Activities for Kids with Limited Speech

Please keep in mind that during this pandemic, it can be particularly difficult for children even if they don’t fully understand what is happening. Even if they don’t know what a pandemic is, they are likely sensitive to the change in schedule and stress level of their caregivers. Everyone’s ability to function decreases in times of stress.

What do I do at home with my child who has limited (or no speech) and cannot do the regular class work?

It Depends…

If your child is on the Autism Spectrum or has a lower developmental level, there are many things that you can do to support your child’s learning at home.

Talk with your child’s teacher and share what your child’s day is like on Spring Break. That will give the teacher a “snapshot” of life at your house on vacation. You can talk about:

  • Your family’s regular (out-of-school) routines.
  • Your child’s regular (out-of-school) routines.
  • What works really well? 
  • What does your child enjoy doing the most at home?
  • If you use visuals or a visual schedule, what is that like?
  • How do you imagine your child learning at home?
  • Do you use technology at home? For fun or work?
  • What might the obstacles be for home learning?
  • What do you need?
  • What do would you like help with?

Routines are Calming

Continuing to help your child follow a regular routine at home, even if it is minimal, is one of the first steps during this at home learning time. This might be challenging since life is upside down in so many ways right now! If you can manage it, a predictable routine provides structure and predictability is calming and regulating. If this is all that you can do right now, that’s fine. DO NOT feel like you should be doing more. If you want to think in terms of should, then you should do what works best for you and your family.

Schedules…Visuals…or not…

If you already use visuals at home, then by all means, continue! This may include single visuals or a more descriptive list of things to do every day. A schedule provides structure and prepares children for “unexpected” events.

Please note: Some children (this can include older children) are still working on joint attention, so using visual prompts can be challenging with inconsistent results. This is the kind of skill that Speech Language Therapists work on. If you would like to know more about joint attention, read more…

If you don’t use a visual schedule, now may not be the time to start. I would only take on something like this if you feel like you have a good understanding of how to set up a visual schedule and most importantly – how to adjust when it goes sideways. (Did you notice I said “when” not “if”?)

An Introduction to Schedules

Let’s assume that your child has enough joint attention and can understand the image in a photograph.

A nice way to introduce the idea that visuals are connected to things that we do in a day, is to “name” the things you are doing as you are doing them. If you can, have visuals (photographs are great, but simple stick figures will work if your child understands them) to represent each activity. You can make these for the “milestones” in your day such as: wake up, eat, play, go to bed.

Then as you are eating you could say, “Hey look, we are eating” and point to the visual for “eat”, or “It’s time for bed” (point to the sleep visual) and so on. In that way, your child starts to connect the visual with the activity -hopefully.

If those images come to have importance for your child, then maybe you could start putting them out (on the fridge?) together every day. If it seems to be working, you could add to them. If your child is indifferent, you might want to talk to a Speech Language Pathologist – if that is even possible during this pandemic!

Visual Schedules

Visual schedules are traditionally made with programs such as BoardMaker. However, at this time, you may not have that program (or know how to use it) or maybe you don’t have a printer (or ink!). There are apps you can use as well. (More about those as I do more research!) An easy alternative would be to use post-it notes or index cards and draw simple pictures for each activity. At home, a schedule might look something like this:

  • Wake up
  • Get dressed
  • Look at schedule
  • Eat breakfast
  • Brush teeth
  • Look at schedule
  • Do one “work task”
  • Play, get exercise outside or go noodle or ?
  • Have lunch
  • Look at schedule
  • Do one task
  • Play, get exercise outside or go noodle or ?
  • etc.

Although the timeline here is long, it is more like a shape of the day than an intense learning time. The learning is transitioning and following the schedule – it doesn’t matter so much what is in the schedule.

When your child is at home, he/she may not understand that they are following a school schedule, so you will have to reduce expectations. Following a schedule – even from one preferred thing to the next – is still a big step if you are learning to follow a schedule. If your child is able to do more than this, you could consider adding in more academic activities.


Check back next week for more ideas!