Let's Talk About Signs!

By Stephanie Dille

            Hello Cornerstone family, friends, & staff! My name is Stephanie Dille and I have had the honor of being given the position of sign language coordinator here at Cornerstone. First, let me share some background about myself. I come from a predominantly deaf cultured home. I have a deaf father, brother, and uncle. My mother is hearing and is a pre-school teacher at the Indiana School for the Deaf. Starting from a very young age I was taught about the importance of access to communication. My family has chosen to use American Sign Language (ASL) as our main form of communication in our home. I was very lucky in that during my upbringing sign language was embraced and I was privy to watching my parents educate others on Deaf culture, community, and language topics. These experiences most definitely shaped my path for the career I am in today.Stephanie Dille shows therapists the word "dentist" in sign language class. Every Tuesday she teaches therapists basic sign language to help them communicate with non-verbal clients.

            I am a firm believer that sign language has the ability to unlock doors to communication and language, especially for our non-vocal clients. In 2013 I became licensed through a company, My Smart Hands, which focuses on teaching hearing infants and children sign language to increase language development. The owner of this company, Laura Berg, has done some outstanding research on ‘baby signs’ and how teaching signs to infants beginning at 6 months can lead to significant gains in language development, reading levels, and overall IQ. Laura Berg is also a firm believer that sign language can be taught to non-vocal children with autism and other developmental disabilities as a primary means of communication. I have chosen to sign with our non-vocal clients for several reasons. The first is that they deserve access to language now. Our children have so much to communicate to us on a daily basis, but when they are non-vocal that wedge of being unable to communicate creates a divide between them and the rest of the world. Sign language can be the first step to bridging that gap.

The second is that there is research that validates, that in some individuals, sign language can help establish vocal approximations and words. For example, children with autism have a hard time grasping the exact meaning of some words. When you show a child the sign for ‘ball’ it actually looks like a ball in ASL. Pair the sign with the vocal word and you are helping the child to visualize at the same time what the word means, which in turn creates a stronger connection to language. In fact, I have used sign language programs with some of our vocal clients that were having issues emitting specific words accurately. By having the child say the word and sign it at the same time, the sign was able to help the child slow down verbally and allowed them to make that connection to the word helping with overall speech. Lastly, ASL is an extremely expressive language. There is nothing I cannot teach our clients in English that I would not be able to teach them in ASL. Many of our non-vocal clients have shown significant gains on the assessment portion of the VB-MAPP because through ASL they are able to mand, tact, complete intraverbals, and interact socially with peers and adults around them, while still working on vocals at the same time.

It is important for parents to know that Cornerstone’s goal is always going to be for our clients to be able to communicate verbally with the world around them. Sign language, to me, is the major stepping stone that can help our clients get to that point. Often times concerns are brought up to me that people outside of family, friends, and staff will not be able to understand what the child is saying if they use signs as a main form of communication. My response to that has been, and will always be, that other methods of communication are not as concrete as using ASL. Concerns that I have about the picture exchange communication system is that it limits expressive language, cards can be lost limiting the child’s communication, and overtime the card quantity builds making it harder for the child to carry all their cards around and find them when they need to communicate. With augmentative devices I have concerns because if a child is completely reliant on a technological device then what happens if the battery would die or if the device would crash? The child, in that instance, would have no way to communicate with those around them. Although it is true that not everyone on the outside understand ASL people are still open and understanding enough to pick up on gestures done by the child. Sign language is reinforcing to a non-vocal child because instead of having to hunt for a symbol card or scroll through pages of letters on an augmentative device they can immediately respond with a sign or series of signs to make a sentence.

My role here at Cornerstone is extremely fulfilling because I get to work with our clients, staff, and families on a daily basis. Every Tuesday I offer a sign language class for our Greenwood staff in the mornings and afternoons. I am a huge advocate of having our staff able to communicate with every client here at Cornerstone regardless of whether they use vocals or signs. I currently have 17 therapists enrolled in my level 2 sign course. With our clients, I work with our leads to incorporate sign shaping programs. There are some signs that involve a lot of fine motor movement. I create shaping programs for the clients who struggle with fine motor movements so that they are still signing an accurate version of the sign and then can build up to independently signing the actual ASL sign on their own. Often times I see clients that have come in with signs that have been ‘made up’. Often times this delays language development because the therapists have a hard time understanding what the client is saying and then the sign has to be corrected if it is a sign that is used often. ASL is an actual foreign language with its own specific signs and grammatical structure. I love talking with families about the benefits of using sign language with their non-vocal child and I especially love watching the clients develop language through signs and into vocals! There is seriously no better feeling than watching a client tact their family members for the first time through sign or hold a conversation with another peer that also signs.

I am graduating on July 19th with my masters in special education with certificates in ABA and autism. I would love to start research after graduation on the benefits of signing with non-vocal clients on the autism spectrum and how it has the potential to lead to an establishment of vocals. If any of you have any questions or comments for me on the usage of sign language here at Cornerstone Autism Center please feel free to contact me at

Happy signing!




