Since one of the classic symptoms of autism is a pronounced deficit in verbal communication skills, a common problem for practical behavior analysts and others who work with children and even adults with autism spectrum disorder is simply the ability to have a conversation about base. Something as simple as figuring out what they want for lunch or whether they’re happy, sad, or indifferent to their current school assignment can be next to impossible if you rely on normal conversation methods.
But don’t let that stop you!
There are ways to talk to autistic children and you can make them easier by keeping the following tips in mind.
YOU SHOULD MAKE EFFORT to talk to them
Because talking to children with autism can be difficult, many adults choose the easy way out and simply avoid engaging them in conversations. But that’s a mistake; both you and these children can benefit from trying to talk, even if they don’t always succeed.
There’s also a tendency to assume that if an autistic child doesn’t respond or shuts you down that they don’t like you or don’t want to talk. But that’s not always the case; that signal would be clear from a neurotypical individual but for someone with ASD, it’s just a part of the syndrome. Don’t take it personally, and don’t stop trying to gently involve autistic kids in your conversations. They probably want to get involved, they just have a harder time figuring out how.
Choose your moments
It is not always the right time to talk to an autistic child. Many of them have very specific schedules and rhythms for their behavior. If you interrupt them when they are deeply involved in something else, you’re not likely to get through and engage them as you had hoped to.
Similarly, it’s often not a good time to engage when the child is already wound up about something. Excessive stimuli can exclude children from ASD. Wait for peace and quiet if you want to talk.
Talk about what they want to talk about
One way that will never get you far with an autistic child is to try to force the conversation in the direction you want it to be. At best you’ll get ignored; at worst, they’ll shut down or have an outburst.
Obsessions are part of the syndrome, and obsession means a lot of arguments about one thing in particular. You might find it boring or simple but you’ll find far more engagement by sticking to the topic that the child wants to discuss.
Keep the point
Stay away from allusions, metaphors or abstract statements. Autistic children will generally not be able to interpret any type of communication based on reading their inner emotional state or any subtext.
Keep sentences short and direct.
The pace of the conversation must be at a level that the child can handle. For most of us, processing sentences the way we hear them is second nature and happens almost instantly. However, children with autism must work to analyze what they feel. Give them the time they need to do it.
If talking doesn’t work, try writing!
If you come to a point of disagreement in the conversation, try repeating what you just said on the paper. Draw a picture or write the words and display them. ASD patients tend to think visually, so even if they don’t immediately understand what they just heard, they might get the same message if you put it on paper so they can see it.
Pay attention to non-verbal cues
Because autistic children can have many problems manipulating and understanding language, they often develop different types of behavior that signal things that should be verbalized. Some of the movements or actions they use when they speak can say more than the words they say if you pay attention and learn to interpret them.
Remember these are just kids!
Autistic children may not behave like neurotypical children, but remember that you are still talking to someone whose thoughts and attitudes are formed in an immature brain.
With a little practice, you may find that you can talk to autistic children as easily as you can with any child. The results, both for you and for your child, can be both positive in terms of developing communication skills and pleasant when you establish interpersonal contact.
Last updated: September 29, 2020 References approved
This article was co-authored by Dr. Laura Marusinec. Dr. Marusinec is a certified pediatrician at Wisconsin Children’s Hospital, where she is a member of the Council of Clinical Practice. She received her M. D. from the Medical College of Wisconsin School of Medicine in 1995 and completed her residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Pediatrics in 1998. She is a member of the American Medical Writers Association and the Society for Pediatric Urgent Care.
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex, multi-layered neurological variation that varies from person to person. This presents a challenge in understanding how to educate children with autism. While every child is a person who reacts differently to teaching methods, there are different strategies that are generally used to help children with autism achieve their educational goals. These strategies are based on the characteristics of autism, including differences in communication, social skills, behavior, and sensory problems.
