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Part 3: A, E, I, O, U—The “Vowel Mnemonic” For Parents Who Want To “Teach”

Heidi Whittaker is a Parent Consultant for Utah Parent Center. This is an excerpt from her blogpost, published 3/19/13, shared with her permission.

(Comments in bold print and italicized are enhanced/updated contributions by Jo Mascorro, M.Ed. 2023)

A Note From Heidi Whittaker, Utah Parent Center Consultant:

When I first started typing the notes from this two day conference, I had 14 pages worth and still hadn’t typed up half of the notes Jafra and I both had taken. I decided that it didn’t make sense to type up every single word we had written, but only the most important and poignant information so people would get something out of it without having to read a thesis. So, I started over and hopefully edited only the most important and useful information.

I put topics in categories so you could browse through and look at the titles you’re most interested in OR if you’re reading it straight through, you’ll find the information builds on each other.

Just as a clarification, this workshop WAS geared to parents who have children with disabilities… but… wait! You will find that this information absolutely and completely applies to all children, “typical” or no. I found the information to be some of the best I have learned from parenting classes I’ve attended through the years.

I really hope that you get some good strategies to help you in your parenting route! Here goes!

4 Part Blog Series

Part 3: A, E, I, O, U—The “Vowel Mnemonic” For Parents Who Want To “Teach”



Every person, adult or child, has a natural need to “know” information. What we ALL want to usually know is WHO? WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY? HOW? This is where the Anticipation comes into play. Make it a point to anticipate or give more information to your child about what you are doing. Often behavior problems come up just because the child needs more detail about what’s going to happen.. GIVE DETAILS!!! Tell your children what you’re going to do. “I’m going to touch your arm. I’m going to..” etc. Give them more specific details about where you are going, what is going to happen in detail as you go, how it will work, etc. Taking the time to do that is the same amount of time as it takes to fight them to get them to do what you want. **(ALL brains have an innate desire to anticipate and/or know what to expect. Sometimes a bit of clarity at the front end of a conversation can slow down and/or prevent complications at the back end! Try this … When you think you have completed making a statement, add the word “BY” to the end of the sentence. If you can keep going with additional information, you might not have been clear enough! For example … Saying “You need to go cleanup your room.” sounds a lot different than “You need to go clean up your room “BY” putting the dirty clothes on the washing machine, your shoes in the closet and your backpack on the doorknob.” It’s all about “verbal artistry” and how you “verbally” paint a picture of clarity!)**

When there’s a ton of questions (from a young child) – best thing to do is distract and disengage…

**(Sometimes when a young child repeats the same question over and over, it can be that their developing “language processors” are a bit “stuck” and need some nudging to move away from the subject of interest. Rather than continuing to engage (which can change the child’s intent from “information seeking” to getting lots of feedback (to the ears and eyes of the young child, we can sometimes be quite wordy and even funny looking when frustrated!), consider something you can say and/or do that will distract them away from the initial question repetition.)**

It’s all in the timing – behavior is like a wavelength. You can teach children “It’s about to happen,” hands high up in the air, “It’s happening,” hands right straight out in front of you, “It’s almost over,” hands dropped a little bit more, and “It’s over,” hands dropped by your side. This is a perfect example of SEE, HEAR, and DO. Give DETAILS! When there are opportunities to clarify – do it.

Think in 3’s. Are you and your child arguing? If you’ve exchanged arguments more than three times and could just keep going—STOP! You don’t have to respond to EVERY phrase that comes out of your kid’s mouth. You may WANT to fix it, but teach yourself to STOP. (YOU function from the Frontal Lobe—the reasoning part of the brain—they do NOT! So if someone has to be the “adult” in the situation, it most likely is going to be YOU!) Take calming breaths (remember dead-pulse) and self talk: “I have skills!.” Wait until your child takes a breath before you say anything more. Then slow down your words, say fewer words, and lower your volume. Simply state the rule to the child. With younger children give them a simple choice. Check your hands. Are they palms up or down? What’s our tone of voice like? Do the “opposite” of what your child is doing!

