Expressive Communication Skills:

"Low-tech" strategies designed to focus on a child's expressive communication skills include the following:
Example: Placemat communication board to be used during snacks and meals with PCS around the edge of the placemat; communication board created for the "play" area.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): The child approaches and gives a picture of a desired item (photo, PCS, object, etc.) to a communicative partner in exchange for that item (7). The use of this type of communication system provides the child with a way to communicate and most importantly, teaches the child to spontaneously initiate a functional communicative exchange (7).

Numerous adaptations can be made when using a PECS program to meet the individual needs of a child. For example, placing the visual representation system on frozen juice can lids or other hard discs or squares (counter top samples) allows the visual representation system to become more prominent to the child by giving him more tactile input (weight and hardness). He may tend to "crumple" up lightweight paper type items (pictures on plain paper) as a possible sensory need.

Example: The following topics are illustrated individually on small 3" by 3" laminated cards using both PCS and written words. They are either attached by a metal ring in the corner (for the child to hook on a belt loop) or placed in a small "communication wallet" to be kept in his pocket. The topics include "What did you do over the weekend"? "What is your favorite movie?" "Do you have any pets?" "What books do you like to read?"

Social Skills:

Children with autism need to be directly taught various social skills in one-to-one and/or small group settings. Numerous low-tech strategies can be used for this purpose. Social skills training will also be needed to consider the child's possible difficulties in generalizing this information different social situations, which may be supported through the following visual strategies:

The repetitious "reading" of the Social Story, when the child is calm, is what leads to the success of this strategy. Two 3-ring binders of identical Social Stories, kept in page protectors, could be made, one for home and one for school, so the child can read them at his leisure. This strategy has proven to be very successful for many students in learning to recognize, interpret and interact appropriately in different social situations.

A software program from Slater Software Company (23) which converts text to a graphic symbol, is called "Picture It",. This software program is ideal for adding line drawing graphics above written words to increase the child's understanding of Social Stories.

Example: A child has difficulty asking peers if he can join in their "ball-tag" game at recess. He typically runs in the midst of the game, takes the ball and then runs away. The script would read: Joey - "Hi guys. Can I play 'ball-tag' with you?" Guys - "Sure you can, Joey, but you will have to wait over there until it's your turn to throw the ball." Joey - "O.K. I'll wait until you tell me it's my turn."
Use of social scripts also readily helps in role playing these various social situations with peers, puppets, etc. Social scripts can also be used to visually, and thus clearly indicate what went "wrong" in a social situation.

Example: Place the "wait" card on the computer monitor while waiting for the computer or a program to boot up; have the child hold the "wait" card while waiting in line.

"Wait" Card
  • "Help" cards: "Help" cards are used to teach the child the abstract concept of raising his hand in order to indicate that he needs help. Initially it is necessary to provide a concrete reason for the child to raise his hand by using the "help" card. An "I need help" visual representation (PCS, photograph, written word - taped to a Popsicle stick, or object) is used for the child to raise up in the air to indicate that he needs help. The item that he raises in the air can gradually be eliminated until the child is readily raising only his hand to seek assistance.

Example: Library social rules cards: "I will sit at a table with at least one other student". "I will discuss my book with one other student". "I will discuss another student's book".

Attending skills:

The visual symbols "go", "almost done" and "stop" can also be used to increase a child's attending skills. Data will need to be initially obtained to get a general idea of how long a child attends to a particular task.

Example: The child attends to a particular task for approximately 45 seconds and then throws all of his materials to indicate that he is "all done". To teach the significance of the "go" , "almost done" and "stop" cards, the "go" card is given at the start of the activity, the "almost done" card is given after approximately 30 seconds (as we already know the child will throw the materials after 45 seconds) and the "stop" card is given at approximately 40 seconds, with the activity immediately ceasing. It is critical to initially use the cards to "stop" the activity prior to the child throwing the materials, so that the child realizes the significance of the cards in relaying the messages of being "almost done" and "stopping". Gradually, the length of time for giving the child the "almost done" card and the "stop" card is increased, thus increasing the child's attending skills. It is important to note that the "almost done" card is always given to the child within a short time frame of giving him the "stop" card. Consistency is important in using these cards to increase the child's attention.