SAHM Blogger, Masters in Psychology
As a parent of a child with autism, there are many unanswered questions when it comes to your child’s development. Unfortunately, there’s no clear yes or no answers to questions related to autism and development.
In children with autism, the pace of development is slightly different. Many children with autism experience delays in speech and language development. This often leads to the question "Il mio bambino autistico non verbale parlerà mai?"
What does non-verbal autism mean?
Non-verbal autism is not a diagnosis in itself. It simply means that the child or person is struggling with verbal communication. For those in the autism spectrum, there’s no clear-cut line between verbal and nonverbal autism. Like autism spectrum disorder itself, it’s complicated.
Here are some examples of how complicated non-verbal communication is on the autism spectrum:
- Some autistic children say simple words to express what they want. For example, the child will say “car” which means “I want to take the car”. But for those who don’t know the child, they will think the child is just identifying the vehicle. Although this child can use simple words to ask a question, he cannot answer another question, such as “Where do you want to go?”
- Other children may use more complex words, but they lack meaning. Example: They can repeat or recite phrases from movies or scenarios learned by the therapist. When this type of non-verbal communication occurs, the child does not communicate her wishes or needs.
- Many children with non-verbal autism are able to communicate their wants and needs using sign language, flashcards, or digital devices.
Does non-verbal autism mean low IQ?
Honestly, there are no known reasons why people with autism become nonverbal. This is an autism spectrum topic that requires further research. Although we don’t know why many people with autism are nonverbal, it needs to be understood that non-verbal autism is not due to a lack of intelligence.
There are many social misconceptions about autism. One such misconception is that non-verbal autism is the result of low intelligence. However, many children and adults on the autism spectrum are able to understand more than they can communicate through language.
It’s been historically assumed someone who is nonverbal also has a low IQ below 70. The problem with this assumption is that standardized IQ tests are not effective when used on individuals with autism. Therefore, some people with non-verbal autism may be misdiagnosed as people with intellectual disabilities due to standardized IQ testing methods. A 2011 study found that low IQ and autism combined were less common than historically believed.
Since intellectual disability is not the cause of non-verbal autism, some studies show a positive correlation between autism and genius.A 2015 study from the University of Cambridge found that people with autism were more likely to pursue careers in high-intelligence fields, including technology, engineering, science, and math.
March 19, 2013
Still one of our most popular advisory articles, the co-author of the article below was Autism Speaks first scientific director, Geri Dawson, who is now director of Duke University’s Center for Autism and Brain Development; and clinical psychologist Lauren Elder.
There is a reason why families, teachers, and others want to know how they can promote language development in non-verbal children or adolescents with autism. The good news is that research has yielded many effective strategies.
But before we share our “top tips,” it’s important to remember that each person with autism is unique. Even with enormous effort, a strategy that works well for one child or teenager may not work for another. And even though every person with autism can learn to communicate, it’s not always through spoken language. Non-verbal people with autism can contribute a lot to society and can live fulfilling lives through visual aids and assistive technologies.
Here are seven of our best strategies for promoting language development in non-verbal children and adolescents with autism:
- Encourage play and social interaction. Children learn through play, including language learning. The interactive game offers pleasant communication opportunities for you and your baby. Try different games to find the ones your child likes. Also try fun activities that promote social interaction. Examples include singing, reciting nursery rhymes, and gently scrubbing. During your interactions, position yourself in front of your child and close to eye level – so it’s easier for your child to see and hear you.
- Imitate your child. Mimicking your child’s sounds and play behaviors will encourage more vocalizing and interaction. Also encourage your child to follow you and take turns. Make sure you imitate how your child is playing – so long as it’s a positive behavior. For example, when your child is driving the car, you are driving the car. If he or she crashes the car, you will crash yours too. But don’t imitate throwing the car!
