Top Tips for Feeding the Brain

If you’ve been around the world of S2C long enough, you’ve likely heard an S2C Practitioner throw around the expression “FEED THE BRAIN!” But what exactly is feeding the brain? In short, feeding the brain means providing your student with age-appropriate engaging input! 

Within the world of S2C, we are addressing MOTOR differences that affect a person’s ability to actually express their language and knowledge skills, and as we know, these are different areas in the brain. Our language areas of the brain are Wernicke’s and Broca’s area. Wernicke’s is responsible for comprehension, understanding, or receptive language. It’s what you’re using right now as you read this blog! You’re reading these words, and they make sense to you! Broca’s area is your area for expressive language, or your thoughts & ideas. Even as you are sitting here reading this blog, you all have opinions and ideas in your mind about what you’re reading, and that’s happening in Broca’s area. Even without speech, you understand my language, and you have thoughts in your head about what you’re reading! The important takeaway here is that language is 100% cognitive – it is the way we understand, describe, and make sense of our ideas and thoughts.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, S2C, Spring into spellingSpeech, on the other hand, is the physical production of sounds, and speech is what often transmits our thoughts & ideas. I would argue that we all spell to communicate a lot, through typing and texting, but regardless, speech and ANY OTHER form of communication is 100% Motor. The supplementary motor cortex is responsible for planning volitional action (intentional movement) – it puts together a plan for what voluntary actions we want to take. Speech and other motor actions are elicited by the primary motor cortex, or the motor strip, and approximately 75% of the motor strip is responsible for movement of the digits (fingers and toes) and articulators responsible for speech – this is all highly complex motor!

Praxis is the ability to plan and then execute movement. Our students have apraxia, also referred to as dyspraxia. Our students are apraxic: their mind knows what it wants to do but they can’t get their body to respond accordingly. Nonspeaking people are often identified as having language delays or absence because people assume their unreliable body responses indicate a lack of cognitive understanding. Many of you may be new to S2C, and may not have been able to get started on the letterboards yet. Perhaps your student is not yet able to prove (which requires motor) they can understand, so why should you be feeding the brain now? 

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, S2C, Spring into spellingWe start by PRESUMING COMPETENCE. Presuming Competence means assuming our students CAN and WANT to learn, that they understand, and that they have age-level comprehension. Presuming Competence comes from the Least Dangerous Assumption, a concept coined in 1984 by Anne Donnellan, a researcher in special education, and it states that, “in  the absence of CONCLUSIVE data, educational decisions should be based on assumptions which, if incorrect, will have the least dangerous effect on the  student”. 

So the Least Dangerous Assumption basically says: what’s going to cause the least harm, if you are wrong? We have two choices. We can assume incompetence or the inability to learn and NOT teach you. But if we are wrong, what’s the danger? We’ve failed to teach you appropriately! Alternatively, when we presume competence, we assume you can learn, but maybe you weren’t able to do so, or had no way to PROVE you were able to do so.  When we presume competence we teach you appropriate content. The risk in this case is overteaching, which of course is far less dangerous than failing to teach at all. Presumption of competence can be regarded as the “least dangerous”  assumption to make about a person because it is less DAMAGING to presume competence in someone than it is to presume non-competence or incompetence.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, S2C, Spring into spellingAs it turns out, each and every time we learn something new our brain forms new connections and neurons and makes existing neural pathways stronger or weaker. So If You Cannot Do It, At Least Think About It! Maybe you can’t get on the letterboards now…but you CAN listen to podcasts, audiobooks, read lessons, spelling out new keywords just as you would when doing a lesson on the letterboards. There are moments when the student will be unable to give you a response, but you can still teach new information and exercise the brain and increasing its plasticity.

Feeding the brain is sharing information, and there are so many easy ways we can share information and model learning for nonspeakers, even before they start showing what they know on the letter boards. Here are some top tips for Feeding the Brain! 

  • Focusing on objective content is key! Because their abilities were often underestimated, a lot of our nonspeakers didn’t have regular, structured exposure to new information. Presenting age-level academic content from a variety of subjects can be very engaging, and can show your speller that you presume competence even though they aren’t yet able to show you what they know. It also ensures that they are constantly challenged, that they are connecting ideas between lessons, and it can reignite interest in the learning process! 
  • Provide NEW information – we don’t repeat our lessons, and one of the reasons is to ensure our clients are constantly getting access to new learning. That doesn’t mean we can’t do more lessons on a topic, it just means we won’t repeat the same exact content over and over again. 
  • Mix up content beyond “likes and interests!” Offer a broad range of content (math, history, science, psychology, etc.)  and avoid trying to cater to their perceived topics of interest. Remember that our understanding of a student’s interest is based on what we see on the outside, by what our student’s body shows us. But because of this difficulty with praxis and motor planning, a lot of times the “insides don’t match the outsides.” Until they can TELL us, we can’t be sure what they are interested in, so vary your content! 
  • Listening, learning, and recalling information can help our brain to grow. Neuroscientists have been chorusing “cells that fire together, wire together” since the late 1990s, meaning that if you perform a task or recall some information that causes different neurons to fire in concert, it strengthens the connections between those cells. When it comes to learning, then, we create neural connections like: building vocabulary and word associations, creating connections between ideas, and developing and strengthening critical thinking/executive functioning skills. 
  • Feeding the brain can support regulation! When we are focused on and engaged in learning, it is harder for the body to be random or impulsive. 
  • Objective lessons and information can still help us find ways to get the body purposefully engaged off the boards! In lessons, we call these VAKTS, which stands for visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. We derive a lot of our VAKtivities from the content of our lessons, and we use them to help appeal to and organize the sensory system and to explore learning through movement. What’s an activity you could do that stems from what your speller is leaning about? ANY time you’re working on purposeful motor it is going to not only help your speller gain more control over their body, but it will also help you when you get ON the boards because we are activating that “think and do” pathway. 

So there you have it! Feeding the brain is easy, important, and so beneficial! As you get started, or if you’re a seasoned pro, we would love to hear from you and hear about some of your favorite resources to help FEED THE BRAIN! 

Resources: I-ASC Feeding the Brain Webinar and Bryana Williams, I-ASC Leadership Cadre and S2C Practitioner.

Kelly Berg is an S2C Practitioner at Growing Kids Therapy Center and a member of the I-ASC Leadership Cadre living in Herndon, Virginia. She feeds her brain with one of the ten partially-read books found on her nightstand at any one time! 


Living in Atlanta and supporting non-speakers in Georgia and Nashville, Tennessee, Bryana Williams is a Speech-Language Pathologist and registered Spelling to Communicate Practitioner. She owns her own private practice and has, for the past two years, worked as part of the I-ASC S2C Professional Training Course as a mentor, Cohort Captain and continues to support I-ASC’s practitioner and CRP training initiatives through the development and improvement of training protocols.

The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy, and research.  I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C)with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

Posted By on Wednesday, April 13th, 2022 in Autism,Families,Nonspeakers,S2C,Spelling to Communicate

One response to “Top Tips for Feeding the Brain”

  1. Anil Kumar says:

    This has been the single biggest game changer to get Vikram off the blocks-“presuming competence “…was an eye opener to us and a brain opener for him.

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