Augmentative Communication and Social Skills


Using Picture Symbols, Social Stories for Children With Autism

Karen Plumley

Children with autism may lack the necessary communication and social skills. Using pictures and symbols could improve language and social interaction at school.

Acquiring social skills and communication skills is a difficult challenge for children with an autism spectrum disorder. Many kids with autism are nonverbal or have trouble with speech and language, and will need to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) methods for communicating needs so that others to understand what they are saying.

Additionally, communication difficulties are not conducive to making friends. Even if a child with autism does have a good grasp of language, many social situations that occur in school or elsewhere can be unpredictable. When the unexpected happens, it is hard for children on the autism spectrum to know how to react appropriately and equally hard for them to understand others’ reactions.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Social Skills

Children who are autistic will need some intervention at school to make friendships and communicate their needs and wants. In the classroom, it will be beneficial to learn the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), or other meaningful picture communication symbols that may help a child with autism communicate effectively with peers and teachers. These symbols can be combined to help the child learn about language and social interaction in a more visual way.

Picture symbols will be particularly helpful for those children on the autism spectrum who are nonverbal. By pointing to a picture that shows milk and cookies, for example, the child can communicate that she is hungry. Also, by using the symbols written out on a communication board, teachers can create simple lessons and instructions, or communicate expectations for behavior in the classroom.

Social Stories for Autism

Social stories are used to demonstrate proper social skills and prepare a child for a new situation. They use a combination of words, pictures, and/or symbols, which can be looked at repeatedly, allowing extra processing time. Pictures are a very effective way to communicate with children that are autistic because they react so positively to visual stimuli. Pictures also provide that extra time to absorb information versus just audio or written instructions alone.

Appropriate social skills can also be demonstrated through a series of real pictures and cartoons. This type of social skills training will be helpful for children who have some verbal skills, but are starting to interact with others in a public setting. The concepts being taught should be very detailed in explaining how people behave in various situations. Once they are understood, children on the autism spectrum will need to put them into practice.

Boardmaker and Assistive Communication Software

Creating a communication board or social story with symbols that children with autism will understand can be a daunting and time consuming endeavor. Luckily, there is assistive software available that will help create social skills pictures, stories, and communication boards with pre-made, consistent symbols that kids with autism can be taught to recognize.

One of the most popular augmentative assistive communication software tools is called Boardmaker (by Mayer-Johnson). It is a communication intervention software program with sound, bright visuals, animation, and voice capabilities. It can be used in the classroom to create lessons, games, social stories, quizzes, and communication boards for a child that has autism or other communication disorders.

Autism is an extremely isolating disorder. Children with ASD will have a tough time with communication and social skills. These kids may benefit by receiving augmentative and alternative communication intervention from teachers, parents, and other supportive professionals. By using tools like Boardmaker to create communication boards, and by developing social stories with picture communication symbols, it may be possible to optimize a child’s ability to enjoy friendships and do better in school.


Baker, Jed, Ph.D., The Social Skills Picture Book. TX: Future Horizons, Inc., 2001.


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