HERNDON, Va. – On a humid morning this past summer, three college-age boys walked to their local river to make mud together for an eco-friendly art project.

Mixing dirt and water using sticks, and pushing a paint roller back and forth in the slimy liquid, they practiced a skill they want to improve: movement. By filling in stencils, the boys transformed their motions into communication, even though they weren't speaking.

Turning physical movements into speech can be an obstacle for people with autism and sensory disorders. These conditions affect coordination and make it hard to perform learned motions – even ones as seemingly small as the movements people need to speak.

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Alternative communication methods such as spelling have become everyday aspects of life for students at Growing Kids Therapy Center in suburban Washington.

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