Autism & Communication

Autism & Communication | ASD and Communication Supports & Services | Communication Services

About Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

What are Autism Spectrum Disorders

The term "Autism Spectrum Disorder" refers to a developmental disorder that can cause severe social, communication and behavioral challenges. It is often used as an "umbrella term" that describes range of disorders including:
  • Autistic Disorder or Classic Autism
  • Asperger's Disorder or Asperger Syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
  • Rett's Disorder or Rett Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V, provides standardized criteria to help diagnose ASD. People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items. The symptoms of people with ASD will fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms. This means that those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have certain characteristics in common, which may be demonstrated different ways by different people.

Diagnostic criteria includes:
  1. Impairments in Social Communication and Social Interactions
  2. Restricted, repetitive Behaviors, interests and activities (RRBs) e.g., reduced or perseverative range of interests, self-stimulating movements like hand-flapping)

Therefore, people with the diagnosis of ASD are impacted in their ability to communicate and interact socially with others. If no RRBs are present, then a social communication disorder may be diagnosed. There may be other disorders that may be present and diagnosed in addition to ASD, such as other Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (e.g., intellectual disability, communication disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, specific learning disorder or motor disorders), Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, etc.


What is it like to have autism?

There are many great descriptions of autism, from the people who experience it everyday.
  • Take a look at a personal story written by Neil, a child with ASD and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Neil explains the concepts of being over responsive to different sensory systems, like touch or hearing, which is something other children who have ASD may frequently experience. Neil explains his personal opinion towards each sensory system. Watch his youtube video here:
  • William Stillman ( provides many great tips on "Demystifying Autism." Click here to view the PDF file.
  • Samuel Traxler, an 8th grade student with autism, wrote an essay "I believe no one is perfect," describing how it feels to have autism. Read some excerpts below:

SLP Kara Rollins with Sam Traxler
SLP Kara Rollins with Sam Traxler
Quote about life with autism

Source: Traxler, S. (2011, August 02). First Person on the Last Page: No One is Perfect. The ASHA Leader. Click here to read the full account.

ASD and Communication Supports & Services

Services and supports can enhance communication for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Communication Services

There are a variety of services available to support the communication skills of people with ASD. Some popular options include:
  • Speech-language therapy (including pragmatic/social language)
  • Verbal behavior therapy
  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
  • Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
  • Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)

Communication Supports (Assistive Technology)

adaptations bridge.png
Bridge illustrating the use of assistive technology to reach goals

Assistive technology means a device, item, and/or piece of equipment that is used to support daily-life functions (for people with disabilities), including communication. When assistive technology targets communication, the term "augmentative and alternative communication" (AAC) is used.

This presentation (below) describes how assistive technology devices and
services can promote daily functioning, learning, and communication for people with autism spectrum disorders. It gives information for the professionals and/or family members.

Visual Supports

Visual supports can be used to assist the person in communicating and participating in his environment. Simple, printable visuals can help his understanding and his expression. These “low-tech” supports can be customized to offer the specific, unique vocabulary and symbols types for the person (e.g., photo of his grandma with label “nana”). Some easy-to-find options for pictures are: circular advertisements for grocery or toy stores, pieces of food wrappers or boxes, internet search on “Google” then “Images.” Note: due to the personalized and inexpensive nature of visual supports, most of these items are not available from lending libraries.

There is information online to help teams make and implement visual supports. Some examples include:

Communication books

Visual supports for communication include:

  • Picture exchange systems (each picture is separate and can attach by Velcro to a notebook or sentence strip to help the person combine words)
  • Communication books (pictures arranged 1 or more to a page and placed in a photo album, 3-ring binder, etc.).

