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Magic Words according to me

My son verbalized at the age of 3 ½ years. The first word was “No”. And he managed with “No” for more than two and half years. That “No” gave me lots of hope that my son can talk to me one day more meaningfully.

When he was 5 ½  years old, he was about to leave to home from the school one day with his dad. One therapist held both of them back, pulled out a card with written words on it, showed it to my son and asked “what is this?”  My son said “Baby”. That was the first proper word he said after 2 ½ years beyond “No”. My husband called me on phone with this news and we were ecstatic. I consider “No” as a magical word that helped my son to start of his speech. Here I wanted to share few other magical words that expanded his vocabulary, understanding of what is happening around him, communicating basic needs to us and others.
My son is a hyper active kid. His participation for listening and learning was very less around that time.

In the beginning till almost 4, my son wouldn’t be able to verbalise anything. He did make sounds for some words. Only we parents were able to understand the sounds and was able to understand to associate it with particular object or action.
But he showed lot of frustration, when he was not able to communicate his needs. That’s when I took words like No, Yes, Finished/ Over, More and help helped me and my son to make our day smooth without much struggle along  with the words for basic needs like water, toilet, etc.
Let me explain why I feel these words are important and magic to me (even now also). And also I am going to share how I taught these words to my son.

The first word verbalized by my son. When I thought through one day how he was able to say “No” and not other words, I realized that I used “No” very frequently to my son. Yes, whenever he said “No”, he said it in a way I said. That’s when I realised one thing, my son needed lot of repetition to understand and to verbalise.
I think, the word can be easily taught to our kids. Since, whatever our kids do, mostly it would not be acceptable by us and vice versa is very much true.
When I understood this I started to use “No” consciously, calmly and effectively and my son too started the same way.

Yes” was not as easy as “No”. Since whatever I want to do with him, his answer was No. Ex. “Let’s do Brushing”-“No”, “Let’s eat breakfast”-“No”, “Now activity time”-“No”, “Let’s cut your Nail”-“No”, haircut, No….No…NO.

Then how did I achieve “Yes”. Junk Food was his main attraction. Whenever he wanted something to eat, he used to take my hand and point to the box of snacks. Here only I used the opportunity and asked him like “Do you want chocolate? “Or “Do you want Biscuits?” etc.

After a small pause, I used to say “Yes” and wait for him to repeat the same. Though immediately he was not able to say. Little later he started using, “Yes”. But he started it as “Yeah”.  He used “Yeah” for a long time. Of course he changed, “Yeah” into “Yes”. Whenever he said “Yeah”, I repeated “Yes” and gave him whatever he wanted.  So I used his interest to make him to say “Yes”.

Till 5 ½ my son had not got proper word apart from No. And his understanding about the world around him was also very less. We didn’t teach any sign language to him.  So for every request, to make him remember one word and make him say it, it was very difficult for us.  So, we used the word “help”. For e.g. If he brings his favourite Rhymes CD to play it. Instead of make him say, “Play CD” or “Play Rhymes”, we made him say “help”. If we give him some snack, and he wants to remove the wrapper, we made him to say “help”. When we go out we make him to wear shoes or sandals and we will wait for him to wear the shoes or sandals by himself.  At that age to put straps, he struggled. So whenever he struggled to put shoes or sandals, we made him request us for help. For buttoning or unbuttoning trousers, “help” and many other instances, it became a great opportunity and the word got reinforced for him again and again.
Simply put, whenever he comes to use for a request, like “Open”, “Play”, “Put” etc., we make him to say “help”.  Even now if he experiences something new, he automatically says “help”.

He learnt “more” easily though he doesn’t say it frequently, but he understood the meaning.  Whenever he wanted the same things again and again like playing his rhymes CD again and again (he didn’t know how to play it by himself in the beginning), then we said “More Rhymes” and played it again. Also food was also a big obsession. Anything more in quantity he needed, we said “More” and gave it. And myself and my husband still remember the day when one day in his breakfast he at last understood the significance of “More” and chuckling and enjoying to himself (his excitement is usually obvious when he discovers something new or is able to convey something successfully to us). It was a wow moment for us. We continued to use “more” for various other of his obsessions like, playing in water game(“More Water”), requesting for more bubbles(as we blew the bubbles initially and he did not know how to do it), though his usage of More has never been significant, but he understands the context and meaning when we say it.

