Every person is unique, and that is the same with children with autism. So when looking for ways to improve the communication skills of a child with autism, it’s important to remember that what might have worked for one child, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work with all children. However, with so much to contribute to the world, it’s important to work with each unique child to find the ways that work best for them to improve their communication skills. Here are a number of ways to help your child develop their communication skills.
By imitating the sounds your child makes, you actually are encouraging and promoting interaction. And in doing so, you mimicking your child encourages them to mimic you. This can work great when at play and provides many opportunities for communication. Mimic the play your child is doing, and don’t forget to get down to their level. If they’re playing on their hands and knees, try getting down on your hands and knees as well. You can also play games that include interaction like singing.
In the same approach, Floortime Therapy is a developmental individual-difference relationship-based model developed by the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan in an effort to help children with an autism spectrum disorder. During floortime therapy, children actually lead the activity with the parent or caregiver. The approach stresses the importance of including the child’s sense, emotions, and motor skills, and can be adapted to meet the child’s age and developmental level.
During Floortime, children can communicate on their terms, and the adult is simply meeting the children where they are, which has been seen to promote language skills, help children express their needs and desires, and connect more deeply with their caregiver.
While it may seem obvious to focus on verbal communication, it’s also helpful to build on things like eye contact and body language to build a foundation for language. You may have to be over-the-top in your gestures to make it easier for your child to imitate. If your child points to something before picking it up, try pointing at the object with vigor you want before you pick it up.
It may seem obvious, but don’t forget to leave wide-open opportunities for your child to speak and respond. Our first impulse is to fill voids in social interactions with our own talk, but fight the temptation and instead be patient and give your child plenty of time and space to respond.
Simplifying your language is helpful in letting your child follow what you are trying to say. It’s also easier for them to then mimic back to you. If your child is nonverbal, you may want to consider using very simple one-word answers, but if your child is also using single words you can add short phrases as well. In fact, it’s helpful to always keep your language one small step ahead by following the “one-up” rule. You can also use this same rule to narrate what your child is doing; if they’re playing with a truck, you can describe what they are doing using one-up language like “truck drives fast” and “truck crashed”. That way you aren’t interrupting their play, but still engaging and helping them learn through associated language and vocabulary.
It’s important to remember that children with autism are usually quite literal and will take words and phrases at face value. So if you use sarcasm or idioms you may actually end up confusing your child. Instead, simply say what you mean, and keep your language matter-of-fact.
Another tip that might seem fairly obvious but bears some repeating. Don’t try to rush your child and instead learn the deep art of patience. Take your time, let your child ask for what they want, don’t just give it to them because you need to move onto something else. Talk slowly and deliberately, give them time to listen to your words, and take the time to add gestures and motions. And don’t forget to take the time to celebrate the small victories.
It may seem a little strange, but it’s helpful to remember that children with autism can be greatly helped by having a service animal. While they may not be able to spur on verbal communication directly, having them around can reduce stress and calm a child that may be feeling overstimulated and help them focus. Animals also naturally accept people for who they are and create a feeling of acceptance.
In the end, children with autism need your support and patience as they continue to build up their communication skills. With some time and understanding, you can help in tremendous ways.