Pick of the Week: Dr. Jen’s U-Play Mat for Education – NEW!

When you’re in one-on-one sessions and get down on the floor with the kids, wouldn’t it be wonderful to still have the benefits of a working surface that the child has complete visual and tactile access to? The brand new, innovative U-Play Mat is the answer! The U-shaped mat and 50 photo flashcards create a solid learning environment, promoting face-to-face interaction and eye contact.

There are 10 clear pockets on the 4′ x 3′ mat which allows the child full visual and tactile access. The U-Play Mat comes with 2 decks of cards featuring Animals and Foods from the folks who brought you the Language Builder Picture Cards. Each deck has 50 cards with 25 matching pairs. Each card has a clear, photographic image with the corresponding label on one side, and fun facts on the reverse. These fun facts can serve as conversation starters to build interaction, vocabulary and language skills. You can also use the U-Play Mat with additional customized set of flashcards and images. There is a detailed Activity Guide for therapists, educators, and parents to organize and implement an education program. The guide comes complete with 19 custom-designed, reproducible data sheets to record responses and track progress.

This week only, save 15% on the new Dr. Jen’s U-Play Mat for Education by entering the Promo Code BLOGUPM at checkout.

*Offer expires on June 26, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout


Pick of the Week: NEW! Language Builder Picture Nouns Software

This week, we’re so excited to introduce you to the new Language Builder Picture Nouns Software. We’re also thrilled to be the first to offer this wonderful program. For the next 2 weeks – to celebrate our worldwide exclusive on this new program – we’re offering you 15% off!

Based on the top-selling flashcards – The Language Builder – this innovative software program transforms basic flashcards into an interactive digital learning experience. The 550 Images are taken directly from the popular Language Builder Picture Nouns 1 & 2. There are 550 images presented through six different activities. The easy-to-use interface gives you the ability to select which words, word lists, or categories you want to practice.

Activities Include: Identification, Matching, Multiple Choice, Sorting Similar Images, Grouping by Category, and a Voice Recorder Function. The Word Groups include: Wild Animals, Farm Animals, Pets, Sea Life, Insects & Bugs, Foods, Clothing, Vehicles, Toys, Musical Instruments, Everyday Objects, Body Parts, Safety Signs, and Shapes & Color.

To redeem your 15% discount and be the first to purchase this great new program, simply purchase the Language Builder Picture Nouns Software and enter the Promo Code BLOGLBPS at checkout.

*Offer expires on February 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.

From Basic Vocabulary to Building Sentences in Autism Education: Using Picture Cards

With our current pick of the week being the Language Builder Picture Cards, we thought this wonderful post outlining specific uses for the set from creator Angela Nelson would be most helpful.

The most popular use of the Language Builder Picture Card Series is to build vocabulary. The realistic and current photos help students to learn the name of various nouns, occupations, and emotions. In the beginning, this task can be very repetitive and basic, focusing only on learning single-word responses. When a child with autism begins to gain expressive language skills, parents and educators are thrilled to watch these new words emerge.

Labeling Sentences

After a child has mastered numerous single-word labels for the picture cards, the next critical step is to build these one-word answers into more complete and functional Labeling Sentences.

Building sentences will start simply. As a first step, you may just ask the child to use the article along with the word. For example, move toward an answer of “an apple” or “a car.” The next step would be to work toward “It is an apple,” or “It is a car.”

As you expand your student’s communication skills to include full sentences, you will no doubt need to use prompts in the beginning. The most common method is verbal modeling. But it is important to fade the verbal prompt as soon as possible. To help your student answer in full sentences without need for a verbal prompt, you can move to a visual cue prompt.

Written cue cards are a great method to remind your student to use full sentences. For example, if you show your student a picture of a car, and ask “What is it?” your student is likely to just answer “car.” To prompt your student to use the article “a” with the word car, you can start by putting a cue card in front of the picture with the word “a” on it. Have your student touch each card (the “a” card and then the picture card) as they say the words “a car.” The next step would be to add cue cards for “It is a car.” When your student starts to grasp the concept of speaking multi-word sentences, you can begin to fade the visual cue card prompts.

Requesting Sentences

Another important type of sentence that your child will need to learn to use is a Requesting Sentence. When your child learns to use communication to make requests and get their needs met, it will reduce the child’s frustration, which will in turn reduce the frequency of tantrums and outbursts.

Sort through the picture cards for which your child knows the labels. Find pictures of items that your child likes and that you have available to give to them. Food items are often the most successful to start with. For example: Cheese, Raisins, Juice, Popcorn, and Apple. Stick a magnet to the back of each picture and place the pictures on the refrigerator. Write the word “I” on one index card and the word “want” on another and place those on the refrigerator also. When you know your child wants a specific food (as most parents often do), pull the corresponding picture down into the “I want” sentence. Use the visual cues as a prompt to help your child remember to use the full sentence to request their desired food. As always, you should fade the prompts as your student begins to master this full sentence activity.