When our son is obsessed about something he would not be able to stop by himself. Playing with something-eating some favourite foods etc. Our Speech Therapist introduced as the concept of saying “Finished” or “Over” when an activity gets over(with a  little cross sign by hand). She said it helps wraps up a stuff neatly in child’s mind and reduces anxiety and frustration.  So we used all opportunities starting with brushing. Brushing had several steps to do. Once they were complete. We said “Over”. Then breakfast time, when he finished eating, we said “Over”. Water was his obsession and my son will endlessly play with water. Because we kept wrapping up other activities with “Over”, during his bath time or when he played with water, when we said “Over”, he grudgingly accepted.

And my son had got the habit of wanting to repeat something in the same place in the same manner. If we had put Petrol in a petrol bunk, next time when we cross that specific petrol bunk, he will insist on putting Petrol, by calling and pointing out “Petrol” continuously(and we may not have need to put Petrol at that time). Soon we started applying “Over” here.  And this time he refined himself. Soon when we crossed Petrol bunk and he realized that we are not going to get in to put Petrol (or with a simple one time explanation we gave), he said to himself aloud, “Petrol Over”. And so the “Over” now became a self-control for him. When he knew myself and my husband were not going to budge and give him more snacks, he ended up his demands by saying to himself “Snacks Over”.

So “Finished” or “Over” has been one of the most important speech and personality improvement milestone for my son. I use this now for my daily educational activities with him. When we finished one section of activity, I called out as “over” and my son could get the sense of progress and doesn’t get anxious that the activities are going on endlessly.
When my son was young, he used to repeat sounds like “Ba ba ba…” meaninglessly throughout the day. I used to have tears in my eyes, when I heard these sounds.  I thought at least he should be able say simple things and started off with “help”, “more”, “over” and it started paying off after 5 ½ years only. Today looking back, this basic words, as they served his basic needs, it became a foundation for his further improving speech now.

You can check my other experiences on developing speech in the following articles:

How I made my son speak through Nursery Rhymes:

 How I changed my son's gesture into words:

Sounds are important

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Go to Child’s level

In the initial days before diagnosis of Autism for my son, I was stumbling in dark about many things. My son’s speech therapist who made the first visit to our home for my son’s diagnosis gave the first advice of everlasting impact, “Go to the Child’s level”.

I understood the significance of this statement only after my son’s diagnosis. There was a workshop organized for training parents of kids with autism. The following points opened my eyes in that training:

1.       Go to child’s level

2.       Slow down your clock

Though the therapist said “Go to child’s level” physically, which means you literally kneel down and look at your kids face and talk.  But, it helped to understand my son in many different ways.

I always felt that my son lives in his own world, where he is very comfortable. But to survive in our world, he has to come out of his world and he has to learn the social norms of our world.

If he can come out of his world, understand and learn the social needs and other things, he doesn’t need therapies, doctors, special schools etc. So I decided to go to his level to understand his world so that I can help him to get to our world.

How I went to my child’s level
First I tried to physically go to his level to establish proper eye contact. If I worked with him on the desk top activities, I used to sit face to face. But in other times, I knelt down to manage his height and face him. When my son looks at my face every of my facial expression sinks in along with the words I say. So when I say, “I am Angry”, my son also knows how I look when I am angry and understands the meaning and context better.

Also our speech therapist educated us that little kids get intimidated with adults hovering tall over them. Hence if you need to understand and get into their world, you need to go to their level and interact with them.

Here is a nice video of Super Nanny, a UK based program, where a well trained professional helps parents better their lives together with children. In this program there is a concept of circles of comfort for a child, personal space and getting down to their level. You can watch the snippet between 25:10 Secs to 26:23 Secs specifically for the above points.

Observe and Structure the activities
In the next stage I started observing my son, so that I could understand his behavior, his motivations and find a way to play and structure my interactions with him.  I used to observe my son by leaving him to do whatever he wants to do (that is without any intervention). Whenever I observe, he used to repeat some actions/activities. The repetition could be because of obsession or sensory needs. Regardless of reason, I only interpreted it as my child does not know to expand its activities beyond a repetitive set of actions with some objects.  He needed my help to learn the possibilities/features in doing anything.

