Show and Tell: Imaginext Play Sets

In the world of toys, it seems that it is a little harder to find good toys for boys that encourage a lot of pretend play and imagination. I started my career working with adults, and it wasn't until I started specializing in working with kids that I realized how important pretend play is. There are so many skills that come from pretend play. Coming up with ideas and being able to express them to others, having abstract thinking, taking on someone else's perspective, learning about emotions, learning about what motivates people to do certain things (figuring out the 'why'), thinking outside of yourself, social problem solving, etc., etc.

Last year I had a friend donate a bunch of toys to my practice, and some of my favorites have been the imaginext play sets. They have also been the favorite of my class full of boys. It's so fun when toys that bring on the imagination bring kids together and play scenarios are created. I loved just sitting back and watching the magic unfold as kids who rarely interacted with others joined the play.

Here are some of the Imaginext play sets. If anything it can give you some ideas of some pretend play scenarios you can build with your kids (even if you don't have the play set).

For other pretend play ideas, you can check out of my Pretend Play Amazon Affiliate site, it's kind of a work in progress (meaning I just add things randomly, usually while I'm blogging, so I can show pictures of what I'm talking about). In case you don't want to scroll through all of it, here's kind of a breakdown. 
  • Pages 1-4: Puppets
  • Pages 4-8: Dress up
  • Pages 9-15: Kitchen/Home/Store/Work
  • Pages 16-17: Imaginext

P.L.A.Y. Project Research

I love the P.L.A.Y. Project (Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters). I love being able to coach parents as they connect with their children through play, and help their children progress developmentally. It's so exciting to see the progress of the kids, and to see how empowering this program is for parents. I really do love it.

In October 2014, P.L.A.Y. Project research was published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Please check it out, it's exciting, as the P.L.A.Y. Project has been working on this research for the past few years.

Through the P.L.A.Y. Project (, they found significant improvements in:

  • caregiver/parent and child interaction
  • social interaction of children with autism
  • social-emotional development of children with autism
  • autism symptomatology
Secondary outcomes included:
  • improved parent stress and depression
  • P.L.A.Y. Project consultant fidelity

Show and Tell: Dear Santa

Dear Santa by Rod Campbell is a such a great book! It's similar to Dear Zoo, which I also love. The first time I had ever heard of these books I was doing an evaluation on a preschooler with a language delay. I was in the evaluation with a speech therapist and she had brought Dear Zoo along with a communication device that was already programmed to go along with the book. It was so fun to read and for the child to be able to "read" with us. Books like this are great for helping a child learn to use a communication device because there are so many repetitive phrases. It's also great for all kids because they can easily learn to "read" the book with you. I love books where kids can predict what comes next. There's so much you can do with that!

Another activity that I've done with this book in my preschool/kindergarten classes is I've wrapped up similar items and had the kids unwrap them as we read the story. It's fun, engaging, and also works on some nice fine motor skills. So we're hitting language, literacy, fine motor, turn taking, attention, etc.

Here's some of the vocab that is targeted in this book:

  • car
  • kite
  • ball
  • tiger (mask)
  • paint
  • trumpet
  • cat
  • small
  • big
  • bouncy
  • scary
  • messy
  • noisy

Wait Time

When a child has language delays, oftentimes their processing time is longer than we actually give them. We may say something like "get your coat on" and then when they don't immediately respond, we say "put your jacket on." Then when they still just look at us blankly we say "why aren't you doing what I asked?"

We think that we're giving them plenty of time to respond, but we're not. I've always had a goal to learn Spanish, and I know enough to get by, but not enough to have a conversation. I usually say I can speak like a 3-year-old. I can speak in 3-5 word sentences pretty well. When I have been traveling and people are talking to me (usually much faster than I can process) sometimes I look at them blankly as I try to figure out what they just said. Then just as I'm about to figure it out, they say rephrase what they just told me. So now, not only am I trying to figure out what they said initially, now I have to figure out a new sentence (which actually means the same thing as the first sentence, but I don't always know that). And so it slows me down even more. By the third sentence, I just kind of give up and say "I don't understand."