- Focus on non-verbal communication. Gestures and eye contact can create the foundation for a language. Encourage your child by modeling and responding to these behaviors. Exaggerate in your gestures. Use both your body and your voice when communicating, such as reaching out to indicate when you say “look” and nod your head when you say “yes”. Use easy-to-follow gestures for your child. Examples include clapping, opening hands, stretching arms, etc. Respond to your child’s gestures: When she looks at or points to a toy, hand it to her or take the cue for you to play with it. Likewise, point to the toy you want before picking it up.
- Lascia al bambino "spazio" per la conversazione. It’s natural to feel the urge to fill in language when a child doesn’t immediately respond. But it’s so important to give your child lots of opportunities to communicate, even if he isn’t talking. When you ask a question or see that your child wants something, pause for a few seconds, watching him expectantly. Watch for any sounds or body movements and react quickly. The speed of your response helps your child feel the power of communication.
- Simplify your language. Doing so helps your child follow what you’re saying. It will also make it easier for her to imitate your speech. If your child does not speak verbal, he tries to speak mainly in single words. (If she’s playing with a ball, you say “ball” or “roll.”) If your child is speaking single words, up the ante. Say short sentences like “throw the ball” or “throw the ball”. Stick to this “one up” rule: generally use sentences with one more word than your child uses.
- Keep track of your child’s interests. Rather than interrupting your child’s focus, follow along with words. Using the one-up principle, share what your child is doing. If he’s playing with a shape sorter, you might say the word “in” when he puts a shape in its slot. You can say “shape” when he takes a shape and “loses shapes” while he loses them to start over. By talking about what engages your child, you’ll help him learn the associated vocabulary.
- Consider assistive devices and visual support. Assistive technologies and visual aids can do more than just replace speech. They can support its development. Examples are devices and applications with images that the child touches to produce words. Put simply, visual aids can contain images and groups of images that the child can use to indicate requests and thoughts. For more guidance on using visual aids, see Autism Speaks ATN / AIR-P Visual Supports Tool Kit.
Your child’s therapists are uniquely qualified to help you select and use these and other strategies for encouraging language development. Tell the therapist about your successes as well as any difficulties you’re having. By working with your child’s intervention team, you can help provide the support your child needs to find his or her unique “voice.”
Sharing is taking care of others!
Parenting a child with autism can be difficult. Sometimes we can feel like a complete failure and just aren’t prepared for the job.
we can hearsometimes guiltyfor many reasons: there are more and more therapies to try, more strategies to learn, more specialists to seek.
As parents with special needs, it seems like we are always in trouble. We fight for services, we fight for acceptance, we fight for the progress of our children.
We must remember that we are normal people with our own needs and we do everything possible.
There is no reward for ideal special needs parenting.
WE WILL MAKE Mistakes. We will fight for it. We will have times when we feel we cannot go on.
Sebbene non ci sia un piano per "vincere" nella genitorialità autistica, ecco tre esempi:what not to do with an autistic child:
Scream at an autistic child
There will be times when we will lose patience with our autistic child.
Perhaps the intensity of the prolonged incident brought us to a turning point.
Or we’ll be late again, because we haven’t had a chance to wash our favorite red jersey, and the blue one just doesn’t work.
This section is intended not to instill in parents a sense of guilt or shame for yelling at their autistic child.
But it’s important to remember that yelling at a child with autism can make things worse.
All behavior is a form of communication. I remind you often.
Our children are not deliberately trying to upset us or raise our stress levels.
Scream at an autistic child will have an adverse effect.
Instead of our attempts to control the situation and force ourselves to stop, we are actually increasing the child’s suffering.
Speaking calmly andusing that one trickit will have a much greater and less emotional impact than yelling.
Insist on eye contact
Eye contact can actually be stressful for some children with autism.
Forcing an autistic child to make eye contact can actually seem very unnatural.
While we may consider helping our children by insisting on eye contact, this can make them anxious.
This skill can be introduced gently and practiced gradually if the child tolerates it.
However, forcing an autistic child to make eye contact is squarely in the “what not to do with an autistic child” category.
Don’t give a choice
When we constantly tell our children what to do, they feel out of control.
