Sketch Artist

I was talking to an experienced therapist about alternative methods of communication for a teen who is non-verbal. Despite many years of therapy and diligent work, this youngster had not latched on to any of the myriad of alternative communication methods that have worked for other individuals with autism. What could she do to help this young man connect and communicate with others?

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Family members, therapists, teachers, and friends had helped the student with sign language, PEC symbols, written language, typing, texting, photographs, and other proven communication systems without success. One day the therapist wanted the youngster to select between two music instruments, but did not have photos or picture symbols, so she quickly sketched the instruments with colored pencils. And the connection was made. The youngster took the colored pencils and started drawing. One of the first things he drew for his parents was two golden yellow arches, telling them he wanted to eat a hamburger. For whatever reason, the combination of the colored pencils and the sketch pad finally made the connection for this teenager.

The therapist shared stories of other non-verbal individuals were able to communicate by “sketching words.” One youngster misplaced his shoes while on a field trip. When asked by his teachers where he lost his shoes, the non-verbal fourth-grader drew a picture of the location. A staff member went back to that spot, and – voila! The shoes were exactly where drawn.

A young adult in a group home enjoyed drawing scenes from her favorite video games to share with her family on home visits. If a staff member was unexpectedly absent, this non-verbal artist handed a sketch of the missing person to another staff member as if to ask, “Where is my friend, Amanda, today?”

TIP FOR THE DAY: Not everyone is a sketch artist, and not everyone is interested in drawing. But this is just one more example of the need for exploring ALL avenues when looking for ways to help our friends with autism connect with other people.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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