A Note on Using Cue Cards to Prompt

You may think: Why am I using written words to prompt my child? He isn’t speaking well, so why should I assume he can read?
The cards are not meant for your child to read. They are merely place markers. It makes as much sense to use the words as anything else. However, you could also use something as simple and nondescript such as blocks or blank cards for your child to touch as they say the words. The idea is to give your child a physical reminder to speak the extra words. In fact there are schools of thought suggesting that if you tie spoken words to physical activity that it creates more neural pathways for the words to attach to. Regardless, you can choose to use the word cards, or to use a more neutral object. Decide what works best for your child.

Additional Activities to Develop Sentence Skills

Labeling and Requesting are the most basic of all full sentence activities, and provide a basis for your student to understand that communication requires more than single word utterances. The following list of activities offers just a few examples of the many lessons you can use to help build full sentences and a more complete system of communication with your child.


You can use picture cards to discuss adjectives or descriptive words. Some adjectives are clear from the pictures, such as “the apple is round” or “the frog is green.” Other adjectives draw more on a child’s real-world experience, like “the bunny is soft” or “the banana is sweet.” To teach adjectives, you can start with a receptive task. Place cards in front of your child and ask them to “find something green” or “point to something that is round.” This receptive language activity will allow your student to hear some of the adjectives you use, before trying to come up with their own descriptive words when you start to build sentences with them.

 To transition this activity to expressive language, you can hold up a picture and ask your student, “What color is the frog?” You will need to prompt your student at first either verbally or using a cue card method as described above.


Picture cards provide a great opportunity to practice “Wh” questions. You can show your student a picture and ask him or her to answer questions such as “What color is the frog?” “Where would you find a plate?” “When do you use a pillow?” “Why do you use soap?”

To start, some of these questions will fall easily out of the Adjectives lessons you have already practiced, such as “What color is it?” Other questions will provide a new challenge for your student.

Tell Me About

Use pictures with which your student is already familiar. The best pictures will be the ones you have practiced extensively on the Adjectives and Wh-Questions. Show your student a picture and ask him or her to tell you about the item in the picture.

The first things that your student should be able to tell you about the pictures are the responses that they learned in Adjectives and Wh-Questions. The difference with this drill is that you student has to generate the content themselves rather than respond to your question. When you ask your student “What color is it?” they know color is the relevant detail. In the Tell Me About lesson, students have to decide for themselves that color is a relevant thing to tell you about the picture.

You can start with scripted responses, using the picture to cue your student. Then you can progress to more creative responses that might not be so obvious from the picture. For example, show your student a picture of a duck. Ask your student, “Can you tell me about a duck?” By looking at the picture, your student can get some basic answers. “A Duck has feathers.” “A duck has webbed feet.” “A duck has a bill.” As your student becomes more familiar with this activity, you may progress to things about a duck that are not readily apparent from the picture. “A duck can swim.’ “A duck says ‘quack quack,’” “A duck lays eggs.”

The Tell Me About Lesson also gives you the opportunity to increase the length of your student’s verbal activity. Start by requiring the student to tell you only one detail about the picture. Then move up to two, or three or more details. Of course, if you ask your student to tell you three things about the picture, you may have difficulty if they haven’t mastered counting skills. Here’s a trick: hand your student three blocks and have them toss a block into a bucket with every detail they tell you. This is a great way to help your student count their answers, and it makes it fun for them!


The next step in this language building series is Storytelling. Again, this activity builds on the previous lessons. Show your student a familiar picture card and ask your student to “Tell you a story” about the picture. The first elements of the story will likely be familiar from the Tell Me About lesson. For example:

“Tell me a story about a duck.”
“There was a duck, it had webbed feet, feathers, and a bill. The duck went for a swim in the pond, then it laid some eggs and said ‘quack quack’”

As your student’s language skills grow, so will the creativity of the stories!


The setting in which you begin to teach language skills is very structured and formal. However these new skills will become more valuable as they generalize across time and setting, and with various communication partners. To help promote generalization, you can start by moving your therapy session to different places – starting even with different rooms in the house.

Next, it is important that the skills your child has learned in the formal therapy session be practiced throughout other aspects of the child’s life, such as during family time and at school. Make sure to bring the cardsto dinner, to the store, to school, etc. Whenever you communicate with your child, require the same full sentences that are expected during therapy. Stop and take the time to use the prompt cards if necessary.

Finally, keep good records and good communication channels open with all of the other professionals and family members in your child’s life. You can send a notebook back and forth to school, or perhaps start an electronic communication log to make sure teachers are requiring the same sentences, using the same words, and bringing in the same prompts as you are at home and in therapy. Consistency is a major key to building and generalizing successful language skills to help your child interact with the world around them.