Visual supports for behavior include:

  • visuals behavior.jpg
    Pictures of signs that control behavior.
    See the Behavior & Communication Page for examples and more information.
  • Problem-solving and Conversation starter Visuals (visuals to help organize thoughts or provide topics)
  • Social stories (narratives written from/by the person with autism, describing socially appropriate feelings and behaviors for situations)

  • “First-Then” Board (2 pictures to represent the current activity and the reward for completing it)
    • Token board (includes the "First-Then" from above, but adds "tokens" [like pennies, bingo chips, or stickers] that move after each trial to show how much of the current activity has been completed
  • Visual schedule (symbols representing each activity throughout the timeframe – these can be removed and placed in an “All Done” pocket as the schedule proceeds)
  • Visual rules (images that represent expected behavior)
  • Visual timer (with the designated time shown in a colored segment that gets smaller as time runs out)

Mobile Technology

Mobile technology (iPod Touches, smart phones, tablets) are becoming increasingly popular to support the communication and learning needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. See the iTechnology page for information about using mobile technologies, including a presentation, a list of apps, and resources.

Learning More about ASD

PA-based Resources

Check out these Pennsylvania-based organizations that provide trainings specific to communication and autism spectrum disorders. For more information about trainings and events, see the Calendar page.

Philadelphia Autism Network

Based in Philadelphia
A supportive workshop for ALL families and professionals helping children with autism. Different topics offered monthly. Free and open to the public. No registration needed for families. ACT 48 credit available for professionals (registration needed).

Trainings take place at ELWYN SEEDLINGS (Falls Center, 3300 Henry Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19129). Please call or e-mail Karen Krivit (267-784-2009 or for any questions.

Chestnut Hill College - Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Professional Certificate
Picture about professional certificate program; Click to view PDF of brochure.
Based in Philadelphia
The Chestnut Hill College School of Graduate Studies and the Chestnut Hill Autism Initiative Network (CHAIN) are proud to announce a four-course post-baccalaureate certificate to assist individuals who work or live with adults with ASD.
Who should participate?
  • Medical Practitioners & Human Service Providers: Physicians, Physician’s Assistants, Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Behavior, Occupational, & Speech Therapists and Social Workers.
  • Educators: Secondary and Post-Secondary teachers and administrators, Special Education Professionals, School District Transition Coordinators, & Vocational Education Instructors
  • Adult and Community Services Providers: Job and Personal Coaches, Public Housing and Public Safety Professionals, Advocates, Attorneys, Judiciary and Law Enforcement Professionals
  • Parents, Family Members, and Friends of Adults with ASD
The ASD Professional Certificate courses will be offered twice monthly on Saturdays from 8:30 to 4:30. Two courses will be offered in the fall and two in the spring, which will complete the four-course sequence. Click here (or on the picture at the right) to view a brochure about this certificate program (PDF file). For more information, please contact Rosemary E. Mullaly, JD, Program Coordinator ( or 215-242-7734).

Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN)
County-Specific and Online
The mission of the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network is to support the efforts and initiatives of the Bureau of Special Education, and to build the capacity of local educational agencies to serve students who receive special education services. The website includes: Parent Information, Training for Professionals (in-person events, instructor-led courses, and self-paced online courses), Support for Students, and Legal Information. For ASD-specific information, search "Autism" on:

Philadelphia Variety Club - Autism Initiative
Based in Philadelphia
The Autism Initiative has a three-fold mission: --To give families who have a child with autism a sense of connection and belonging; --To provide information on resources & assistance available to families throughout the Delaware Valley; --To partner with other providers to expand the umbrella of aid and support for children & their families.

For more information, please contact Nicole Simon, Autism Resource Coordinator, ( or 215-735-0803 x 16)

Web-based Resources

Online resources provide information about autism spectrum disorders. Please see the selected list of resources below.

Autism Internet Modules (AIM)
The Autism Internet Modules were developed with one aim in mind: to make comprehensive, up-to-date, and usable information on autism accessible and applicable to educators, other professionals, and families who support individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Written by experts from across the U.S., all online modules are free, and are designed to promote understanding of, respect for, and equality of persons with ASD. NOTE - a free sign-in account is need to access these resources.

Back to Top

New to the Communicate PA Community? Find out How this Wiki works.Communicate PA wants to help you stay connected! Help Communicate PA improve

This virtual community is funded by the Office of Developmental Programs, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and implemented by the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.