who is looking for a home for the winter. He stumbles upon homes that are already taken and the residents inside tell Ned “this is my home.” Then, the residents tell Ned to check somewhere else to stay for the winter.  

The book provides a great way for my kids with autism to practice intonation and stress (e.g. “my home.”).  There is the opportunity for the student to record his/her own voice in order to hear what his/ her stress sounds like. If you prefer, the narrator can read the book as well and hear the correct stress.

It also provides and excellent opportunity to make inferences (e.g., if Ned can stay in the homes or not) from indirect requests (e.g., to check somewhere else without directly saying “no”).   I simply ask, “Can the hedgehog stay here?” after each animal asks him to move on.

The story line also provides opportunity to practice preposition including “in,” “out,” “up” and “down” while Ned is looking for a home.

If you are working on 2-3 word combinations, I have created this draft of a topical communication board guide novel utterances such as “leaf falling” “blowing wind,” “open door,” “look in.”  The leaf animations are engaging and fun.

 Not to mention the opportunity for an abundance of “L” practice!

What a great find!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Low Tech shout out to Boardmaker ®

I had a huge reality check the other when I got to school and realized I left my iPad at home. For a second I thought: "well, how will I do therapy without my iPad?!" After my mini panic, I remembered that I had purchased Boardmaker® last year which gave me access to create endless amounts of visual supports and activities for my students with Autism.

A moment of gratitude came over me as I pulled out my schedule (you know, the laminated kind with velcro and icons), and my book with topical communication board ready to go. 

I just wanted to take the moment to thank the low tech supports for being there for when high tech user errors occur.  I've posted some of the things I have made on boardmakershare. Feel free to check out my boardmakershare profile here:

But low tech supports are more than just a back-up system. They are an important visual supplement to any activity that aids in expanding language and enhancing comprehension. 

Lately on boardmakershare I have been posting topical communication boards. I love using them along side any activity including books and ipad activities. It helps both my verbal and non verbal kids organize language and move up from using basic carrier phrases like " I want" to using core words and various 2-3 word combinations such as noun + verb ("elephant stomp"), verb+noun ("play drum"), adjective+ noun ("yellow shoes"), and novel SVO combinations ("dog eat bone"). Below is an example. 

Using low tech visual supports along side high tech educational tools has become for me a pivotal part of teaching independent communication skills. From schedules, to expanding language to encouraging social exchanges, low tech supports lead to high quality language. 

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I close my eyes: an interactive story

Every where I turn at work, I see another student with autism completely engaged with the interactive story app "I close my eyes."  The story walks us through Bella's imagination as she falls asleep.  On each page, Bella explains different scenarios she acts out in her dreams such as: "I close my eyes and I am flying in the clouds."

Each page has a cartoon that shows the action she describes. In addition, on most pages there is generally a funny action (such as a sneeze, an overly excited elephant or a monster that eats a fridge) that keeps most students coming back for more.
What is great about this app is that it provides a great and motivating way to talk about actions. I developed this communication board to help guide and support students as they talk about what they see as exciting!  

The app costs about $1.99 and creates an engaging opportunity to connect with a student.  There will be plenty to talk about!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

First words sampler

First words sampler was probably one of the first apps that I purchased and used in therapy.  I was almost in disbelief about how easy it was to get my clients to vocalize or use AAC (usually icon supports) to talk about what they saw. 

The app itself is really simple: you drag letters blocks up to the visual match to spell a word. The app reads each letter as you drag it to spell the word out loud. Then, after the word is successfully spelled, the icon spins around. 

I swear on my speech degree, that most kids will do anything (including vocalize, use full sentences to say what they see, expand sentences to include color) to see the icon spin around. 

So, using this app to elicit language is easy! Simply hold the iPad and ask the student what he/she sees. After they state the one word ("cat") or expanded sentence ("I see yellow duck," "It's a blue ship."), then they can drag each letter into the correct spot and squeal with joy as the object spins around!

