Let's Talk! Get the Conversations Started

This idea for supporting non-verbal (or even shy children!) in conversations with their peers has floated around AAC circles for such a long time it is not spoken about often anymore. That puts families with young children at a disadvantage, because those families weren’t around when this idea was such a popular one. So I’m merely circulating an idea that’s tried and true…and may be a benefit to your child.
Kids who don’t have the language to initiate conversation still need opportunities to chat with friends! But those friends often have a hard time initiating conversation as well because they don’t know what interests the non-verbal child. The conversation starter is simply a prop to get kids talking.
It starts with a cheap little photo album.

A one-dollar photo album from any craft or discount store

You can find photo albums like this one on the dollar rack at most any craft store. The cover is plastic and it has pockets to hold 36 4 x 6” photos. Don’t worry about getting something fancy; you are more interested in something lightweight that can withstand a bit of drizzle and a lot of kid-handling. You’re going to clip it to the child’s backpack or wheelchair, so don’t invest in something expensive please. Besides, a new one each Christmas gives Santa’s little elves an easy stocking stuffer.
Go through your current photos for a handful of pictures that depict important things in your child’s life. Friends at school may not know about the Secret Home Life of your child. Include pictures from your vacations, shots of your child’s room, pictures of pets or family members, favorite activities or toys…whatever it is that your child might talk about if she could.
Here is a brief list of sample topics we’ve covered in the past:
  • Vacations
  • Summer plan
  • Pets
  • Siblings
  • Favorite free time activities
  • Collections
  • Movies (i.e.: “Seen any good movies lately?”)
  • Favorite singers        
Now, grab a handful of 4 x 6” index cards. The introductory card will explain how someone can communicate with your child.

"Hi! I'd like to talk with you. We can both answer the questions
in this book. You can ask me yes/no questions and I'll look at the answer."

For each photo, start with a leading question for the friend to answer. Make it sound natural, the way a typical child the same age as yours might ask. Then, on the next spread of pages, insert a picture and a comment your child might make. Be sure to include an interesting follow-up fact that might move the conversation along a bit farther. Instead of just saying, “I have a cat,” try “I have a fat tabby cat named Eddie. Mostly he is lazy, but sometimes he plays “laser moth” with me.” Now the friend might pick up on similarities between Eddie and his cat, or he might notice the red dot on the floor in the picture and comment about how his cat might enjoy such a game.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

"I have a sister named Becky. She is 7 years old and going into 2nd grade.
We like to play games together and camp out."
Answers can be written out in the conversation starter book for the child to read or for an adult to read out loud. They can be programmed onto devices (in fact, this whole concept can be merged onto a device).
To hang the book off my daughter’s backpack, I simply tied a ribbon around the spine and attached a chain.  Any kind of clip would work. The album in this post is an old one we had sitting around, as some Christmas Elf needs to get busy getting one ready for her stocking this year. Shhhhh…
If your child has trouble initiating conversations with friends, this idea might be worth a try. It's nice to swap out pictures and questions periodically. Major school vacations are a great time for this. Let us know how it works for you!


Anonymous said...

I sent your link to Abby's SLP and she actually read it--at least, she read this one, and she loved it. I sent in a photo album earlier this year, but without questions. She loved the idea....thanks! And OMG! (I never do that, but this deserves it!) I didn't know velcro sticks to duct tape! You're the one who clued me in to roughing up the backs of symbols to make velcro stick, but this is so much better! No more emory board snags on the knees of my pants. ( i know that wouldn't happen if i did it at a table, but that would make too much sense for me) As always, you're the best!
Donna Genzlinger

Rose-Marie said...


I am so excited you are finding useful tidbits here! I'm trying my hardest to make this a helpful resource. Thanks for sharing the site with Abby's SLP...I hope it has useful things for both families and professionals (not that families aren't professionals, we just don't get paid for what we do! AND not that professionals earn what they deserve to be paid either!).

You know, with the wonderful proliferation of new technologies available, some of the good old standard "tricks of the trade" get overlooked. I hope it doesn't bore folks if I drag them out of the dusty old attic every now and then. It always helps me see something old revived every now and then...otherwise, I tend to forget about them.

Thanks so much for all your head-swelling encouragement!

Unknown said...

This is such a GREAT idea, Rose-Marie! I am going to do this for Katera. Her teacher will LOVE it and I'm sure will make good use of the idea. THANK YOU!!!