Why do we encourage use of Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) to support verbal language development?

By: Ariel Schuman, CF-SLP

In Blischak’s et al. paper, researchers describe possible explanations as to how Alternative Augmentative Communication, or AAC, can support increases in natural speech production. Parents and caregivers may express concerns that using AAC will interfere with or negatively impact children’s verbal speech production. At the Boston Ability Center, we listen to families and understand these apprehensions, while also assuring parents that current research supports the positive effects of utilizing AAC. The following information details current research in support of AAC and language development.

Increased opportunity: AAC may be beneficial to individuals with complex communication needs, as it can provide clients with increased opportunities to participate in conversation and social interactions. When AAC is introduced early in intervention as a way to increase communicative opportunities, it can allow for increased access to language and literacy, which may support future speech production.

Decreased physical demand: In Blischak’s et al. article, researchers explain that while speech production may seem effortless, it is actually one of humanity’s most complex practices. Verbal language requires precise coordination of multiple neuromuscular processes. For individuals who have difficulty directing these movements, AAC can help to reduce some of the physical demands that speech production may require.

Increased development: Researchers continue to examine the use of AAC and the development of a child’s internal phonology, or system of speech sounds. It is hypothesized that both producing spoken language and utilizing AAC may activate brain processes that are employed for verbal speech production. It is possible that when a child hears herself produce speech output using an AAC device, this may assist in her own initiation of speech production. Additionally, alphabet knowledge, letter-sound correspondence, and the ability to manipulate speech sounds in words are necessary skills for learning to read. Current research suggests that the repeated experience with sound patterns provided by AAC use may support these skills.

Lastly, AAC often pairs graphic images with symbols that are spoken aloud via a device. The coupling of this visual representation and device’s speech output may help to strengthen children’s association between spoken words, symbols, and objects. Studies have supported the benefit of this graphic symbol learning in young children, as it may assist in the development of object comprehension.

Parent Feedback: Finally, Blischak’s et al. article includes Angelo’s (2000) survey of parents of children who used communication devices. In the responses collected, more than half of parents reported that their children communicated better with parents, professionals, and peers, were more independent, and had more social and educational opportunities.

At the Boston Ability Center, we encourage our clients who use AAC to bring their device to every session so we can support all aspects of their language development through learning, function, and fun!

For more information regarding AAC and language development, follow the link to the research article below: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0743461032000056478

Citation: DOREEN BLISCHAK, LINDA LOMBARDINO & ALICE DYSON (2003) Use of Speech-Generating Devices: In Support of Natural Speech, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19:1, 29-35, DOI: 10.1080/0743461032000056478

Have You Heard About Sibshop at the Boston Ability Center?

By: Stephanie Godbout, MS CCC-SLP and Elvira Fulchino, MS OTR/L, MSW, LICSW (Sibshop Coordinators)

The Boston Ability Center held a six week Sibshop from October 14- November 18, 2017 for siblings of children with special needs. Each Saturday for 1.5 hours we had seven boys and girls, ranging in ages from six to 10 years old, participating in a variety of fun group activities. Sibshops were created by Don Meyer, Director of the Sibling Support Project. He describes Sibshops as “lively, pedal-to-the metal celebrations of the many contributions made by brothers or sisters of kids with special needs.”

The Sibshops were facilitated by two clinicians from the Boston Ability Center and one or two volunteers from the community who are adult siblings themselves. These adult volunteers added an important dimension to our groups as they provided role models for the Sibshop participants and contributed to discussions regarding life with a sibling with special needs.

Our Sibshop groups covered serious topics through fun activities that facilitated the siblings’ ability to articulate their feelings and express their thoughts about the complex relationship with a sibling who has special needs. Over the six weeks the children became more comfortable sharing their perspectives and formed supportive relationships with one another.

Feedback from the children and their parents was very positive. One parent shared that Sibshop was the only place where her son was not worried about anyone else, stating that “It’s just for him.” These are powerful words to describe what the Sibshops’ mission is.

We are looking forward to a reunion in the winter with our Fall group and are planning a Sibshop for children ages 3-5 years in the early Spring.

This has been a powerful experience for us as a staff and we look forward to continuing to provide this service to all families.



Meyer, Don, M.Ed. and Vadasy, Patricia, Ph.D. Sibshops Workshops for Siblings of Children with Special Needs, 2009, Paul H Brookes Publishing, Baltimore, Maryland.

Gingerbread Playdough

1 cup Flour

1/4 cup Salt

2 tsp Cream of Tartar

1 cup Water

1 1/2  or 2 TBSP Vegetable Oil

1 – 2 tsp ground Cinnamon

1- 2 tsp ground Ginger

1 tsp ground Nutmeg

1 tsp ground Cloves

Mix all ingredients in a sauce pan (Mix the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients separately.) Stir until your mixture resembles cake batter.  It may still have a few lumps in it at this point. Cook slowly over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture forms one large “clump”, remove the dough from the heat, and knead by hand until smooth.

