New Book Released!

It’s been a busy time here at Play with Purpose, LLC! We’ve released our first book in the Look! It’s in a Book! program called Food: Autism Early Learning Series. It’s available for $11.95 from Amazon. Click here to order your copy today!

We’ve also been working on putting together several free videos on how to use the book with your toddlers and on how to use the book with our other two programs, What’s in the Bag? and Let’s Play! Check them out on Lynn DeSalvo’s YouTube channel. She’ll be posting new videos each week during Autism Acceptance Month this April.

Lynn DeSalvo demonstrating how to use Food: Autism Early Learning Series book.

In addition to these exciting things, Lynn has been conducting online play sessions with her students. As is the case around the world, COVID restricted in-person teaching, so Lynn adapted her play facilitator service to the Zoom video-conferencing platform. If you’re interested in that service, check out the Services page.


Anticipation is the electricity of childhood.

— Jason Kotecki

Who doesn’t remember at some point in their childhood looking at a wrapped present with their name on it and feeling some excitement?  

    “I wonder what’s inside?”  

    “Will it be something I can play with?”  

    “Is it something new to experience?”

Looking at some of the things kids are interested in today, whether it is YouTube videos showing people opening various wrapped packages or watching my nephew getting excited about opening his next pack of Pokémon cards, it’s easy to see that the emotion of anticipation is still electric.

I knew I was on the right track many years ago when I started each session with a song, “Two Hands Up” and then followed it with “What’s In The Bag?”

I am sure as educators, therapists, and parents, you can relate to carrying around the proverbial “bag of tricks” to keep your children interested or engaged. While I originally started with a bag of reinforcing toys, my “What’s In The Bag?” program quickly morphed into objects that were part of the preschool curriculum or were functional nouns I wanted to teach. If the theme of the month was FOOD, I would incorporate food objects as well as one or two reinforcing toys (bubbles/slinky/spinning light toy) for turn-taking.  

First, I ask the question, “What’s in the bag?”.  Then I carefully open the bag and reach inside. Suspense and drama are a big part of what draws the child’s attention and awe.  Remember to bring out your expressive side and really ham it up!   

I usually start with a carrier phrase such as, “Look!  It’s a …” to see if the child can label the object on their own. This activity can be adapted to many different levels. For children who already know the labels of many of the nouns, I look in the bag and give them clues (“Ooh, this is a fruit that is red and crunchy!”) to gauge their receptive language skills.  

Here are three important reasons I think “What’s In the Bag?” remains such a valuable teaching tool:

  1. It’s fun! The mystery of what’s in the bag hooks children and knowing that they will get to take a turn with one of the toys (with a therapist or in a large group) engages them.
  2. Expectation. The routine of the activity makes it easy to understand what’s going to happen (objects are coming out of the bag) but there’s enough novelty with new items being introduced to keep receptive and expressive vocabulary growing.
  3. Visualization. Being able to see the actual object is a key part of information processing and is usually one of the strengths of a child who may be low- or non-verbal.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned next week for my next topic:  REINFORCERS.

October is Sensory Processing Awareness Month

The human body uses five senses — taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell — to send information to the brain, where it is then processed and acted upon. For some children, they have either too much information coming in or too little. This can be overwhelming and/or confusing for the child, causing them to respond in a way that sets them apart from their peers. For example, they may become hyper or conversely, they may shut down and disengage. I feel the best way to help children organize, attend, focus, and understand the world around them, is to provide opportunities through play and movement.  

I feel the best way to help children organize, attend, focus, and understand the world around them, is to provide opportunities through play and movement. Lynn DeSalvo, Speech-Language Pathologist

One tool I use when working with children is a song called, “Two Hands Up.” In an earlier blog post, I detailed how to use this song with children, what to look for, etc. Today, I’m going to show two versions of “Two Hands Up” showcasing how to work with a child displaying high-energy or low-energy.


This activity helps with tactile (touch), proprioceptive (body awareness), visual (sight), auditory (hearing), oral motor (mouth movement), motor planning (general movement) as well as bilateral coordination and crossing the midline (ability to use both sides of the body at the same time).

This song is used a bit differently in group situations, which I will share in a later blog.

As you can see, the same song used with slight variations, was able to draw the child in, increase her eye contact, attention and focus.  It was also beginning to regulate her body and energy levels.

By using touch (squeezing and patting) on her arms and legs I was able to create more sensory awareness as well as observe what is more reinforcing to her (light touch, deep pressure, or a combination of both).

