Listed below are descriptions of several "mid" tech devices that can be used by children with autism to enhance specific skill areas. Most of these devices are very appealing to these children and provide them with motivation to participate and focus on various skills and classroom activities successfully. These devices are called Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs). Any type of visual representation system can be placed on simple voice output devices for children to access by a simple push of a "button". Most of these devices are battery operated and are easy to operate for recording messages. It is important to note that these devices were created for use as an augmentative means to expressively communicate. However, for many children with autism, as noted above, these devices are very appealing and motivating, and can be used in numerous ways to focus attention on various skill areas, as well as increase classroom participation, focus and communication. The following list identifies a number of such VOCAs mid tech devices.

"Language Master"

Language Master: The Language Master is a "mid" tech piece of equipment that has been used for more than 20 years (25). The Language Master is an electronic device about the size of an old tape recorder. The cards, which are approximately 3" by 8" with a "recordable strip" across the bottom, are played "through" the Language Master. A short verbal message can be recorded on each card. The cards are also big enough to include corresponding visual cues (e.g., words, PCS, photos) of the recorded message.

Tape recorder: Any easily operated tape recorder can be effective in addressing various skill areas in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs) can be used to develop the following groups of skills for children with autism: Language Comprehension Skills, Expressive Communication Skills, Social Skills, Attending Skills, Organization Skills and Academic Skills. The following is a discussion of these skill areas and the possible use of specific VOCAs to help children with autism function more independently.

Language Comprehension Skills:

Example: A child with autism experiences great difficulty following the 3 step sequence to complete his "job", which is to prepare for snack time. The child requires continual verbal and physical prompting from an adult to attend to the task - as the child typically runs around the room - and then to complete each step of the task. The 3 steps of the task are recorded on the Talk Pad, with the 4th message telling the child to "Sit in chair". Visual cues, corresponding with each verbal message, are placed on top of each "button" on the Talk Pad with Velcro. The child is extremely motivated to "push the buttons" on this device and, following the initial teaching, is now able to independently do his "job" for snack time.

Espressive Communication Skills:

"Big Mac"

Example: Use of the Big Mack for a child to request highly desired sensory activities, such as "chase me"; "tickle me"; "hug me"; "listen to music".

The use of VOCAs as communication devices are not always effective for all children with autism. Some children find the VOCAs so overly motivating and stimulating that they do not become effective communication devices. The child may repeatedly push down the button(s) on the device for the self-motivation that he receives from the auditory feedback, rather than for the cause/effect of the communicative message. In this case, the VOCAs can still be used with the child, since they are clearly motivating, but in a different manner. For example, they may be used to focus attention on various skill areas, as well as increase classroom participation. In this case, the child's communication needs may be more effectively addressed through the use of "low" tech expressive communication strategies.

A research study evaluating the use of VOCAs by children with autism revealed the following (22):

  • Young children with autism can learn to use VOCAs to effectively communicate various language functions (i.e., request, answer yes/no questions, make social comments);
  • VOCA use generalized across settings;
  • Use of VOCAs increased the child's use of gestures, words and vocalizations.
  • Communication partner interactions increased when VOCAs were used.

Example: At the end of a child's activity-schedule-book is a Language Master card with a picture of bubbles glued on and the written words, "I want bubbles". The child places the card in the Language Master and then takes the card and gives it to someone while repeating the utterance.