ASD and communication skills 101: Understanding your child’s difficulties and strengthening their conversational proficiency
According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 1 in 59 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). No two cases look alike, but most children with ASD have trouble with communication.
Here we’ll talk about some of the issues you might face as a parent or caregiver, along with techniques that can improve your child’s communication skills. We’ll also cover therapy techniques that can help, such as ABA Therapy.
4 common ASD communication issues
Children with ASD often have different issues when it comes to communication, such as difficulty developing speech and language skills. Some may be fully capable of communicating effectively, while others have limited speaking skills. Many kids with ASD have trouble interpreting body language and facial expressions or understanding the subtext behind sarcasm or jokes. Their ability to “read the room” may be limited, which can make it difficult for them to interact socially.
Here are four common issues among children with ASD.
1. Repetitive or unusual speech patterns
Children with ASD might blurt out words that aren’t related to the conversation. They may repeat words, phrases, or sounds they’ve heard, this is called echolalia. Some will also speak in a high-pitched, sing-song, or robotic tone.
2. Specific abilities and interests
Children with ASD are often highly intelligent. They can speak endlessly about subjects that interest them, but often, only those subjects keep their attention. They may struggle to hold a one-on-one conversation on topics that are not of interest to them. Still, some have exceptional talents or abilities. However, only about 10% are known as “savants,” or those that have extremely high abilities in a particular area, such as music, calculating numbers, or remembering facts.
3. Struggles with language development
Language is an area where many children with ASD struggle. Those that learn to read and speak may still have uneven progress when compared to their peers. They might have great memories or reading skills, but be unable to comprehend what they’ve read. Others might not respond when people speak to them.
4. Poor nonverbal skills
Nonverbal communication includes things like body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Children with ASD often have trouble understanding these silent cues. They may avoid direct eye contact, which others might interpret as rudeness or disinterest.
3 ways to improve communication skills in children with ASD
You may or may not recognize some of the issues above in your child. As we said earlier, children with ASD have their own unique abilities and struggles. There are ways you can strengthen your child’s communication skills though. Let’s look at a few of them.
1. Think visually
If your child is nonverbal or struggles with speech and language, pictures can be a great way to boost communication. Make flashcards with pictures of things that interest him/her. You can also use flashcards to show emotions and feelings, which can be difficult for children with ASD to understand.
2. Be literal
Children with ASD tend to take things literally. As mentioned earlier, jokes and sarcasm can be difficult for them to comprehend. It’s important to speak plainly and say exactly what you mean and want.
Your child also might exhibit echolalia and continuously repeat words he or she has heard somewhere, but not understand what they mean. You may have to act like a detective and figure out what she/he’s really saying or asking. You will then have to teach your child how to use those words in context.
3. Be a patient teacher
As a parent, you may want to swoop in and give your child what he/she needs immediately. However, it’s beneficial to be patient and let your child come up with the words on their own. This will ultimately help them improve their verbal skills. It’s also important to speak slowly so they have time to reflect and respond to what you say.
Get the help you both need
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is get professional help from trained therapists who have experience treating ASD. Early intervention is very important – the sooner you start the better. There are many ways to help your child improve his or her communication and speech skills.
One method that can be employed is ABA therapy or “Applied Behavior Analysis.”
ABA therapy is designed to help children and parents tackle the behavior issues that often accompany ASD. Stress and anxiety can provoke frustration, which may cause your child to act out or even become angry and aggressive. ABA therapy helps children develop the communication, social, and self-control skills they need to handle everyday interactions. It also encourages positive behavior and appropriate reactions.
Lumiere’s Children’s Therapy provides ABA therapy for children with ASD, along with a list of other comprehensive therapies for children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions.
- Speech therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Developmental therapy
- Physical therapy
- Social work
- Augmentative alternative communication
- Early intervention
Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.