As a parent of a child with autism, you likely are worried about their communication and social development. Your child may not be talking yet, have a few words, or have many words but struggle with comprehension. There are many thoughts that go through your head and many worries about how to best meet your child’s needs. Here are 3 things you can do today to increase your autistic child’s communication.
1. Find your child’s interest.
Communication flows where motivation goes. This means that your child is more likely to communicate with you during activities that interest them. Your child may or may not have vocal words right now. Even if they’re not speaking, that doesn’t mean that they’re not communicating. Join in an activity they like and follow their lead. Here are some tips to do this right:
- Sit with your child while they are engaging in the activity. Observe what they do, and show interest in what they are doing.
- Some children will want more space/alone time while engaging in their interests. Don’t be too pushy as you might make your it aversive, and you want this to be a positive experience for them.
- Don’t ask questions or put demands on them. Join in their play in ways that make it more fun for them so they see the value in you joining. Instead of asking them to play a certain way, model simple words or phrases based on what they are doing (ex: “Wheels spinning”)
- If you follow their lead and honor their communication, you will see more and more communication through these child-led, preference-based interactions.
2. Pay attention to their nonverbal communication.
Nonverbal communication is huge, especially if your child isn’t talking. Pay close attention to their body movements, facial expressions, and body language. Getting attuned with your child’s nonverbal communication will help you to learn what makes them uncomfortable, joyful, and frustrated. This will help you to make adjustments in their day to best meet their needs.
I know you may be hoping for words to come, but don’t forget to pay attention to the communication that they are giving you without words. Listen to what they are telling you with their nonverbal communication. If they are telling you to back off and give them space, give them space. If they are playing in an ‘odd’ or repetitive way, join in their play and do what they are doing. This will show them that you are really listening to what they are trying to tell you.
3. Place preferred items where they are visible, but not easily accessible.
Many children with autism are very independent and may be more likely to get things themselves than to communicate in order to access them. This independence is a great skill! But it can mean they will hvae less opportunities to communicate their needs than other children typically have. One easy way to increase the number of opportunities your child has to communicate each day is to put some of their favorite things up on a high shelf or in a clear container. This will encourage your child to communicate with you in some way in order to access them. Want to try this strategy? Here are some tips:
- Make sure your child can see the item, and they know where it is.
- Don’t make ALL of your child’s favorite things unaccessible at one time – rotate things in and out of this ‘unaccessible’ space. This way your child doesn’t get super frustrated.
- Slowly build on your child’s communication skills. Start by having them reach towards the item, look at you, or pull you to it. Then, give them the item. As this becomes easy for your child, build up to more complex responses, sounds, words, or phrases.
Remember, communication is a 2-way street. In order for children to communicate more, we have to listen to them and honor their communication attempts – both verbal and nonverbal. Plan to spend just 10 minutes a day really paying attention to your child and you will learn so much about what they are trying to tell you!
To learn more about communication deficits in autism, visit this article from the NIH.