By moving slowly at the end of the song to calm the body (student video #1) and moving fast to heighten/”wake up” the body (student video #2) you can enable the student to be in a favorable state for learning.

Who would think such a simple song could provide you with so many insights?

Discover other ways this song works for you and your child and please share!

Red Flags to Watch for in Preschoolers

Play can teach you a lot about your child’s developmental level. By carefully watching their play behavior, you may see red flags that could indicate autism spectrum disorders. If you suspect your
child is displaying red-flag behavior, be sure to discuss this with your pediatrician, who will be able to guide you to specialists who work with autistic children.

Age:  12-24 Months

Typical Behavior:

  • Imitates actions in play (e.g., claps when you clap)
  • Interest in parent/caregiver
  • Seeks caregiver out to meet his/her needs
  • Exhibits pretend play (e.g., using banana as a phone)
  • Points at interesting objects to direct adults’ attention
  • Shares delight in a toy

Red Flags:

  • Decreased/no imitation of action in play
  • Shows more interest in objects
  • Gets desired objects on his/her own, even at the risk of danger
  • limited/no pretend play
  • Infrequent pointing to show an object/event to another
  • Limited response to joint attention

Ages:  2-3 Years

Typical Behavior:

  • Demonstrates interest in and affection for other children
  • Imitates adults and/or playmates
  • Uses pretend actions with inanimate objects
  • participates in group play and games
  • Plays with a variety of toys appropriately

Red Flags:

  • Low interest in other children
  • Little or no imitation of adults or playmates
  • Deficit in make-believe play with dolls, animals or people
  • Prefers to pay alone, sensitive to intrusions
  • Inability to play with toys in the typical ways

Ages:  3-4 Years

Typical Behavior:

  • Follows directions of others during role-playing and directs others during role-playing
  • Varied play themes

Red Flags:

  • Problems in following play themes introduced by others
  • Inflexible routines as well as narrow interests during play


Two Hands Up!

“A good teacher, like a good entertainer, first must hold his audience’s attention, then he can teach his lesson.”

~ John Henrick Clarke

This is the first lesson we learn when teaching children of any age. It is especially difficult at times to gain the attention of children with sensory processing disorders because they are dealing with so many competing stimuli.

Today I am going to share with you one of my tricks of the trade. I have used this successfully over the past 25 years and am still in awe of how effective it is. It is a simple song, with different motions that you can do hand-over-hand or with your child. First, I would like you to watch the video and then I am going to explain why this song works so well. I use it at the beginning of any teaching session I start, and it never grows old for the student I am working with or me. Students have taken my hands to get the song started as soon as they sit in the chair next to me!

So after watching the video, what did you think? Was it engaging and fun? Music is an important tool in learning. As a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), I have seen numerous accounts where music has helped draw a child in when talking to the child has made no impact. We have found that people who stutter do not stutter when singing. Songs have a rhythm and melody that helps with memory. The list of benefits goes on and on.

Music occupies much more of the brain than language or anything else.  There are stroke victims who are capable of singing words they cannot speak.

One of my favorite authors/neurologists Oliver Sacks says, “I am doubly tantalized by music. Its patterns, its symmetries, its proportions, its mathematical perfection and abstraction, and second by its excruciating pleasure which it could produce and the sweet pain which was beyond pain, beyond words, beyond concepts, and beyond expression by anything else.”

He goes on to tell us in MUSICOPHILA:  TALES OF MUSIC AND THE BRAIN, “People are liberated by music in an amazing way.”

If you remember the movie, AWAKENINGS, which was based on real people Dr. Sacks worked with, “These deeply disabled people were liberated by music.”

I remember going to a conference in Princeton, NJ, and asking him the question: “Why does rising intonation draw a person’s/child’s attention? He responded by saying, “Music is very powerful. We are just getting to touch the surface of how music can help rebuild connections in the brain.”

Rising intonation at the beginning of the HANDS UP song is a tone that conveys something more is to follow. This is one of the first reasons why I use this song to begin every session.