Some years back, he had a compulsive hobby of running back and forth in our house. He will start from the front door, run across the hall, kitchen, touch the back door and then run back to the front door.  This would go on non-stop for a long time. Whatever could be the reason for this, I thought this seemed a good way to enter to his world.

First, I started running along with him. First my son didn’t mind me. Soon he became curious and started enjoying me running with him.

The running became a joint play and my son immensely enjoyed it. Soon when we started running, I said 1-2-3 and then we started running. So the blind running stopped. My son started enjoying as a game. Then I put some pillows across the hall and made him hop across the pillows and made into a huddle race.

Similarly he used to get on the top of the dining table or window ledges and kept jumping continuously. So I introduced him trampoline and he started enjoying his jumping as a game and in a safe way. And he soon realized that when he held my hands and jumped, he could jump very high. So this too became a joint play and our bonding developed. Soon we developed this game by drawing shapes like square, rectangle, circle using chalk piece on the floor around the trampoline. After some jumping I used to ask him to step into a shape. This was lot of fun for him and he started learning shapes also.

Here is the link of how I converted my son’s sensory need into a simple game activity

Imitate the child
When we imitate the child, it is easy to get into their level. With my son, I ran, played, cried and laughed along with him. Initially in all these, I used to imitate exactly as he does. My son would get curious as to what I am doing, but still continue what he is doing. At some point of time, I will stop and then start doing things the way I would do. Then he used to look at me and sometimes spontaneously start imitating me. E.g. when my son used to run around the house, I will also run around with him. After sometime, when I stop, reflexively he will also look at me and stop. Patiently like this, from following his lead, soon, I used to make him follow my lead.
Here is a video I found in YouTube of a mother who is superbly imitating her child:

Play with the child
Playing is always fun. I have noticed the learning is always faster when it is via some fun games. I used to choose games with less rules like bubbles, balloons, spinning the top, cause and effect toys, winding toys, reciting rhymes with him etc. Now a days there are many rhymes CD in the market with lot of animation. My son used to watch these rhymes a lot. I used to recite the rhymes along with him, do the action in rhymes and invent some fun games with my son.

Understanding the child better
Few days back, my son kept putting in a film CD into the DVD player, saw the first slide put in which was announcement about avoiding piracy. He didn’t run the movie beyond this point, and stopped the movie and kept restarting. He always watched that first slide and restarted. On observing whatever he was doing, I realized he was watching the screen closely and realized he was watching a word “venue” that appeared among a jumble of words. It was then easy to understand what he was doing. He already knew the word “Avenue” and used to like that word. So when he was watching this slide, he assumed it was his favorite word and kept watching it. Once I asked him whether he was watching for “avenue”, he was very happy and then on stopped playing that CD. It was as if he wanted somebody to understand him and his feelings. When that was understood he was contented and stopped his repetitive actions. Going to my child’s level is immensely helping me and my son.

By going down to my son’s level, I am able to get joint attention in activities with him. This lead to the starting/development of his speech. Also the bonding/relationship with my son is getting stronger.  As his trust on me is improving, I am able to get him involved in many other activities by which I have overcome many of his sensory issues, communication issues like language limitations and many other things.
So simply put in a line, going down to the child’s level, bridges the gap between our world and their world.

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I Love R.O.C.K

When our son was diagnosed with Autism, myself and my husband got the opportunity to attend a training program called “More Than Words” created by The Hanen Centre. As new parents into the world of Autism, we were both so anxious, panicked, confused etc. and I am not even able to explain most of the other emotions. I think this is true for all the parents when they step into this new world.

Though we started the training with lot of puzzles in our mind, we finished the training with lot more confidence than we expected.

More than words is a program by Hanen Centre to help parents work with their child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Condition to promote communication and social skills.

The approaches suggested were very easy for us to practice with our son.  We learnt lot of approaches to improve our son's communication.

Of all the approaches, I enjoyed using is R.O.C.K . And of course I am using even now also.