(and some fun facts)


*Sign language is only for deaf people: False! Sign language is used by thousands of people who do not have a hearing loss. They can include infants, children with speech and language delays along with developmental disabilities, & adults who do not have the means to emit vocal speech.

*American Sign Language (ASL) is the 3rd most used language in the United States & the 4th most used language in North America!

*Each country has their own sign language, this includes France, Spain, England, & China.

*Some children are lazy and depend on signing…it’s the easy way out of talking: ABSOLUTELY 100% FALSE! Using sign language actually helps to build up a child’s vocabulary. Studies have proven that using sign language with a hearing child will actually ACCELERATE verbal language!

*Here is my favorite myth of all time…If my child signs they will not learn how to talk: THIS IS ABSOLUTELY 110% FALSE! One of my favorite facts about sign language is about how it is processed in the brain. The right side of the brain is where language is processed. The left side of the brain is where images are processed (such as signs). This means that sign language is processed on both sides of the brain! This is why we use baby signs with our infants and children because it activates various areas of the brain that would not otherwise be activated. How cool is that?


Child Spotlight Q&A: Marcus

By Lee Steffy

On a day like any other day, Marcus goes through his usual routine. He walks around the center with his therapist, staring out windows and flying through programs with incredible ease, all while taking special care to clean up after every activity – a trait many parents would be envious of. On this day in particular, Marcus stops his regular activity of playing with putty and something new catches his eye.

Marcus sits with therapist Emily Lepore in the progamming room.

Therapist Emily Lepore quickly tells me, “He’s never shown interest in the train set before. I’m excited to see how he’ll interact with it." For the next two minutes, Marcus is enthralled in the train set. For a typical child, he or she may take interest in new toys on a regular basis. However, for a child with autism, interest in something new is not as common.

Even on a day like any other, Marcus meets and overcomes challenges without knowing it, and continually reaches goals. We have chosen to spotlight Marcus for his stellar improvements in mastering programs along with improvements in social interaction. Clinical Lead Olivia Eickhoff and therapist Emily Lepore have answered questions to provide insight into Marcus’s development since arriving at Cornerstone.


When did Marcus start his journey at Cornerstone and how long have you guys been involved with him directly?

Olivia: “Marcus started about a year and a half ago. I became his lead last October.”

Emily: “I started working with Marcus about 5-6 months ago.”

What are some of Marcus’s favorite things to do?

Emily: “Some of his favorite things to do are staring out windows, swinging, solving puzzles, and he loves being tickled. Another big thing for him is jumping on the trampoline.”

What kinds of programs are you working on right now with Marcus?

Olivia: “He is overall improving socially. He’s a little sensitive to loud noises, so we have been working with him to ease his sensitivity, but other than that, he’s good. Last month, he completed 290+ programs! He’s taking off!”

How much progress has Marcus shown since he’s been with each of you?

Emily: “Since I’ve been with him, he’s gone from using only one to two word phrases to three and four word phrases regularly. He’s amazing at mastering programs. He regularly goes through 200 per month.”

Olivia: “Marcus has made significant amounts of progress. Six months ago, we were only looking for one word phrases, like “tickles”. “Tickles” was our only word, but now we are using full sentences and describing words with adjectives and adverbs depending on what he’s manding for. He’s come a long way with his social interactions, too. He will come into my office and say “Hi!” and if I tell him I got to go, he will say “bye” back to me. He initiates the response after I say I have to leave, which shows he’s picking up and understanding that I have to leave, and that is an appropriate time to say “bye”. That’s a very hard thing to teach a kid in the first place!”

Part of Cornerstone’s mission is to “maximize those who struggle”. Marcus Kreuzman’s improvement since joining Cornerstone has been nothing short of excellent. His improvement in social interaction and mastery of programs has been maximized through his increased interest in different activities along with his ability to pick up on social queues. Little things like realizing when to say “bye” are steps that show that there is no limit to Marcus’s potential, and he will only get better as he continues his journey.


Biomedical Interventions for Children with Autism

By Lee Steffy


There are several conventional treatments available for children with autism. However, these treatments address only the symptoms of the disorder. Biomedical Interventions are an alternative form of treatment for autism addressing the root cause of behaviors based on medical research.

“Biomedical means treating the medical causes of autism”, said Parent Liaison Sheila Carney.  “It looks at the biochemistry of the body, using blood tests and allergy tests, to discover what kinds of mineral or vitamin deficiencies the children have, food allergies, metal toxins, and just anything behind the scenes causing the behaviors in the first place.”

Carney also presented basic information to the Greenwood staff in December and to West Lafayette staff at the beginning of June to give them an understanding of what several families are doing at home.

In March, Cornerstone hosted a conference on the benefits of Biomedical Treatment. Several guest speakers, including Dr. Kartzinel, spoke to a crowd of approximately 150 people on a wide range of topics involving biomedical solutions to several common comorbid issues affecting children with autism, such as seizures, sleep issues and digestive problems.

