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Autism and the Use of

Symbol-Based
Communication
Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH
Easter Seals, Inc.
&
Lori Geist, MS, CCC-SLP
Mayer-Johnson/Widgit
Opportunities for this
Session
• Learn something new
• Reinforce previous learning
• Challenge your beliefs
Learning Objectives
• Identify strategies for teaching the use
of symbols for communication to
individuals with autism.

• Describe the relationship between


challenging behaviors and
communication.

• Identify strategies for using symbols to


support transitions and requesting for
individuals with autism.
Agenda
• Introduction

• Symbol use for


– communication requests
– challenging behavior
– following a schedule and transitioning
between activities
• Question and Discussion
300,000 Children in U.S. Found to Have Autism
Published: May 5, 2006

On Autism's Cause, It's Parents vs. Research


Published: June 25, 2005

How Young Is Too Young To Diagnose Autism?


Published: June 9, 2005
Prevalence: United States
Number of Children with
Autism Served Under IDEA,
Part B, 1991-92 to 1998-99, 6-
60,000 21 years

50,000
Number of Children

40,000

30,000

20,000

10,000

0
91-92 92-93 93-94 94-95 95-96 96-97 97-98 98-99
(n=27) (n=49) (n=51) (n=52) (n=52) (N=52) (n=52) (n=52)
School Years
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs,
Data Analysis System (DANS)
About
Symbols
• Real objects

• Environmental signage

• Photos and illustrations

• Simple line drawings


Hierarchy of Symbols

• Actual Objects
• Photographs
• Line Drawings
• Traditional Orthography

(Mirenda and Locke, 1989)


Transparency of Symbols
• Many symbols are transparent and easily recognized

• Many symbols will need to be learned, but the representation


is clear and easily understood with instruction

• Higher levels of symbols require more teaching


Simple Line
Drawings

Picture Communication Symbols (PCS)


• Most extensively used in North
America
• Over 10,000 symbols available using
Boardmaker
Simple Line
Drawings

Widgit Literacy Symbols (WLS)


• Designed with a focus on literacy
• Over 8,000 symbols available from
Widgit Software
Teaching Symbol Use

• Aided language modeling


– Successfully increased the comprehension
and production of symbol-based
communication with preschoolers.
» (Drager, Postal, Carrolus, Castellano, Gagliano, &
Glynn, 2006

• Pairing verbal commands with symbols


– increased generalization and maintenance.
» (Preis, 2006)
Symbols and
Communication Requests
• The Picture Exchange Communication
System (PECS)
» (Bondy & Frost, 1994)
Symbols and
Communication Requests
• Used symbol-based communication
for an adult with autism to
conditionally request help.
» (Reichle et al, 2005)
Symbols and
Communication Requests
• Symbols promoted peer interaction
in preschool children with autism.
» (Johnston, Nelson, Evans, Palazolo, 2003)
Symbols and
Communication Requests
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior

• Behavior significantly impacts an


individual’s ability to fully access
their learning environment and
community.

• Behavior is communication.
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior
• Providing AAC supports to meet
communication needs, which works
towards extinguishing inappropriate
behaviors, is an appropriate focus
for speech and language
intervention
» (Bopp, Brown, & Mirenda, 2004).
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior
• Natural aided language promotes
instructional understanding
» Cafiero (2001)
• Natural aided language video
Replication of Choice
Board

(Adapted from Cafiero, 2001)


Replication of Breakfast
Board

(Adapted from Cafiero, 2001)


Symbols and Challenging
Behavior

(Cafiero, 2001)
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior

(Cafiero, 2001)
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior
• Preschool students used symbol-based
communication to request preferred
activities within the typical classroom
routine

• Decrease in highly aggressive behavior

• increase in engagement in activities.


» (Frea, Arnold, & Vittimberga, 2001).
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior
• Functional communication training
has a long-history of success for
individuals with autism (Mirenda,
1997).
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior
• The individual is doing (aberrant
behavior) to communicate
(function).
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior
• The individual is Hitting to
communicate Escape.
Symbols and
Challenging Behavior
Individual could use a break card
instead of hitting to communicate
escape.
Symbols and
Supporting Transition
• Picture book promoted on-task
behavior with high-functioning
school-aged students with autism.
» (Bryan & Gast, 2000)
Symbols and Supporting
Transition
• Visual schedule increased on-task
behavior for individuals who were
perceived to have limited skills.
» (Macduff, et al, 1993)
Symbols and Supporting
Transition
Symbols and
Supporting Transition
Learning Objectives
• Identify strategies for teaching the use of
symbols for communication to students
with autism.

• Describe the relationship between


challenging behaviors and
communication.

• Identify strategies for using symbols to


support transitions and requesting for
students with autism.
Contact information

Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH


pwright@easterseals.com
www.easterseals.com

Lori Geist, MS, CCC-SLP


lori@mayer-johnson.com
www.mayer-johnson.com