It's a sure thing, and free!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Touch the sound

I stumbled upon Touch the Sound by Alligator apps.  Currently finishing up a unit on the 5 senses, it has been easy to incorporate app this into my regular speech practice. (Check out the extended 5 senses  lesson on boardmakershare:

I like to use this app to work on the receptive identification of sounds. Then, to keep the student engaged, after about 10 attempts, I usually "step it up a notch" by asking the student to say what they hear before touching the answer. 

I encourage the student to use his/ her communication system to say "I hear" or "hear" and then point to the correct choice on the app.  If the communication system has additional nouns or if the student is verbal, I may ask the student to use a complete sentence (e.g., "I hear a ______.") to work on commenting.

With some practice, I have seen some students generalize this commenting skill to comment on what they hear in their own environment ... " I hear a jet!"

It is worth the megabite usage on the iPad to give it a whirl!

iBaggs® cases for students... "so far so good!"

My previous post for cases (*speck) was geared at therapist use. So, I also wanted to share what I have found as a successful case for student use (for example if the student uses the iPad with a communication based app in place of a dedicated AAC device). 

I have a few students where I work that currently use iBaggs® cases.  

What I like about them is that:

A) They are lightweight and easy for kids to carry.
B) The strap is convenient for the same reason.
C) There is a fold down stand that

    1. is out of the way when you need it to be
    2. props up the iPad for convenient access during shared communication times like snack or language group. I find when it is propped up, it is a great way to model iPad use so that both student and instructor can view it. 
D) There is a handle in the back in case you need to hold up the iPad on the fly (e.g., on the playground) so that the student can access the iPad.

E) There is still easy access to the camera and charger when you need to use them.
F) "So far so good" with protection to the iPad!

I'm not a fan of the plastic protective film for the glass that came on the earlier versions of the cases, but cutting it out was easy enough. 

If you have a child or student using an iPad as a communication system and looking for a case, check out to check them out!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Toca Boca Kitchen

So far, I have not been disappointed in any Toca Boca app that I have purchased.  It hardly depends on which app it is, my students love Toca Boca apps (as do I)! One of the great things about Toca Boca apps from a speech therapy perspective is that they lend them selves to elicit novel language and increase utterance length. In general, most of the Toca Boca apps allow for a variety of specific choices using descriptive language.  The types of descriptions can be modified depending on the goals of the student (e.g. long/short, fast/slow…. blue man with orange hat and orange glasses, cut finely, cut coarsely etc.).  For a full list of Toca Boca apps, check out: (...and be ready for hours of entertainment!)

The latest app I have downloaded is called Toca Kitchen.  The purpose of the app is to feed a character. Using perspective taking and (Michelle Garcia Winner's) "smart guesses" on what the person/character would like, you select food from the kitchen. The food can be cooked and processed using a variety of kitchen tools, which is a great way to practice using a variety of functional cooking verbs.  There is a free version of the app called Toca Kitchen Monsters which is equally as great, however has less options of characters to feed. 

I use these communication boards (can be found on to encourage students expand utterances, diversify verb use and specify descriptions. 

I love apps that use food because it is a great way to teach “likes it/ doesn’t like it.”  It is also a great way to practice reading body language and interpreting non verbal vocalizations.   When you try to feed the people or characters  they either like the food a lot and have a big reaction (using big facial expressions and loud vocalizations), or like it a little (more subtle facial expressions and vocalizations), or do not like it at all and refuse the food. This activity lends itself to working on reading body language and nonverbal communication, an activity that is often more challenging for my students with autism. 

As usual with Toca Boca apps, there are no written (or spoken) words in the app, it is easily adaptable to be multilingual and loved by kids (and adults) of all ages. 

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


If you don't already know how wonderful Class Dojo is, I highly encourage you to sign up for this FREE service to experience first hand how it can shape the lives of students with autism.   ( )

Class Dojo is a service that I use to provide visual feedback to my students about their behaviors during speech sessions. My students with autism are visual learners and the "tallying" of behavior "points" helps motivate them to use more "expected" behaviors across our sessions. Class Dojo is an easy way to keep track of the behaviors as they happen and provide instant feedback without saying a word! 

