We've been providing speech, language, and social communication services to children and young adults for over 15 years! We specialize in physically-supportive services to individuals with autism diagnoses, and others who benefit from sensorimotor supports.


by: Rebecca Boocker

Welcome to the first in our series of guest blog posts! With this offering, we are inviting you, too, to submit your words of wisdom, so we all can share in your experience!

My own post comes after two years of working as a Speech-Language Pathology Aide at the Communication Development Center — and my topic is the underestimating of our developing children and young adults, and how our misconceptions can be harmful, particularly when they lead us to underestimate our clients. I have learned that we must rid ourselves of all our preconceived ideas, focusing solely on the amazing children and young adults standing right in front of us. This job has given me a deeper and more appreciative understanding of our clients than I could have ever imagined, showing me just how gifted and special these individuals truly are.

Empathy and Social Interactions

To begin, our clients with autism labels are incredibly empathetic and social. While individuals with autism are often thought of as unable to feel empathy or engage in meaningful social interactions, I have seen that this is an unfair assumption. All of our clients are kind, empathetic, and social in their own individual ways, and assuming that they do not possess these qualities does them a great disservice.

For example, one of our older clients is extremely savvy when reading social situations, as she can tell when her other communication partner or I are nervous, excited, or hiding a secret. She constantly reminds us that her intuition is much stronger than what she is given credit for. Another example is illustrated by a young boy who is always inclusive towards everyone in the room and makes sure that nobody ever feels left out during our dances. He makes eye contact with anyone who is not engaged, and fosters situations where he can speak to each person. Below is an example of this, where he uses lines from the Wiggles to include all people present.

Client: Dorothy, are you flapping over there?
Clinician #1: Sure am!
Client: How about you, Henry the Octopus? Are you having a flap, too?
Clinician #2: Yes I am flapping!
Client: Uh, Captain Feathersword, are you flapping over there?
Clinician #3: Yes!
Client: All right, let’s all flap!

My last story is about a young, highly visual girl who was thrilled to discover that one of our SLPAs, Sydney, was equally visual. Somebody was finally able to see the world through her eyes and understand how she thinks. However, when this SLPA was unable to come to her sessions, Mattie, another of our SLPAs joined her. Mattie was not quite as visual as Sydney, so the client adapted her behaviors in the sessions to ‘teach’ Mattie. She understood that Mattie did not see the world the same way as her, and was able to adjust the social situation to help everyone be more on the same page. Below is an example of how she would check in while teaching Mattie, just to make sure that Mattie understood.

Client: In there. You do? Mhm.
Clinician: Yeah, it could go in there.
Client: Mhm. That would go, Mattie. Good. Good.

These examples illustrate this point: We do not assume that all typically developing individuals are a certain way in regards to empathy or social interactions, so why would it be fair to assume that all our kids with autism labels are all the same?

Unrealistic Standards

I also want to talk about the standards we set for our kids. In some educational and therapeutic settings, it seems as though we have unfair expectations for individuals with autism, and apply a ‘double standard’ in the process. For example, we might assume that an individual labeled ‘autistic’ needs to know how to share or parallel play by a certain age, and if they are not doing so, they are falling behind. When a child is playing with multiple toys (maybe lining them up), we assume that it is fair to take one of them to play with ourself, in the name of ‘sharing.’ If the child gets upset, we feel justified in judging the child as ‘unwilling to share.’ Meanwhile, their typically developing peers are allowed to go play by themselves or express negative emotion when someone steals a toy. It almost feels as though our typically developing kids are allowed to be normal, expressive kids, while our kids with autism are forced into a certain mold in the name of ‘therapy.’ The latter results in ‘teaching’ our kids with autism something indeed: that we are untrustworthy and unable to empathize with their way of seeing the world.