I honk this can relate to some of the kids we work with. We need to check ourselves to see if we are givng them enough time to process what we've said before we assume they're not listening. Counting to ten may feel like forever, but it may also give enough time for a response rather than prompting a response. Repeating instructions verbatim may also be helpful for kids who take a longer time deciding what you said the first time. 

Sometimes one of our greatest tools can just be our wait time. We don't always have to be in such a hurry :)


I know I'm a couple days late for Thanksgiving, but I just feel like I really need to express my gratitude today. I have been so blessed throughout my life, and I like to look back at how experiences and relationships have shaped my life over the years.

I feel so fortunate to have been led to a career that I absolutely love, I know that's not the case for everyone. Like a lot of new High School grads, I had little idea what I wanted to do for my career. Even when I finished my undergrad, I still wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do. I was lucky to have people enter my life that helped teach me and give me opportunities to grow to get me to where I am today.

I have had so much support from my friends and family, as well as families of individuals that I have had the opportunity to work with. I am continually receiving so much encouragement, and I know that it keeps me going through the difficult times. I am so grateful for all of my students/clients that have taught me so much about courage, love, and determination. I am also grateful for the people that come into my life that I may never even know their names. There have been some strangers that have had a huge influence in my life, and I'm grateful for that.

Whether the relationships we have with others are just a glimpse in time or whether they are lifelong relationships, they matter. Without one another, it would be difficult to progress to our full potential, we all need each other. I am so grateful for everyone who has crossed my path, and I hope that someday I can do for others what you all have done for me. Thank you for being part of my life!


Show and Tell: Letter School App

I know that whenever I do show and tell, I always say it's my favorite, but this app really is the favorite of all my students. We do Handwriting Without Tears at my school, so this is nice because it has a mode for Handwriting Without Tears. Another thing I love is that it follows the concept of I do it, we do it, you do it. The graphics are great and engaging for the kids so that they want to keep doing it over and over.

When I use Letter School, I generally have the kids learn the prompts and practice on paper or a chalk board first and then follow it up with the app. It's well worth the $5.  Check it out at

More senses than 5

Before I started working with kids with autism, I had heard quite a bit about sensory input. My sister is a pediatric occupational therapist and works a lot with sensory integration. Then when I started working in the school setting, I had one of the best occupational therapists working with my students. I have been privileged to be in the midst of some great occupational therapists throughout my career.

We always hear about the 5 senses, and then we hear about the 6th sense. Well, there is really a 6th sense and a 7th and probably more. The way we experience the world we live in is quite incredible, I have to say. There is so much to process, and our bodies are capable of so much.

I just want to give a quick overview of three of our senses: tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive.  Some kids may be seekers, and others may be avoiders. And a kid can be a seeker in one area and an avoider in another. We are all different, and so we individualize our approach :)

TACTILE: This is how we take in information through our skin, we process information about touch with this sense. This has to do with lighter touch. Different textures may have different reactions. Some textures you may want to think about are soft, hard, slimy, wet, gooey, crunchy, fuzzy, etc.

VESTIBULAR: This is how we receive information through our inner ear. It has to do with movement, gravity, and balance. Some activities you may look at to see if your child avoids or seeks might be swinging, spinning, running, climbing, rocking, bouncing, etc.

PROPRIOCEPTIVE: This is how we take in information through our muscles, ligaments, and joints. We process information about body position and body parts. Activities might include wrestling, tickling, being buried in pillows, crashing into things, pushing heavy things, etc.

As we are more aware of a child's sensory motor profile, we can facilitate activities in these areas to promote greater engagement and help in the child's development.

If you're interested, here's another post I did a while back about our sensory systems:

Show And Tell: 10 Fat Turkeys

One of my favorite books to do in my preschool for Thanksgiving time is 10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston.  This book is less than $4 on my amazon affiliate site, if you're looking for a copy.

