The word autism originates from the Greek word ‘autós,’ which means ‘self’ or ‘withdrawal within the self.’ Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can appear to be happy in their own world.
Since one of the classic indications of ASD is characterized by vocal communication problems, a common issue faced by behavior analysts and caregivers working with kids or even adults with autism spectrum disorder is the inability to begin or continue a simple conversation. On the other hand, non-verbal communication can also be difficult for a child on the ASD spectrum and as a result, they may have trouble communicating through facial expressions, maintaining eye contact, or coordinating using hand gestures. For example, something as minor as learning what they want to eat for breakfast can seem like a mammoth task if you rely only on typical communication approaches.
But don’t let that discourage you! By making use of a combination of techniques and strategies, therapists and parents can help children with ASD express themselves better while simultaneously communicating with them in a more effective way.
And in this regard, read on to learn more about the effective tips for interacting with a child facing challenges with communication –
Keep it simple silly (KISS)
In the field of communication, the ‘keep it simple silly (KISS)’ principle states that designs and systems must be as simple as possible. Aligning with this, complexity should be avoided wherever possible when communicating with a child, since simplicity is what guarantees higher possibilities and levels of interaction. Don’t use complicated words and phrases; instead, swap them for simpler, easier-to-understand terms. For example, try telling your child, “First finish your homework then play” instead of, “You can play with your friends outside around 7 o’clock once all your work is finished.”
Incorporate their interests
An approach that will hinder your communication with the child is forcing a conversation in a direction you wish for it to go in without considering their needs. If continued, the child might either shut down completely, have a meltdown, or not respond at all. Fixating on a particular thing or being preoccupied with a topic is a distinguished facet of autism spectrum disorder – and this means having a lot of conversations about the same thing over and over again. Although you might find it monotonous or uninteresting, focusing on the topic your child is interested in will not only provide you with more opportunities to engage but also give them a sense of comfort and familiarity.
Grab and Retain Attention
Whenever you decide to embark on this journey, small steps go a long way! Call your child’s name and when they look at you, lift them up, tickle or engage in a behaviour that they would like and approve of. Some children like small pieces of candy, some children love hugs and cuddles. Appreciate them for looking at you when you call their name by providing them with items or engaging in activities that they like. In order to retain their attention, you can also make use of apps or devices with pictures since visual aids can be of great help in terms of indicating thoughts, instructions, and requests.
Be patient and empathetic
When communicating with a child diagnosed with ASD, exercising patience and empathy is one of the most fundamental yet often-overlooked aspects. Put yourself in their shoes and remember that it’s not easy for them either. Additionally, if you need to say ‘no’ to a certain behavior, you can try to stick to the message without making your reaction extremely polar and strong. Try not to yell or become agitated, but instead, respond patiently with a calmer demeanor. You can also read more about the skills you need to build when caring for a child with autism here.
Pick the right time
Not every minute of the day is the right time to communicate. Since some of the children may have set routines and rhythmic behaviors, interrupting or disturbing them when they’re particularly engaged in another activity will likely not give you the interaction you hoped for. Likewise, it may not be a very good idea to attempt to interact when your child is already anxious or worked up since specific stimuli can overwhelm them to a great extent. In such a scenario, it is best to wait for a still, quiet moment before beginning a conversation.
Clarity is Key
Being clear in your speech helps your child follow what you’re saying. Moreover, it also makes speech imitation easier. Remember to steer clear from using sarcasm, figurative language, or even rhetorical questions, as the child might take it literally. This is exactly why it’s important to clearly explain what you mean in order to prevent confusion and misunderstandings. Also, if your child is non-vocal, attempt to converse using single words or short phrases, such as ‘use spoon,’ ‘throw ball,’ or ‘eat apple.’
Your efforts matter
It’s absolutely natural to feel the compelling urge to fill in words when your kid appears to be disinterested in communicating, can’t find the right words, or simply doesn’t respond. However, it is crucial to provide your child with the opportunity to communicate freely, and at a pace they’re comfortable with. Here, you need to make a conscious effort to pause for a bit when you ask a question or when you see that he or she wishes to talk to you or ask you for something. Also, make sure that you pay close attention to non-verbal cues such as body movements or sounds, and respond accordingly. Remember that the efforts you put into communicating effectively with your little one matters and, in turn, helps them feel more welcome, appreciated, and heard.
In all, remember that children diagnosed with ASD probably want to engage and talk to you but just have a tougher time understanding or figuring out how to. And with some extra practice and patience, you might eventually learn to interact with your autistic child as easily as any other kid! Here’s how you can effectively communicate with a child diagnosed with ASD –
- Keep it simple silly (KISS)
- Incorporate their interests
- Grab and retain their attention
- Be patient and empathetic
- Pick the right time
- Clarity is key
- Your efforts matter
At Early Autism Services, our experienced therapists are highly qualified and committed to helping children with autism as well as their families. One of the main target areas in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy is developing and improving age appropriate language and communication skills. Our proficient team comprises hundreds of expert behavior therapists, board-certified behavior analysts, occupational therapists, and caregivers to provide your child with the best possible assistance and environment to thrive in.