I can think of numerous examples that highlight this troublesome attitude. To begin, before coming to the CDC, one of our clients used to feel that his needs were disregarded during therapy. When reaching for a toy or needing to move around, he would be scolded or held down; this prevented him from becoming self-regulated and, often times, from simply getting to be a kid. Furthermore, another CDC client currently feels disregarded by professionals at his high school. During the day, he is isolated from his peers and will often have to eat lunch alone. While typically developing students at the high school are allowed to interact regularly with peers, teachers expect that our kid is perfectly content being alone due to his disability. This is a completely inaccurate assumption, as he desires wholesome social interaction as much as any other individual would!


I believe that we need to stop labeling human beings with the term “non-verbal.” Until they walked through our doors, some of our clients were considered non-verbal, which is extremely problematic. Just because somebody doesn’t yet have the physical tools to produce speech, does not mean that they do not have meaningful, and even sophisticated, internal language that they would like to communicate.

For example, I still remember how extraordinarily bright one girl (who previously came to the clinic) was. She always had so much to say. However, individuals at school and family members would often claim that her talking was nonsense or babbling. She was considered to be non-verbal because people couldn’t understand her. Once she arrived at the clinic, we recognized that her utterances were meaningful and communicative, which gave her the confidence to thrive. Over time, her speech became more and more clear; the trust she had for our SLPs and my fellow SLPAs and me was palpable due to the fact that we understood her and would have conversations with her. Below is an example of a conversation we had with her; she expressing exactly how something felt, as well as what she needed.

Client: Jump, yeah.
Clinician: That was good.
Client: Haw (“hard”)
Clinician #2: It was hard.
Client: Haw!
Clinician: I can flip the swing?
Client: Need!

In another instance, employees at school ignore an older boy who we see at the clinic. They talk about him in his presence and do not address him at all, assuming that he is ‘non-verbal,’ which means to then ‘lack language,’ including receptive language. However, at the clinic, he talks to us all the time, regularly expressing his desires and needs, and demonstrating his language: internal, receptive, and expressive language. While it took me a while to train my ear in order to understand him, I can now see that he has so many wonderful thoughts to communicate! In one session, we had the conversation outlined below, during which he expressed his need for a dark room. Then, when I misunderstood his question (he was asking where books were but I thought he was asking where Marge was), he corrected me. Quite the sophisticated conversation!

Client: Now, ni, ni
Clinician: Should we turn off the lights and make it dark?
Client: Yes, night. Books. Where?
Clinician: Where is Marge?
Client: We know, we know, we know.


All these examples were chosen in order to illustrate the fact that every single child who comes into our clinic has something to say and is just trying to find the means to say it. I know that if we believe in our kids’ abilities and tell them that they are smart and thoughtful, they will have the confidence to emerge into their ‘verbal,’ talkative selves!

Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language

"Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language is a wonderful resource that provides the most comprehensive consideration of echolalia and language characteristics of persons with autism to date."

"In this seminal work, Marge Blanc, an experienced clinician and clinical researcher, brings us back to a crucial understanding of language characteristics and language acquisition in ASD based on her deep understanding of language development from a social-pragmatic, child-centered perspective. Unfortunately, too many educators and therapists hold on to outdated and disproven perceptions of echolalia and gestalt language and attempt to 'treat' echolalia with a lack of knowledge of the historical context and research basis of our understanding of language development in ASD."

"By looking at echolalia only through a behavioral lens of pathology rather than through a developmental perspective based on research on autism and typical development, such practices may actually be hindering functional language development. It is hoped that this important work will help educators, therapists and parents move to more contemporary understandings and practices."

"This book is a 'must-read' for all who care about supporting social communication for persons with ASD based on research and sound clinical practice."

Barry M. Prizant, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Adjunct Professor
Brown University

Director, Childhood Communication Services
Cranston, RI

Echolalia unscripted!

Echolalia communicates! And it jump-starts our students’ natural language development!

This ground-breaking book will show you how to:

  • Recognize the meaning and intentions behind echolalia
  • Support students on the autism spectrum from echolalia to self-generated language
  • Bring this information to families and your school teams
  • Connect with your students on the autism spectrum, and watch them grow!

NLA Book

Order your copy today by going to the link:


$29.95 plus shipping and handling!

