Where I’ve Been and Why I’m Here


Don’t let the med school textbooks fool you; little boys with Down syndrome are VERY clever.

Welcome to our journey through speech acquisition – all things visual – sign language, PECs and anything else I can find to help my little boy learn to speak.    The special needs community is discovering more and more every day about the incredible visual skills children with autism and Down syndrome have.  There is also much to be gained by making learning visual for everyone.  I have seven students in my family homeschool, and I’m all about finding every opportunity to use picture cards to get things organized, functional and fun around here.

As an added bonus, my 5-year-old has Down syndrome and an additional diagnosis of apraxia of speech.  Apraxia is a motor planning disorder that basically means Noah has the muscle strength and coordination needed for speech production and he knows what he wants to say, but the connection between his brain and his mouth is short-circuiting.

The good news is that Noah has an American Sign Language vocabulary of about 150 signs.  Using Total Communication (sign language plus -NOT INSTEAD OF- speech) has helped Noah to be a great communicator.  Language is about so much more than the ability to verbalize orally.  Remember that – it’s going to be very important.  Never give up on speech.  The use of picture cards and signs lay a very important foundation for communication, sentence structure, and vocabulary.  Used long term, they can be an anchor and a prompt for speech.  There was a time I hoped that Noah would outgrow signing and picture cards, but in being exposed to adults with disabilities, I realize that what we are doing by teaching sign and picture card usage is we are equipping our special ones for life.  When Noah starts a job, mows the lawn, does the dishes or goes shopping for the first time,  picture cards and boards will be a tool he can use to achieve success and independence.  When he gets confused or forgets what to do next, he can use his picture boards much the way we use directions.  He won’t have to be at the mercy of my attention or anyone else’s.  Like a hammer for a carpenter, a map for a traveller, picture cards will be a tool, a means to a very productive end, no matter how “high-functioning” or “low functioning” he is.

Noah is also very bright.  As his teacher, I want to make sure that his speech delay does not interfere with acquisition of skills that he may otherwise be ready for.  He has been diligently learning preschool concepts despite the fact he is just beginning to speak.  His speech therapist has been using picture cards consistently with him, and after watching her for six months and wandering around mrsriley.com, I’m finally getting the hang of it.

In the next few weeks, I will start posting articles and links to the picture boards that are instrumental in Noah’s acquisition of pre-school skills such as matching, color identification, following directions, opposites, part to whole, counting, action words and categorizing.  We’ll also be talking about using picture cards to teach not-yet-verbal children to read, YES-TO READ!!!!!!  And, of course, we’ll explore using picture cards more generally to offer choices, learn routines and sequence events.  Mrsriley.com members will have access to and the ability to print all the files I’ll be sharing.  If you’re not a mrsriley.com member, you STILL get access to all the files.  If you want to print them, they will allow you to register for free and you’ll get 24 hours to download all my files, plus everyone else’s, plus all the ones you can make in 24 hours.  Cool, huh?    If you are not yet familiar with www.mrsriley.com, mosey on over to their website and have a look around.  It’s a great site that not only provides a huge selection of ready-to-print picture cards and boards, but also gives you the capibility to easily upload your own images and photos and then turn around and create your own picture cards.  Oh, and did I mention if you decide to join, it’s only $5 a month —- And they’ve got the best customer support EVER?????   And the members share files, so you have access to everyone else’s files if they choose to post them publicly, and new public files are added every day?????

From time to time I’ll be posting “Noah’s Courage” which will be updates on Noah’s progress.  I’m excited about that because it will be a written record of how far we’ve come since going visual.  I’d love for you to use this space to share how you are customizing these ideas and files to fit your own needs.  Let us know how you’re using your picture cards, no matter how you’re making them.  Just hit the comment button at the bottom of the blog and type away.  Gotta love how we’re all in this together.  And a big thank you to www.mrsriley.com for making my entry into visual learning so much fun.

Talk to you soon.


Teaching Colors – Clothespin Color Relay

Posted January 3, 2012 – 4:09pm by mamajoyx9

I love clothespin activities!!!!  There’s just something about all that wood and color and the satisfaction of opening and closing a clothespin and sticking it on something.  One activity Noah loves to engage in is Clothespin Color Relay.  This little beauty works on fine motor skills (clothespin grasp, gross motor (walking/running), following directions, picture card usage, color identification and matching.   It’s easy to get the other little ones (and big ones) involved once they see what we’re up to.  We thought we’d let you in on our little game.

One thing I’ve found to be very important is remembering that the goal we are reaching for while attempting these tasks is progress and for the child to feel successful.  More important than training our children to know their  colors, we are training them to be confident and enthusiastic learners.  So, no matter how much assistance you have to give, make sure to give your child all the credit for a job well done.  “Yes, you got it, you made a match, super,  yay!!!!!”

Materials needed:

22 clothespins

permament markers


printout of mrsriley.com color circles here: http://mrsriley.com/app/#fileID=45741

a piece of string or yarn, at least 12-inches long, depending on how many cards you’ll be using

bell and chair – (optional)


1.  Mount picture boards on cardstock or laminate.

2.  Cut out cards.

3.  Color a set of 2 clothespins for each color card you will be using.    (If you are having multiple children playing, you may want to have an extra clothespin or 2 per color.)

4.  Attach your string horizontally either from two pieces of furniture (in which case you will need a longer piece of string, or tacked to the wall.

5.  Sit with your child and talk about the cards and the clothespins.  Use this as an opportunity to introduce and review vocabulary and talk about concepts like “open and closed,” “colors,” “matching,” “same and different.”    Next, using very simple speech, “Put red on red,” give him practice opening and closing the clothespins and attaching a color-coordinated clothespin to a card.

How to Play: (Start off with just 2 or 3 colors and build up gradually.)

1.  Hang each color card with a coordinated clothespin from the string that you hung.

2.  Hold the remaining coordinating clothespins in your hand and place yourself about 2 yards from the hanging cards.

3.  Give your child one clothespin, tell him the color of the clothes pin, and tell him to clip it on the coordinating card.  (“Here’s red.  Put red on red.)  Assist as needed.

4.  Repeat with remaining clothespins.

A step up (Pick and Choose):

1.  Play the game as described, but using a timer, encourage your child to see how fast he can attach all the clothespins to the cards.

2.  Encourage your child to ask you for the color he wants using either sign language, picture cards or speech.

3.  Set a bell on a chair near the hanging cards.  Instruct your child to ring the bell every time he makes a match.  This is an exercise in following directions with an extra step.

4.  If you have more than one child playing, use small boxes or baskets to hold the clothespins and make it into a race.  If one child finishes first, you may choose to have him help the other child to win too by helping him attach the remaining clothespins.

How do you use this game for your child or clients?  What modifications helped it be a success for you?   Can’t wait to hear.



An extradorinary little boy, the ordinary people who love him, and their journey together through the world of visual learning and speech acquisition. (And in my "free time," vintage crochet, machine embroidery, digitizing and Etsy.)