“The conference gave parents new information and was very reassuring”, said Carney. “The things going on with our Autistic children are not that unusual and the presenters gave parents ideas and resources to learn more about Biomedical Interventions that could help their children. ”

Biomedical Interventions mentioned at the conference involved the regulation of diets in affected children. The removal of allergens and food sensitivities, including dairy and gluten, are usually standard biomedical treatments, but as Dr. Jerry Kartzinel stated in a presentation, the best diet is always “the one that works best for your child.” To have the “best” diet for a child, great care as well as trial and error are necessary to alleviate future problems.

Other biomedical practices include avoiding storage of food in plastic containers, laying natural flooring instead of vinyl and using wooden cutting boards. Another helpful tip is to have filtered drinking water and eat less processed foods.

March conference guest speakers included:

Jerry Kartzinel, MD, FAAP

  • Biomedical Approaches to Treating Autism

Staci Small, MA, RD

  • Identification and Correction of Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Children With Autism

Eugene S. Justus, DO

  • Gastrointestinal Disease in Children with Autism

Amy M. Carter, MD

  • Environmental Dangers: Detoxifying your World

Debra O’Donnell, MD

  • Sleep, Seizures, and Sensory Issues

Mary Lou Hulseman, MD

  •  The Meaning of Autism Symptoms

The feedback from the conference was positive and many questions were answered by the professionals in the field. Families left with new biomedical options to try at home. Cornerstone plans to offer this event to the public again next year.         


Biomedical Resources:



June Fundraiser to Benefit the Cornerstone Autism Foundation

 By Morgan McClellan

June 7, 2014 marks the first Layden’s Lineup Community Fundraiser for the Cornerstone Autism Foundation at the Gathering Place in Greenwood. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

The event will provide a safe, fun activity area for kids, pay-to-play corn hole, pay-to-play basketball and booths set up by local vendors. The vendors range from autism organizations and local businesses to beauty and jewelry companies (see below for the full listing). Also, there will be opportunities to win prizes including Indianapolis Zoo tickets, custom corn hole boards from Z-Ridez Cornhole and a complimentary room at the JW Marriott Downtown, to name a few. Between the sports activities, food trucks, face painting, bounce house and local vendors, there will be something for everyone in the entire family to enjoy!

Erich and Rachelle Vaughn, parents of a child who attends Cornerstone, created the Layden’s Lineup team for an Autism Speaks walk in June 2013. The name originated from their son, Layden, lining up his toys and other items around the house day and night. After the event, they continued to use their Facebook page to raise awareness by sharing Layden’s autism journey. When Layden began receiving therapy at the Greenwood center in April 2013, Erich and Rachelle knew they wanted to create an event that would give back to the center's foundation.

“It is important to us to provide a community event that not only incorporates valuable resources for families with children with autism, but to also create a fun and safe environment suitable for everyone," Rachelle Vaugh said. "We want the whole community to come out, have an amazing day with their friends and families while supporting this wonderful foundation.”

The event is free and open to the public. 

Local Vendors:

 You can enter for your chance to win

  •        A customized shirt of choice from Airbrush Island
  •        An Autism Awareness Manicure Sheet from Jamberry Nails
  •        An Autism Item from Origami Owl
  •        Limited Edition Lemon Parfait Pedicure Collection from Mary Kay
  •        Custom Corn Hole Boards and Bags from Z-Ridez Cornhole
  •        4 Tickets from The Indianapolis Zoo
  •        2 $25 Gift Certificates from Zydecos Cajun Restaurant
  •        2 Happy Hour Certificates from Howl At The Moon
  •        1 Night Stay and Breakfast for 2 at the JW Marriott Downtown Indianapolis
  •        And more!

Fun for the kids (free and open to the public):


  • Contact



Parents are #happybecause of Cornerstone

By Morgan McClellan

Not only are the staff and kids happy to be a part of Cornerstone Autism Center, but the parents are too. Read why some of our parents are happy, and find out more by viewing our happy video here.


Sharon Kreuzman is happy because...

"My son, Marcus, is so happy at Cornerstone. What a great atmosphere – he is learning while having fun! Marcus is putting two words (sometimes more) together to tell us his needs. His behaviors have decreased and overall life with my child is getting easier. The therapists truly have passion in what they do; they love our children and it shows. My child wants to be there and looks forward to it. Thank you Cornerstone!”



Joel Avina is happy because...

"My son, Diego, understands me. I'm happy because my son is so happy. I know my child is making progress because he talks to me. I am happy I found Cornerstone because my son's future looks brighter."





Rachelle Vaughn is happy because...

"Exactly one year ago today, my son Layden had his first day of ABA at Cornerstone. Erich and I cried because we were so happy for him to finally have this opportunity at such an amazing place. It was a terrifying thought to leave my little non-verbal three-year-old with complete strangers for an entire day, but as soon as we met Audrey, Ashley, and Nicole we saw how loving and passionate they were and our worries subsided. We were left with nothing but excitement.”


We want to know what makes YOU happy! Comment and share your #happybecause statement below.