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One of the goals of early intervention is to provide very young kids with autism with the tools to communicate. If speech isn't coming along as it should, there are other tools available - with picture cards and PECS (Picture Exchange Card System) being among the most effective and popular.
PECS is a fairly simple concept: a child learns to trade a picture card for whatever it is he or she needs. The impact of having the tools to communicate, though, can be amazing. I've seen children go from racing around the room screaming to calmly requesting what they need - in a matter of just a few minutes. It felt to me like watching Annie Sullivan holding Helen Keller's hand under the tap, and seeing Helen suddenly grasp the concept of language. What's even more amazing is that picture cards, according to some researchers, not only promote communication in general but ALSO (when used according to the PECS system) promote spoken language.
Not everyone will have access to a PECS program in their preschools or schools. And certainly not everyone can afford to hire a PECS specialist on an individual basis. But the basic concept of exchanging pictures for items - and then building skills to more complex interactions - isn't terribly complex. And picture cards are available online free or at very low cost.
Here are just a few resources for free/low-cost picture cards (and a few sources for more pricey laminated cards, great for long-term and/or group use):