give your autistic child ways to “talk” about the past

give your autistic chlid a way to talk about the past
*Even if your child doesn’t have autism I encourage you to keep reading if you would like ways to reach your child in a deeper way.

Occasionally we are given gems of knowledge that I love to pass on to those who are raising children with autism. One such gem came from Michael Emmons*, who works with our kid’s school on including special needs children in the general classroom.

Emmons was at our home observing Jeremiah so he could make recommendations to the school about communication goals. While here, he noticed Jeremiah’s family photo books sitting on the coffee table, and said, “It’s great to have pictures so Jeremiah has a way to ‘talk’ about the past.”

At the time, I saw this as a novel idea, but since then it has grown into something more than I expected. It shouldn’t have been such a cutting edge concept for me, I mean it seems so simple when you really think about it. Give children who can’t communicate a way to ‘talk’ about the past, but it was something I hadn’t thought of. I was simply thinking present and future tense and that’s where it ended. Very unfair to Jeremiah.

Typical kids (meaning kids who can communicate, whether verbally, through sign language, or an augmented communication system) get to talk about the past and relate it to the present and future all the time. I like to put it in perspective with examples so we can really grasp how it is for our children who can’t communicate, or who can’t communicate well.

A child may want to talk about:
Their grandparents last visit and what they want to do next time.
The weather.
The scar they got when they fell off their bike.
They want to visit their cousins again.
They want to go to Disney Land.
How the hill you drive over every day reminds them of the ride at Disney Land.
What they do during school.
Who their best friends are.

I could go on and on, as always, but you get the idea. There’s obviously so much to talk about, and our children can’t or have difficulty doing so.

After Emmons was here I noticed Jeremiah flipping between two photos in his picture book that his Grandma made for him. One was of him sledding and one was of him swimming. He would stare at these pictures intently, and I talked about them, but beyond what I would’ve normally. Before Emmons shared this with me, I would have said, “You went sledding, that was fun,” but this time I added, “Do you like sledding? Maybe it will snow enough this weekend and we can go sledding.”

Jeremiah’s smile stretched across his face when I said this, and I felt like Emmons had helped us delve even deeper into Jeremiah’s world.
photo books help the autistic child talk about past and future

We were able to go sledding a couple weeks ago. Afterwards, Jeremiah was looking through the photo book again and paused at the one of him sledding. I talked about how he had fun sledding, and he grinned from ear to ear, that “Yeah, I know what you mean,” look.

In the past weeks, Justin and I had also been working on getting swim lessons on the schedule. When Jeremiah looked at the photo of him swimming with his Grandpa, I was finally able to tell him we were going to go to swim lessons. He smiled when I told him the first time, but when I was able to say, “We’re going swimming tonight. We have swim lessons tonight,” oh my gosh! He was jumping. clapping, and thrilled! I love it!

It just wrecks me when people don’t think those with autism can understand, that they don’t have feelings.This false belief is so far from the truth. Our children deserve so much more, for us to realize they have desires like every other child.

As Emmons pointed out to us, photo books are a great way to engage in conversation with your autistic child. You can do something as simple as putting pictures in slip-pocket photo books, or you can make photo books at or Adding words to describe what’s happening can help your child develop language, as it associates what’s happening in the photo with words.

I really hope this helps you in your adventures in autism, I can’t tell you what an exceptional jewel this is. It has the possibility of unlocking a treasure trove in your child, making those connections is priceless.
*Names changed to protect privacy.

Take a look at the CONTENTS page for more posts on autism, adoption, and foster care.

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watch for clues: understanding your Autistic child

watch for clues- understanding your Autistic child
Jeremiah saw his pajamas laying on our bed, grabbed them and brought them to me. Someone who doesn’t know him or doesn’t spend time learning about him might say, “Oh, he wants to go to bed.” Another person might not have a clue what Jeremiah is doing, so they take his pjs and put them on the couch or away in a drawer.

