The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Tag: language

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 2 of 2)

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 2 of 2)

by Jules Csillag


Last week, you read about the reasons to use wordless texts. Today, learn about how to use these texts, and review a few examples.



There are many ways to incorporate wordless “texts” into diverse content areas, including ELA, history, science, SDI, and foreign languages. Some sample activities are listed below:


  • Inferences: Any time you present a wordless “text,” you can have students make inferences about characters, setting, problem, etc. For specific inferential questions to ask during some of the movies listed below, read this article from
  • Pause & predict: With an image, book, or movie, you can also work on making predictions. With images, you can try guessing what you think would happen next (allowing for multiple responses); with books or movies you would need to pause, and then you could verify answers afterwards (while still acknowledging if other responses could have been logical and relevant).
  • Thought bubbles and/or speech bubbles: Adding thought bubbles and speech bubbles works on cognitive flexibility, nonverbal communication, and inferences. You can add these to images, put them on post-its into books (or scan books and create Powerpoints or Google Slides from them), or print still images from videos. If students are interested in this task, you can even add words to videos (i.e. dub their voices) using iMovie, Quicktime, or this list of free, online video editing tools.

drawing of a thought bubble

  • Be a co-author: for books, in particular, students can take on the role of author to essentially narrate a story, thereby addressing inferences and text structure. If different groups of students work on the same story, it also inherently addresses cognitive flexibility.
  • Connection building, building up themes: Autistic individuals sometimes have challenges in identifying connections between two things, given a difficulty in central coherence. You can compare two silent “texts” and see how they are similar or different (in how they are made, in topics, etc.), or use a silent text as a jumping off point for a new topic (e.g. begin a unit on immigration with The Arrival; use a “What’s Going on this Picture?” to introduce a new place in a Social Studies unit, etc.), and refer back to this as you delve deeper into the novel topic.
  • Citing evidence: With almost any of the above activities, if students are required to explain why they think that, they will be using (visual) evidence to support a position. As students get older, you can link this to the need to cite evidence across subject areas.



a camera icon


a book icon

  • Wordless books (arranged by books appropriate from youngest -> oldest readers)
    • Mercer Mayer series: stories about a boy, a dog, and often a frog
    • Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola: the story of a woman who is trying to make pancakes for breakfast
    • Wave by Suzy Lee: the story of  girl at the beach
    • Float by Daniel Miyares: the story of a paper boat
    • Journey series (Journey, Quest, Return) by Aaron Becker: a series of stories about a magic marker & a pair of friends
    • Sector 7 by David Weisner: the story of a cloud factory (also enjoy his other wordless books, Tuesday and Flotsam)
    • The Red Book by Barbara Lehman: the story of a magic book & the two kids who found it
    • Zoom by Istvan Banyai: the book can be read backwards or forwards, and contains some interesting shifts in perspective (for upper elementary+)
    • Sidewalk Flowers by poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith: the story of a city and its small details (for upper elementary+)
    • The Arrival by Shaun Tan: a long graphic novel about immigration (for middle school+)
    • If you’ll forgive the few words that appear in these books, I’ll also include the minimally verbal books: Blip! by Barnaby Richards and Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

a play button icon to symbolize movies

  • Wordless movies
    • Simon’s Cat series: a series of silent videos of Simon and his trouble-maker cat(s)
    • Oktapodi: an octopus escape/love story
    • Crumbs: a story of two mice trying to get a crumb
    • Snack Attack: a video of an old lady and her snack…with a twist (shout out to SDI Developer Susan Brennan for the recommendation)
    • The Present: a video of a mother, a son, and a present…with a twist (shout out to Jessica Price at PS 165 for the recommendation)
    • Wish Granter: the story of a fountain dweller who grants wishes (shout out to Jessica Arnone at PS 9)
    • Paper Man: a cute NY missed connections story (for older students)
    • Alma: a story of a scary toy store (for older students)
    • Looking for more? Look for Pixar shorts & Oscar-nominated animated films

Multilingualism & Autism Spectrum Disorders

School, la escuela, l’école, 学校. These words all have the same meaning, but are written in different languages. Students who speak a language other than English at home make up 43.3% of students in the New York City Department of Education (2013-2014). When students come from homes that do not speak English, using their home language provides a number of social, cultural, and cognitive benefits, which may be especially advantageous for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.


