Strings From the Heart


As a Speech-Language Pathologist and DIR/ Floortime professional specializing in children with autism spectrum disorders, I’m constantly searching for creative ways to “open windows” for the delightful children and families with whom I work. Many of these children with autism present unique differences in their sensory processing, in terms of hypo-responsiveness or hyper-responsiveness. I’ve found incorporating a wide variety of artistic experiences can be incredibly beneficial. It strengthens the sensory processing and communication of the children, while meeting them at their individual developmental levels and incorporating their preferences. The rich affectual, emotional components to art experiences are invaluable in bringing about that “light in their eyes,” engagement, and reciprocal communication.

Recently, I had the opportunity to be part of an “art” experience with one of my little ones that was life-changing and life-giving for many in Little Rock, Arkansas.

As a fundraiser for Autism Speaks and A-Camp (our camp for children with autism and their peers here in Little Rock), a local art gallery, M2 Gallery, hosted an art showing and auction. Brilliant artists from the state and country donated art for display and sale. The gallery owners also invited several of my young patients to create pieces.

As I thought of children on my caseload who had recently shown great responsiveness to art within our therapy sessions, my mind immediately went to 6-year-old Elijah. This precious young man had just begun enjoying expression with finger paint on huge strips of suspended paper. As he explored the sensations, engagement, delight, and a myriad of spontaneous, meaningful, reciprocal utterances emerged.

As I discussed what might be most representative of Elijah with his mother, she and I both thought of strings. For Elijah, strings of all shapes, sizes, and textures bring great joy, comfort, rhythmicity, and synchrony. We decided to let him express himself with strings on the canvas for sale. As he squeezed the first drops of paint on the canvas and pulled the strings through the paint to create his work of art, we held our breath, wondering what his feelings might be about altering many of his beloved strings. What delightful surprise it was to us all as he pulled string after string through the paint for 45 minutes, leaving many of them glued behind on the canvas. His mother and I named the piece “Strings from the Heart.”

What we thought might just be a minimal contribution to a very gracious fundraiser became Elijah’s fun “trip to fame” in the next several weeks. As publicity grew about the fundraiser for A-Camp, time and again the works of amazing artists were focused. Each time, Strings from the Heart was right there! Newscasters interviewed and conveyed the value of reaching children like Elijah with the emotion and sensory experiences of art.

No price could be placed on the joy and pride Elijah’s family members experienced. No doubt, his puzzle piece would’ve taken top price at the auction, but not a soul was willing to outbid his loving grandfather who stood beaming by the piece. What a great reminder it has been to me as a therapist to continually search for and incorporate whatever means might reach a child with autism and help him continually grow in a shared world of engagement and communication!


Rachel Morse, CCC-SLP, is an SLP in private practice in Little Rock, who has owned Building Bridges – Pediatric Therapy Services for over 25 years. She loves providing relationship-based, family-centered therapy for children with neurological differences. In the summers she also helps lead A-Camp, a 6-week therapeutic day camp for children with autism spectrum disorders.

Twitter Chat with Nancy Helm-Estabrooks

In recognition of National Aphasia Awareness Month, ASHA hosted a Twitter chat with Nancy Helm-Estabrooks, the SLP coordinating supplemental home speech-language services for Gabby Giffords. The chat took place on Twitter on Monday, June 25. Participants used the hashtag #aphasiachat and asked some great questions of Nancy. You can read the full transcript of the chat here (transcript goes in reverse chronological order), but here are just some of the questions/answers from the chat:


Here are a few additional resources related to aphasia:

Thanks to AARP and the National Aphasia Association for helping us spread the word about the chat!

This Twitter chat was a first for ASHA–what other topics would you like to see us address for potential future chats?


Maggie McGary is the online community & social media manager at ASHA, and manages ASHAsphere.

Speech Therapy Ideas for Preschoolers

Toy Face

Photo by Flickr

One of the joys of having a blog is that I hear from people literally all around the world. Some are parents seeking advice for their children who have speech and language delays, some are students in grad school asking my opinion on a app they are developing or a grant they want to pursue, and some are fellow SLP’s who have great suggestions, questions or just need a little encouragement. I got the following note that falls in the last category. I asked the sender if I could excerpt her note and include it on my blog in hopes that it would help others who might have the same questions.

 ”Hi Sherry.  My name is__and I am an SLP.  I came across your blog a few weeks ago and have enjoyed following it very much. I just started working again in the schools, part time, after taking 10 years off having my own 3 children.  The needs and direction of services seem to have changed so much since then!  I am enjoying myself and the kids tremendously, but still feel trepidation as I enter the preschool classroom!!!!  I have five 3-4 years olds I’m providing services for, 3 of which are on the spectrum, and 2 others with rec/exp delays.  I go in for an hour at a time, and work with 2 kids at a time, 20 min each in a small corner of the room.  To be honest, I am beside myself with coming up with things to do and bring!!  I have one boy who is really difficult to engage, protests and yells “no” to everything in front of him basically.  Other than “no” he has very limited spontaneous language, but when engaged will imitate up to 3 words.  The others are pretty compliant. I guess I’m just wondering if you have suggestions for engaging 2-3 kids at a time with various levels of engagement and communication skills.  Are there toys, games, activities, etc that you have found to be successful, a bag of tricks perhaps?!   I havent worked much at all with this age group and population.”