Here is a list highlighting why this simple song can engage a child and help them get ready to learn:

  1. Rising intonation and hand movements assist the child to “wake up.” When I start the song, I either take the child’s hands and move them up past my face and over my head, or they imitate me and do it themselves. This movement ensures the child will pass his/her gaze past your face and possibly make eye contact, see your smile, and connect. It also physically brings energy into the arms when you lift them over their head which “wakes up” the upper body.
  2. Arms coming down and hands patting their laps. When the child’s arms or yours come down past their face again, there is another opportunity for eye contact. As an SLP, I also use this as a time to try to touch their forehead, cheeks or mouth to gauge their sensitivity or hypersensitivity to touch around their face/lips/mouth. Children who display hypersensitivity around their cheeks and mouths may have some difficulties with tolerating different foods or textures. On the opposite end, a child who has reduced feeling or awareness around their cheeks and mouths may have problems with stuffing their cheeks while eating as an attempt to “feel” the food that is in their mouth. This information is invaluable to an SLP because they are able to collect more information about the child and determine whether they need exercises to desensitize or increase awareness of the oral-motor mechanism. One of the favorite parts of the song for most of the children is when the hands (yours or theirs) drums on their laps. My impression about why this is a favorite is that it is a “sensory wake up” and seems to be very reinforcing for many children. I do it with medium pressure and gauge what the child enjoys and go from there. If you have a child who is overstimulated or seems like the patting is too much, you can do it on a table or the ground in front of them.
  3. Slow, then fast. Loud, then soft. Changing tempo is also another way to engage a child and to get them to pay attention, as well as changing between loud and quiet/soft voices. Think of music and how changes in tempo and volume draw us in when listening to our favorite song. Another benefit of clapping/rolling/shaking their hands slow then fast is that this helps a child to eventually learn about regulation. Some things go fast, and sometimes they go slow.

The motor actions change in complexity as well as speed, which is another way to assess what a child can or cannot handle yet. By going through the hand motions, you can answer questions such as:

  • Can my child imitate motor actions?
  • Can my child shake their hands?
  • Can my child clap their hands?
  • Can my child roll them?
  • And finally, do they understand or have the ability to control their body movements (making slow then fast movements)?

As you can see, this song is a staple of mine. When I see something that works, I want to share it!

Look closely at the expressions on my face as well as my expressive voice. The more clues we can give a child to attend to (the intonation as well as the words) will only enhance their understanding and help them grow.

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback on how this song worked for you and what observations you were able to make!



When the things we do are engaging and fun, we learn from these experiences. As such, play is my primary focus, especially for young children. Ideally, I think all of us should have fun learning and growing.  When I think of what I am passionate about, I am playful in the way I grow my ideas and use my creativity.

    “Play for the adult is recreation, the renewal of life; play for the child is growth, the gaining of life.”  Joseph Lee (father of the playground movement)

By following each child’s lead, even if they are non-verbal, we are able to figure out what they like or feel passionate about. This is the key to unlocking the motivation for each child we live with, work with, or love.  My goal is to help us recognize this motivation, making it easier for your children, teachers, and parents to unlock the puzzle of learning.


The first question most parents ask me is: “When is my son/daughter going to talk?” I can understand why this is such an important question because it allows their children to join them in their speaking world. It enables parents to understand their children’s needs, wants, ideas, and feelings about the world they are joining.

My response usually is: “We don’t really know if or when they will speak.”

With that in mind, the question then becomes, “What will enable my child to engage with me and the world around them?” And the answer to that is COMMUNICATION.

“Communication is the most important human aspect after breathing.” – Unknown

Communication is not the same as speaking, although it does include speaking. At a very young age, babies are communicating with eye gaze, then pointing, or gesturing toward objects of need or interest. My job is to help you, as parents and teachers, to recognize these signals and others, and then to build on them.


Isn’t this what we all want?  CONNECTION?  Maybe not at the same intensity or in the same way, but key to our existence is how we connect to the world around us. I like to think we all crave and have the capacity to connect and unite on different levels.

My mission is to enable each of us to find our purpose, to playfully communicate, and to connect with people, nature, objects, animals, and the world. We are all one and have a “sameness” even though we may express it differently.

Do you want to play with me?

Twenty some odd years ago, I had a student with autism (“Daniel”) who was developing academic skills, speaking in full sentences, but who had great difficulty playing with or connecting to other children at home or in class. Right around that time, I had attended an autism workshop in Brooklyn where they talked about how to use video as a tool for children to model social behaviors. They showed some simple videos of two children playing with a car, and then Barbie and Ken dolls. The idea behind video modeling was to have the child with autism watch the video and imitate the play actions and script.

