Communication needs a purpose - an intent. The individual must have something that he wishes to communicate - impart - to someone else. It is important to make situations motivating and meaningful in order to create an environment in which an individual who is just learning to communicate has something he wants to say and the means to say it.
A case in point: I was called in to consult a district regarding a boy of 10 with autism.
He had been using a PECS board with symbols for favorite foods and activities.
Pictures were also used during specific activities in the class. These velcro’d pictures were only available during the specific activity, and were limited to symbols required for that activity. They were also limited to nouns, with a few activity-associated verbs.
They told me he had been successful for a while with pictures, and was great at using them to request food (he was always hungry), but wasn’t using them for other activities and so they did not think he was “ready” for a more complex system.
When I observed in his classroom, I saw him first during an art activity where he was required to cut and paste, then color. This was a boy who had poor fine motor skills and did not like or ever want to do cutting and coloring. But the symbols for the activity required to him say that he wanted scissors, he wanted glue, he wanted the red crayon, etc. He most clearly did Not Want any of these things – and “Not” was not available among the symbols.
Given an activity he enjoyed and appropriate symbols to use, he was clearly able to use them. His vocabulary was limited, as he had always been restricted to a noun-based vocabulary, but he clearly knew what the pictures were for and how to use them.
1. Verbal communicators are able to tell you when they don’t want something or don’t want to say what you want them to. Nonverbal communicators have the same right to say “I don’t want to” as everyone else.
2. Only giving the individual the words to say specific, limited messages does not give them the ability to communicate.
3. As Gayle Porter says, “…a child who uses speech will independently select the words she wishes from the vast array she hears/uses every day. A child who uses AAC will independently select the words she wishes to use from the vocabulary other people have chosen to model and, for aided symbols, made available for her to use.” (Porter & Kirkland) And a child who uses a limited AAC system will sometimes NOT choose to select words that do not say what he wants them to.
With that in mind, Keep on Talking!