Individuals with ASD have many strengths, including creativity, attention to detail, vast knowledge about special interests, and an ability to see the world from a different perspective. Along with these strengths, students experience social difficulties and difficulties with executive functions (Eylen et. al., 2011). Executive functions include skills that relate to organization, planning, self-regulation, and flexibility. Therefore, it’s particularly promising not only that  “bilingual exposure does not delay acquisition” (Hambly and Fombonne, 2012, as cited in Fahim & Nedwick, 2014), but “the mastery of two languages provides bilingual speakers with cognitive benefits over monolinguals, particularly on cognitive flexibility and selective attention” (Crivello, 2016).


In the classroom & beyond

When working with multilingual students, there are several best practices to keep in mind, and these supports often overlap with best practices for students with ASD. Below are some guidelines for working with this ever-increasing population of multilingual students with ASD:


  • Speak with families about what languages are used at home, in what environments, and with which important people in the student’s life. This will help you gain a better understanding of the child’s linguistic and potentially cultural experiences, which will necessarily influence their social expectations and competencies (for example, in some cultures it is not polite to make eye contact, make contact with other genders, speak to the elderly, etc.). This can also help you learn more about your student’s special interests.
  • Learn a few words in your student’s home language(s) to use when communicating with the student and his/her family. This signals respect to the child’s identity and their culture. Use of these words may also support comprehension and support children’s background knowledge.
  • Work closely with translators or interpreters to ensure that families understand information you are sending home about the student’s progress and the Nest philosophy. Whenever possible, translate material that is being sent home.
  • Use visual supports to complement spoken directions and as labels. This supports all children with ASD, but particularly those that are still mastering English.
  • Support learning with relevant, hands-on materials in instruction. Once again, this engages all students in Nest classrooms, but will also help support students whose English language skills are still developing.

Teacher Prompts—Reminders for Teachers

by Laurie DuBos

As we begin the new school year and think about working with new or returning students, teachers are often considering how they can better encourage students to remember to follow routines, complete tasks, or wait their turn–usually through prompts and classroom visuals.  In “The Power of Our Words,” Paula Denton refers to “reminding language,” a strategy that could also help teachers in supporting students and ultimately communicating that “students are competent learners and have good intentions” (p.112).  As teachers, we can use reminding language through visual prompts in our classrooms for ourselves–to demonstrate our best teaching intentions towards students.


Most teachers are list-makers, and everyone has their unique method for making their lists. Only you can decide what works best for you in your classroom, but you might want to discuss a mutual strategy that would work with your co-teaching partner as well.  Would a post-it on your computer or desk be the best place to remind you to review classroom rules daily or should you place a colorful note on your bulletin board to prompt you to use less language when giving directions. What’s most important is that reminders work for you during your daily teaching.


In “The Power of Words,” there are excellent examples of the language that teachers often use when frustrated, busy, and/or tired, particularly when working with students who have limited attention, impulsive behaviors, or difficulty processing information quickly.  An example might be:

How many times do I have to tell you to stop talking?”

(to listen, to stop doing that, to put that away, etc.)

When you really meant to say:  “It’s time to ______ (listen, open your book, etc.).”


Using a photo of a child that reminds you to look for students who are following directions or that prompts you to use brief, more proactive words when starting an activity or lesson is an excellent strategy for teachers to prompt themselves:

young child with finger in front of mouth to indicate quiet

Look for quiet voices.
“It’s time to LISTEN.”

