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Friday 19 Jan 2018

Strategies and Solutions

Strategies to Support Successful Communication

There are several communication strategies that are commonly used for individuals with autism.  Research supports the fact that augmentative communication strategies have been successful in helping individuals with autism:

  • Increase functional communication skills
  • Decrease challenging behaviors
  • Increase language and literacy skills

While this list is not exhaustive, below are some examples of different strategies that can support communication for individuals with autism:

  1. Communication Devices
  2. Voice output devices provide both visual and auditory input and output to the individual with autism.  These devices include pictures and words that represent people, places and things. They can be used by individuals to convey feelings, make choices and increase language and literacy skills.

  3. Picture Exchange Communication System
  4. The Picture Exchange Communication system (PECS) is a behavioral approach that teaches self-initiated requesting by requiring individuals to exchange a picture/word/symbol for a desired item.  There are 6 phases to the PECS.

    For more information on PECS visit:

  5. Sign Language
  6. Sign language uses signs made with the hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body.  While this strategy has been found to be successful for some, sign language may be difficult for individuals with motor planning issues or when communicating with someone who does not know sign language.

    To review a research summary addressing how AAC has been used with individuals with autism, click on the following link:

Communication Partner Techniques to Support Interaction

There are many things that you can do to support communication for individuals with autism.  The way in which communication partners interact with a person who has communication challenges can have either a positive or negative impact on the successfulness of the interaction.  Communication partners and assistants play an important role in enhancing independence in communication and encouraging use of more complex language skills. The three techniques presented below can be used to expand and support the communication skills in individuals with autism in the home, school and community.

  1. Positive Communication Environments
  2. These are places or situations where communication of all types in encouraged.  A positive communication environment provides help when it is hard for the individual to say what they want to say.  In these environments, not much time is spent on the things that are difficult but identifies them and figures out how to address them.

    Why is it important?

    Positive communication environments are important because they help you keep your focus on the positive outcomes of communication for both the individual with autism and their partners.  In addition, positive communication environments encourage more and better communication, greater independence and deeper relationships.

    How do I do it?

    • Respond to all appropriate forms of communication
    • Provide support and/or help when needed
    • Focus on positive results
    • Find solutions to challenges

    To learn more about positive communication environments, click on the link below to watch a short video (11 minutes).

  3. Partner Augmented Input (PAI)
  4. This is a receptive language training technique.  Receptive language is the ability to understand spoken language. This strategy provides a lot of input using the visual supports available on a communication system (ex. picture communication symbols) to increase understanding.  Communication is modeled in appropriate situations or environments so that effective use of the communication system (ex. picture board, speech-generating device, etc.) is reinforced.

    Why is it important?

    PAI allows individuals with autism to see someone else communicate in the same way they are expected to.  It demonstrates that there are other acceptable ways to communicate.  The individual is able to learn where the vocabulary is located on their board or device and how to use it in everyday situations. PAI also provides a more natural way for you to share strategies of how you look for vocabulary on the system (ex. “Hmm…a dog is an animal.  Let’s see if we can find the dog on the animals page.”).

    There many benefits for using PAI with individuals with communication challenges. It forces the communication partner to slow down their speech rate and sentence length, and emphasize key words and ideas. In addition, the conversation shifts from referential question asking (ex. “Can you show me dog?”) to commenting and modeling. Everyone becomes more familiar with the vocabulary & using the communication strategy.  As a result, the individual’s language skills will improve.

    How do I do it?

    • Communication partners use the board or device themselves by pointing to the symbols while simultaneously talking.
    • Just do it!

    To learn more about Partner Augmented Input, click on the link below to watch a short video (20 minutes).

  5. Chain of Cues
  6. This is a strategy that helps individuals with communication challenges to provide a desired response by reminding them to respond/interact.  It is natural to need help when learning a new skill.  Think back to the last time you learned something new.  Was there anyone there to help you?  Was there a point when your helper stepped back and let you try to do it on your own, but was there to support you if you needed a reminder? The chain of cues works the same way.

    Why is it important?

    Using the Chain of Cues can builds confidence in being a successful communicator.  It will increase opportunities to practice communication skills.

    How do I do it?

    • Learn how to wait!
    • Provide the least amount of prompting necessary
    • Be consistent

    To learn more about the Chain of Cues, click on the link below to watch a short video (19 minutes).


  1. JenniferLaBoe says:

    If I want to use these resources in a professional development who do I contact for this?

  2. Karen Broadway says:

    Is there anyone in Oregon (Portland Metro area) interested in bowling, mini golf, picnics, fishing adventures, or meeting at area restaurant to exchange ideas for group community inclusion?

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