Questions from the readers

Periodically, we devote a column to reader’s questions. Recently, a family asked the teacher about communication and pictures. The parents wondered whether a child can learn to speak from using pictures such as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). The answer is yes but that is a byproduct. Oral speaking doesn’t always occur.

Picture communication is a form of speaking. So many times people discount this method because they can’t hear a voice. Yet, there are other forms of talking. Body language is one method. People can use voice activated communication devices. Others may choose to communicate by pictures. Sometimes picture communication results in a child discovering their voice. Alice was such a child.

Early on, Alice used pictures to communicate her wants and needs. After lots of teacher modeling, the girl learned to say numbers, colors and several high interest items such as candy, soda and hot sauce to name a few. Alice was an amazing child. Many children may learn to speak with pictures but never with their voice.

Have you ever heard of Stephen Hawking? The brilliant scientist lost his ability to speak with his voice but quickly learned how to use a computer generated voice. Just because a person’s body does not enable him to use his voice doesn’t mean he can’t use another method to speak. Children that start with PECS can advance on to computer generated voices. AVAZ and Sono Flex are two examples of voice generated picture programs that can be used after pictures icon mastery.

PECs and picture communication programs like Boardmaker are excellent ways for children to use to speak their wants and needs.

They can also be helpful for adults who suffer from a stroke to relearn how to communicate. The nice thing about pictures, it that most people can understand them. When a child hands me a restroom card, I know what he or she wants. When Alice hands me a picture of M&Ms, I definitely know what she wants me to give her when she has finished her work.

So the long and short of it is yes, with frequent modeling, some children will learn to talk after using picture communication, but not all. Unfortunately, the sensory portion of the brain may be inhibiting speech. Don’t give up saying the word associated with a picture when your child hands it to you. You might be pleasantly surprised when you hear a beautiful voice repeat the very word you just said!

Recently, I met a reader that asked why I had not responded to a question she sent by email a few years ago. I felt awful but I had not received her email. The woman had lots of good questions about her nonverbal son. Unfortunately, sometimes AOL and other servers screen emails so well that the items end up in the junk mail. I apologize to those of you that have tried writing but never received an email back.

If you do not get a response by using, try the website Remember you can also get some of your questions answered on great informational autism websites. They can be readily accessed by computer. Just scroll down to exactly what interests you. Some suggested autism websites are autism are:,,,, and

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at