This is a fun book that talks about numbers 1-10, it also a lot of fun actions.

Here are some skills you can work on while reading this book:

  • Counting to 10
  • Counting backwards
  • Action words
  • Pretend play: act it out
  • Repetitive phrases for the kids to repeat
  • Predicting the text (dramatic pauses for them to complete the phrases)
  • Find the rhymes
  • Turn taking (when using visuals, have kids take turns having the turkey fall off the fence)


I recently did a training for the staff I work with about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It got me thinking a lot about the second level of the pyramid, which is safety. In order to continue up the pyramid to relationships, achievement, and self-actialization there is this need to feel and be safe.

If that safety is missing, it can be so hard to reach our potential because we fall into survival mode and oftentimes react in a way that might be defensive rather than moving forward towards our potential. We are just trying not to go backwards because of fear rather than confidently moving towards our goals and dreams.

I've been there, and it wasn't a very happy place for me. So how does this relate to the kiddos that we work with? Everything. It's important that we create an environment that is not only physically safe, but also emotionally safe. A place where it's ok to fall because you know that someone will be there to encourage you and cheer you on to keep going.

Temple Grandin is an incredible woman, who has helped the world understand autism on a different level. She is a scholar and a woman of success, and she knows what it's like first hand to have autism. At one conference I attended, she talked about how her amygdala (fear center) is four times larger than the average person. This has stuck out to me since I heard her say that. So building an environment of safety takes on even greater meaning. Being safe is one thing, but feeling safe can be on a completely different level.

Just a few things we can do to help kids feel safe is to build a routine that is predictable. Picture schedules can be a great way to communicate the schedule. Priming can help prepare for upcoming transitions. Having boundaries is really important. When the boundaries keep changing, it can be difficult for a child to be able predict what is going to happen. Being aware of sensory overload and how to cope with that is also important when considering the environment. There are so many things to consider, more than I am going to write in this post. Little by little you can get there, don't feel overwhelmed with all you feel needs to be done. Just take it one step at a time. Little by little as the child progresses, less supports will be required as you see them move through different stages.

Happy Halloween!

Hope you all had a safe and fun Halloween!!!

Show and Tell: Hyper Dash

If you have a child that's working on learning colors or numbers, this is a great game. I love it because it brings in a lot of movement which a lot of kids need. It's fun, and it's working on those same skills that you can work on sitting in a desk, but it's way more motivating.

For kids who are working on matching colors, you can have cards that have the color on it, and when it says a color, you can hold up that color so your child has a reference. If your child is working on identifying colors, all they have to do is listen to the instructions and it will say which color to find.

You can put the targets close together, or you can make it more difficult by spreading them around the room. There are also different settings to make the game easier or more difficult.

I wish there were more color targets, but for now, the colors include red, blue, green, yellow, and orange.

This toy works on
  • following directions
  • motor planning
  • color identification
  • number identification
  • math skills
  • turn taking
  • memory
  • speed
  • sensory motor
You can order this on my amazon affiliate site, and I'm guessing you can probably get it in some other stores as well.  There is also another version of this game, but it looks like the reviews weren't as good. This is the one I own, so I know I like it :)

Positive Reinforcement vs. Negative Reinforcement

In general, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what negative reinforcement is. Before I started studying behavior, I just figured negative reinforcement was giving negative consequences when a child did something inappropriate. Well, I was wrong.

I'm just going to go over some definitions to clear things up a bit, and then I'll post another day about examples of different types of reinforcement.

What is reinforcement? Something is being reinforced when the behavior increases. For example if we want a child to put away his backpack every day after school, we want to reinforce that behavior so that the probability of it happening will increase.

So the result of reinforcement is the same (an increase or maintenance in behavior) whether it's positive or negative. Let's look at what positive and negative are referring to.