Saying “You need to go cleanup your room” sounds a lot different than “You need to go clean up your room “BY” putting the dirty clothes on the washing machine, your shoes in the closet and your backpack on the doorknob.”


With experience, you need to remember that the information needs to “connect,” it needs to be chronologically age-appropriate, and when you can’t make a behavior go away, give the behavior a time and a place.


The brain wants to “control” stuff. If kids with disabilities can’t control anything, they only thing they CAN control is their behavior. **(Basic human nature dictates that most often, ALL brains appreciate the opportunity to be able to have a “say so” about something! It’s tough enough to be a typical child with limited options to “control” life’s choices (based on chronological-age opportunities). Think about the atypical child who perhaps is non-verbal and/or severely/profoundly involved. RARELY can they have a say so in much of anything! … what to wear in the morning, what to eat, where they sit, when they go to bed and/or when they must get up, etc. The one and/only thing they CAN control is their behavior so why would they want to give it up?)**

Don’t over-help your child! Let them try on their own to “do” something. Don’t immediately rescue. You want them to become as independent as possible.

At the end of the day we love our kids. Nobody loves our kid better than us. Sometimes we just focus on giving rewards or taking away. Why NOT take the middle of the road and try a new technique?

The information we teach our children has to “connect” with their lives. Things we do with our kids need to have PURPOSE and be meaningful! Teach life skills! Just making them practice a “skill” over and over, such as putting the shapes in the jar isn’t really going to be “enough” at the end of the day. Teach them life skills where they can accomplish the same skills but now the skills have purpose and meaning.

Connect with them! Get on your child’s eye-level. Sit in FRONT of them. Don’t try to teach from the “back” or where they can’t “see” you. There’s an instinct that makes them look at you if you are positioned in front of them. It’s an “in the front” thing!


Make sure that we are helping our children be “age-appropriate.” Jo shared a story of a 22-year-old who still slept with his Sesame Street Sheets on his bed. His mom told Jo that there was NO way that he would stop sleeping with those sheets. Jo told the boy that, “Yes, you can have the sheets, but they live over here.” She “honored” the sheets and then the sheets went in a special place in the closet. Are the clothes our children dress in age-appropriate? How are their rooms decorated and designed? How about their hair cuts? Are we dressing our children in appropriate colors? (Yes, unfortunately, colors DO make a difference in how people look at our children. Society tends to associate certain colors with disabilities.) We often associate our young children with disabilities with the words, “cute, or sweet.” But as they get older, if you respect the age, they walk taller, fit in, and feel better about themselves.

**(Chronological age-appropriateness vs. developmental age-appropriateness can be a complicated topic to navigate. We have two very important jobs regarding our role with children who experience various disabilities. The first job is obviously to TEACH the skills necessary to maneuver through the education system on the road to adulthood. We also must TEACH everybody else who “doesn’t get” the individual who experiences disabilities. Often, unknowingly, people will “judge” and/or assume what one CAN’T do just by listening/watching the adult role-models who are around/working with the individual with disabilities. For example, tone of voice. If one speaks to an adolescent that has a disability (and they are functioning developmentally as a young child,) with a tone usually used for a four-year-old, others may then SEE the adolescent as a young child and lower their expectations and/or limit possibilities. What do we know … children don’t rise to low expectations!)**


Try telling a child that they CAN do something instead of “can’t” all the time. Tell them, “You CAN run, but over there on that patch of grass!” Or, “You can be silly, but not in this room. You can be silly outside this room.”

Set parameters on their behaviors!!!!! For example, CRYING. Does your child cry a lot? Then give the behavior of CRYING a time and a place! For instance, try a “crying” place—a crying rug. Establish it as the place the child CAN cry. “You CAN cry on the crying rug, but not in the kitchen or on the sofa, etc.” The more you know about a child, the more you can associate a time and a place. Here’s another example: “You can spin till you drop, but only in front of the door.”


