Sunday, October 16, 2011

Communication Aids for Children with Autism

Many of the autistic students that I work with are non-verbal. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to be unable to express yourself, make choices, and have some control over your environment? I've found that using a simple communication aid in the therapy setting can make a huge difference for students with communication challenges. Initially, I tried using some of the commercially available picture communication cards, but some students didn't quite seem to understand the meanings of the drawings, so I decided to try actual photographs. (A fellow blogger @ shared that what I'm using is officially called a "choice board" in the SLP literature!)

For example, when a student comes to therapy and our first activity is going to be sensory-based, I will show them the following communication aid:

This is just a file folder cut in half that has been laminated. I took pictures of the therapy ball, the sit-n-spin, and the bolster swing and laminated them as well. There are three blue rectangles at the top of the page and one red rectangle at the bottom of the page. I used velcro to attach the pictures to the file folder. When I initially present the communication aid, all three pictures are at the top of the page. I ask the student, "what do you want to do?"

Typically, when I try this with a student that has never used the system before, the student will run to the actual item and touch it or gesture that this is what they want to do.  Of course that is great, because the student is communicating in a functional way, but since I'm wanting to teach them to use the communication system, I'll take the students hand and guide them in moving the card for their selected activity to the bottom square. I also add a verbal component, such as, "good, you want the sit-n-spin," as I'm moving the card. It usually doesn't take long for the student to catch many instances after only one demonstration, students will start using the cards to make selections.

When teaching a child to use a communication system such as this, I always start with activities that the child prefers. Once the student has an understanding of how to use the system, I'll have the student choose from tasks that he may not be as crazy about, such as writing, lacing, and cutting. This gives the student some control over the environment by giving him a choice, even if it's from the lesser of three evils! It is so exciting to see a student making choices and communicating during therapy. Parents can use a system similar to this so that a child can make some choices at home, such as what to eat for dinner. If you haven't already, I hope you'll give a communication aid such as this a try. All you need is a camera, a file folder, a marker, velcro and a laminating machine (Kinkos laminates for a small fee)! If you have questions, just leave a comment...I'll be glad to help out!

For more great strategies for teaching kids with autism, click here to go to Amazon and order this is a wonderful resource! 


  1. This is great! I love when communication becomes a priority for more than SLP's. You made what is called a 'choice board' in speech-language and AAC literature. Choice boards are a great way of introducing an expressive communication system. There are many great resources to help expand supports used in an OT clinic. Linda Hodgdon has a great website called This website is for parents and professionals. If you are interested in a more academic publication , try the book Visual Language in Autism by Shane and Karp-Weiss 2008. There is so much more as well but this is definitely a good beginning without mentioning all of the potential of the iPad for expressive, receptive, and organizational visual supports. I have worked and written with some great OT's and am in the process of finishing up a chapter in a book for OT's on this topic.

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