Most of my students love the avatars.  They seem to also feel very empowered and in control of their own behaviors when using Class Dojo.  I have one student that is so motivated to use Class Dojo that he asks for it as we start our individual speech sessions. 

What's great about this website is that you can customize the positive and negative behaviors to meet the specific needs of a student or class. For example, with one of my students, the green/ positive points are given for "whole body listening" and asking questions (his targeted speech goals).  The red/ negative points are given for when he is "moving too much" or when he is taking all the "talk time."

When I run groups, I also use Class Dojo to motivate the entire class to meet my goals of good group participation including: seated with the group,  looking at the speaker, quiet  listening and safe hands.  If the group is doing all this, I can give everyone positive points all at once. If someone breaks from our group plan, then I can also give individual points (positive or negative). 

At the end of sessions, I can show the class or student a graph of how much positive vs. negative behaviors they used. Even better than that, I can show students exactly which behaviors they are great at, and which they need to improve on. 

I mostly use it on my computer or iPad. If using it on an iPad, it seems you have be connected to the Internet. In addition, it is a good idea to set up the targeted behaviors from a computer or laptop.  If working with a class, I can see how using it with apple TV would work perfectly! 

I don't even use Class Dojo to its fullest potential. There are options to print or email reports to parents and have student and parent logins. 

I know Class Dojo is designed for classroom management, but as a speech therapist, I love it in my individual sessions too!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sounding Board: easy access AAC

Lately, I have been turning to SoundingBoard (TM) by AbleNet more and more when I am in need of a customized AAC voice output device on the fly. It is a free app, but it is one of the most valuable ones that I have. 

You can choose any where from 1 - 9 customizable buttons to be on one screen. Each button is quick to program. The icon choices available are not always perfect, but I use the camera to take pictures of objects or of other icons I have used with my students.  It offers voice recording for the voice output, and each recording takes less than one second to make. I can easily set up a new page even while working with the busiest of students.  In my practice, SoundingBoard (TM) comes in handy as an AAC supplement when working with kids with imperfect voice output devices. 

There are times I have used it as a schedule as well. I set up each square as an activity to complete. The visual plan usually helps organize and motivate my students with autism. Then, during the session when I ask my student, "What's next?" he is able to answer using a customized voice output device.

One of my favorite new ways to use it is during my introductory "hello" song. The visual and audio feedback help engage and focus my students. In addition to providing a voice for my non verbal students, the pictures help visually prompt my verbal students to use speech. I find the auditory feedback from hitting the "button" also helps my verbal students vocalize. 

NOTE: This app is actually an iPhone app, so you will have to search iPhone apps to find it in the iTunes store. 

Friday, February 1, 2013


This app was probably one of the first I ever bought. Although it is traditionally for art or drawing, it is easily adaptable to help kids with autism use expected behaviors during therapy or classroom sessions. It can provide visual support and real time feedback for kids so that they know how other people feel about their actions.  

I often use the stickers when tracking behavior. This makes the tracking fun and playful. Some kids get really into the funny noises that you can hear when you "paste" a sticker on the board. This also creates a strong motivator to act in a positive manner so that they can earn the stickers

Here are just some specific examples of how I modify this app to help give real time feedback on behaviors:

1) I use the stickers (located at the bottom of the screen) to keep track of how many positive behaviors the student has. I might keep track of how many comments a student does during a play session. I might also keep track of how many questions the student asks of other people. Sometimes, I give stickers to keep track of how many times the student initiated an interaction with a peer. It's nice to use as a visual reinforcer and a great way to keep track of how much success they had across the session. 

2) I use a smily face to show every time I have a positive thought about the other student. If it is a bigger more important thought, I might change the sticker to be big (a choice once you press the stamp icon (the stamp icon is the 4th from the left on bottom). 