A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words

Welcome to the CDC!

We are a small, non-profit clinic on the west side of Madison, WI, specializing in communication services for children who benefit from play and physical activity to support their interactions and language: children with challenges associated with autism, dyspraxia, and sensorimotor coordination. Please browse our site to learn more about us!

For some of the latest thinking on ASD and child development, please like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter!


Summer Session:
June 25th - August 10th

Fall Session:
Begins September 4

ASHA 2017

Echolalia and Gestalt Language Processing in Children: It's Not Just About Autism, presented by Marge Blanc, Lillian Stiegler, Alexandria Zachos, and Sarah Scheurich

You can find follow-up information about the seminar here!

Described as "the 'language soup' from which useful phrases will be extracted," Marge has written that "Echolalia signals a delay, not a disorder." In her 2012 book, she reviewed the research and presented evidence that echolalia is an integral part of language development for gestalt language processors, neurotypical and autistic. A succinct introduction to the topic can be found in the article Echolalia on the Spectrum: The Natural Path to Self-Generated Language.

The ASHA seminar described and illustrated this system for understanding the developmental value of echolalia. Coming from a variety of settings, the presenters shared their experiences in clinics, schools, and university, interfacing with students, teachers, and families. Even if you missed the seminar, the following links will help you to apply the strategies with your clients and students!

Follow these links for useful information after the seminar:

1. Natural Language Acquisition: 1 Page Parent Friendly Handout
2. Natural Language Acquisition: Summary and Scoring
3. Natural Language Acquisition: Blank Scoring Pages
4. Developmental Sentence Analysis: Assessment Procedure
5. Developmental Sentence Scoring: Blank Scoring Pages
6. Echolalia on the Spectrum: The Natural Path to Self Generated Language
7. Using Developmental Sentence Analysis: "Finding the Words: To Tell the Whole Story Part 3
8. Examining the Echolalia Literature: Where Do Speech-Language Pathologists Stand? by Lillian N. Stiegler.


We are now on Amazon Smile! If you shop on Amazon.com, consider shopping at smile.amazon.com and select "Communication Development Center, Inc" in Madison, WI. Each purchase you make helps support our mission and everything we do here at the CDC!

New NLA course

The second level NLA course has been viewed many times now and the reviews are in:

"I can hardly express how important this information is – it has the potential to revolutionize language therapy for autistic children all over the world. I hope it will become one of our field’s ‘best practices’ to embrace echolalia as the first step in the natural progression of language development for our clients with autism who are gestalt language processors. I believe ALL speech-language pathologists who work with children with autism should have to take this course – it’s that important. (I think it is telling that Barry Prizant recently praised Marge’s work in his recent book, Uniquely Human.) I plan to strongly recommend Levels 1 and 2 to my students and colleagues. I certainly hope there will be a Level 3 follow-up course, and that NLA will be a topic of discussion ASHA-wide!"

Check out the course here!

What's new on facebook?

Check out this thought-provoking and eye-opening blog post about "Motor Difficulties in Severe Autism," and other links in our CDC Facebook page!

even if you've read the articles on echolalia, you may want to read about: dyspraxic speech support, language retrieval, and self-regulation.

Read more at our articles page.

articles by Marge Blanc

Bringing It Home: Physical Supports for Speech at Home and in Other Environments

It's All Gibberish to Me: Redefining "Non-verbal"

More Than Words (Parts 1-6)

Click here for more articles by Marge Blanc

NLA Study Group

Have you seen the NLA study group on Facebook? Check it out and join!

Students and professionals with background in understanding echolalia and gestalt language development can now share ideas for supporting our kids next steps in language development.

If you have not taken the NLA course through Northern Speech Services, that will bring you up to date.

Please join us, click here for more!

In case you haven't read the NLA book, here's a nice review:

"It is hoped that this important work will help educators, therapists and parents move to more contemporary understandings and practices."

Barry M. Prizant, Ph. D., CCC-SLP
Adjunct Professor
Brown University