Caution…let cool before you let little fingers touch it.  It will be very hot at this point.

Yields: 2 cups of playdough

Why is Inferencing and Predicting Important?

By: Ariel Schuman, MS, CF-SLP

Filiatrault-Veilleux, et al. (2016) studied 3-6 year old children and their ability to comprehend inferences. They found that this skill typically emerges early in development, between the ages of 3 and 4. Inferential abilities continue to develop gradually until children are about 6 years old. Researchers have determined that this period, between the ages 3 and 6 years, is important for the emergence and continued development of inferencing and prediction skills. Furthermore, this skill is also important in aiding children in their later reading comprehension abilities.

At the Boston Ability Center, we target inferencing and predicting through various activities. A popular project that many of our clients enjoy involves creating special crafts and/or conducting different experiments each week. Often times children complete these activities with a peer, simultaneously encouraging the development of their social pragmatic skills. As our clients create beaded dragon flies, flour-filled stress balls, pool noodle pumpkins, and countless others, they utilize pictured supports in the form of photographic images. These pictures can help children predict what the next step in the sequence may be. Our clinicians stop periodically throughout the activity to ask clients questions such as, “What do you think we will do next?” or “Why do you think we will need to use a funnel?” These conversations support comprehension of WH-questions, and encourage children to utilize their inferencing skills to make decisions and plan accordingly.

Books are another great way to learn about inferencing and making predictions. Below are also some wonderful books to support your child’s development:


Cards for Hospitalized Kids

This month The Boston Ability Center is excited to send a bundle of handmade cards to send to Cards for Hospitalized Kids (CFHK).

Children at the Boston Ability Center will have the opportunity to decorate cards as a simple, yet meaningful way to make a difference in the lives of children who cannot be home this holiday season.

CFHK distributes cards to children’s hospitals across all 50 states as well as Ronald McDonald Houses.

Winter Fun in the Speech Department at BAC

Our speech-language pathologists are having fun using theme based learning with the upcoming holidays and cold, winter weather. This week clinicians focused on winter/snow theme!

Below is a picture of a kiddo who is using his AAC Device to build his expressive and receptive vocabulary, increase length of utterances and utilize prepositions in a phrase. Following language generation, the kiddo placed the item in the wintery scene.

Some kiddos read the story “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow” (if you haven’t read this book, it is a great one! Lots of choral responses, theme based vocabulary, opportunities for predictions, and more!) After reading the story, kiddos followed directions of varying length and complexity and made a snowman! Not only was the activity a great reinforcer but it also supported expressive and receptive language development.

One Night Out: December

All the kids and staff had so much fun at this past weekend’s One Night Out at the Boston Ability Center. The theme was all about Winter, which was perfect with the snow in Boston!

The children signed in using watercolor paint over “mystery” winter pictures that were drawn in white crayon. When the children signed in using the paint, the picture underneath magically appeared. It was a lot of fun for the kids to guess what the picture was going to be.

We read the book There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow By: Lucille Colandro and made two corresponding crafts. The first craft was ooey gooey fun– we made snow slime! We also made an ooblek filled snowman stress ball. Not only was it fun to make but also a good tool to use during the holidays.

Cooking is such a fun activity for the kids! They love being involved and making new recipes. This past weekend we made hot chocolate mix cones, which consisted of hot chocolate mix, crushed candy canes, mini chocolate chips and mini marshmallows. We also made chocolate and sprinkle dipped marshmallows sticks to go in our cozy hot chocolate. They were delicious!

The next One Night Out is scheduled for Saturday, January 6th!

Holiday Tips and Strategies for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder

The holidays are here and with this very special time of year comes holiday parties, music, dressing up, lots of food, visitors and traveling! While these can be very exciting things to some people, to a child with sensory processing issues the holidays can feel more like loud noises, uncomfortable clothing, sitting for long periods of time at dinner, unfamiliar foods, unexpected hugs and a change in routine. For those of us who are challenged adjusting to day light savings time when that alarm clock goes off 1 hour earlier, imagine the challenges of the holidays when a typical day suddenly doesn’t feel quite so typical. Thankfully, there are ways to prepare and navigate these changes so that everyone can participate in the holiday cheer.

In order to prepare for travel:

Discuss the specifics of traveling before the trip. This will help your child prepare for what to expect on a plane, train or car including when to sit with a seatbelt on, when they can get up and walk around, and when they have to stand in a line, etc. See your occupational or speech therapist for additional ideas on stories that may help guide your travels.

If possible, visit the airport or train station in advance. Visit the ticket counter and watch the planes take off and land.

Make a scrap book with your child that includes one page per day of your travels. Each page should include the people that you may meet (use real photos if you can) and places that you may go. Review the book before your trip and then take it with you. While you are on your trip, take some time at the end of the day to reflect and have your child draw a picture of their favorite thing they did or saw! This may help motivate them to continue to use it throughout their trip.