Don’t! Be careful with the phrases “not now, in a minute, or later.” Remember the brain craves DETAILS. Your child will most likely keep asking you questions. For example, “Are we there yet?” Try helping them understand “time” on their level. You could answer them, “We’ll be there in three Barneys and one Reading Rainbow.”

If you have given your child technology—iPods, hand-held electronics, DS, etc.—teach them that if there are other people in the room that iPod doesn’t exist. Yes you can use your iPod when you’re alone, but not when you’re with people. We want them to have social skills.

When your child is misbehaving, try manipulating the ENVIRONMENT FIRST rather than manipulating your child.

When your child is misbehaving, try manipulating the ENVIRONMENT FIRST rather than manipulating your child.


Remember that all brains react very similarly with disabilities or not, and that we all alter behavior depending on where we are at and who we’re with.

Having a certificate does not an educator make just as having a kid does not a parent make.

We cannot assume educators “know” what to do about your child. We have to be graceful about how we tell people about our child. IEP’s and 504’s are a place that we “share” information. Take the word “problem child” out of our vocabulary! Instead, use "we have a challenge here". Separate the child from that behavior. We share, share, and compare notes so we can come up with solutions. CELEBRATE if there are “times” when kids behave in certain places verses others. This is a GOOD thing, not a “bad” thing! It means the child has learned how to “adapt” to certain situations!

Don’t ever discuss your child’s negative performance in front of ANYONE. If you want your child to be present at a school meeting, such as an IEP, make sure that you set parameters about what you will NOT discuss while that child is present. A child shouldn’t be present if you are going to discuss their “issues.”

Google ADHD and Myelination. There are some interesting studies that have just come out about this!

Kid’s brains are just not “wired” to get or look at, or understand all the “future” consequences. They just aren’t. As an adult, we have to remember this!

Google Stephen Hinckle and Taylor Crowe. These men are really good at providing teachers and parents with an insight into Autism.



Children with higher intellect are often expected to socially “get it” when they don’t. We sometimes assume these kids are higher functioning than they really are and should “get” those social skills because they’re so smart.

We often think our kids “like to be alone,” but don’t realize that it’s not that they “like” to be alone, it’s just that they don’t know “how” to be with others. Again, an assumption. Don’t get sucked into that assumption because that’s what you’ve “seen” so far. WATCH. ALL BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION and behaviors are going to tell you more information. “Listen” to what behavior says. Watch your child’s eyes, shoulders, hands. Watch for those non-verbal clues like a clenched fist even though the child may “look” calm to the eye. Look for patterns in behavior. Behavior means more than “pay attention to me” and/or “noncompliance.” Sometimes calm means something’s WRONG, not right. Extreme change with no explanation could mean something. A child who suddenly is quiet may be ill or in great pain but can’t verbalize it.



When you want to teach your child a skill, don’t always practice it in an isolated place. If it’s not connected to real experiences, you lose opportunities to teach with meaningful participation. For example, if you want to teach your child how to “eat out,” then take your child to a restaurant to teach them how to “eat out.” Tip: Tuesday is the LEAST busy day to dine out. The second and fourth Fridays are ones to avoid as these are paydays and are the busiest at restaurants.

Stay away from my child is “not ready for,” or “they can’t,” “they won’t,” or “they won’t be able to.” No one’s certified in “prophecy” for our child’s capabilities. No matter what age your child is, always think about them at age 22. What do you want that child to do—go—be able to accomplish—and work your way towards that direction.

How many of US are living the lives we dreamed of living? We most likely are not. So we never know what our kids’ lives will be like either.

When you help your child, remember to do it as a “show and tell,” not “hand and hold.” Don’t stand over any child. Stand in front of them or next to them. Give them details. Show them and then have them do it themselves. Don’t do it for them. If you need to touch them, tell them you’re going to touch them first. Touch the back of a child’s hand FIRST when making first contact.


Two things that will keep your kids out of any adult program out there: Hygiene and Social Skills. Teach detail, detail, detail about these things. Be very clear about expectations. Teach that you wipe three times, teach boys to “aim” at a target in the toilet. Teach how to clean your nails, etc. Teach basic social skills like meeting and greeting people, following directives, shaking hands, etc. The basics! Partial participation is okay! If they can’t do everything, they still might be able to do part of something.

