BASIC STRATEGIES FOR BETTER
Although the effects of autism
syndrome on a child's communication vary greatly, there are
basic communication strategies parents can use to help their child.
Keep language simple, specific and concrete
We are usually unaware of the complexity of the
language we use. While children can normally make enough sense out
of complex sentences, a child with autism may have little understanding
of "Come on, Tom. We don't live in a tent! You have to always
close doors behind you, okay?" Tom would have a much better
chance of understanding "Tom, shut the door".
While this style of communication appears to lack
politeness, your child will have a greater chance of understanding
and your respect can be indicated by your body language and tone
Language also needs to be specific. "Tom,
you shouldn't be so rude to people" will be harder to understand
than "Tom, don't tell people they are fat". Another common
problem is giving instructions in the form of questions. "When
are you going to tidy up your room?" can be very ambiguous
compared to "Clean up your room" although the former may
sound more polite.
Concrete language refers to making the meaning
of a sentence very plain - the words simply mean what they say.
Much of our language involves sub meanings such as sarcasm, irony
or 'reading between the lines' and children with autism or Asperger's
consistently have trouble with anything other than a literal meaning
of the words spoken. Examples of difficult phrases to understand
• Great work, I'm sure that girl really enjoyed
you pushing her into the mud!"
• "I wonder if people might think it's unusual
if you wear just your underpants in public".
allow time for your child to respond
It may appear as though a child has not understood
a question or statement, but often it just takes time to process
the incoming information, up to 45 seconds in some cases. It can
be frustrating and feel very abnormal, but giving your child time
to respond will help them learn communication skills faster.
Repeating the question every few seconds to force
a response, or constant talking, can lead to challenging behaviors as the child becomes frustrated by being overwhelmed with verbal
establish eye contact
A common feature of autism and Asperger's is a
lack of eye contact. It is important to encourage proper eye contact.
Other people are more likely to interact with your child, and it
is the first step to your child learning to 'read' the facial expressions
of others or follow your line of sight if you are indicating an
object by looking at it.
This may involve a simple statement: "Tom,
look at me", or it may also involve stepping into the child's
line of vision or a gesture with the hands to indicate the child
should be looking at you during conversation. An important point
here is to be at your child's level. While it is often tempting
to stand when talking to your child, getting down to their level
increases the chance of eye contact and bonding.
keep the volume and tone of your speech moderate
While a loud angry tone of voice can be a useful
part of discipline with challenging behaviors, it usually only worsens
the situation for a child with Autism or Asperger's. There is frequently
a heightened sensitivity to loud sounds and high pitched noises,
so angry voices will often lead to challenging behaviors. There
are many alternative ways to manage behaviors that don't involve
raised voices. See the Behavior
& life skills page for more information on behavior management.
use your child's interests to build motivation
Autism and Asperger's syndrome often result in
a restricted range of interests, whether it be telephones, leaves
or running water. Although a parent will not want to encourage an
obsessive interest, these do provide a basis for building communication
skills. Ask questions and encourage your child to talk about the
things they like. As communication skills develop, you can encourage
your child to talk about other things and widen their range of interests.
avoid negative words that act as triggers
Words such as 'not now', 'no' and 'stop' can act
as triggers for challenging behavior in autistic children. When
this happens, it is necessary to find positive statements that redirect
the child's behavior. An example is a child who is playing with
her toys instead of getting ready for school. Instead of saying
'No, Sarah. Stop playing with your toys', a redirection focuses
on 'Let's put your clothes on for school'.
While redirection sounds very easy, it can be
very difficult to focus on a positive statement when getting frustrated
with your child's lack of attention or inappropriate behavior.
break instructions or long sentences into steps
A key to helping a child learn complex skills
is to break them into understandable pieces. The same principle
works with communication. Take the following sentence:
"Today we'll have a swim at the beach after
seeing grandad for morning tea and getting some fruit at the supermarket".
A children with Asperger's syndrome or autism
will have trouble understanding this mass of information, and in
what order it will happen. This would be better explained in order,
one-by-one, and giving the child time to digest the information
in each case .Techniques such as social stories or visual cues (photos
or story boards) can also be a great help.
Communication skills page for more information.
to read the fact sheet on helping your child to make friends.
Click here for the full
range of autism and Asperger's fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU