Speech-Language and Communication Skills

August 14, 2023

Did you know that it’s estimated that 40% of children with autism are nonverbal? Did you know that approximately 40% of our students with autism are nonverbal, at least when they come to us? Or that other struggles are far more complex than articulation? Communication deficits lead the way with what makes life with autism and other developmental diagnoses so challenging.  That’s why it is essential that our students receive the services and supports they need to learn to communicate. Here’s the blog spot to share our Speech and Language stories with you. 

Operation Speech | 8.14.23

If you haven’t noticed, Crossroads employees take fun seriously! Making learning reinforcing is of utmost importance, otherwise, it won’t stick. Here we have Mrs. Brittany playing a game of Operation with “D” a 5-year-old student. As they take turns, she asks him questions and issues instructions to spark his engagement in the goals she is addressing with him this summer. Just another example of how kids are making progress in Speech sessions!

Ice Cream Soup | 7.25.23

Overall, group activities create a dynamic social environment that fosters observational learning, social reinforcement, and cooperative behavior among preschoolers, leading to the modeling of various skills and behaviors from one child to another. It is important for educators and caregivers to facilitate positive interactions during group activities, reinforcing pro-social behaviors and guiding children toward healthy and constructive modeling. Last week, Speech Therapists, Brittany, Sarah, and Amy did a large speech group where they incorporated all of the above. After reading the book Ice Cream Soup by Ann Ingalls, they made their own ice cream soup out of paper, string, pipe cleaners, and other trimmings. The kids worked on skills like answering wh- questions, yes/no questions, articulation, grammar, turn-taking, and, as you can see, they also had a deliciously fun time together.

Generalizing skills makes the world more accessible | 6.16.23

As a follow-up to the post from last month, we thought it would be a good idea to show you Mrs. Brittany and “A” in a different location, working on similar skills. She is using her device more and more to respond to and initiate thoughts. The start of conversation.

Unlocking Communication with Assistive Technology | 5.31.23

Communication is a fundamental aspect of human connection and expression. For so many of the children here, the ability to communicate thoughts, needs, and feelings can be a significant challenge. However, with the help of assistive technology, a world of possibilities opens up, offering these children a voice to be heard. Through innovative tools and devices, these youngsters can unlock a pathway to effective communication and self-advocacy.

The positive impact of assistive technology shines through the journey of  “A”. With Mrs. Brittany’s unwavering determination and the aid of assistive technology tools, A has been learning to express her desires, share her experiences, and build meaningful connections.  Armed with her device, she has learned to express herself in extraordinary ways. With joyful excitement, she now asks to see the fish, to feed them and to add rocks to the tank.  As we champion accessibility and inclusivity, we celebrate the power of assistive technology in empowering individuals like A to find their voice, embrace their potential, and enrich the world with their unique perspectives.

May is Speech and Hearing Month | 5.1.23

May is Speech and Hearing Month, a time to raise awareness and celebrate the many contributions of speech-language pathologists and audiologists in promoting communication health and well-being. At Crossroads, we are proud to have a team of dedicated speech therapists who work tirelessly to help children, many of whom are currently nonverbal. The services they provide help these children not only understand that there IS communication but also learn to communicate themselves. We are in awe of their passion, patience, and expertise, and we are grateful for their invaluable contribution to our organization. Join us in recognizing and thanking these amazing professionals during Speech and Hearing Month. Together, we can make a difference and support those who struggle with speech and hearing challenges.

Meet C. 3.24.23

For many students here, learning to use a device comes after mastering PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). It is the process of learning that the pictures correspond to an object, a person, an action, or a place that the child wants, that leads to the process of beginning to comprehend that communication IS something, that the back and forth between him or herself and another person results in something. That is an important piece of what the Speech team does with the students they see. Many of our students learn that way and then build their PECS skills little by little until they are ready for applying those skills to an assistive device. Whether an iPad or another tablet, the child’s communication device is programmed with a communication program that the child transfers the PECS knowledge to icons on a screen. Their therapist sets up the words into folders for the child, and the child learns to navigate between the folders to tell their thoughts to the other person.

However, every child is different. Every child does not learn the same way. That’s another important piece of what the Speech team – and the rest of the Crossroads team – knows. Working with one child one way does not mean working with another child in the same way will be effective.

This is where C comes in.