One child said, “If you want the bathroom clean I can do it, but if you want the bathroom clean like you want it, you need to SHOW me.” **(Practice by MODELING the skills you want your child to learn as opposed to TELLING them what you want them to learn. For example, when teaching your child to brush their teeth, rather than put hand over hand while inserting the toothbrush into their mouth, get YOUR OWN toothbrush and MODEL putting the toothpaste on the toothbrush, then (show and tell) putting YOUR toothbrush in YOUR mouth! Perhaps stand by one another in a mirror, or in front to demonstrate what brushing teeth LOOKS LIKE and SOUNDS LIKE! Remember, if we only tell them, the information rarely sticks, and they forget. If you TELL them AND SHOW them, you increase the probability of them UNDERSTANDING what you what them to do. If you TELL them, AND SHOW them, AND have them DO the activity, you increase the probability of them retaining the information you want to TEACH and need them to LEARN!)**


Be careful about the furniture in your child’s rooms. For instance, get the kids off their beds!!! Beds are for SLEEPING only! Playing, doing homework, time out, etc. is NOT on the bed. Furniture in rooms can impress on your children things that you DO want them to learn and things you DON’T want them to learn.


At bedtime, don’t play music with words. Words cause our brains to fight the language and not sleep. All Lights need to be turned off. All the LED lights disturb the sleep. Melatonin in the body needs it to be DARK in order to truly work.

**(Adequate sleep is CRUCIAL for brains! Spending lots of time playing, doing homework, using phones/I-pads/laptops, etc. on the bed can teach the brain that the bed is also a playground, desk and/or office. Think about it. At the end of the day, you can always turn off the toys and the technology, but it’s very difficult to turn off the brain! Teach your children to play on the floor, do homework at the table and use the technology in another location and that the bed is for sleeping!)**

Y= YOURSELF — (the only person you have control over)

Don’t think you have to be perfect in order to do any of these techniques! You WILL make mistakes. You WILL do things incorrectly. But every day is a new day. The sun comes up every day and you have another opportunity to do things well even if you didn’t the day before. Try a new technique when things are good.

When kids are escalating, distract and disengage is such a powerful tool to use. Disconnect yourself. When you go into slowdown and prevent, often you’ll find that the behavior isn’t bad, it’s just not been properly learned or taught.

Don’t think you have to be perfect in order to do any of these techniques! You WILL make mistakes. You WILL do things incorrectly. But every day is a new day. The sun comes up every day and you have another opportunity to do things well even if you didn’t the day before.

Did you like this post? Continue on to the next one in this series, Part 4: Some Strategies to Help. Or, begin with the first blogpost in this series.


This is the third part of a 4 part blogpost series dedicated to giving parents resources for teaching their neurodiverse children at home. Notes were provided by Utah Parent Center employee, Heidi Whittaker, from a conference where Jo Mascorro, an Education Consultant, presented her ideas. Ms. Mascorro was kind enough to review these notes to make sure all content is up to date.

Jo Mascorro, an Independent Consultant for Education for over 32 years, is best known for her practical approach when teaching alternative methods for responding to individuals who demonstrate extreme behaviors. During her 45 years of experience in the field of Education, Jo has provided training throughout the nation in areas specific to proactive, behavior intervention practices, communication strategies, parenting skills, and programming for individuals who experience from mild/moderate to severe/profound disabilities (birth-adult). You can contact her at, by email at, or at 310-912-8584.

Heidi Whittaker serves as a parent consultant with Utah Parent Center in the Nebo School District. While not a homeschooler, she is a parent, and she is uniquely qualified to help parents as she has raised her own neurodiverse children and works daily with parents of children with extra needs. She lives in the South Utah County Area. If you live in that area and are educating a child with special needs, she is happy to help you in that journey. Browse more at her Nebo Special Needs website, email her at or call/text at 801-228-8144.

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