Rising to New Heights of Communication and Learning for Children with Autism Reviewed by Gillian Ziegner Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Kent, UK.

Tizard Learning Disability Review

ISSN: 1359-5474

Article publication date: 14 October 2011



Spears, C.L. and Turner, V.L. (2011), "Rising to New Heights of Communication and Learning for Children with Autism Reviewed by Gillian Ziegner Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Kent, UK.", Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 16 No. 5, pp. 48-49. https://doi.org/10.1108/tldr.2011.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Carol Spears and Vicki Turner have written a compact guide to using alternative‐augmentative communication (AAC), visual strategies and learning supports at home and at school. Introducing the book they point out that the word “autism” is one which is emotionally charged and parents receiving this diagnosis for their child frequently go through various stages of emotional turmoil before they are able to accept their situation. Often the hopes and aspirations they had for their child are replaced by feelings of despair and fear. It is this fear that the authors want to address as they believe that educators also share this fear of the unknown when confronted with children on the autistic spectrum. This, they suggest, is due to a lack of information and support. Thus, the objective of Spears and Turner in writing this guide is, first, to supply basic information for those confronted with the issues that arise when a diagnosis of autism or other pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) has been given. Second, they aim to assist families, educators and other professionals in finding ways to help children to be able to communicate despite the problems they may have with verbalisation so that they may be better integrated socially and succeed with their academic work.

The introduction includes a definition of PDDs according to the criteria accepted by the American Psychiatric Association. The diagnostic criteria indicating that a child has an autism disorder are listed briefly. The book is then divided into three parts, the first of which deals with increasing the knowledge adults have of AAC.Chapter 1 concentrates on speech generating devices (SGDs). There is sufficient information given to inform the reader about who would benefit from using SGDs and the factors that should be considered when introducing them into the classroom setting, suggesting that the educational team at the school should be able to develop a plan as to when the student is to use this communication method and it should be their decision as to how often it is used. The importance of familiarising the student with the device is emphasised and it is noted the expressive output in terms of communication will be affected not only by the student's ability to use the device but also by the vocabulary constraints of the device itself. Emphasis is placed on the teacher's role in encouraging activities with peers in order for the device to become a part of the user's personality and fun to use, not just a piece of technical equipment. This section is helpful for educators who are unfamiliar with SGDs and the text is supported by a number of pictorial illustrations.

The picture exchange communication system is explained in Chapter 2 informing the reader about what it is, why it should be used and how it can be implemented. Chapter 3 is concerned with the use of symbolic language systems and describes what they are and how and when they can be used. The fact that they are easy to produce at relatively low cost and are useful as a secondary communication method for children who use other AAC options is explained, bearing in mind that it can be much faster to convey simple messages by pointing to a picture rather than having to use an SGD which takes time to set up. This section is amply illustrated with various picture boards which can be used to communicate likes, dislikes and feelings as well as to choose activities.

Part II of the book deals with strategies to support learning and is divided into three sections. Chapter 4 concentrates on visual supports. The authors share how to develop a visual support system and consider the factors that are important when doing so. However, they point out that to do this effectively is time consuming and needs good teamwork on the part of everyone involved in the child's life including the parents, educationalists and therapists. The information provided is clear, well‐structured and helpful. This approach can be particularly useful when students need strategies to help them organise themselves and be aware of changes that may occur during the day. The authors believe that using visual supports can be useful in improving language skills whilst also addressing behaviour problems and social skills. It assumes that a team will be available to work together on these techniques but depending on the location this may not always be the case. Chapter 5 briefly introduces social stories but the examples are somewhat limited and lacklustre. They do not inspire the reader to attempt this approach which undoubtedly has its uses in certain situations. Chapter 6 is concerned with structured environments and this includes a very basic introduction to the TEACCH approach.

Information on related topics which include sensory integration therapy and applied behaviour analysis make up Part III of the guide. This is followed by appendices giving contact details of National Organisations worldwide who are specialists in the area of autism. The final section in Appendix 2 talks about the goals and objectives which relate to each section of the book which is useful as a guide and checklist.

Carol Spears and Vicki Turner write clearly and simply and have given the reader a basic introduction to a wide range of possibilities for improving the communication of children on the autistic spectrum. This will be particularly useful for students who are new to this subject area and want to gain an overview of the possibilities that exist to improve the communication skills of autistic children. As the book has attempted to discuss a wide range of subjects, it is quite superficial and undoubtedly the most useful part of the book is to be found in Part I. It should, however, inspire the reader to try to implement some of the methods mentioned and explore others in more depth. The copious illustrations make the book accessible not only to professionals but to parents and family members who want to know about new ways of communicating with their child. I recommend this book to them as it is written in a positive way and encourages everyone working with children with autism to try and use these ideas to improve the child's quality of life.

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