Positive (+) = adding something
Negative (-) = taking something away

Positive Reinforcement = adding something to increase or maintain the rate of the behavior
Negative Reinforcement = taking something away to increase or maintain the rate of the behavior

Example: A child is asked to finish his dinner. The positive reinforcement is that he can go play as soon as he's done (being able to play is added). The negative reinforcement is that the parent nagging the child to finish eating will stop (the nagging is taken away).

Sometimes it can be difficult to discriminate between these two types of reinforcement, and in some cases it may not really matter, but overall I feel like it's important to have a brief idea of the differences when having discussions about behavior, or reading literature about it. Hope this is helpful.

Show and Tell: ABC Mouse App

Have you seen this app? A to Z Music Videos by ABC Mouse

This was by far one of the favorite apps of the whole school year. You can buy all of the letters for pretty cheap, but you can also win tickets to earn new songs. There are different genres for each of the letters, and my students loved them all.

If you're curious what the videos look like, here's my students' favorite one, the letter B. Beware, these are the types of songs that kids can listen to a million times a day, and they get stuck in your head and they're hard to get out. I still love them though. I think you can see all of them on youtube, if you need a preview.

Safety Day & Trunk or Treat in Ogden, Utah

This is a great activity set for this week! A great activity for the whole family!

Seeing The Every Day

The Value Of A Day from seeing the everyday on Vimeo.

Have you ever heard of the magazine Seeing The Every Day? I had never heard of it, but a friend of mine gave me a copy a couple months ago, and I have fallen in love with it. I think that one of the reasons why it has resonated with me so much is because it focuses on how "small ordinary acts" shape our relationships and also affect our influence in strengthening the development of others.

This is exactly what what I love about teaching families about PLAY Project. We are focusing on relationships as we help their children with their development. One of the first techniques I teach families is called 'Being With' and that's exactly what it is. It's not about telling the child what to do, or how to do it, it's first just about being with them. Not just being there physically, but being present. Seeing what their interests are, seeing what their intentions are, and seeing what their ideas are. They may not have the verbal skills to tell us what they're thinking, but we can learn to observe and have rich interactions with them around what may feel like a very ordinary moment.

Interactions with a child with autism may sometimes be unpredictable, but we can still embrace those moments and rejoice in them. It's not about the end product, who cares if the art project doesn't go as planned. It's about the interactions we're having, it's about the relationship that we're building. At times you may not feel like you're accomplishing much, but I can promise you that through your loving interactions with your child, you are doing more than you can even imagine was possible. Nothing can replace those "ordinary moments" with the ones you love.

I want to share one of my favorite quotes from Seeing The Every Day, Issue 25. As you read it, you may think that your child doesn't have "conversations" with you, but I want you to think of a conversation as those back and forth interactions you have with one another, it doesn't matter if words are involved.

"As we focus on one another, very ordinary moments, even conversations, become significant opportunities to do what means the very most -- to come to better know and care for each other."

You can check out Seeing The Every Day at

Circles of Communication

What is a circle of communication? The first half of the circle is an initiation (someone knocks on the door) and the second half is the response (someone else opens the door). There are all different sizes of circles. Some are big and obvious, and some are more subtle and sometimes we miss them if we're not paying close attention. A big circle might be calling someone's name and them turning around and saying "what?" A smaller circle might be when you're playing chase and your child glances back at you to see if you're still coming. A really subtle circle might be when you glance at your child and you see them briefly look back at you.

Circles can be really hard to count at times, but the important thing is this back and forth interaction. As we look at our world around us, it is all about these back and forth interactions with others. Relationships are based on these back and forth interactions. With some kids, this may be a difficult thing to master. They may not see a purpose in it, they may not find enjoyment in it, or they may just not know how to do it.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan introduces the functional developmental levels through DIR/Floortime. Circles of communication begin at functional developmental level 3. As we work with kids to help them progress through the functional developmental levels, it is important that we are aware of how many circles of communication they are getting. We use simple techniques to encourage more circles of communication. As the child increases the number of circles of communication they are having, we also bump them up to a higher functional developmental level.