A common misconception is that a child with autism cannot make a choice.
We feel we need to extinguish problem behaviors. We give surrogate behaviors and reinforcers to get involved in.
However, we all want elections. This is also true for our children with autism.
Proprio come diamo a un bambino tipico due scelte (entrambe sono accettabili – es. "Vuoi sederti al tavolo o alla scrivania per fare i compiti?"), così anche noi dobbiamo dare una scelta al nostro bambino autistico.
What should you do when making these common mistakes?
The fact is, we’re going to yell at our autistic kids. We will forget ourselves and say, “Would you LOOK at me when I’m talking to you?” And we will probably ask for something as a parent with no choice.
When we do this, we have to give ourselves some grace.
NO PARENTS IS PERFECT!
The requirements for parenting a child with special needs make our job even more difficult.
So, remember, while these tips for ‘what not to do with an autistic child’ are meant as reminders – we also need to be mindful of allowing ourselves to not be perfect.
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Mom blogger, special needs parent, coffee lover, dog lover and recovering perfectionist interested in balance, humor and self-care. I help women learn to give each other grace, simplifying their lives and making the most of their maternal journey, whatever unexpected happens to them.
Like any child, children with autism can be a little overwhelmed when they meet new people for the first time. In addition to the regular challenges of feeling shy or insecure, children with ASD may also struggle with sensory problems and social challenges that their neurotypical peers may not have. When you’re ready to introduce yourself, keep these tips in mind to help your baby feel as comfortable as possible.
Choose a quiet place to introduce yourself
For a child on the spectrum, the world can be a very noisy place. Sensory inputs are coming from everywhere, and their brains can’t always wade through all that noise to focus on social interaction. You can maximize your chances of a comfortable and happy introduction by choosing a quiet place to meet your baby. Look for a small classroom, your orphanage, a quiet corridor, or a less busy part of the park.
Ask someone who knows the child to be there
Whenever an adult meets a child for the first time, it is best for them to be with a trusted adult. Most kids have been taught not to talk to strangers, so don’t approach your child without making sure mom, dad, counselor, teacher, or other adults are around for safety and trust. These adults can also help your child interact socially with tips and reminders, and in many cases they will. Each interaction is an enlightening experience, and you and the other adult help your child learn the principles of this social interaction. Communicate primarily with the child, but answer questions from an adult.
Change your expectations about the baby’s reaction
One of the key diagnostic criteria for autism are challenges in terms of social skills, especially in the area of non-verbal communication. This means that your baby may not respond as you normally expect. He may not make eye contact or confirm you in any way, and may even do something unexpected, like walk away. He can speak in a monotone voice. Do not interpret them as a sign that the child is not listening or is not interested. He may be very excited to meet you and needs to take a step back to deal with it.
Don’t worry about your non-verbal signs
When meeting people, it is customary to send some non-verbal cues. Smile, lean forward a little, and make eye contact. With your baby, you can get down to his level and speak a slightly higher pitch. Many autistic children struggle with and often miss these nonverbal symptoms. Don’t waste too much energy worrying about how you look to your baby. Instead, focus on making the experience as stress-free and enjoyable as possible for both of you.
Ask for a handshake
Some children with spectrum disorder have what is known as a “tactile defense,” which means they may be hypersensitive to touch. Others may suffer from anxiety and worry about germs when they touch someone’s hand. Before taking a handshake, ask, “Can I shake your hand?” If your child refuses, he tries to respect that decision without offending you. He is offering you what he can at this point, and that may not include touching your hand.
Feel comfortable in silence
In some children with ASD, verbal processing can take some time. Others may be mostly non-verbal. Either way, it’s nice to feel comfortable in silence. If you are asking a question, wait a long time before giving up on the answer. It can be a little unpleasant at first, but it is very useful for the baby. Sit down with him and wait. You might be surprised when he will give you a lovely answer within minutes of asking your question.