Mrs. Amy, his Speech Therapist started him on PECS last year. He learned to hand her the PECS, but did not usually look at the picture he was handing over, just picking one up and becoming frustrated when asked to look for the accurate picture. His progress was slow, and so Amy decided to try something new. She started teaching him to search for the same pictures, but on a communication device. And, voila, not only is she seeing progress, but just his willingness to try is progress to boot.

So much so, that Amy is now working with C on a device justification trial. It would become part of his education plan, yes, but more importantly it will allow him to communicate with his family, his teachers, his community.

Right now, he is able to navigate up to 3 folders, Amy says. This means he can go between 3 folders to create a 3 button sequence, or early sentence. One recent sequence was asking for the swing in the therapy room.

As mentioned, every child here has his or her own story, and way they need to learn. C’s story is his own story. We’re so proud of him and of Amy, and thankful to all of those who contribute to the progress our students make here.



Having a device can mean sheer blossoming for some children. 3.1.23

“P” is a 4 year old girl with a lot of pizzazz. She loves pretty dresses, dancing, and has a smile that melts hearts. Earlier this year, she was “non-verbal.” Now, thanks to the work of her team, most notably Ms. Brittany, her speech therapist, P is saying all sorts of things, using an assistive technology device.

By all accounts, her communication has blossomed, and so has she. No longer frustrated by not being able to share her thoughts and needs with others, she delights in finding the words she wants to use on her device and saying them.

Here we see P and Brittany at a very early stage of learning, and then today, as she asked to feed the fish, put in rocks, and make them dance with music.

Many of us think of it as learning to say our /s/ sound correctly, or making an accurate /th/ sound. 2.16.23

Articulation is certainly part of speech and language therapy and something our speech therapists can address. Students do work on articulation skills here, but very often there are prerequisite skills that need to be met first. Most of the students who come through the doors at Crossroads need help learning to use speech and language in the first place.

Our children can learn speech, language and communication skills when they are taught, step by step. Using techniques and principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, our Speech and Language Therapists and Pathologists work every minute of their days with kids. Whether in small groups or individual sessions, they are busy helping children to increase communication and language concepts. They work on anything and everything from pointing to a requested picture in an array, to answering questions about a story.

Many times, skills that are learned incidentally with “typically developing” students are not gained incidentally at all by children with developmental disabilities.  Here’s are some of the ways our Speech Therapists help kids at Crossroads.

Making eye contact with others is one of the most basic forms of communication, and something that our students need help learning. Our speech team works on helping their pupils to get their needs met, starting with looking at a person.

Learning to “mand” or communicate wants and needs is one of the earliest forms of communication, along with “tacting,” or labeling what we see around us. Our Speech and Language team teaches students to point to items or pictures, and to hand over pictures to make requests.

Many students are taught to communicate using the Picture Exchange Communication System, (PECS). There are several stages for PECS learning, and children using PECS might be working on very different objectives from one another, yet it is the Speech-Language Therapist or Pathologist, in conjunction with the child’s classroom team, who sets up the materials, the actual icons, the PECS book, and who practices the skills with the child instructionally, each on an individual basis.

Our therapists work on following instructions, also called “functional directions.” Such skills and directions might include, “get the tissues,” or “sit in the red chair,” or “look at me.”

Students learn to ask, such as asking permission to feed the fish or get a toy.

Students can work on turn-taking with peers and telling each other that it’s the peer’s turn. Some might work on retelling events from a story, picking the item that goes with a picture, or telling someone else about a picture.

Some work on understanding idioms, or using pronouns, while other children are making connections from pictures to have a conversation.

Crossroads Center for Children’s Speech-Language Therapists and Pathologists are the most excellent therapists in the field. These are just some of the ways they’re working each and every day to help our students. Thank you to our amazing Speech and Language Therapy Department for all you do for the children and families of Crossroads Center for Children.


We believe that communication skills give us access to the world around us. 2.4.23

Therefore, building communication skills is part of our work. Here, Ms. Rosie works with “J” a young boy who is learning that he can communicate with others to have his needs and wants met.


Transitioning from PECS to a Device. 12.12.22

Here, Ms. Sarah works with “S” a 4 year old who is learning to use an assistive device to communicate.

Once a student learns the process of using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to communicate, he or she might be ready to start learning to use a device. Here at Crossroads, speech therapists frequently use Prologue2Go , as it is a wonderful tool for learners and a logical next step. The therapist can set up pages with the app, each page organized with word icons that the child knows, or is learning, the meanings of. When selected, the ions will float to the top bar to create a statement, question, mand or tact. Each icon also produces an auditory word also, and many children start to imitate the word, leading to speaking verbally.