Dear SLP Colleague,

I can relate since my first job as a speech pathologist was with preschool kids and I went full-circle to again end up with that age in an early learning center in our town before I started my private practice. I actually had to serve five 3 year-olds at time for up to 1 1/2 hours per session. Basically you need lots of activities to change things up to keep them engaged. On my website, I have listed my PAL Award winners which you can sort by year and age for toys, books and games to encourage language. Here are some of my favorites that I fill my therapy bag with:

  • Play-Doh–an essential. You can keep kids interested by having a set of cookie cutters (there are great tubs by theme available such as Play-Doh Picnic Bucket), add a roller and put them in a closed container so kids have to ask for them to get one. Even opening the Play-Doh lid requires “help me” or “I do” or “open” to get a response by you. The Play-Doh EZ 2 Do Zoo is like a Mr. Potato Head with animal pieces that you stick into a ball of Play-doh. Kids love this!
  • Duplo, Lego sets that again involve you holding on to the box of pieces as they request one, either a bear, water, fish, man or car in the Zoo Set or try the farm and supermarket themes. Kids love these because they are familiar vocabulary and they can add-on and build a little bridge, pond or step for their figures. Here is my blog about best Duplo lego sets for building language.
  • Fisher Price Little People sets are great for generating language and conversations, working on pretend play as you model talking with one of the figures and kids respond. Boys really like the cars and trucks, gas station and car wash. Camping, motorhome and eating themes are popular too.
  • I often read short books, modeling 1-3 word phrases and pausing for the kids to repeat, and then do an activity related to the story whether it is a song, or simple craft. If we make something, then they can take it home and it becomes an opportunity to share with the parents what they did, bridging the language lesson to home. Help kids to see the joy of reading a book early. I even get my kids to repeat with me, “We LOVE books!” (especially if they are a little resistant, it seems to get them fired up.)
  • Play food and a kitchen are always popular with the kids and a great way to build language. You don’t need a huge kitchen. Step2 makes aSizzlin’ Shapes Kitchen table top version for portability and HaPe has several smaller sets of wooden food to throw in your therapy bag for an activity.
  • Puzzles are another preschool therapy activity. You can model a word or phrase and reward a child by giving them a piece to the puzzle. Puzzles by Lauri and Rubbabu provide a sensory experience with their rubber pieces. Also I might use a bigger puzzle like  “The Pirate Ship”from Ravensburger because I describe the scene on a piece before putting it in the puzzle.
  • Pretend Play scenarios are fun whether it has to do with buying or eating ice pops or creating cupcakes in the add-on Duplo lego set,“Creative Cakes.” or Alex Toys’ stand for making ice pops.
  • Crafts involving glue, glitter and paint seem  to excite preschoolers. I have been through many tubes of glitter glue, decorating frogs or people. “Dot a Dot” paints are simple tubes of paint with a stamp at the end. Kids are excited to ask for the tubes by color, “more,” “on,” etc.

These are just a few of my favorite materials to use with preschoolers in speech and language therapy.  I invite my fellow SLP’s to add on their favorites to this list. I know when I was working in the schools we had very limited budgets for materials so I bought a lot of my toys at tag sales (garage sales) and got many things donated by parents of elementary aged kids who were more than happy to have me take their outgrown toys when they were cleaning out their play room. That being said, I started to buy a few good quality toys and games each year and many are still with me.

Disclosure: The PAL Award winners were provided for review by their companies. The opinions expressed in my reviews are solely my own.

(This post originally appeared on Play on Words.)


Sherry Artemenko M.S.CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist for over 35 years, has  a private practice, Play on Words LLC, popular blog,, and is the founder of the PAL Awards (Play Advances Language) which distinguish the best new toys, games and books that have the DNA to build language skills in children.

Strategic Planning: Take a Breath and Plan Your Year

pebble beach

Photo by waferboard

As SLPs, we are quite familiar with designing long-term objectives and breaking those down into short-term outcomes, but are we doing it for our own personal and professional growth? For me, the true start of the year is always in September, when the academic year begins, so summer is the time to pause and plan for the year to come. In the past, I have actually written out LTOs and STOs for myself during the summer lull…some years I have done better on these than others, I admit.

The traditional duties of a full-time academic (like me) are teaching, scholarship and service. Some of my service has been spent on strategic planning, for the college, the school and the department. I have learned a few things about how people and organizations approach this task of creating short- and long-term goals, and have a new paradigm to offer for your consideration. Well, it’s not actually new (attributed to Humphrey in the 1960’s), but it is used more frequently by businesspeople to help generate and evaluate goals, so it was new to me.

In a SWOT analysis, you write down Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are intrinsic to you as a person (or department or organization) and Opportunities and Threats are extrinsic or environmental. You then try to connect the dots between the four quadrants and see how each informs the other. There are plenty of free templates and guides for SWOT analysis on the web, but here is one geared to personal growth.

