Toward a Developmental Language


Toward a Developmental Language



Last summer, my wife and I were standing in one of those proverbially endless lines at the Fumicino airport in Rome. We listened for other English-speaking people who might be in line with us. In fact, the older woman in front of us was obviously an American. We engaged our fellow traveler in a polite conversation, and found that she was from San Francisco; that she had been leading a tour on the island of Malta; and that the language used in her tour was Esperanto.


I thought to myself, “Now that’s about as specific as you can get.” Commercially, there is a demand for tour groups to Malta, conducted in Esperanto by nice old ladies from San Francisco. What an interesting world we inhabit!


When I returned to the classroom this past fall, I found myself creating all of the picture supports that I could create. I was inspired by my experiences in Italy. Neither my wife nor I spoke any Italian. Yet somehow, we had successfully communicated our wants and needs.


I had been working on an adaptive, computer-based communication device for one of my students. So, I was very much aware of just how basic language can get while still communicating appropriately and clearly.


The decision-making process in and of itself is often a challenge for the person with developmentally altered abilities. Can every need be met with a simple “yes” and a simple “no”? What is the basic common unit that communicates those concepts most effectively for the community that I serve? What are the common experiential modes where a common understanding of that basic unit is found?


My students had never been to Rome. My students had never stood next to Colosseo and watched the cheesy Italian actor-gladiators pose with tourists for photographs.


But many of my students had seen the movie “Gladiator”. I soon found that they all understood a simple “thumbs up” and a simple “thumbs down”. It is a concept that can be rendered pictorially, and it can be rendered in a tactile format.


We have been doing “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” for nearly five months, at the Adult Transition Program where I teach. I have found that image to be more effective in communicating “yes” and “no” than any words, written or spoken.








New Content on the Pops Spedster Site


Since my retirement in June of 2013, I have been adding content on Special Education topics to my website at

As of today, there is a link to this blog on WordPress.

Many other additions have been made to the site including many new videos from my You Tube account that relate to supports for students with low incidence disabilities.

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Wishing you the best of the best,
Pops Spedster AKA James M. Kemp