Power Core Words at Home and in School

If you know us here at the Autism Helper, you know our passion for increasing and encouraging communication!  Everyone has a right to communicate, and it is our job as educators, therapists, providers, parents, assistants (ie: everyone) to find ways do this!  Now, as in home special educator for the youngest of the youngest, I am finding that I am not only empowering children with language, but I am also teaching their parents too!  Additionally, there’s a major shift from being in the classroom to the home…before I was in complete control of what was being practiced and implemented, now I depend on my wonderful families to be the main teacher.  We always want to be offering communication and language opportunities to our students whether through their dedicated device, a core language board, low tech, high tech, everything!  If you are a newer teacher to core language or maybe you too are trying to empower your parents at home, I have found a focus that encourages using core words.  Power core words.      

What are power core words?

Power core words are more of a focus shift.  As providers, we are used to using all these language boards, devices, etc, however many of our families are not. Throw a pandemic on top of that and these types of research-based strategies tend to take a back seat because families are just trying to survive.  Working with kiddos around 1.5-3 years old I am using a low to mid core board (depending on the kiddo, it’s always individualized) or just introducing one-word symbols.  I have also found that it’s more efficient focusing on one main core word a week as families learn how to use core language with their children.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t encourage more language or the use of a lower cell core language board (ie: maybe only 4 symbols on it as opposed to 20 symbols) but having a focus of one a week is a good place to start. 


How do I pick a power core word?

When thinking about a power core word to focus on that week (especially your first week) I like to think about the activities that are most reinforcing and preferred for the child/student.  Put on your detective hat and really observe, or ask your parents: “Mom what’s one toy that you cannot leave the house without? If you were to leave Gina in the living room, what would she do or go towards?”  Prompting questions are a great way to play detective because what one child prefers may not be what we think is reinforcing.  For example, you might think the animal puzzle is so fun, but your student enjoys flapping around a scarf.  If you are the teacher, jot down some activities that you see your student gravitating towards or if you’re a home provider, write down answers to those prompting questions or notes from a session.  It’s important to note that not all activities have to involve and object.  Your child or student may enjoy being bounced on mom’s lap while singing a song.  Once you have established some things your child enjoys think about the core words that could be associated with that activity and other places you could use that word.  For example, the core word “go”.  We could use it when Gina likes to push her doll baby in the stroller.  We could also have the word “go” at the door near her shoes and a symbol in the car.  The point is to focus on the word “go” that week in different areas of routines (or the classroom).  Write down areas that families could use the word “go” or better yet, brainstorm together!

Making core words accessible

When creating your core word symbols, you can make different sizes depending on the area and activity.  I have found that even when using these visuals during preferred activities, some kiddos, when it’s new, are not tolerant of the symbol even being around them.  They may swat it away and become irritated. Have you experienced this?  Therefore, I wanted to take a focus on just one symbol for the week, as these scaffolds both the parent and child into seeing and experiencing the visuals.  And if you’re a new teacher, this will help you too!  I see that a lot of time people shy away from using core language boards and devices because they themselves have performance anxiety on knowing where the symbol is that they need or what to do if they cannot find it. That’s ok so let’s make it simple and fun!  Having one symbol on hand that you’re emphasizing increases the control you have to hold it back a bit if a child is not yet tolerant while still referring to it.  

How to use core words

So now that you have made your activity list, chosen your power core word of the week, it’s time to use them!  Thinking about my kiddo and the activity helps me decide what size to make the power core word in Boardmaker.  I use a larger size (close to 8×10) for activities and play areas and smaller sizes (close to 4×6) for home pieces such as “go” near the door, one for the car, one to take to the park etc.  You also must be cognizant of the parent if you’re doing this in the home.  Suggest the sizes and ask if they would be willing to try this with you and that you can adjust as you see evaluate the child’s need.  I like to stick the larger core word in a page protector so that I can slip in a core language board on the back in case that’s the level of my student.  Check out the video below to see them in action!


Overall, take small action steps to empower families and yourself to include these core words during the week.  Power core words will help shift your focus while teaching other’s how to encourage language.  The child does not need to physically touch the symbol yet, imitate, or say it. We are just flooding their world with opportunities to learn the word.  Happy communicating!


  1. What a wonderful idea. I love focusing on one core word for the week and embedding it throughout school and home. I have never used core vocabulary and am excited to give it a try. Thanks!

    • Hi Michelle, SO happy to hear that! Thanks for reading 😊


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