Building Language for Your Child with Autism, Part 4: Building Expressive Vocabulary

This is the step where your child learns to actually say the words out loud. All of the tasks described in previous posts come into play when building your child’s expressive vocabulary. Picture cards are a useful tool again, because it just isn’t feasible to bring every object directly to your child. We certainly want them to learn the words bus and airplane, but it’s difficult to get those items into your living room!

The basic idea for building expressive vocabulary using picture cards is just to hold the card up and ask your child “what is it?” The intricacy comes in knowing how to prompt your child and how to fade that prompt. We talked previously about the importance of your child being able to imitate the words that you say. Imitation is the basis for the prompts you will use to build your child’s expressive vocabulary.

The first several times you ask your child the name of a new picture, you will likely have to model the word for him or her. For example, you ask your child “What is it?” If you do not get a response, you say “apple.” Ideally your child repeats the word “apple.” After a few tries, you can shorten your prompt to “app….” And then to “aaaa…….” And then perhaps to just opening your mouth as if to say “aaaa…” but not making a sound.

A Comprehensive Picture Card Library

It is a good idea to have a large selection of pictures ready to go when you start to teach the lessons we just described. Here are a few tips to help you choose or take appropriate pictures:

  1. Start with words that are familiar to your child. Words like apple, cup and cookies may be better than ­saxophone or stethoscope.
  2. Start with pictures on a plain white, or a distraction free background.
  3. Make sure to have duplicates available for the matching tasks when you first start out.
  4. Consider taking multiple pictures of the same item (6 different apples for example) to help your child generalize their newly learned words.
  5. As your child becomes more comfortable learning new words move to more natural settings for your pictures.
  6. Have a broad range of pictures, across multiple categories, ready for when your child is ready to move forward!
  7. If you take the pictures yourself, consider having them laminated for durability.If you don’t have the time to make your own pictures, a 350-Card Set of photo flash cards called the Language Builder Picture Card Set is avaibable and is specifically tailored to meet the needs of an early language vocabulary building program.


This is a part of a series of guest posts by Angela Nelson on building language in children with autism. As the creator of the acclaimed Language Builder Picture Noun Card Set, Angela received her BA and JD from UCLA where she studied and practiced behavior psychology under Dr. Ivar Lovaas. She has been creating autism and special needs curriculum products since 1997.



Building Language for Your Child with Autism, Part 3: Building Receptive Vocabulary

Receptive language refers to the thought process involved in hearing, processing and comprehending spoken language. When we mentioned above that a two year old child should be able to follow simple commands, point to objects when they are named, and recognize names of familiar objects; these objectives were examples of receptive language skills.

There are a number of ways to help build your child’s receptive vocabulary. Using photo cards is one basic and concrete vocabulary building tool that you can do at home. Place pictures of common objects on the table in front of your child. Ask your child to “touch the cookies” or “give me the hat.” When your child can follow the command and consistently select the requested picture, you have added a new word to their receptive vocabulary.

It is likely that your child will need help selecting the correct card… especially the first few times you try this task. Here is a trick to help make picking the right word easier. Start with just one card on the table and increase the number of pictures slowly. For example, if you are trying to teach the word cookies:


    1. Start with just the picture of the cookies on the table.
    2. After your child has learned to touch the cookies picture on request, add a blank card to the table. Ask your child to touch the cookies picture several more times, rotating the position of the two cards each time.
    3. Then, add a second picture to the table, and a third, and a fourth.
    4. Once your child can select the cookies picture each time, introduce new words using the same method!
















This is a part of a series of guest posts by Angela Nelson on building language in children with autism. As the creator of the acclaimed Language Builder Picture Noun Card Set, Angela received her BA and JD from UCLA where she studied and practiced behavior psychology under Dr. Ivar Lovaas. She has been creating autism and special needs curriculum products since 1997.

Building Language for Your Child with Autism, Part 2: Matching Objects and Pictures as a Precursor to Language

Developmental Psychologist, Jean Piaget, observed that a child first becomes aware of a concept and then acquires the words to convey that concept. Think about this for a moment: a child has to know that an apple is a distinct and separate item, before they know they should give it a name. They have to realize that the apple is different than, say, the cup. This is where matching comes in.

To help teach this concept using pictures of objects, place two pictures on the table in front of your child, one picture of an apple, and the other of a cup (or some non-apple picture). Hand your child an identical picture of an apple. Ask your child to “match” the apples, or to “put with same.”

When your child can consistently match the two cards, regardless of the position of the cards, they likely understand that the apple is a distinct object. Now we are one step closer to giving that object a name!


This is a part of a series of guest posts by Angela Nelson on building language in children with autism. As the creator of the acclaimed Language Builder Picture Noun Card Set, Angela received her BA and JD from UCLA where she studied and practiced behavior psychology under Dr. Ivar Lovaas. She has been creating autism and special needs curriculum products since 1997.