"MID" TECH STRATEGIES
Listed below are descriptions of several "mid" tech devices that can be used by children with autism to enhance specific skill areas. Most of these devices are very appealing to these children and provide them with motivation to participate and focus on various skills and classroom activities successfully. These devices are called Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs). Any type of visual representation system can be placed on simple voice output devices for children to access by a simple push of a "button". Most of these devices are battery operated and
are easy to operate for recording messages. It is important to note that
these devices were created for use as an augmentative means to expressively
communicate. However, for many children with autism, as noted above, these
devices are very appealing and motivating, and can be used in numerous
ways to focus attention on various skill areas, as well as increase classroom
participation, focus and communication. The following list identifies
a number of such VOCAs mid tech devices.
- "Big Mack": A single switch/button
device available from AbleNet (1) which allows for 20 seconds
of record time. Approximate cost is $89.00.
- Talk Pad: A 4-message/button battery operated
device available, which allows for 15 seconds of record time per button.
Available from Frame Technologies (6) for approximately $99.00.
"Voice in the Box"
- "Voice in the Box": Multi-message battery
operated communication devices available in 16, 24 or 40 messages/buttons
from FrameTechnologies 6) for approximately $195.00.
- "Cheap Talk 4": A 4 message/button
device which allows for 5 seconds of record time per button available
from Enabling Devices (5) for approximately $69.00.
- "Step-by-Step Communicator": A battery
operated device which allows for prerecording a series of unlimited
sequenced messages up to a total of 75 seconds of record time. Available
from AbleNet (1) for $129.00.
Language Master: The Language Master is a "mid"
tech piece of equipment that has been used for more than 20 years (25).
The Language Master is an electronic device about the size of an old tape
recorder. The cards, which are approximately 3" by 8" with a
"recordable strip" across the bottom, are played "through"
the Language Master. A short verbal message can be recorded on each card.
The cards are also big enough to include corresponding visual cues (e.g.,
words, PCS, photos) of the recorded message.
Tape recorder: Any easily operated tape recorder
can be effective in addressing various skill areas in children with autism
Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs) can be used to develop the following
groups of skills for children with autism: Language Comprehension Skills,
Expressive Communication Skills, Social Skills, Attending Skills, Organization
Skills and Academic Skills. The following is a discussion of these skill
areas and the possible use of specific VOCAs to help children with autism
function more independently.
Language Comprehension Skills:
- Talk Pad: This device can be programmed with
simple 1-4 step directions. The child is motivated to hit the buttons
and thus complete the sequence of steps.
Example: A child with autism experiences great difficulty
following the 3 step sequence to complete his "job", which
is to prepare for snack time. The child requires continual verbal
and physical prompting from an adult to attend to the task - as the
child typically runs around the room - and then to complete each step
of the task. The 3 steps of the task are recorded on the Talk Pad,
with the 4th message telling the child to "Sit in chair".
Visual cues, corresponding with each verbal message, are placed on
top of each "button" on the Talk Pad with Velcro. The child
is extremely motivated to "push the buttons" on this device
and, following the initial teaching, is now able to independently
do his "job" for snack time.
- Language Master: The teacher may record multi-step
directions on the cards, one step per card. If a student cannot remember
the auditory directions that were given, he can run the cards through
the Language Master to hear some or all of the directions (16).
Espressive Communication Skills:
Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA): Children
can express themselves with the assistance of any visual representation
mode, or visual cues placed on a "simple" voice output communication
aid/device. Many children with autism are motivated to communicate by
use of these devices, particularly by the auditory feedback immediately
given as they use the device. Use of VOCAs have proven effective in
teaching a child the cause/effect of language through activities which
are stimulating to him.
Example: Use of the Big Mack for a child to request highly
desired sensory activities, such as "chase me"; "tickle
me"; "hug me"; "listen to music".
The use of VOCAs as communication devices are not always
effective for all children with autism. Some children find the VOCAs so
overly motivating and stimulating that they do not become effective communication
devices. The child may repeatedly push down the button(s) on the device
for the self-motivation that he receives from the auditory feedback, rather
than for the cause/effect of the communicative message. In this
case, the VOCAs can still be used with the child, since they are clearly
motivating, but in a different manner. For example, they may be used to
focus attention on various skill areas, as well as increase classroom
participation. In this case, the child's communication needs may be more
effectively addressed through the use of "low" tech expressive
A research study evaluating the use of VOCAs by children with autism
revealed the following (22):
- Young children with autism can learn to use VOCAs to effectively
communicate various language functions (i.e., request, answer yes/no
questions, make social comments);
- VOCA use generalized across settings;
- Use of VOCAs increased the child's use of gestures, words and
- Communication partner interactions increased when VOCAs were used.
- Audio taping: Audio taping can be used to focus
on communication skills to draw the child's attention to an inappropriate
communicative behavior. (e.g., interrupting, perseverative speech, incessant
question asking, topic maintenance, etc.) as well as to develop self-awareness
and self-regulation of appropriate communicative interactions.
- Language Master: For a child, who is able to
imitate, the Language Master could be used as a model for imitation,
as well as an opportunity to engage in social interactions (16).
Example: At the end of a child's activity-schedule-book is
a Language Master card with a picture of bubbles glued on and the
written words, "I want bubbles". The child places the card
in the Language Master and then takes the card and gives it to someone
while repeating the utterance.