If your child has difficulties with dressing or wearing certain clothing, have them help pack their clothes. Trial the clothes at home so that they know what they have packed and also that the clothing items are tolerable. If the weather will be different than home, show them a visual of the weather at your vacation spot. This may help guide your packing and help them understand why shorts may be necessary over snow boots.

If your child has sensitivities to clothing and you purchase new clothes for your trip be sure to wash the clothes several times before trialing and wearing them.

Prepare with reading materials, fidgets and comfort items such as blankets during the flight or drive.

Make a calendar countdown to your trip. Take a calendar with you to help them visualize how long the trip will be and to assist in transitioning back home.

In order to prepare for the return home:

Use the calendar to prepare for which day you are leaving to head back home. Discuss how many days before you get home, return to school and back to your regular schedule.

Gather souvenirs during your trip to add to the scrap book. Discuss bringing it in to show friends, other family members or bringing the book into show-and-tell at school.

In order to prepare for Religious Services:

If your family is planning on attending services in a temple, church, mosque, etc., prior exposure to the religious environment can be helpful for your child. Every location has its own practices and rules.

Rehearsing routines that your family may encounter, including singing songs and prayers, sitting on tight benches, etc. will create an opportunity for your family to participate in the religious community and feel pride.

In order to prepare for mealtime and family gatherings:

Provide movement breaks as often as possible, especially before mealtime and traveling which should include 5-10 minutes of heavy work. Finding a quiet space for a break may be beneficial as well. *See list of heavy work ideas below.

Allow your child to assist with setting the table (plates, soda bottles), cooking (stirring, kneading dough), and moving chairs to the correct placements (or pushing them in/out). Set up a designated space for the children to help that includes extra dough, cookie decorating and/or different textured items to provide tactile experiences for them.

Determine a signal (secret code) between you and your child that will indicate that they need a break when they are in an environment that is challenging for them.

Prepare other family members of your child’s needs by explaining the implications of loud voices and unexpected touch.

Bring preferred food items to family gatherings to ensure your child has an option to eat. Try to encourage healthier options as this time of year can be filled with an abundance of sugary treats.

Inquire about interests of other children attending the gatherings to see if they share common interests with your child – you may also find new activities that might be intriguing to your child!

Heavy work ideas:

– Any activity that involves pushing, pulling, dragging, lifting or jumping- carrying laundry, boxes with books, grocery bags, pushing vacuum, etc

– Pull or push boxes (more resistance on a carpeted floor)

– Carry boxes of items to donate

– Play “magic carpet” and have a sibling or family member pull the child on a sheet, mat or small rug

– Play Twister!

– Have a dance party to holiday music

– Practice cooking with your child – have them stir the pot or knead thick dough.

– Make holiday themed play dough, such as gingerbread or pumpkin spice.

– Have the child pull pillows or couch cushions into a “mountain” pile in a safe place for them to jump in and climb through and under.

– Roll your child up in a blanket or yoga mat like a burrito or hot dog

– “Make a pizza” by rolling a large yoga/therapy ball over your child while they lay flat

– Pull weighted items in a wagon or cart

– Make a “sandwich” with them in between two pillows while pressure is provided

– Give big hugs and squeezes

– Wheel barrow walking or animal walks- bear walk, frog jump, commando crawl, or log roll

– Engage in exercises such as wall push-ups, sit ups, planks, or jumping-jacks – incorporate exercises into a game of “Santa Says!”

Final Thoughts:

Keep in mind what your child might need in order to be comfortable. Be prepared to review your plans with your child several times as they might need the repetition in order to feel comfortable with the change of routine. Children need structure and routine and benefit tremendously from maintaining eating and sleeping schedules. We hope that these suggestions will help support your child and your family throughout the holiday season. We wish you all safe travels, happy holidays and a healthy, joyful new year!



Look Who is Joining Our Team!

We are very excited to announce that Dr. Jillian Bennett, Neuropsychologist, is officially joining the Boston Ability Center!

Dr. Jillian Bennett

Dr. Bennett obtained her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Massachusetts. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and completed training at major hospitals, such as Bradley Children’s Hospital, and private institutions, such as the May Institute. She specializes in treating children, 0-7 years old, with autism and other developmental disabilities. Although her main area of interest is children with autism, she sees children with a variety of challenges, such as those with attention difficulties, learning problems, anxiety, and other emotional or behavioral disorders.

Her approach is very family oriented, culturally sensitive, and child-focused. As a mother, she understands how difficult it is to see your child struggle and she does her best to not only provide families with a comprehensive report to help their child get what he or she needs, but also guides families through the next several years. According to Dr. Bennett, she sees her role as not only a neuropsychologist, but also an advocate for the child. In fact,she states one of the greatest parts of her job, is the ability to follow children over time and help families with questions about their child’s development as they mature.

Dr. Bennett will be seeing patients at the Boston Ability Center. To schedule an appointment or for more information, contact Dr. Bennett directly at 781-591-7475 or via email bennett.psychology@gmail.com.

Click here to read about services offered!

Read About Dr. Bennett in the Media: 

Meet Dr. Jillian Bennett of Wellesley