Most parents know their kids and can read their cues, they know when they’re tired, hungry, want (or need) to go outside, but when your child is nonverbal the cues can be misconstrued. In giving me his pjs, Jeremiah was communicating he wanted them on. He likes the comfort they give him, warm and soft, but it was also getting close to bedtime and routine is very important to him. Was he ready for bed? Probably not, but he knew what came next in his routine.

Living in a nonverbal world, unable to communicate those desires, needs, feelings, and opinions can be extremely frustrating. As a child’s parent, care giver, teacher, or therapist we need to do our best to understand what that child is communicating.

Here are some situations that have come up with Jeremiah that some may not understand, and some have even taken us a while to clue into:

  • When Justin runs the water to give the kids a shower, Jeremiah walks into the bathroom and backs up to Justin, who is sitting on the edge of the tub. Jeremiah wants Dad to take his clothes off so he can get in the shower. Someone who isn’t aware of Jeremiah’s routines may have no idea what he wants.
  • You might have an Autistic child who’s intensely frightened of showers. Oh, that used to be Jeremiah, he went through a long phase of despising them. Whenever we turned the water on in the bathtub, he would cry and get so upset. It honestly took us a little while to connect the two, no point in mentioning exactly how long, it’s kind of embarrassing and why I’m writing this post. If a parent (clearing throat, us) wasn’t paying attention, they may not know why he was crying.
  • Jeremiah recently discovered he loves oranges. Yeah, kind of strange for a kid who has Sensory Processing Disorder and is extremely picky about the texture and taste of food. We give him as many oranges as he wants, but one day we got busy, as every family does, and when we went in the kitchen, we found this: oranges In his own nonverbal way he was saying quite clearly, “I would like some oranges people.” Yeah, we got it. A little late. Someone else might think he was only lining up the orange balls, because why in the world would a child who has Autism eat an orange???

Not all nonverbal communication is this clear, but we’re really lucky when it is. Here’s an example of one that wasn’t quite so concise:

  • One cool spring day, Jeremiah brought me his PECS picture to indicate he wanted to go outside, but he wasn’t able to. It was cold after some warm spring days, I had things to do inside and couldn’t go out with him. He was frustrated. He brought me the PECS picture again, and I said, “Not now, it’s too cold.” I put the picture on the counter, not on it’s usual velcro spot on the door to indicate, no really, I mean it, we’re not going outside. He then brought me his snack PECS picture. Okay, I was working, and would get it in like twenty seconds, but anyone who has a nonverbal Autistic child knows that twenty seconds is an eternity to that kiddo. I placed the snack PECS picture beside me on the desk and kindly asked him to wait. He put it in front of my face again and I said, “Wait.” He gave up and left, I soon followed and walked by the back door, the door to the backyard. There by the door lay both his PECS pictures for his snack and “outside”. I got his snack out, handed it to him, and he stood by the door. Mama got it. I also abandoned my project of the moment and allowed him to go outside. His smile was priceless. That smile when the ones he relies on most in his world “get it”. That feeling that he’s understood, heard, and cared for because he got what he really wanted.

It’s so important to be aware of your child as much as possible. There will be times when you aren’t attentive to their movements and expressions, but when you can, it will teach you so much about your child.

don't lose those moments you can build on

Give your child opportunities to engage in activities or eat foods you wouldn’t expect them too. Last fall, Jeremiah watched as his sister ate her almonds. Up to that point his diet consisted of gold-fish crackers, occasional fresh raspberries, and had just added gluten-free pancakes packed with supplements. I saw how interested he was so I placed a couple almonds in front of him, and HE ATE THEM, and more! Oh jeez, can you say breakthrough? Can you say excited?? People really have no idea how exciting our Autism lives can be. Thrilling when your child eats a new food, looks at a new toy, or gives someone a hug, or simply looks someone in the eyes. If I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have missed a huge opportunity.

