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Non-verbal children with autism?

2015

Hi,

I am a second year student and in my practicum placement the majority of the children I work with have various degrees of Autism Spectrum Disorder. One student I work with often, is quite low functioning on the autism spectrum. She is ten years old and has a lot of rituals and rigid behaviours. She is non-verbal and is currently using an i-pad with a special program that can be used to communicate with others, but she does not use it unless we initiate it and prompt her multiple times. She also does not like anyone else touching the i-pad. The device is becoming more of a hindrance than a help and causing more rigid behaviours and distractions. The speech pathologist, at the school, suggested going back to using a simpler picture system that she used to use when she was younger. We have not yet made the change, but I am also interested in other ways that I can help her communicate better. You can tell that she could progress so much further than where she currently is. She is very receptive but we have trouble measuring any progress and outward responses. In our teaching, we also use lots of methods such as modeling and breaking down the sounds of words etc. So far, there has been little to no progress and we are hoping that the change in communication devices will help her learn better.

I was curious about other’s experiences with non-verbal children with autism. Have you found that simpler is better? I am also curious hearing about any experiences and how it has worked to teach non-verbal children with autism, sign language.

Thank you,

Jasmine
...

Hi Jasmine,

I have also used many IPad communication tools with students such as Proloquo2go that work very well for students with an ASD but as you mention, these programs do not work for every person. I had a former student who used the IPad and this communication tool as a game instead of a means to ask questions/communicate her feelings and we ended up switching her to PECS (Picture Exchange Communication Systems) visuals that worked much better for her.

I think modeling is an excellent tool when finding the type of communication and expression that works best for a child with ASD. In my experience, I did take levels 101 & 102 ASL courses in University so I have been able to use this with my students. If you learn some of the basic signs yourself (want, feel, need) than you can start modeling ASL with her student to see if this works best for her. Sometimes even facial modeling (understanding the emotions and exaggerating them on your face) can work for students with an ASD. I have one student who uses gestures, pointing and facial expressions to let us know what he's thinking, feeling or needing. I also have a different student with ASD who prefers a small white board on his desk where we write his social stories and schedule every day. He prefers adding comments or questions on this white board instead of verbal or PECS communication. Again, his verbal comprehension and verbal skills are quite low, but his cognitive understanding and abilities are high.

Regards,

Yvonne Bristow
...

Hi Jasmine. Great question. Simpler is almost always better. If you have ideas that you think might work - give them a try! Technology is great, but is only a tool. It sounds like you have some ideas and I encourage you to give them a go!

James Freeman
...

Look up verbal behaviour/establishing operations ABA based methods of teaching verbal language.

There is a complex method in which to appropriately teach an individual with ASD verbal language but it can be done. I have never been a fan of pro-lo-qo to go on the iPad.
I've worked with kids who have used pecs and later picked up full sentences and will initiate interaction spontaneously.

On child came to my house, said trick or treat, walked in the door, looked around the room and asked me 'the elephants are for baby Chelsea'.

There were elephants on my daughters high chair. I assume her mom told her my baby's name was Chelsea. But seeing the elephants on the chair was totally spontaneous as she had never been to my house before.

I will say though that you need to pick one method and follow it through.

Flip flopping with methods (iPad, pecs, oral, sign) will frustrate the heck out of the child and may end up with reverse effects.

Good luck

Lisa Penner
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