2) I modify Michelle Garcia Winner's curriculum to show students when I have "green" (positive, comfortable, happy, expected), "yellow" (confused, slightly unexpected, weird) or "red" (uncomfortable, unexpected) thoughts. There are actually yellow, red and green speech bubbles that I put on the page and use the stickers to visually illustrate each of my thoughts as they happen.  We can talk about each behavior right then in the moment, or wait until a different time too. 

3) I often use Doodle Buddy on the fly to replace my pen and paper. In fact, it enhances my old analog tools because it provides colors for when I don't have a pencil box with me. As one example, I've modified Kari Dunn Buron's Incredible 5 point scale in the heat of a moment to illustrate where my student's behaviors fell on the 5 point scale vs. where they should have been based on what happened. The sound for the emoticon stickers can be particularly funny and helpful when trying to explain how behaviors are perceived by others.

The best part about using visual supports for behavior management is that I do not have to make any comments as behaviors happen. I can mark down my feelings about a behavior or tally the behavior. Usually, the visual cue can be enough to help guide the behaviors to being more expected than unexpected. Making it digital and having it include sound just enhances the reward factor for my students. 

Toca Boca Band: a fun way to get specific

Toca Band  is a fun way to get students to use more descriptive language. Students can choose up to 8 band members that automatically coordinate and perform a song. Students can change the sound by changing band members and dragging them on and off stage.

Since each band member is a little silly, students have to use descriptive language to say which band member they would like to include: the tall blue one with the red hat, the short blue monster with the orange hat and glasses, the blue balloon, the green spider, the round pink one etc.

The players play at different speeds depending on where you place them on stage, the slowest being up front in green and the fastest in back in blue. One player can be highlighted on the yellow spot and the student can request to play the instrument.

Students can also use descriptive language to describe what they hear: high pitched, low pitched, I like the guitar, I like bells, he's singing fast, she plays slowly etc.

I use this communication board (can be found on to help my students with autism organize and use language while using this app:

It can also be a fun way to work on the L sound: "Let's use this one!"

On a basic level it is a great way to work on "on," and "off," or "play" and "stop."

Since there are no written words in the app, the app is easily adaptable to be multilingual. 

For $1.99,  is it s motivating way to work on more specific language and turn taking. Also, I just can't get the beat out of my head!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feeding Animal Fun!

Easily, my new favorite app is FeedingAnimalFun! by concappt media. This simple app allows for a multitude of language expansion opportunities.  Besides that, 11 out of 10 kids LOVE using this app.

This app allows kids to pick a food (from 3 choices) and drag it up to feed the animal. The animal either acts happy and eats the food he likes or he refuses to eat the food and makes a fun and silly rejection. 

On the most basic level it is easily used to work on sentence building: "The cow eats the grass."  (In most cases, it is best to have the student say the sentence before feeding the animal). 

In addition, it is a rewarding way to work on commenting "He likes it," or "He doesn't like it, gross." I'm always trying to empower my students to use language based rejections such as: "I don't like it," over negative or physical behaviors.  But, it is hard to find motivating ways to work on learning the phrase in a setting that is contextually appropriate AND that allows for the student to be in a calm, ready-to-learn state. This app allows for that opportunity!

I also like to use FeedingAnimalFun! to work on past tense verbs (e.g. "The bunny ate the bug") or even asking questions (e.g. "Can I feed the rock to the horse?" "What does the squirrel eat?")

Although the app is clearly aimed at younger children, I have used the app with moderately/severely impacted adults with autism and it has been a great way to work on creating new subject + verb+ object sentence combinations rather than the usual "carrier phrases."

Since many of my students have difficulty accessing vocabulary and using it in novel ways, I made visual supports (this one can be found on  to help my students so that they might be more independent with communication. Even for my most verbal of students, the visual support allows for more complex sentences without verbal or gestural prompting. 

Oh... did I mention it's free!?! (in app purchases available).

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.