These circles do not have to be verbal circles, a kid who does not talk yet can get hundreds of back and forth circles without saying a word. How do we do it? We do it through PLAY. It is important that as children learn to increase their circles of communication that we are giving them opportunities to express themselves on their own. We can tell a kid what to do every step of the way, but how much more rich and motivating would it be if the child is giving us cues of what they want instead. We need to follow their lead.

One of the many techniques that you can use is called 'playful obstruction.'  In many ways, that just means playing dumb. We're all good at that, even when we don't mean to be, right? Instead of doing all the mind reading that we tend to do, play dumb. Make the child open a few more circles to get what they want. Give them the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, make them expand, make them work. Just by playing dumb, you can extend the interaction. If it's really really motivating, then expect even more. Be aware of where that breaking point is, and take them to the limits. If you lose them, that's ok, then you know that next time you'll pull back a little sooner.

Having these circles of communication is really important, and is a pre-requisite to having conversations, or engaging in higher levels of play. Try to count how many consecutive circles your child has a time, and try to expand on that. If there's so many it's hard to count, great! Instead of working on the quantity of cirlces, start to work on the quality.

Show and Tell: Go Away Big Green Monster

A preschool favorite is always Go Away Big Green Monster! Last year I found the Go Away Big Green Monster app, and my students loved it. Their favorite part was the song, and I loved hearing them sing it at the top of their lungs. I wish the app was a little more interactive, like if the kids could move the body parts where they should go, or something like that. However, the song alone is worth the $2. The interactive part of the app is that you can touch the nose and it wiggles, or touch the hair and it wiggles and makes a noise.

The picture above is from a while ago when we made green monster faces. Last year I did this activity with my students, except I used a green paper plate and put velcro on it. We laminated the pieces and put velcro on them so that the kids were able to use their own monsters to put on and take off the body parts while we read the story together. The kids really liked that.

Things we learn from Go Away Big Green Monster:

  • Body parts: eyes, nose, ears, hair, mouth, teeth
  • Colors: yellow, bluish-greenish (?), red, white, purple, green
  • Sequencing: Predicting what goes next
  • Emotions: have the kids act out different emotions
  • Reading: All my students could "read" this book independently. The receptive phrases make it an easy one to memorize.
One of the repetitive phrases is "Go Away" which one of my students would go home and yell "Go Away!" to everyone. The mom wasn't sure why he was doing this until we performed the song for the parents one day. Then it all made sense. So if you have a student that you do not want to teach this phrase to, you may want to reconsider reading this book ;)

You can buy Go Away Big Green Monster at my Amazon Affiliate site. They also have a puppet kit at Lakeshore Learning, I have that as well, it's a little more durable than a paper plate :) But the paper plate face is a great activity for those creative kids you have.

Show and Tell: Room on the Broom

Room on the Broom is a great little halloween book by Julia Donaldson. There's so much you can do with this book, I love it.

Here are some skills you can work on with this book:

  • Find the rhyming words
  • Identifying animals: cat, dog, bird, frog, dragon
  • Pretend play: act it out
  • Prediction: what animal comes next, who finds the object that is lost, 
  • "Reading" the book: let the kids fill in the words. There's great repetition in this book to help with that. Common words are Down!, Yes!, Whoosh!, and Is there room on the broom?
  • Searching for items: Do a scavenger hunt while riding a broom
  • Obstacle course: As you do the scavenger hunt, add some obstacles for good a good sensory motor activity
  • Matching: match the animal to the item they found or to the thing they put in the cauldron
  • Helping: Throughout the book, the animals are helping each other. Talk about how your students have helped each other.
  • Emotions: happy, sad, scared, angry, surprised, grateful, ashamed, excited. Play charades with emotions.
  • Science: Make a magic potion with things that everyone can put in the cauldron. Ask the kids what they would have added to the cauldron.
There's so much more, these are just a few ideas. You can order Room on the Broom at my Amazon Affiliate site


It's been a while since I've blogged, but I have made it a goal to get back into it.