Because Jeremiah was attentive to new foods, Justin saw him staring at some cheese on his plate, so he give him a Jeremiah-sized handful. Well, Jeremiah’s allergic to cheese, and we knew this. It causes so many issues with him, including, but not limited to, him losing skills when he eats it. Oh, I wasn’t happy, not one of those proud Mommy moments. In the days that followed we (and Jeremiah) paid dearly for that small handful of cheese.

I couldn’t keep quiet about it, so I mentioned it to Justin again, asking why he gave it to him. He gave an answer I really had to contemplate and is really a basis for part of this post. Justin said, “He was so interested in the cheese and I want him to be interested in other foods, so I gave it to him.” Then it made sense to me. I asked that he agree to NOT give Jeremiah cheese again, but that we would pay extra attention to foods he showed any interest in.

Another is boiled eggs. Yeah, really plain and weird texture. At first he just played with them. Our response was to keep them away from him because he would pop half of it in his mouth, pop it back out and place it back on our plate. One day Justin jumped at it, sliced that sucker up and Jeremiah ate it! Woo hoo!! He’s been eating them since.

It’s good to step a little out of “normal” sometimes.

Life can become so routine, we don’t try new things, they eat the same food, we aren’t able to go many places. I encourage you (this is even a post for myself) to try. Go. Do. Stretch yourself and your child a little. Don’t make them completely uncomfortable, but you can try taking them to the park, giving them a new food (with warning), or play with a new toy alongside them. You never know, maybe, just maybe.

If someone had told me a few months ago that Jeremiah would be eating eggs, oranges, and almonds today, I would’ve said they were crazy. They wouldn’t have been. But, if we hadn’t paid attention, and if we don’t continue to, we would lose those moments we could build on.

Are there things your child does that you don’t think someone else would understand? If your child is nonverbal how do they communicate with you? Do they use gestures or take you to what they need?

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6+ ways to help your child when they can’t communicate (Autism/special needs)

6 ways to help your child when they can't communicateHow do people; therapists, family, teachers, and friends view our child who is nonverbal? Do they truly understand our child? How does our child feel when they can’t communicate what they desire or need? Can you imagine the frustration of not being able to tell someone you’re hot, hungry, want to go to a certain restaurant, play with a certain toy, that you can’t find your favorite blanket? Can you imagine?

What is it like to parent a child who is constantly misunderstood and underestimated?

Over at Emma’s Hope Book, Ariane wrote an important piece about one of her daughter’s experiences when Emma couldn’t communicate. Problem was, the teacher should have known what Emma desired. You can read about the situation in the post, Picture Day Moments. It’s a great read and you can share it with others to help them understand Autism.

In that post Ariane writes, “Teachers are trained in a definition of autism that is incorrect.  A definition that assumes intellectual disability which is connected to an inability to make oneself understood, low IQ, problematic behaviors, unable to read aloud and therefore cannot read, a whole series of assumptions are being made daily about Emma and kids just like Emma, but

those assumptions are based on a false premise.”

When we attended our last Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting, I asked the school therapists and teacher if they could imagine NOT being able to communicate. I shared how frustrating it would be to not be able to tell anyone what you wanted or needed. They didn’t have much to say, either because they’ve never had parents ask them such obnoxious questions (I am the Queen of questions), or because they didn’t understand what I was saying. Most therapists and the teacher in the room are fantastic with Jeremiah, but I wanted EVERYONE in the room to understand why Autistic kids demonstrate “behaviors” (I strongly believe many “behaviors” are linked to the inability to communicate).

There was a specific person in that meeting I was trying to reach. Because of the “therapy” she did with my son, he stopped signing one of the only words he’s ever signed, and did so consistently before she “therapied” it out of him. He also stopped using a word (one of the very few words he’s ever used) we’d been working on, well, for years. You can read more about that experience here.

Kindly educating others helps them see the beauty in Autism
In that IEP meeting, I was making an effort to educate the educators on Autism and my son. We need to share what we learn and what we know about our child with everyone in our child’s life. We don’t have to be the know-it-alls, but we are the ones living it and researching it (share articles and pages from books you read), we didn’t sit in a room and learn from a speaker or text-book, and others can gain insight from what us parents have experienced.

