the cognitive and processing styles of children with autistic spectrum disorders. Reading skills have been successfully used as the mode to teach spontaneous verbal communication skills. Systematic instruction in the use of written scripts that focus on commenting and questioning revealed that when scripts were faded, children spontaneously and appropriately verbalized those scripts (Krantz and McClannahan, 1998).
Computer-assisted instruction (CAI) includes the use of computer delivered prompts, systematic learning programs, technology based curricular adaptations, writing programs with word prediction, and virtual reality. In a study of four children with autism, Chen and Bernard-Opitz (1993) found more motivation and fewer aberrant behaviors during CAI than during human instruction, though there was variance in the comparative efficacy of these techniques across children. Heimann et al. (1995) conducted an investigation of CAI using an interactive multimedia reading and language software program with 11 children with autism. They documented significant gains in reading, phonological awareness, verbal behavior, and motivation over 5 months. In an investigation of CAI with synthesized speech, Parsons and LaSorte (1993) demonstrated substantial increases in spontaneous utterances when the speech was turned on, compared with when it was turned off and when there was no computer used.
Computer software, such as Boardmaker, enables practitioners to create child-centered, environmentally specific visual language tools for language boards or VOCA displays. Other software programs, such as Picture-It, Pix-Writer, and Writing with Symbols 2000 provide iconic representations for phrases and sentences and can be used to create social stories and adapted curricular materials to augment ordinary auditory and textual information input. To date, there are no published studies on the efficacy of these tools and strategies, although they are gaining popularity among practitioners and parents trained in AAC. In addition, there are no systematic evaluations of computer software that targets children with autism.
Advances in the understanding of autism indicate that the core deficits in communication and language abilities involve joint attention and symbolic capacity. The effectiveness of communication and language intervention programs needs to be documented relative to these core deficits and relative to the target goal of communicative competence in natural language learning environments, with the emphasis on acquisition of functional skills that support successful communicative interactions. The efficacy of communication intervention should be determined by meaningful outcome measures in social communicative parameters, not just