I noticed that Daniel was able to memorize and repeat a variety of movie and TV scripts. I remember thinking, “I should try some version of a play script with Daniel. If he can memorize scripts from a TV, then it shouldn’t be too hard to make those scripts useful to him.”

So I enlisted my friend and co-worker Stacy, to help me make a video of a play sequence after work. We set up a simple play sequence using Winnie the Pooh and Tigger figurines with a tree house play set. I remember the script clearly because Daniel was able to imitate the play within the first session.  Amazingly, after just a few weeks of watching this video and memorizing it, he used the first line of the script outside on the playground.

“Do you want to play with me?”

Kids playing tag.

Video modeling has been an incredibly successful tool – not just for this student but hundreds after him. And not just for high functioning children with autism but for non-verbal children who appeared not to understand language and simple directions, children with apraxia, children with no ability request simple objects or meet basic needs.

I tried through the years to understand why this was such a successful strategy:

  • Was it because it was a video? And children love videos?
  • Was it because it eliminated background distractions?
  • Was it because it took away the processing of people’s facial expressions?
  • Was it because it was a very consistent presentation?
  • Was it because of the slow paced verbal models?
  • Was it the intonation in my voice?
  • Was it the songs that are peppered throughout the sequences?
  • Was it the common ground for beginning parallel play?
  • Was it recognizing similar actions and verbalizations of peers nearby?

What I came to realize, was that it was all of these things. Ultimately, though, it was FUN and brought the children JOY! Video modeling was the beginning of so much success for the children in processing the world of toys, social interactions, and how to use simple phrases to long sentences. It became a key to unlocking the child’s own creative thought and play, allowing them to start simply with some very basic toys and then move on to pretend-play with a variety of items.

Video modeling is highly effective for outcomes regarding play. It will always be a tool in my toolbox.

Play, it’s not just for kids

As adults, we usually think of play as a “break from work” but in actual fact, it is part of everything we do. It’s just labeled differently. When we are told to collaborate or be part of a team, what are we, if not “playing together”? Or how about when we innovate? Is that not “playing around” with ideas, using our imaginations to explore solutions or creating something new? And what of negotiation? Isn’t that simply “turn taking” or “sharing” — key components of play?

You can see why play is considered one of the most important, most crucial aspects of your child’s development. Most of our students and children have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)to set goals for language, cognition, social, and motor goals. The understanding for professionals and parents is we are here to teach skills through PLAY!

In our society as a whole, I think the word “play” gets downplayed (no pun intended). We, as a culture, value hard work, acquire skills, etc., but the mistake we make, is in not realizing we can accomplish great things in life by working hard, acquiring skills, and we can also have fun doing it. Our children especially should be having fun — and playing — because in preschool and later in life, playing is learning and more specifically, learning language.

Language is part of everything we do. We communicate our beliefs, wants, and needs through language. We express emotions through words or facial expressions. We take part in lifelong interactions whether it be through:

  • words
  • gestures
  • keyboards
  • signs

Language validates our existence and makes our life meaningful and worthwhile.

Play, it’s for everyone.

Notes from Lynn

Play is something that requires deep engagement with ourselves, with each other, and our environment. When we think of the word “play” we usually assign it to the realm of childhood. But to my thinking, play is for everyone, all age groups, all abilities. It is my goal, as a speech-language pathologist specializing in communication and play, to share my 25 years of experience to guide teachers, parents, and administrators in the many purposes of play. To educate through play, to make play accessible to everyone, and to explore all the ways play affects us throughout our lives: from preschoolers to adults. I will offer various strategies, suggestions, and materials to assist you and look forward to what it is you may have to offer.

I hope through this blog and this website to create a format for an exchange of ideas for how we can make play more inclusive in all of our activities.

It is my belief that through the prism of play, we can learn the art of life.

Why play?

Play is the way we ENTER
The world of interaction (house of belonging)
The world of learning and
The world of fun…

Play helps us UNDERSTAND
Words, language, and concepts
How to communicate effectively
Perspective of other people
Rules and consequences
Different roles we can have
Each other

Community and connection
Motivation to work through differences
Worlds only limited by our imaginations

Play enables us to EXPLORE
Boundaries in a safe environment
Function of objects
The natural world around us
The unlimited potential our bodies and minds have

Play TEACHES us –
How to negotiate
To take turns
Awareness of our bodies in space
Awareness of our bodies in relation to other people
Control and what happens when we lose control
To think critically
To problem solve
How to work together
To think outside of the box