Haring Center

March 25, 2019

On Working with Young Children with ASD and Complex Communication Needs

Haring Center Researcher Discusses Effective Strategies

Technology has helped further advance the field of early childhood education.

Haring Center researcher Ariane Gauvreau, Ph.D., BCBA-D recently spoke about the benefits and challenges of the use of technology to teach communication skills to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Haring Center researchers Ilene Schwartz, Ph D, BCBA-D Gauvreau and Katy Bateman, Ph.D., BCBA-D recently teamed up to contribute a chapter on the subject for a new text book titled Interventions for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Complex Communication Needs.

“New technologie like tablets and smart phones are readily accessible and available, but we want to avoid giving any child a device with an app on it that will support communication and then have that kid sitting in a room by themselves, pressing a button for something they want without getting the attention of someone who can help them get it” she said.

Pre-verbal or non-verbal children can learn to communicate in different ways, through using gestures, electronic devices, or picture symbols.  Progression through non-verbal skills and methods of communication may form the foundation needed for a child to communicate verbally down the road. However, there is more to learning communication skills than discovering the mechanism through which a child will communicate. In addition, children with autism often need individualized instruction to learn a communicative exchange, which is the act of initiating interaction with another person to meet their needs.

“One thing we wanted to highlight is that kids with autism often need some additional and unique support supplementing their communication due to the nature of autism,” Gauvreau said. “So we wanted to emphasize the importance of teaching the social communication aspect.”

While noting that apps can help children achieve communication milestones, the authors recommended the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) as a place to begin, then moving to a more high-tech device or tablet once the child has mastered this communication system. Communication using PECS involves a set of pictures that children select and exchange to communicate with others, embedding a communicative exchange in the process.

“The great thing about the PECS system is that it always involves another person,” she said. “You always have to go and get someone and make sure they are listening before you tell them what you want.”

The chapter further explores PECS and augmentative communication within inclusive settings, specifically in a study done at the Haring Center exploring PECS with peers where kids were successful in using the system to communicate with a friend.

A child’s vocabulary is also an element the authors noted as crucial to the successful use of communication systems such as PECS or apps. Gauvreau said that the vocabulary taught should meet the specific wants and needs of each child.

“Any child’s vocabulary within an app or PECS should be comprised of things they are interested in asking for and playing with – stuff that they like, things in their homes and communities. Not necessarily classroom materials. I see this in classrooms all over, where the picture symbols are of specific classroom activities or an art project. If I’m a kid who doesn’t like art or that activity, that symbol means nothing to me and I am probably not motivated to ask for it.”

If you’d like more information on this new chapter, email Ariane Gauvreau.