World Autism Awareness Day: Parents praise new programme which is giving non-verbal children a "voice"
PUBLISHED: 15:00 02 April 2019
Parents of children with autism have praised a new programme launched by the Sycamore Trust that helps youngsters to communicate using pictures.
Speak With A Picture (Swap) launched its new communication programme last autumn and its first intake of parents have praised the way it has helped their children progress, and has “given them a voice”.
Swap was made possible thanks to funding from BBC Children in Need, and it is based on the Pecs (Picture Exchange Communication System) which uses symbols as a means of communication.
Children with autism can sometimes be nonverbal and unable to communicate with their parents, which leads to a great deal of frustration for everyone involved.
But thanks to the Sycamore Swap team - Lynn Chapman, Ann Marie Lyons-Mummery and Cheryl Kearney - these youngsters have opened a method of communication with their families.
At the centre - which works with families across Havering, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham - children are taught to approach their parent and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item.
By doing so, they are able to initiate communication, be it a request, a thought, or anything that can reasonably be displayed or symbolized on a picture card.
Every family that took part in the first Swap programme reported a positive change in their child’s behaviour, and whilst all children develop at different speeds, parents said they would continue to use the system and felt their children had benefited from going along.
This week (April 1-7) is Autism Awareness Week, and today (April 2) is World Austism Awareness Day.
Sycamore Trust’s Cheryl Kearney said: “We were delighted with the progress made by all the children in the autumn.
“They all came to us at a different stage of their development, but we were able to help them and their families to communicate better.
“It was sad to say goodbye, but we’re already excited by this new group of children that started in January and we hope we can do just as much for them.”
The new group is now nearly complete, and many of the boys and girls have shown signs of improvement.
Several of the children have already demonstrated a clear understanding of the process, moving quickly on to exchanging the symbols without being prompted.
One family came along with some extra help from Buddies, a pre-school in Harold Wood.
Carter is three and he was brought to Swap by his mum, Emma.
She said: “It is hard when your child is nonverbal, and they can become frustrated trying to tell people what they want and need.
“Since starting the course Carter can choose between three Pecs cards to show what he would like.
“He is happy when he passes the card and rewarded with the item he requested.
“This is massive for him. It is like giving him a voice.
“I cannot wait for him to learn more images and be able to eventually say a full sentence using the cards.”
Emma added: “The staff and support given at the sessions is brilliant.
“Carter is able to use his new skills wherever he goes, at home, visiting relatives and at Buddies and First step preschools.
“The pre-schools have really got on board with the programme and his key worker Debbie even attended a session to learn more.
“It is also a great place to meet other parents with similar children and I am extremely pleased we got on the course.”
Debbie, who works at Buddies, which Carter attends, said: “It was really insightful going along to Carter’s sessions and learning more about how we can support Carter and his family with implementing the SwapP programme in our setting.
“Working in partnership with parents and the Sycamore Trust will ensure that we all collectively work together to provide Carter with the best possible outcomes”.