ASD Tip of the Month

2017-2018 Archive

Support Communication with AAC


Communication challenges are common for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Often times, parents and caregivers are concerned that use of an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device may prevent speech development. However, research has proven the opposite. Some students benefit from the instantaneous feedback provided by a voice output device which provides constant modeling of spoken words, phrases and sentences. For those who have limited verbal skills or who struggle with typical communication exchanges, an AAC system may help. AAC encompasses a wide range of supports from no-tech and low-tech options such as sign language and picture symbols to high-tech speech generating devices.

To learn more about AAC, visit the following OCALI resources: AT and AEM Center, Assistive Technology Internet Modules (ATIM) and OCALI lending library, which includes approximately 50 AAC devices and numerous books.

In addition, explore the OCALI online feature-matching tool, Student Inventory for Technology Supports (SIFTS), located on the AT and AEM Center and which includes a comprehensive domain about communication. Use this tool to identify necessary features of an AAC device.

Develop a Protocol to Gain Attention and Give Information


Individuals with ASD may be challenged with looking at others, responding to their name and then following a direction/instruction. A straightforward way to support someone is by making sure that all persons providing information are following the same protocol when interacting with the individual. Don't be reluctant to implement a simple set of steps that will help everyone utilize a consistent approach to gaining attention and giving information. The protocol should include positioning yourself at the individual's eye level, saying their name, giving them a direction/instruction, and then pausing for a response.

For more information on gaining attention, participate in the Autism Certification Center for real life, practical based, evidenced-based interventions.

Manage the Communication Environment


Many individuals with ASD have sensory processing differences that may contribute to their communication challenges. Sensory processing can affect their ability to take in verbal input from one or more persons. In the classroom, work or home environment only one person should be talking to the individual. That person should be aware of background noise(s) and others speaking at the same time even if not directed to the individual with ASD. To ensure that the individual has every opportunity to listen and respond, the person speaking should manage the communication environment.

To learn more information about verbal communication and sensory processing, visit the OCALI lending library resources such as I like Birthdays... It's the Parties I'm not sure about by L. Renke

Use Choice Making to Enhance Communication


Some individuals with ASD struggle with understanding how to make a choice. Difficulty making choices reduces their participation in a variety of environments. The ability to make a choice helps to reduce undesirable behaviors, increase motivation and provide personal freedom. Provide choices for food, leisure, academics, job activities, daily living skills, etc. using words, visual supports and/or other modes of assistive technology.

For more information on choice making, visit the OCALI lending library resources such as More than Words: Helping Parents Promote Communication and Social Skills in Children with Autism by F. Sussman

Support Communication by Using "What to do Words"


Interpreting abstract ideas and concepts is frequently difficult for individuals with ASD. One way to help them is to restructure abstract ideas by adding concrete information. For example, instead of asking 'how do you feel?', you could say “You look happy. You have a big smile on your face. Tell me what makes you happy today?” Modeling directives, sometimes referred to as “what to do words”, provides concrete information on how to engage in social communication.

To learn more about how to use concrete “what to do” language, visit the OCALI website OCALI lending library and read the book Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant

All Behavior is Communication


Without an individualized, functional communication system, individuals with ASD may be unable to express what they want, think or feel. Hence, they may use an alternate behavior which may be misunderstood by those around them. Interpreting the behaviors as an attempt to communicate can help minimize the individual's feelings of frustration. For example, if the individual with ASD is hitting a peer, they may be attempting to engage the peer in a social interaction. Supporting them with using a sign, words, visual support or AAC device that expresses "let's play" will afford them with the opportunities to socialize. When behavioral concerns arise, conduct a functional behavior assessment (FBA). An FBA can be helpful in figuring out why the behavior might be happening and how to build a plan to address the individual's needs to communicate in a way understood by others.

To learn more, visit the Autism Internet Modules on Functional Behavior Assessment and Functional Communication Training.

Use Visuals to Support Communication


A picture is worth a thousand words! Individuals with ASD are often visual learners. It can be difficult for them to understand and follow spoken instructions. Once words are transmitted verbally, there is no remaining clue for the individual as to what was said. Pairing a word with a visual support provides information that remains after the spoken word. If someone does not understand or respond to what you are saying, write it, draw it or picture it out!

To learn more about visual supports, visit the "Visual Supports" Autism Internet Module at or explore the OCALI lending library for resources, such as Visual Supports for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Materials for Visual Learners by Bernard-Opitz and Hausler and Making Visual Supports Work in the Home and Community by Savner and Myles.  

'Wait, Wait, Wait'... Give Time to Communicate


Many individuals with ASD need time to process given information, figure out what is being asked of them and then prepare a response or action. The processing time will vary. Often time will more than likely be longer than expected. Adequate pause time between giving directions or asking questions will decrease the urgency of the individual to answer and allow time for them to process and then respond. Consider the 10 second rule by giving an individual at least 10 seconds before providing additional directions, asking or repeating questions.

To learn more about “wait time”, visit the OCALI lending library resources including Simple Strategies that Work! by Myles, Adreon and Gitlitz.

Reduce the Amount of Questions


Responding to a question can be challenging for an individual with ASD. Answering questions requires an understanding of 'wh' questions and how to accurately reply based on the question. For example, a “who” question requires a response about a person, a “where” question requires a response about a place, and a “what” question requires a response about an object, animal or action. Asking fewer questions and increasing the use of directions, such as “It is time to go to the bathroom,” “Time to go to science class,” or “Let's play” will provide concrete information that does not require the individual to determine the “who”, “what” or “where”.

For more information on reducing question asking, visit the OCALI lending library resource Enhancing Everyday Communication for Children with Disabilities by Sigafoos, J., Arthur-Kelly, M., & Butterfield, N.