Every child will have varying challenges with communication. Most autistic people will have difficulty with language and or communication. Some common challenges include:
- too loud or too fast to be processed
- too complex
- literal interpretation
- difficulty understanding non verbal cues / social communication
- understanding in unfamiliar context / generalisation
- too loud or too quiet
- limited or no speech
- echolalia (repetition)
- Formal or unusual tone inflection
- one sided conversation
- limited shared /joint attention
Children need to develop attention to learn and communicate. Is your child’s attention fleeting, rigid or single channelled? I was more focused on the fact that my children were not speaking than the lack of attention. It had to be pointed out to me that if we don’t work on attention first you will struggle with communication. Attention difficulties can include:
- Easily distracted
- Difficulty shifting attention
- Not motivated to give attention
- Single channelled
- Attending to their own agenda
- Varies depending on situation
To work on attention you need to be exciting and have things that are motivation to the child. It can be hard to find motivating things so this post on reinforcers and motivating toys may be useful.
There are lots of therapies that can be used to support speech development such as Intensive Interaction. See more information on therapies for autistic children here.
Why are they communicating? Is it intentional? Whilst many children easily pick up communication for some children it can take much longer or require alternative communication methods.
There are four stages children go through to develop communication:
- Own Agenda: Brief interactions to meet own needs. No intentional communication. Reaches for things they want. Smiles and laughs but not necessarily directed to you. Cries and screams to protest.
- Requester Stage: Brief interactions, most communication to request wants.
- Early communicator: Longer interactions, interacts with familiar people. Makes requests for things.Starting to use gestures, sounds and words to communicate
- Partner: Longer interactions. Play with other children developing. Can have simple conversations. Understanding is developing further.
Supporting Speech Development
What do they understand? Make sure you are communicating on their level. Say less, speak slowly, use visuals to show the child and stress the words that are most important. I have a post that includes tips on developing speech and language. You may also find my post on using routines to reduce anxiety helpful, regular routines help a child to understand what is expected of them.
We all commmunicate diffrently and you may find my autistic insights post helpful.
Another post to look at is about crossing the midline, some really simple exercises and activities that can help make connections between the left and right side of the brain.
Autistic children are often visual learners and using visual clues can make a big difference to understanding. My eldest needs longer processing time so visuals allow him to do that in his own time. Visuals can also reduce stress and create more independence. I have a post all about using visual aids. You may also want to look at Social Stories which are a great way to use visuals too communicate with a child.
Also think about using visual games to play to a childs strengths. A great example is Seekers scavenger hunt.
Introducing choices can be difficult for some children. Keep it simple start with just two items to choose from. Use the objects or visuals so the child is clear on the choice offered. You can offer an item you know the child wants i.e. chocolate vrs a choice they don’t want like a sock to help build choice making skills.
Reading is a great activity to encourage with your child. If they struggle to sit and read a book with you engage with the story in a different way such as play and on tv and then go back to the book. I have a few ideas in my post about reading with children and our favourite books for story play.
You can get a referral to see a speech therapist from your Health Visitor, GP, Nursery or school. It was our speech therapist that referred my children for an ADOS assessment which led to receiving an autism diagnosis. It also lead to my son taking up alternative communication
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) are communication methods that replace speech or writing. The two most commonly used alternative communication methods with autistic children are Makaton and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).
Find out more about Makaton here.
And more on using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) here.
Often challenging behaviour like lashing out, screaming, crying, biting and many others are down to communication issues. If a child has sensory processing issues but is unable to communicate that it can be very distressing and confusing for the child and those around them. Equally being unable to communicate your emotions or needs can be very challenging.
Working out the cause of the challenging behaviour is usually a key and I have a post on using the star method to help identify reasons for challenging behaviour.
You may also want to try using rewards to encourage your child.
If your child has speech and communication difficulties they will need to be supported at school. For more information on getting the right support at school see paperwork & education.