Share everything you can about your child:

  • Stories about what they’re doing and interested in at home.
  • What your child is playing with.
  • How their play/behavior is changing.
  • What behaviors they’re displaying (discuss what you think is causing the good and the negative behaviors).
  • What your child likes.
  • How your child is communicating and changes taking place. I mention the word “changes” a lot because our children are constantly in transition, what was true yesterday or last week may not be true today, so it’s essential that we have constant open communication with everyone in our child’s life.

In the end maybe we can avoid those Picture Day Moments Ariane wrote about.

My hope is people would learn more about Autism, understand more about Autism, and accept Autism. My hope is that strangers, acquaintances, friends, therapists, family, and teachers would understand our children and people who are nonverbal. Sharon Draper wrote an awesome book, Out of My Mind LINK, that I think everyone should read, it was an eye-opener for me and showed me so much about individuals who are nonverbal.

Emma’s Hope Book is a great resource for parents of Autistic children, and a great website to share with others who are involved with anyone who has Autism.

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be positive for the little people – part 2 (Autism)

photo taken by knightsbridge photography
photo taken by knightsbridge photography

Yesterday I wrote about being positive for the little people – part 1 (if you haven’t read it, go ahead, we’ll see you back here in a bit). Now for the second installment that I promised.

I believe that families are like those bouncy-ball toys that light up. If one family member is lit up, the whole family is blinded. If you can help that one, then everyone benefits. So, here are some ideas to help you stay in the right frame of mind and kick the negative outlook to the curb.

  • Notice your child’s positive attributes and actions and praise them for it (even if your child is nonverbal). Although our son, Jeremiah, is nonverbal, as he has gained more understanding, he smiles and sometimes laughs when we say specific things about him or talk about something that happened to him.
  • Set your expectations a little higher. I don’t mean expect a child who’s never sat at the table for a meal to one day sit for the entire event. Work into things, but don’t let them slide without expectations. For example, Jeremiah is not really affectionate, but he does better than many other kids who have Autism. We’ve a made a point to hug and kiss him several times a day, every day. He’s much more attached to his Dad, so my kisses and hugs were less acceptable. I kept at it and he finally smiles and lets me give him a kiss before Dad puts him in bed. It took four years, but I won! A child knows when we have higher expectations for them.
  • Be aware of your words and your facial expressions when you’re around your child. This should be obvious, but I don’t think it is. I’ve been working on this recently. When it comes to my two kids, I am completely different in what I say aloud about them. Because my son is nonverbal and has less understanding (although this area is really developing lately) I fell into a trap of complaining about his behaviors when he was within earshot. Yeah, I know, not cool. One of my big issues was commenting on how difficult he was on certain days.
    In Be Positive for the Little People (Part 1), I mentioned Joanna’s article. Her first point really hit home with me. She says, “Just because someone is unable to communicate verbally, it doesn’t mean they are unable to hear.” It seems so obvious when I write it out or read it, but it’s so easy to forget when we have a child who can be trying.
    Even parents who don’t have a nonverbal child can fall into this habit, it’s difficult to find time with your spouse, and when you do, you don’t want to be a dump truck, so you may complain about your kids in front of them.


There are many views on Autism, just as there are many personality types, varying forms of Autism, and different people. Some people can see the amazing and wonderful capabilities the person with Autism has. And some find it problematic, maybe their child is nonverbal, has no social skills or emotional connection, or has a commorbity such as Angelmans syndrome.

What I do know is that we all have to work at focusing more on the positives and kicking the negatives to the curb, and I know in one day there can be hundreds of negatives.

In case you missed it, here is the first post in this series: negativity is contagious

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to be more positive with your child. If you have ideas, please share them with us, we can all benefit from other’s experiences and insight into the special needs world.

If you know someone who has a child with Autism, or even a Grandparent or friend who would benefit from learning more about the subject, feel free to share this with them. You can receive each post made here by subscribing in the upper right, and you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.