Using Effective Communication to connect with your Autistic child
When using Effective Communication with a child who has Autism, more time should be spent modeling and explaining appropriate nonverbal communication
Associating specific behaviors with Effective Communication skill steps helps you to adapt the skill to your particular child’s needs. For example, you could add a step to include “maintain eye contact, do not interrupt when another person is talking, and speaking in a calm voice tone.” Since a child with a Autism does not naturally recognize the social cues they receive from others and mirror them back, they need to be taught explicitly how to act. Although strict adherence to routine can be a struggle, this characteristic can be a strength when learning rules and applying skills. Usually, when a child with Autism learns the steps of a behavioral skill their desire to stay within routine enhances their ability to apply all the steps.
When it’s your child’s turn to talk, give extra time for them to express themselves, resisting the urge to fill in words for them
Some children with Autism may have inhibited verbal skill, while others may have exceptional language skills. No matter where they fall on the spectrum, a child with Autism often needs extra time to express themselves. When you ask a question or they make an effort to express themselves, pause and wait expectantly without talking for them. If they are continually interrupted they learn to depend on you to express themselves and their confidence in their own ability decreases.
When it’s your turn to talk, simplify your language and use the “one-up” rule
Simplifying your language makes it easier for your child to imitate you and gradually increase their communication skill. The “one-up” rule is best used for children who have reduced verbal communication skill, and means using phrases that includes one more word than what your child is using. For example, if your child is mostly nonverbal, use single words to describe what is happening. If your child can use single words and point and say “ball” then say “roll ball” or “throw ball” to describe what is going on. Simplifying your language will also help them in repeating back what they heard you say, which is step 5 of Effective Communication.
Exaggerate and make deliberate nonverbal cues
As with the simplification of language, exaggerating eye contact, head nods and other nonverbal signifiers makes it easier for your child to imitate you and implement them into their own everyday use. It is also helpful to take the time to verbally explain your actions and what they mean. Opening up this kind of dialogue encourages your child to come to you when they encounter a nonverbal cue that they do not understand.
Avoid the use of sarcasm and other ambiguous language
Sarcasm should be avoided anytime you are using Effective Communication, but it is especially important for children who have Autism because they have difficulties understanding what is not explicitly stated, especially stated, especially in the use of metaphors, idioms, or words that have multiple meanings. When expressing your point of view focus on being straightforward and concise to encourage the best understanding.
Use their interests to teach and role-play the skill
One of the criteria for diagnosing a child with Autism is that the child has “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus.” Because a child with Autism can focus on their interests so intently, use this as a tool to begin incorporating Effective Communication. They may not participate in an isolated teaching interaction, but they will learn something new if it is associated with their interests or can be related back to the process of their interests. One child I worked with who had Autism loved building with Legos. Anytime I taught him a new skill we would build Legos while we learned, and then we would use the Lego characters to role-play the skill before I had him role-play on his own. He was able to stay focused and quickly learned the steps when Legos were involved.
Use visual aids and assistive devices to teach and prompt the use of Effective Communication
While supervising another social worker who was working with a child with Autism who had extremely reduced verbal skill, she created a visual flip chart of everyday objects the girl used. She now had a way to communicate what she wanted by pointing to the objects, and her parents could easily give instructions using the pictures. This simple flip chart drastically reduced her tantrums and increased the number of words she could say. There are also apps with similar features to assist in communicating.
As you implement Effective Communication and tailor it specifically to your child’s needs, you will provide ongoing opportunities to better understand your child and for them to understand you. Through this improved communication you can meet more of their needs and resolve conflicts faster.
For more information on helping your nonverbal child speak, click here on the Autism Speaks website.