Participate in the activity your child is doing
When you first meet your baby, take a moment to observe what he is doing. Is he spinning the toy or is he playing with the ball? Is he reading a book or drawing? Look closely at what interests her now. So find a way to do it with her while you introduce yourself. This will often help get her attention.
Relax and be yourself
Meeting a child with autism is like meeting someone; it’s about relaxing and calming the other person. Be yourself and enjoy the experience of meeting someone on the autism spectrum.
Over the years I’ve seen parents and professionals call a child nonverbal. They put a lot of emphasis on the means to support communication, but they don’t put an emphasis on vocal language. I never give up on vocal language, not even in “non-verbal children”. So, today I’m going to answer your questions about teaching a child with autism to talk.
When I’ve done evaluations in the past, I’ve read that a child or a teen is nonverbal, is on augmentative communication systems, and is having problem behaviors. When I asked if the child spoke a language, the parents replied that they could say mum or hello. But everything else they would say using technology and visual aids.
One particular assessment, perhaps one of my most recent independent assessments, concerned a teenager – about 16 or 17 – who lived in a hospital setting and attended a recognized private school. He was labeled non-verbal and was in the support system, and he also had a lot of behavioral problems.
And I found that this teenager had some vocal language. He might have said Mom. A pearl could tell. But, it wasn’t completely clear. When I looked at him, he could also sing little songs, hum music, fill in the gaps in some songs and most of his requests for him or his credentials were actually about his vocal language of him.
Teaching a child with autism to speak
One of the things I talk about right away when I see kids with any kind of babbling, sounds, or word approximations, is that we don’t want to just throw in the towel in terms of vocal language. We want to look at ways where we can improve language or help them learn to communicate because if a child can vocally mand for something, it’s just so much easier. There is less response effort for the child and it’s much easier to get a response.
In the case of this teenager, we also looked at his ability to drink from an open cup or straw. I immediately saw the water gushing out of his mouth as he drank from the bottle. He appeared to have low muscle tone. So I asked the staff if they had ever drank from a straw as a straw would have been better at pouring and improving oral motor skills. Getting him to use a straw can also help with his joint. It turned out that he could drink from a straw, which was a great first step. I also pointed out that he had approximations of words and spoken words that anyone could understand for different positions.
Get more words from a child or client with autism
We need to focus more on helping the child learn the vocal language. One of my online course participants, Anna, purchased my online course a few years ago when her son was 10 years old. Like this other teen that I’m talking about, her son only had a few words, and the staff was focusing on an augmentative system. Thanks to the techniques Anna learned in my program, she was able to teach her son to speak hundreds of words, with pretty good articulation. So I would never rule out the possibility of using speech language. It’s truly possible to teach a child to communicate using vocal language.
We have another member of our online community who has a teenager – who was previously completely non-vocal – now speaking in short approximations and words. So, I’m always a big proponent of assessing and making a plan to improve vocal speech if at all possible.
For more tips on teaching your autistic child to speak, download my new three-step guide. I know I can help reverse autism for your child or clients.
Last updated: March 18, 2021 References
This article was co-written by Iddo DeVries, MA-SLP. Iddo DeVries is a speech therapist and owner and clinical director of speech therapy at DV Therapy, Inc. based in Los Angeles, California since 2014. for disabilities and delays, including autism, people who speak late, PDD, specific speech disorders, joint disorders and phonological, auditory processing delays, stuttering, pragmatic and social delays, verbal apraxia of language. Iddo holds a BA in Speech Communication Sciences from Brooklyn College and a Masters in Speech and Speech Pathology from Adelphi University. In 2011, Iddo was awarded by the New York Department of Education for Outstanding Achievement in Speech Therapy. Since 2006 she has been an active member of the nationally accredited ASHA speech committee.
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Communicating with an autistic child can be difficult, especially if your child is not learning at a normal pace and if you are not used to interacting with people with autism. Here’s how to understand them, speak them in ways they can understand and encourage the development of solid communication skills.