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Teaching Children With Autism to Ask “What's That?” Using a Picture Communication With Vocal Results

Ostryn, Cheryl PhD, BCBA-D; Wolfe, Pamela S. PhD

doi: 10.1097/IYC.0b013e31820d95ff

Being a competent communicator is complex and goes beyond expressing simple needs and wants to include havingthe ability to ask and respond to wh-questions. For individuals with autism spectrum disorders who use pictures tocommunicate, initiating communications such as questions can be difficult and it has been shown that some picturesystems do not include question asking in the curriculum, such as the Picture Exchange Communication System. Thisstudy attempted to address this lack of question asking in teaching communication with pictures. The current studyinvestigated how augmentative and alternative communication users learn to communicate, with methods of how vocalindividuals with autism spectrum disorders have been taught to ask wh-questions, to teach nonvocal individuals withautism spectrum disorders to ask the question “What's that?” using a picture communication. The results showed that all 3 participants learned to vocally ask “What's that?” withoutrequiring the communication picture, and the training for all participants was completed within 1 to 2 days. Secondary findings included the successful generalization of this question to nontrained settings, communicativepartners, and stimuli. This study extends the limited literature on teaching wh-questions to individuals with autismspectrum disorders and supports findings of vocal outcomes with individuals who use picture systems tocommunicate.

Author Affiliations: University of Colorado Denver, Denver (Dr Ostryn); and The Pennsylvania State University, State Collage (Dr Wolfe).

Correspondence: Cheryl Ostryn, PhD, BCBA-D, 1380 Lawrence Street, 6th Floor, Denver, CO 80204 (

©2011Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.