At this time it is believed that autism is a developmental disability with multiple causes (Batshaw & Perret, 1992). As there are no Listening.jpgspecific assessments for autism, the diagnosis of this disorder is usually based on characteristics which are exhibited by the individual (in relation to their developmental level). Of the common characteristics displayed by individuals with autism (a lack of social-communicative skills, engagement in repetitive behaviors, the demand for sameness, abnormal preoccupation with specific objects, self injurious and/or aggressive behaviors, and language delays), a number of authors support the idea that core underlying problems with communication are the primary disability of individuals with autism and other behavioral problems are secondary symptoms (Koegel & Koegel, 1995).

Both the expressive and receptive communication impairments exhibited by individuals with autism can be severe. We want to focus on receptive communication apart from expressive communication because of its overall impact on a student’s learning, social interaction and behavior.

Be sure to visit R4ATand Autism wikispace for additional explanations of strategies to support receptive communication problems for individuals with ASD.

No Tech Tools and Strategies

  • slowing down the rate of speech or speaking more softly to student
  • significantly reducing the number of repetitions of a direction or request may help the student with ASD respond appropriately
  • waiting 10-15 seconds to give the student with ASD a chance to process the request and formulate a response
  • providing student with verbal cue such as "What do you need to ask?" and "What do you want to tell me?" and then WAIT for response
  • teaching others in student's environments to utilize these same strategies as needed for a student


Lite Tech Tools and Strategies


A variety of “low” tech strategies can be used to increase a student’s understanding of his or her environment and the expectations of that environment. Many skill areas can be addressed through a focus on increasing receptive communication and comprehension skills. Organization, attending, self-help, following directions, following rules, modifying behavior and most importantly, increasing levels of independence can all be achieved through a more productive focus on receptive communication. Once a successful mode of visual representation (object, photo, blackline drawing, text,etc.) is determined within a specific context, the following strategies can then be utilized to provide the student with greater information, thus increasing his or her comprehension of the world. Consequently, the occurrence of challenging behaviors will markedly decrease.

