3. Communication

AT Considerations for ASD Wikispace links:

Receptive Communication:

Expressive Communication:

Generic Suggestions:
  • To improve generalization to other settings, work on receptive and expressive communication goals in a variety of locations. Utilize naturally-occurring situations (e.g., walking in hallway; meals in cafeteria) to practice skills originally taught in a more controlled classroom setting.
  • To improve generalization to other people, staff must share the responsibility of communicating to and generating communication from students with autism. This requires an understanding from staff as to what strategies are in place, and knowledge of how they are properly implemented.
  • All persons working with the student (i.e., general education teacher, special education teacher, paraprofessional) should use the agreed upon communication strategies with the student. Consistency is important for acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of communication skills.

Communicating with Students:
  • Give warnings before activities are ending or transitions are about to occur, especially when transitions are from preferred activities to non-preferred ones. Give multiple warnings to allow the student to prepare for the change. Utilize visuals, such as a clock or timer (with sound or visual only - time timer). Can also use visual countdown by having numbers that are crossed off as time approaches
  • Use "forewarning cards," which give a visual representation of what will happen next (e.g., picture of activity)
  • Color-code transitions: green card = activity is available; yellow card = 1 minute left; red card = time to stop (pair verbal messages with these)
  • Some research suggests that lengthier time periods (10-15 seconds or more) should be allowed to allow students with autism to process communication attempts from others. For some students this may be an effective strategy, and should be continued if student responses to staff communication increase. However, other research suggests that a much smaller latency should be used (the time between the communication of others and the student's response), and that prompts should be utilized if responding does not occur within 3-5 seconds. If prompts are used, regardless of the latency allowed, there should be a plan for fading those prompts over time as responding improves.
  • Use gestures and visual supports during lectures to increase attention and comprehension
  • Develop verbal "cues" that bridge the gap between prompting the exact response desired ("Say, Open drink please"), an errorless strategy often used as a skill is being required, and independent responding from the student. For example, saying "What do you need?" or "What do you need to ask me?"
  • Stimulus generalization (responding similarly when given varying stimuli). In this case the "stimuli" are the communcations attempts made by others (e.g., staff). To increase generalization, these should be varied somewhat when communicating with students with autism. Using a restricted range of communication with the student may result in him/her only responding when those specific words/phrases are used. Example: When teaching requesting, using responses like "What do you want?" "What do you need?" and "What would you like?" (all of which are designed to generate a similar response by the student). Example: "What's going on?" "How are you doing?" "What are you up to?" are phrases used in social interactions that result in similar responses by the listener.
  • Teach the student to respond to stimuli other than verbal instructions. For example, in situations where talking may not be appropriate (e.g., in library, assemblies, when others are speaking), use gestures (finger to mouth) or images ("quiet" icon) in place

Student Communication for behavior and environment management:
  • Skip cards: Student allowed to skip an activity Note: provide a limited number of these daily, then reduce over time as student is more successful. The process of selecting the cards will have to be taught. It can involve gesturing to an icon on the student's desk, or giving an actual card to the teacher
    • Determine how many will be provided each day to the student. This should be based on the frequency of problem behavior related to task avoidance. You can make them available all at once, meaning the student could potentially use them all early in the school day. Another option is to spread them out during the day, such as 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. These numbers can be reduced over time as the student is more successful.
    • When first introduced, the student may have to be prompted to use the cards (e.g., gesture or vocally "Do you want to use a skip card?").
    • Prompt the student to use the card BEFORE problem behavior occurs. There may be a typical "chain" of behaviors that increase in severity, such as whining or complaining, followed by destroying the work materials. Once the behavior escalates (tantrum, property destruction, running away, etc.), there is a risk in prompting the student to use it. Why? Because the reward of skipping the activity occurred just after the problem behavior instead of the appropriate behavior of using the card (replacement behavior for non-compliance), so in the future the student may continue to engage in problem behaviors initially in lieu of the card.

  • Break cards: Similar concept as the skip card, but in this case the student is allowed to take a temporary break from an activity, but must finish it when the designated time has passed (3-5 minutes usually).
    • Similar suggestions as with skip cards (see above)
    • Because the student will have to return to the task at some point, give multiple warnings that the break is ending.
    • For students with frequent non-compliance, consider occasionally rewarding the student with an additional break card when he/she transitions back to work without problem behavior.

  • Choice cards: With this intervention, provide a variety of options, but not too many

For Communication focusing on receptive and expressive language development, and intentional communication/engagement:
  • Utilize functional Core vocabulary- most commonly used words (for examples of core vocabulary lists see http://aac.unl.edu/vocabulary.html and http://www.vantatenhove.com/files/NLDAAC.pdf)Focus on vocabulary at the child's receptive language level http://www.vantatenhove.com/files/NLDAAC.pdf
  • For beginning communicators, using highly motivating vocabulary and vocabulary that can control the actions of others can be useful
  • Exercise cultural sensitivity in vocabulary selection
  • Teach selected vocabulary in natural communication environments and supplement with direct instruction as needed
  • Utilize aided language stimulation
  • Overtly teach pragmatic language skills in real communication contexts- especially initiation, commenting, repairing and terminating

For Communication involving participation objectives, engagement objectives, behavior management and environmental control:
  • Avoid generic messages until student can request a variety of items and activities (e.g., "more" and "yes/no" )
  • Use specific items and activities ("chip" vs "eat"; "bubbles" vs "play")
  • Use errorless teaching procedures (prompts) until student can more independently select what he/she wants. Consider offering the actual item/activity or a separate picture
  • There are two potential methods of addressing selection errors:
  • Provide the student with the item/activity selected, even when the student does not want it
  • Use error-correction techniques to teach student to select what is actually wanted

Functional Communication Training (FCT)
Texas Guide for Effective Teaching (TARGET) http://www.txautism.net/docs/Guide/Interventions/FunctionalCommunication.pdf
National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders: http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/content/functional-communication-training
  • Designed to reduce problem behaviors by replacing them with alternative, functional communication.
  • Must understand the "function" of the problem behavior you want to replace, so the functional alternative can be properly matched with it. For example, if a student is crying to gain access to an item on a shelf, the student can be taught to select an icon representing that item. This behavior must be taught and will require frequent prompting.
  • Response forms: verbal, gestural, selecting photographs/sketches, VOD

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
Texas Guide for Effective Teaching (TARGET): http://www.txautism.net/docs/Guide/Interventions/PECS.pdf
National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders: http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/content/picture-exchange-communication-system-pecs