There is a large population of children
who have speech difficulties that become predominant as they grow from infant
to toddler. As time progress and they become of age to start school, but have
not developed speech are most likely children who have been diagnosed with a
disability. While non-verbal children who have disabilities that start school,
mainly those diagnosed with Autism, are placed into the care of Speech
Pathologists. Many of Speech Pathologists that work with non-verbal children
use picture exchange as a form of communication. “The Picture Exchange
Communication System, or PECS, allows people with little or no communication
abilities to communicate using pictures. People using PECS are taught to
approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange
for that item. By doing so, the person is able to initiate communication. A
child or adult with autism can use PECS to communicate a request…” (National
Autism Resources no date).
There have been recent studies showing
that teaching Sign language can help to develop communication skills can
increase language skills. “Some have argued that language problems are due to
social motivation deficits, and that basic language skills. However, the
research reviewed here overwhelmingly indicates a more fundamental deficit in
language. The data suggest that language impairments are present across
essentially all individuals with Autism. In addition, early studies indicated
that some 50% of affected individuals never acquire functional speech” (Eigsti
et al. 2011).
For developing children gesturing is
common form of communication before the use of speech is developed. When a
child wants a certain toy, a hand(s) reaches out and acts to grab it signaling
to the person with them that is something they want. “It is well known that
gesture plays an important role in the acquisition and development of language
and forms the link between actions and spoken words in young children” (Mastrogiuseppe,
2015). It is difficult to find previous research conducted with Sign language
and non-verbal children, as it not known to why, but only speculation that
those who use picture exchange systems for communication may not have the
training in Sign language as an alternative use.
In a study conducted by Tincani, (2014)
the researcher looked at the effects of Picture Exchange Communication system
(PECS). The author conducted research using several different methods including
sign language and PECS training to evaluate the results of the participants.
there is evidence that simultaneous communication training in teaching signs
and speech produces favorable communication outcomes for children with autism
and other developmental disabilities” (Tincani 2004). There is a large volume
of published studies describing the importance of students who are non-verbal
learning to communicate other than verbal speech. One researcher considered the
effects of picture exchange communication, “Using non-verbal communication
makes it hard to attain normal communication abilities. The PECS system, for
instance, delays speech in autistic children…” (Wicks 2017).
Shield et. al. (2017) there was a large number of studies done back in the
1960s of using Sign language with students who had Autism and were non-verbal,
but with the papers not being significantly detailed to reproduce the same
studies their results did show acquisition of signs for communication purposes.
However, the research also argued that “… signs could be
advantageous over speech because children’s hands can be guided and molded, and
signs can be exaggerated, enlarged or frozen to allow for additional processing
time” (Jordan, 1990). Previous research findings into the use of picture
exchange communication have been inconsistent and contradictory. Therefore,
there is a need for more research into other ways for students who are
considered non-verbal to have additional options to communicate. Based on these
results the study suggests there are several areas for future research relating
to the fluency and instructional efficiency (Tincani 2004; Marjorie 2002). Bonvillian
et al. (1981) conducted a review of more than 20 studies that taught signs to
over 100 children with Autism. They found that “sign language training can be
an effective means of improving communication skills in low-functioning
autistic children. …almost every subject acquired the ability to comprehend
trained signs.” Modern education systems discuss how many students learn on
different individual levels. This is the same for students with Autism. It can
also be said on a much higher range of individualism and learning
difficulties. Bonvillian and Blackburn
(1991) later writes about the acquisition of Sign language not only helped
their communications skills, but improved their social skills and behavior.
Statement of the Problem
Picture exchange systems, used for
students who are non-verbal, has rapidly increased in practice for
communication. There is a faster teaching rate than that of sign language for
students, but in the long-term picture exchange does not help form a language
merely pictures that represent what a child wants. The pictures used are can be
confusing as well, the images used are not of real-world images. Sign language
was once the main communication skill practices, but once it became easier to
print pictures sign language took a back seat to the non-verbal education
world. This study will show that sign language is as effective as picture
exchange, if not more productive.
The use of picture exchange systems is
highly expensive and sign language will help to make things more affordable,
especially for those who live in lower socioeconomic areas. Picture exchange communication
showed improvements in children making requests for wanted items, such as toys
and food, also helped to create speech for some of them (Charlop-Christy,
2002). However, in the research that was completed in the past, before PECs was
created, that used sign language as a form of communication for those who did
not use verbal speech showed long term advantages of developing language skills
as well as speech. “Not only does instruction in sign language promote
spontaneous signing; it promotes spontaneous speech” (Schaeffer, 1978).
Teaching Sign as a language helps to develop the context for each sign learned.
One example, from a study done by Miller and Miller (1973) did not intend to
teach context, though one child signed OPEN to request she wanted the cookie
jar opened when she was only taught that sign OPEN for opening a door. Other
signs by this girl and other children learned the context of signs that
developed their language. “Sign language training produced more
rapid acquisition and more correct responses than picture based training”
Is Sign Language more efficient to
teaching communication skills compared to picture exchange systems to children
who are non-verbal and have Autism?
purpose of this study is to compare the effectiveness of two communication
strategies, that of Sign Language and picture exchange for non-verbal children
who have Autism.
study will collect data from one group on how many words are learned over a
course of a school year from students who are being taught picture exchange.
Data will also be collected from another group on how many words learned from
students over a course of a school year who are being taught sign language.
Then, the data will be calculated and compared between the two groups of
Case Study Method
Case studies are good for relating and increasing
the knowledge of a subject area of interest and are particularly used in
education research (Stake, 1995; Raudenbush 2015; Ganz et al. 2012). A case
study can offer a refinement of understanding (Stake, 1995; Raudenbush 2015).
The “aims of critical quantitative work to include… conduct culturally relevant
research by studying institutions and people in context” (Wells, 2015).
et. al. (2017) case study examined “previous research by comparing a group of
children with ASD to a mixed non-ASD comparison group that includes children
with TD as well as DD. This non-ASD comparison group includes children with
similar nonverbal cognitive levels to those found in some children with ASD, in
order to better examine the specificity of the relationships between gesture,
fine motor, and language to ASD”. The
comparing of the two groups showed the correlation between gestures and the use
of fine motor skills. In turn their fine motor skills were also improved using
learned gestures. Another case study by Meadan et. al. (2008) found that the
communication of gestures was formed into more conversational than merely
the research conducted by Hamel et. al. (1993), the purpose of the study was to
determine the benefits of using case studies when conducting quantitative research
and can be related to education especially in respect to special needs.
According to the articles one of the pros listed in the article is the fact
that using the case study method approach in that of researching special needs
education is that the data collected may be interested and beneficial in “which
a subject comprehends an authentic text”. Furthermore, using the case study
approach can produce “massive amounts of documentation and data.”