Talking About Balloons.  12.12.22

Welcome Rosie! 10.25.22

We’re happy to introduce Rosie Huttner to our Speech Therapy team!

I am excited to get to know all the wonderful kids and staff at Crossroads! Glad to be part of the team.

— Rosie Huttner

Communication System with J.  10.17.22

J is an 11-year old who is learning to use a device. He has learned already to use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to select words. Once PECS is mastered, many children can now transition to choosing the PEC – or picture – on an iPad. Carrying the iPad, and eventually an even smaller device, is less cumbersome and isolating than carrying around a PECS book.  Strengthening the child’s ability to find her or his words on the iPad takes lots of time, focus and repetition. You can see all of this as Mrs. Amy works here with J.

It is important to note that many of our students become verbal, by using the device, hearing the words said with the pictures, and so much repetition and practice.

Read more about nonverbal autism.



Reinforcement Principles. 10.2.22

B has been working with her Speech Therapist on answering questions. This is a challenging and multi-leveled goal whose prerequisites include gaining and holding attention to another person, and looking at a speaker when one’s name is said.

To target these skills, principles of reinforcement are utilized, so that the child’s behavior is reinforced right away when he/she looks at the person saying his/her name. Reinforcing the child, then, for attending to the speaker, in growing amounts of time – starting with seconds – is essential to getting the child to later attend to any task required.

Children like B work so hard along side their therapists to gain these important skills. When a child can work through an entire goal before getting the object or activity requested to work for, it’s a lot to be proud of.

B is seen playing with slime at the end of her goal, something she chose at the start of her session, and was able to work with desired attending and effort until Mrs. Brittany gave her approval to play with it. Such progress!

Welcome Sarah!  6.23.22

We’re thrilled to welcome Sarah Cerrone to our Speech Therapy Team. Sarah brings the team back to 5 members, and is a wonderful addition to Crossroads.

“Thank you for the warm welcome to Crossroads! I am excited to be here and look forward to working with staff, students, and families alike in the days ahead.”

— Sarah Cerrone

6.17.22 Labeling Location Prepositions

In. Out. On. Under. Beside. Off. Between. In Front. Behind.

There are more, but these are some of the relational locations that come up commonly, and that some of our students are working on learning. Here, “J” is practicing the skill with Mrs. Melanie, in a most reinforcing way. Put the marble in. Where is it? In. Put the marble in front. Where is it? In front. And so on.

“J” is also learning to ask for another turn, and more of something he likes. Melanie holds the marble in such a way that he is able to see it. She withholds giving it to him until he asks, providing prompting as needed.

Another child making communication and language gains at Crossroads!

5.4.22 Identifying Pictures Upon Request.

“J” likes a quiet place outside of the classroom to spread out and be comfortable for her sessions with Mrs. Brittany. J is a girl who uses a communication device to verbalize her wants and needs and who is learning to communicate more and more each day.

Today we see Brittany asking J to “show me _____”; each item Brittany requests challenges J to look at a new array of 6 pictures, and select the correct one. If this sounds easy, it’s not. Not when you work as hard as J does to understand what others are saying, to scan an array as large as 6 and to match the requested word to the correct picture. She IS a hard worker, and Brittany, along with her teammates never gives up on pulling her along to her next set of words to learn, and her next steps, how she is learning.


The other day, Crossroads celebrated Halloween in traditional school ways. 11.2.21

Children and many adults wore costumes, classes trick-or-teated through the building, and centers were set up in the gym for students to enjoy.

All of these activities were opportunities for teachers and therapists to target skills that their students are working on, but trick-or-treating by far created scenarios for students to practice communication skills. So much so that speech therapists accompanied classrooms to prompt use of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), an assistive device, or verbally to say “trick-or-treat,” “Thank you,” and “Happy Halloween.”

That’s a little background for this video. At this time last year, K, a newer student at the time, was learning to use a device to communicate. She had a few words, say her parents, but for the most part, she needed assistive technology to communicate. With the work of her speech therapist, Mrs. Amy, K had helped us make a “Happy Halloween” video last year, using her device.     Click for K’s 2020 “Happy Halloween!”

Now, a year later, K is using her own voice in the classroom, at home …. in her life. She has lots of words now, and so her teacher, Ms. Victoria, and K’s dad thought it would be cool to make a new video, which is below.

So many children, like K, are learning to express their thoughts and needs because of our speech therapists, and the classroom teams that help to address speech goals throughout the day. This is one example of what people support when they support Crossroads.


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