Today I want to talk about greetings. Last year I had this student who had the ability to say hello, but just never did it. Every day I would say hello to him and every day he would just look at me blankly or he would just ignore me and look away. Sometimes I would prompt him to say hello to me, but he still never did it. Sometimes I would get really dramatic and say "WHY WON'T YOU SAY HI TO ME??!!??" and he would just laugh and think I was silly.

These past few weeks I have returned to his classroom to work with him on greetings for one of my school projects (yes, I decided to go back to school once again...learnings good, right?). So after a year of trying to get him to say hello to me, I wasn't expecting this to be extremely easy, but guess was. Part of it was probably maturity, but part of it was also technique. I'm not saying that it's going to be easy with any kid you work with, it just happened to be easy this time.

The general prompting in the natural environment didn't work, we saw that, so I decided to combine a few techniques. I'm sharing this in hopes that it may give you some ideas of what you can do, not just for greeting but maybe for some other goals you might be working on. Some of you may read this and think, duh why didn't you do that in the first place, and I'm ok with that.  That's really what I was thinking once I started doing it.

First, baseline data was 0% for 3 consecutive days. He did not respond to one greeting he was given. The definition of greeting in this instance is responding to a greeting by saying "hello", "hi", or waving one hand towards the person being greeted.  After baseline was taken, here's what I did.

In a one on one setting I said something like “when someone says “hello” or “hi” to you, they are being nice and would like you to respond back to them.  You can say “hello”, “hi”, or you can wave your hand in their direction.  If you know their name, you can say “hello” and then say their name. If you don’t know their name, or you don’t remember their name, it’s ok to just say “hello”, “hi”, or wave back to them.”
 Why did I not think of this before? What may seem obvious to us is not always obvious to kids struggling with autism. So this technique of explaining things actually has an official title, it's called the Tell Procedure. You simply state the rules.

Next we used some video modeling. I don't know that it was true video modeling because the people in my videos were just saying hi to the kid (we'll call him Junior). I had filmed about 10 people before I met with him and they all said "Hi, Junior." Easy to do with an iPad. So they modeled how to greet him, but I also used it as the antecedent to the target behavior (greeting). So we practiced. First I would ask if he knew that person while it was on a screenshot of them, if he did then I would model some things he could say. For example if it was me on the screen, he could say "Hi, Joy" or "Hello, Joy." Then we would press play, the person would say "Hi, Junior." and Junior would say "Hi" back. Pretty simple. Luckily he was compliant and was having fun with seeing who would be next on the screen.

We used some positive reinforcement giving a lot of praise and showing a lot of excitement every time he did it correctly. The nice thing about a goal like this is that there's a lot of natural positive reinforcement...when you say "hi" to people, they generally will smile or get excited to start talking to you (especially if you've never said hi to them before and now you are).

After going through all the videos, we went into the hallway to practice. Luckily the staff were all great and would naturally say hello to Junior, and even some peers did as well. Being in the natural environment and interacting with a variety of people will help with generalization skills.  The progress that Junior made in those 10-15 minutes were pretty great.  Junior went from a 0% response to 60%, and continued averaging about a 70% response rate over the next 3 sessions.

While we would practice in the natural environment, I used a minimum-to-maximum prompting procedure. I would allow Junior to first respond independently, if he didn't respond then I would give a verbal prompt (i.e., "She just said hello, what do you say?"), if that didn't work then I would give a model (i.e., "Say hi"), then if that didn't work then I would give a physical prompt to wave his hand. He only ever ended up needing a verbal prompt (which never worked last year).

There are a lot of different techniques out there, sometimes it can work to your benefit to find ones that can be used effectively together, and you may have greater success.