2004 Conference Proceedings

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Eleanor Craighead
Karen Szabo-McGregor
Renfrew Educational Services
2050-21 Street NE
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Phone: 403-291-5038
Fax: 403-291-2499
Email: eleanorcraighead@refreweducation.org 
Email: karenmcgregor@renfreweducation.org 

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) use with the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) population is a developing field. In the past, alternative communication systems such as facilitated communication have been very controversial (Mostert, 2001). The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) (Bondy & Frost, 1994) appears to have been the first systematic and structured approach for this spectrum of disorders. However, this system has its limitations, in that it encourages initiation but mostly of requests, and comments without developing other pragmatic skills.

At previous conferences attended by the authors (ISAAC 2002, Closing the Gap 2000, 2001), presentations regarding the use of Augmentative or Alternative Communication with the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) population have concentrated on the use of no-tech or low-tech equipment. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECs) is widely used with this population in North America.

The authors will present information gathered over a period of 5 years reflecting their experiences with 2 autistic students, both of whom started their exploration of AAC using the PECS system at preschool, and then moved on to other systems.

One student, JR aged 9, has explored many options in this field and today, in a Grade 4 classroom, uses a LIGHTWRITER (Zygo Industires, Inc), a text-to-speech VOCA, to communicate and to complete his classroom tasks. This LIGHTWRITER is also used at home, and JR continues to make progress, and is beginning to initiate messages unknown to his listeners. We will review JR's progress from PECS, and word-style PECS, to the use of customized word lists, MINSPEAK (Prentke-Romich Company) on ALPHATALKER and DELTATALKER and PATHFINDER, to his present choice of device and the alternatives presented to him e.g. DYNAWRITE (Dynavox Products). The reasons for the choice of system and for moving to another system at each level will be discussed, as well as the options open to JR in the future.

Another student, NF, aged 10, also started using PECS at a preschool level, and made minimal progress despite continued encouragement and training in this area. Voice Output technology was tried at the request of his mother, in the form of simple VOCAs e.g Big Mack (Ablenet), and also a MACAW (Zygo), a 32-key multilevel communicator. Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) (Mayer-Johnson) were used with each device. He used the devices in very structured tasks only and with prompting and reinforcers. NF appears to have rejected Voice Output Communication Aids, and has recently begun to make good progress in using the PECS, apparently choosing this as his primary means of communication. Unfortunately this student has been lost to follow-up.

Video presentations of these two students, highlighting their development over the 5 year period will be shown.

Audience participation will be encouraged, as AAC users, care-givers, aides and speech-language pathologists are asked to share their experiences in using AAC with ASD clients.


Bondy A. & Frost L. (1994) The Picture Exchange Communication System Training Manual.

Mostert M.P. (2001) Facilitated Communication Since 1995: A Review Of Published Studies.

J Autism Dev Disord. (3):287-313.

ABLENET Inc, http://www.ablenetinc.com 

DYNAVOX PRODUCTS, http://www.dynavoxsys.com 

MAYER-JOHNSON, http://www.mayerjohnson.com 

PRENTKE-ROMICH COMPANY, http://www.prentrom.com 

ZYGO Industries, Inc, http://www.zygo-usa.com 

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