Another example of using a visual reminder is when you realize that you are talking too much or repeating yourself at some point in a school day.  If you think that this is happening to you, consider asking your co-teacher to tally how many times you are giving a direction, reminding a child about a behavior or activity, or repeating a prompt. This will help you to see whether you are using language strategically to prompt students or does it just sound like you are “nagging” them.  With ASD students who have language processing difficulties as well as attention issues, teachers have to be very careful not to get stuck using the same language over and over again or using too much language.  If a student does not respond to the first or second prompt that you’ve given, he/she will likely not respond to the fifth or sixth prompt either.  Often in these situations, what is needed are fewer words not more.

cartoon teacher with speech bubble that says bla bla bla

How many times have I said this?
Try saying it in a DIFFERENT way.

Finally, we have to remember that language is one of the most powerful tools that  have as teachers.  As Denton notes in “The Power of Language,” teachers’ words impact how students “think and act, and ultimately how they learn” (p. 1).  Teachers’ language, including body language and voice tone, convey respect and trust to a student. So, think about using reminding language that will prompt you in your interactions with students (and humor always helps):

mug with "Keep calm or I will use a teacher voice" and blue poster with crown and words "Keep calm and just breathe"

Am I using a CALM voice?

Teacher prompts can be particularly useful as you start the new school year.  As a teacher, you know that prompts and reminders help students stay organized, on-task, and independent.  Why not consider using the same strategy to support your own teaching?

Directions: Say it in three

Teachers like to talk! When we lead a lesson, support a student, and give class directions, we tend to use lots and lots of language.

say it in three

Seriously. Lots of language.

The irony is, much of what we are saying in the classroom is not truly being heard! Due to language processing challenges, many students with ASD cannot fully hear, process or completely understand all the verbal information we bombard them with. Dr. Ken Rowe explains the problem of too much teacher language this way:


“There is too much information going through the students’ auditory gate. Either nothing goes through or what goes through is garbled.” (in Doherty 2004)


But everything we have to say is so important! How can we possibly reduce our verbal language?


There are many ways to reduce the amount of language we use in the classroom. One way is to say it in three. Replace your long list of directions with a total of three words. Yes, just 3!


Try this: When giving directions, start by giving your long list of steps as you usually would. Then, repeat your directions, but slightly shorter. Finally, repeat your directions using only the three most important words. For example:


OK, class. Please hang up your coats and put away anything you had at lunch. Then get your writer’s notebook and meet the me at the rug.

(That’s you giving the full directions)


That’s: coats away, writer’s notebook, go to the rug.

(That’s slightly shorter)


Coats – notebook – rug

(That’s it! Three words!)


Think about a funnel: our verbal rich directions get slowly more and more concise until we end by just giving a three-word direction.


Try it out! Look to see if your students follow directions more easily, more quickly, or more completely.


For more information, check out: The Power of Our Words, a terrific book on classroom language from Responsive Classroom.



The 45 Second Rule: Using Wait Time to Increase Student Success

Studies have found that teachers typically allow only 1.5 seconds to respond after asking questions. However, research conducted by Mary Budd Rowe found that when teachers embed more wait time there are significant benefits in the quality and attitude of responses.  “When teachers wait for three seconds or more, especially after a student response, there are pronounced changes in student use of language and logic as well as in student and teacher attitudes and expectations.” (Mary Budd Rowe quoted in Cazden, 2001, p. 94)


Wait time means pausing after asking a question before expecting answer.




Since students with autism often have a delay in language processing, wait time is important. Extending wait time to 45 seconds reduces processing demands placed on students and allows time to consider what has been communicated and to formulate a response. This in turn increases accuracy of response and increases the number of respondents.  A 45 second wait time is recommended for optimum processing – however any wait time you can provide will make a difference!


The next time you ask a question, PAUSE for 45 seconds and let your students think.


You can read more about using wait time in the classroom by clicking HERE

or to read Mary Budd Rowe’s study click HERE


Post by Allison Graham-Brown, Director of Professional Development ASD Nest Support Project.

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