  • Schedules:consistent daily use of an individual visual schedule may help to increase a student’s organizational skills and independent functioning as well as decrease inappropriate behaviors due to changes in routine or not knowing what is expected in a particular environment.
    • daily schedules outline the activities of the entire day. You can choose from a variety of methods to present visual schedules (e.g. object schedule, picture symbols in three ring binders, picture schedules on clipboards or magnetic Picture_Schedule.jpgfolders, schedules on file folder, dry erase boards, etc.). The unique needs of the individual who will be using the schedule should be considered in its design.
      • a visual daily schedule will provide the student with the following information:
        1. What event/activity is occurring in the present
        2. What activity/situation will be occurring next
        3. How many activities there are in a given time period
        4. An alert to any modifications in the typical routine that may occur
      • all visual schedules are a “first-then” strategy; that is, “first you do _, then you do _”… It is important for the student to indicate that he or she has completed a scheduled activity, for example, by crossing out or checking off, or by placing the scheduled activity object/photo/black line drawing in a “finished” envelope. A visual schedule is important because the student can “check” it as many times as he or she needs to feel reassured about what is happening during the day.
First_Then_schedule.png
      • a variety of social interactions may be included into the individual’s daily schedule (e.g. showing completed work to a teacher for social reinforcement), as well as building in a balance of “high stress” (non-preferred) and “low stress” (preferred) activities. “Break time” or “quiet time” can also be visually scheduled at various times throughout the day as needed for the individual student.
    • specific activity schedules can also be created to assist an individual through a particularly abstract or challenging activity. Activity_Sequence.jpg
      • can be incorporated as needed into any aspect of the student’s day.
        • a mini-schedule of the activities to take place in speech/language therapy could be developed and used in the same manner as the student’s daily visual schedule.
      • each schedule for each activity is on a separate card or piece of paper and addresses only the specific steps of that one activity.
    • calendars(home/school): use of a weekly/monthly calendar at both home and school can provide the student with important information regarding coming events/activities, rather than relying on auditory information. Any time a student asks when a particular event will occur, he or she can easily be referred to the visual calendar (e.g., class field trips, “No School Day”, lunch at McDonald's, etc.).
      • calendars can also be used in another way to give the student important information regarding when he will be attending school and when he will be at home, which is particularly helpful for “days off” from school during the typical school week. A regular monthly calendar is used. Draw a little “school” on each day that the student change_schedule.pngwill be at school and a little “house” on each day that the student will be at home. Many parents put these monthly calendars on the refrigerator and reference them daily with their child by crossing off a completed day and noting where he or she will be going (or staying) tomorrow.
      • use of a visual calendar can also be helpful in assisting the individual in understanding when regularly scheduled events may not occur.
  • Universal “No”: Use of the universal “no” symbol (red circle with a line drawn through it) has proven to be effective in visually communicating the very abstract concept of “no” for individuals with ASD. Use of the universal “no” symbol can assist the individual in visually comprehending the following:
      • “Stop - don’t do what you are doing”: (e.g., to communicate “no hitting” by placing the universal “no” over a picture communication symbol of “hit”).
      • “That is not a choice right now”: (e.g., if student hands another person a PCS of a desired item or activity that is not an option at that particular time, a red dry erase marker can be used to place a universal “no” on the PCS to indicate, “no _, not now”).
      • “You are not permitted”: (e.g., placement of a large universal “no” on doors has been shown to stop some students from running out of the door).
      • “Nonexistence”: (e.g. placement of the universal “no” on a scheduled activity to acknowledge that, although the activity typically occurs at this time/day, it will not be occurring today).
      • This Universal No_overhead.pdf can be printed on overhead plastic and cut apart to use on calendars and schedule
  • Lightning bolt/Change symbol: Just as the universal “no” symbol is used to indicate that something is not going to Lightning.jpghappen, a lightning bolt can be used to indicate that something new or unusual is going to happen (e.g., an assembly, a field trip, etc.). Place the lightning bolt next to the new event on the daily schedule.
  • Directions: Low-tech strategies to supply visual information may increase the student’s comprehension of what is expected of him or her when compared with following only auditory directions. Visual directions help to gain, maintain, and refocus a student’s attention as well as to help ensure that he or she understands complete instructions that will thereby reduce the amount of support needed.
    • use a dry erase board or white board: Memo Board Contact Paper (typically available where Contact Paper is sold or from Beacon Ridge) can be used to cover part of a notebook or schedule system that can then be used to write/draw various visual directions as they are given auditorally (e.g., take out your journals; write three sentences about your weekend; raise your hand when you are finished).
    • sequential step directions for specific tasks/activities (e.g., brushing teeth, making lunch, vacuuming, folding towels, setting the table, checking out books from the library, cooking, “Homework Directions”, “School Morning Directions”, etc.) can be useful in allowing the student with ASD to better comprehend the task.
      • School “morning directions” card example: upon arrival at school, Chris is given a “morning directions” card to assist her in completing a visual list of instructions prior to sitting at her desk and beginning the day. The card is laminated and a wet-erase marker (water color markers for overhead transparencies work best) is attached by a string. These directions are located by Chris’s coat hook so that after hanging up her coat and backpack, she can take the card and begin the “morning directions.” Chris checks off each item upon completion (e.g., put reading book in tub; put attendance stick in box; put lunch ticket in hot/cold box; put “morning directions” card away; sit at desk).
      • Brushing teeth example: Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) representing each sequential step in this task are placed on a Velcro strip positioned directly above the sink (in front of the student). As the individual completes each step of the task, he or she pulls off the PCS representing the step that has been completed and places it in an “all done” envelope.
      • Library example: A small set of PCS representing the steps necessary to complete the library routine are gathered. Symbols include choosing a book, “checking” the book out, sitting at a table and reading the book, and then walking back to class. These symbols are attached to a metal ring, which can easily be kept in the student’s pocket or attached to a belt loop or binder for easy step-by-step reference when going to the library.
      • Setting table example: Photographs of each sequential step for setting the table are placed in a small photo album, accompanied by the written direction. The last page should indicate something desirable for the individual to do upon completion of this task, such as playing with the Koosh ball for two minutes. The student is taught to turn each page as he or she has completed each step.
    • Activity Termination Signals: For individuals who need very explicit forewarnings regarding when an activity will stop or end, the use of “go”, “almost done” and “stop” cards have proven to be effective in giving the individual thisActivity_Termination_Signal.jpg
      important information. These cards are particularly useful for activities that do not have clear endings, such as some computer games, video games, drawing, etc. Each card is a large colored circle with “go” as green, “almost done” as yellow, and “stop” as red, with the written word printed in large letters in the center of the colored circle. When the student begins an activity, the “go” card is placed on his desk or at the computer table and is accompanied by a verbal message to “go” or “start.” When there are approximately 1-2 minutes left of the activity, the “almost done” yellow circle is placed in front of the student, again accompanied by a verbal message. When it is time to terminate the activity, the “stop” circle is placed in front of the student with the verbal message indicating that it is time to stop. Activity_Termination_Signal.pdf Download this example to print to tag board and laminate.