Whether you use the traditional LTO/STO format, or try something new such as SWOT, or just have a good talk with a smart, trusted colleague, take the time to make a plan and then, during the year, check in and see how you are doing on your goals. If you have a written plan, it becomes easier to say “no” to activities or duties that knock you off track, and it can help you prioritize your time and efforts. If you actually have a plan, you can stop and ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my long term goals?” and act accordingly.

I’ll check back in with you after I write my own SWOT analysis—right now, I am swamped with marking papers and putting in grades…let’s hope that summer lull actually shows up on time!


Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. She teaches courses in speech science, voice disorders, behavioral feeding disorders and research design. Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum. She has been a practicing SLP and feeding interventionist since 1998.

What’s New with Apple and What Does it Mean for SLPs?

student_ipad_school - 088

Photo by flickingerbrad

As you might have heard inklings of (I myself was glued to Engadget’s live blog), Apple is having its Worldwide Developer’s Conference in San Francisco this week. Traditionally, the keynote address from this conference brings important product development announcements, and today’s conference was no different.  As many people come to this site for information about iPad, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the key points that can affect our work and use of Apple products.

First of all, you MUST MUST MUST click through to see the wonderful video that was shown as part of the keynote address, focusing on how Apple products change lives. It features not only an app that helps people with visual impairments navigate the world in new ways, but also a terrific segment on how Toca Boca apps on iPad (one of my favorite lines) can be used as a tool in speech-language pathology.  Isn’t that AMAZING? So few people even know what we do, and to be highlighted in this broad way on an international stage…just wonderful.   It’s even better that my colleague and fellow editor of TherapyApp411 Renena Joy is the SLP featured in the film.

Click here for the video, and the segment about speech and language is at 5:02. The video really embodies the exact message and mission of this blog- to paraphrase Renena, what many kids think of as a toy can be to us a powerful tool for shaping speech and language development.  Thank you so much, Renena, for spreading this important message.

OK, so (*wiping tears of verclemptness*), what do you need to know about:

Mountain Lion– the new operating system for Mac (not iPad) will allow you to stream your Mac directly to an Apple TV (opportunities to use a Mac at home and during presentations in new ways) and also integrates with iCloud in more automatic ways. For instance, if you create materials with applications such as Keynote and Pages (Apple’s presentation creator and word processor) they will simply show up in the corresponding iPad apps. Mountain Lion will also have Voice Dictation built in, which can be a helpful productivity tool and will also be useful for kids with language and learning disabilities.  They will be able to dictate any text into a Mac running Mountain Lion.  These features will be available in July, when you will be able to purchase Mountain Lion from the Mac App Store for $19.99. A bargain for a new operating system!

iOS 6- iOS 6 is the new operating system for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, and it will be available in the fall. Sadness at having to wait so long, but this is a free update that will be available through Settings if you are currently running iOS5, except…(here’s a quick roundup of features):

1. These new features are not going to be available on iPad 1. Here’s where you might want to start thinking about whether having this advanced operating system is important to you, and consider selling or handing down your iPad 1 and upgrading. ‘Cause Apple is upgrading and leaving it behind, sorry.  I realize this is more than a little frustrating, but it goes with the territory.

2. Siri comes to iPad 3rd generation (only). Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, will be coming to “New” iPads with iOS6.  This feature will allow you (and your students) to control the iPad in limited ways with your voice, for purposes of search, adding calendar items and reminders, launching apps, and all sorts of other things. Keep in mind that Siri and other dictation tools don’t work well if the student has articulation difficulties.

3. Guided access. In iOS 6, you will be able to put your iPad in “single-app mode.” This will allow you to prevent a child from exiting an app by tapping the home button. A great feature for those of us that work with children with special needs, who will benefit from this additional structuring of their iPad use. I imagine this will be very helpful for students running AAC apps on iPad.

4. New 3D Maps. As has long been rumored, Apple is ditching Google Maps and using their own data and programming within the Maps app.  This app will feature 3D buildings, which will be a great way to expose students to visuals about cities and elicit language related to the curriculum.  It will also feature turn-by-turn directions, which can be played as a “virtual field trip” and target sequential language.

5. Sharing. Facebook sharing will be integrated into the operating system for easy sharing of photos and other materials.  I think this is relevant to SLPs as many of us are using Facebook as a professional development and networking tool through our interaction with various speech and language related pages.  You’ll also want to be careful about Photostream, itself a little dodgy because if you have it turned on under Settings>iCloud, your photos are automatically shared between devices.  i.e. That cocktail party picture of you on your iPhone would show up on your iPad as well, perhaps providing an unintentional language stimulus during a session.  Anyway, Photostream will now allow you to share photos to friends as you customize it (carefully).

There are a number of additional news-bits, so check out this post if you’d like to hear it all.


(This post originally appeared on SpeechTechie)

Sean J. Sweeney, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, an SLP, instructional technology specialist and consultant, works in private practice at The Ely Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He is the author of the blog SpeechTechie, a contributor to the ASHA Leader, and recently took on a role as Product Development Manager for Smarty Ears Apps.