What is R.O.C.K?

There are several routines we do in a day unconsciously. It starts with Saying Good Morning followed by Brushing, Toilet, Bathing, Dressing, Breakfast, going to School/Office, Lunch, playtime, Watching TV, play Activities, Outing, Dinner, till saying Good Night before going to sleep.

I used R.O.C.K in most of above day to day routines, which helped my son move towards independence.

Before I start practicing the routine I break the routine into smaller tasks. For example if you take a Brushing task,
1.      I will tell that it is Brushing Time.
2.      Take him to Bathroom.
3.      Make him to take the Toothbrush
4.      Make him to take the Toothpaste
5.      Take the Tooth paste in the brush
6.      Brush the teeth
7.      Wash the brush
8.      Keep the brush back in the stand
9.      Rinse the mouth
10.  Wipe Mouth and Dry the hands
11.  Come out of the Bathroom.

If we are able to break the routine into smaller task then applying the approach will be easy for us, which will help our kids to learn fast.

Let me explain how I used to apply the approach:

R – Repeat what you say and do:

I will give some examples of how I used Repetition for my son to teach him the routines like I mentioned above.

In the beginning my son was not toilet trained (till 3 years old). Then I started taking him to look for wee job every 30 mins of a day. This meticulous repetition was little difficult for me in the beginning. When I used to start this routine, I used to say a constant word for him to recognise, “Wee job” and when he finished, I would say “Wee job over”.

Similarly I used Repetition for teaching my son, Rhymes. He used to like hearing, “Johnny, Johnny Yes Papa”. I used to say “Johnny Johnny” as a way of saying I was about to sing the rhymes for him. Then I used to sing the full rhymes for him.

Playing games was also similar. When we visited park, we used to make my son sit in the Swing and my husband used to say “Push” and then push him gently. When the swing slows down after a few seconds, my husband used to repeat “Push” and then push him.

O- Offer Opportunities for your Child to take a turn

Making your child to take a turn in the activities you do with him or her will get them involved and start understanding and learning.

I used to break any routines into little tasks (like I have broken the brushing routine into small tasks mentioned in the introduction). And then decide which task is something he can repeat it by action or word. For example during Brushing, I will repeat all the tasks by name and help him to do it (in the beginning) and pause at times for him to do a task by himself (like putting the brush to mouth) or put the brush back in the stand.

For Toilet training also, I used to give many opportunities for my son. After announcing about a visit to toilet, wait for him to go to the toilet or wait for him to remove his trousers or wait for him to flush after the job is done. Of course this waiting for a task to be done by him comes after repeating a routine in similar way many times.

You can visit this blog to check how I used R.O.C.K principle to make him talk using rhymes.
C – Cue your child to take his turn

When you give opportunity to child to do some tasks in a routine, the child in the beginning may take some time to understand or struggle to complete the task.

Cues are little help to remind the child and make the child get independent on little tasks by himself.  

I used to give my son visual cues (pictures). E.g. a picture of Brush your Teeth when I expect him to do the next step and he is not sure. Or sometimes gestural prompts (like showing him the action of taking the brush to mouth) or physical prompt (like taking his hand with brush to his mouth). Over a period of time, cues can be faded and child become independent on that task.

You can see my experiences on brushing in more details at

 K-Keep it fun! Keep it going!

Any routine we do with a child is a good opportunity for us to interact with them, understand them and play with them. Basically it could turn out having fun with them.

Initially for the brushing routine, I also used to do brushing with my son and talk animatedly with him and basically have good time doing the routine. Or sing little songs for routines or tasks like, “This is the way to brush my teeth”.

Sometimes make silly mistakes purposefully putting socks on the hands instead of feet or putting the wrong end of the brush in my mouth so that he will correct it. Sometimes while playing ball game with him, I used to miss the ball and say “Ball Missed”. 

I found the more involved he got with us, more learning happened for him and better relationship developed between us.

R.O.C.K has helped myself me to understand my son and get much closer to him. That has been the foundation for doing many more activities with him and developing his skills.

You can read more about R.O.C.K in Hanen’s “More than Words” book. Occasionally training also seems to be happening in India (Five Institute runs it in Bangalore).

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