Mid Tech Tools and Strategies

  • One-Message Speech Generating Devices: One-message devices are an easy and inexpensive way to provide receptive language input. When you mount a one-message device by the classroom door, program it with “time to line up," place the appropriate picture symbol (photo or object paired with the text of “line up”) on it, and prompt the student to activate it when it’s time to line, the student is learning the meaning of the message as well as the photo/symbol/word combination.
    • BIGmack, LITTLEmack and Talking Brix from Ablenet
    • Put-em-Around, Big Talk and Small Talk from Enabling Devices
    • Chipper from Adaptivation
    • Don't forget talking keychains and talking pictures frames from such places as Radio Shack or Wal Mart. These retailers might not carry them online. Use your favorite search engine or look at Amazon for deals on these recordable devices.
  • Multiple-Message Speech Generating Devices: these devices can be programmed for one to four step directions. The individual presses the buttons and thus completes the sequence of steps. Some devices have locations for individual messages and others allow you to record a sequence in one location. An appropriate visual representation system, corresponding with each verbal message, should be placed on top of each “button” on the communication device with Velcro.
    • Talk 4 and Talk 8 from Enabling Devices
    • Partner Plus/Four or Partner/Plus Stepper at AMDI
    • Talking Photo Albums can often be found at Wal Mart and Target as well as Augmentative Communication Inc.
    • The VoicePod from Attainmentis an inexpensive digital recording and playback system ideal for photos, language cards and communication symbols. It has 36 reusable, two-sided sleeves, each with an ID strip to access recordings, giving you up to 72 messages.
    • Check your closets and shelves for the Language Master from Bell and Howell. If you don't find one, they are now being made by Caliphoneand are called Card Masters. This good old stand-by can still be used for single and multiple messages. Additionally, the student can not only listen to messages but record his or her own voice simply and easily.

High Tech Tools and Strategies

  • videotapes/DVDs: highly motivating and interesting for many students with ASD. Because of this, they are often very attentive to videotapes/DVDs. Many individuals with ASD seem to enjoy repetitive viewing of videos due to the “predictability” of the information given; that is, knowing what’s coming up next. The use of this medium, therefore, can serve as an excellent tool to teach a variety of skills to students with ASD who show a particular interest in this piece of technology.
    • receptive vocabulary skills to be taught via videotape/DVD
      • learning the names of common everyday objects such as toys, names of familiar people, animals, etc.
      • simply increasing receptive vocabulary
      • directions to complete various routines (e.g., making the bed, setting the table, getting dressed, going to the library, etc.)
    • Flip camcorder - an easy, fun and inexpensive tool to create almost immediate videos of school and home routines. And, yes, they are no longer being manufactured, but they will be supported for a while longer. And they are such a handy tool!
  • computer software
    • IntelliTools Classroom Suite
      • auditory and visual support
      • quizzes using a cloze format
    • Boardmaker Studio
      • auditory and visual support
      • visual scene templates
      • recording and playback of speech
    • picture-supported texts and directions
      • Picture It and Pix Writer by Sun Castle Technology
      • Clicker 6 by Crick Software
      • Boardmaker v.6, Boardmaker Plus! or Communicate: SymWriter by Mayer-Johnson
      • Photos from Picture This by Silver Lining Multimediacan increase receptive language skills in addition to literacy and expressive language skills. Different software will appeal to different students. Exploring them can help determine which ones are appealing and also teach the desired concepts.