The School Setting:
A school setting for a child with autism should be highly structured and have familiar routines that the child can anticipate. Communication should be encouraged through speech as well as sign, symbols, photos and objects, depending on the ability of the child. A classroom set up specifically for autistic children should be low arousal (calm and quiet environment with neutral walls and dividers so it is not too distracting) with objects and toys organised neatly and clearly labelled (no clutter!).
To encourage communication for children able to understand symbols or photos, the child would have to ask for an object of choice through speech, sign or through giving a picture or a symbol sentence to an adult of the desired object in exchange for the object. You will be aware if your child uses pictures or symbols at school.
The Home Setting:
The home setting tends to be less structured and toys and objects tend to be freely available and open to the child. This can be great for some children and families as it promotes independence and enables children to do things for themselves. In some circumstances, having every object freely available to a child can lead to a child having free rein of the house and taking whatever they want as and when they want it, which for some families can cause many difficulties.
If a child is using pictures or symbols to enhance communication at school, you can also implement them at home. Encouraging a child to ask for an object whether its is a favourite toy or a drink can promote good communication between the child and family members. Apart from aiding communication, having a picture choice board can also enable the child to use 1 object at a time and if managed consistently, encouraging a child to tidy a toy away if asking for a different one could also help to reduce the amount of mess and encourage independence!
The Aims of the Picture Choice Board
– Encourage communication by giving the child a means to request a particular object.
– Promote a communication exchange with a family member- the child requests by giving a picture card to a family member who then responds by giving the desired object.
– If a child can talk, it gives a child a visual prompt to say the correct word.
– Narrow the selection of choice down- there could be a selection of as little as 2 choices or 8 plus!
– Implement structure, routine and familiarity which could help to reduce anxiety
Making a Picture Choice Board:
- Pencil and paper
- Computer picture editing programme (e.g Microsoft Word)
- Access to the internet/ digital camera
Here is one way of making a picture choice board. Say your child’s favourite objects to use at home are:
- Tangle toy
- Thomas the Tank Engine Puzzle
- Gym ball
- Spin top
You can find pictures of all of these easily by searching on Google Images. Here are the pictures I found:
The picture needs to look the same as the actual object in order for the child to make the connection between the picture and the object. Alternatively, if you have a digital camera or phone with a camera, you can take a photo of the exact object. You may also be able to find symbols that your child can understand and generalise to different types of one object (e.g puzzle for multiple types of puzzle).
One good free symbol website is Do2Learn and there are many others (I will write a post on this at a later date!). Schools are lucky to have funding for symbol computer programmes to make numerous good quality symbols, but they can be expensive.
Once you have found appropriate pictures, they can be printed on one page for the child to point at or they can be cut into individual pictures. I would recommend buying a laminator and laminating sheets to make durable individual pictures. Laminators start from around £10 for the cheapest and go up in price for better quality. Believe me, I would not be able to run my classroom without a laminator!
If you do not have access to a computer then it may be worth trying a drawing of the object, it may make just as much sense to a child as a photo depending on the child’s ability. Here is 2 examples of drawings I have done!
You do not need to be an incredible artist, a line drawing may be good enough!
Below is 1 way I have created individual picture cards on the computer programme such as Microsoft Word (you can use any editing programme):
I have created these pictures into individual picture cards ready to be cut and laminated. I positioned the pictures, wrote the corresponding text below (for the child to pair the text with the picture to develop their reading skills) and then I put a box around them to separate individual pictures. I used Microsoft Word however, you can use any computer programme that allows you to insert pictures and text. Click below to download this editable choice board example.
Once you have made some picture cards, you may want to laminate them and use velcro to attach them to a board (perhaps a laminated piece of A4 paper as a board). Velcro is another essential for teacher’s!
Using the Picture Choice Board
Ensure all of the items on the choice board are definitely available to use. Place the choice board somewhere within the child’s reach and view such as on a table or on the side of a unit. Make sure that the child does not get the item they want until they give you the picture card (or point to it depending on what your child is used to doing). This will be very hard at first as your child may be used to taking the objects whenever they want and by themselves. If necessary, place your hand over their hand and physically prompt them to give you the picture card and then give them their desired object straight away. This is to show them what to do. You may need to do this a few times to teach them and then gradually remove your support.
After doing this enough times, a child can learn that when they give you a picture card, they get the corresponding item and will request by themselves. Make sure these physical prompts are gradually reduced as the child learns what they need to do. Be consistent with using the choice board and make sure whenever an item is requested, the child gets it.
Remember, not all children can recognise pictures, photos or symbols. Monitor whether they are understanding the picture or not.
Please ask any questions in the comments and I will reply as soon as I can!