Increasing Communication Skills for Children with Autism

Wednesday September 15, 2021 at 2:28 PM


Increasing Communication Skills for Children with Autism

Communication is something that is often taken for granted, but for individuals with autism, the ability to communicate wants and needs can be difficult and frustrating. In a recent article with Metro Parent, Sterling Heights Clinical Director Christine Morelli discusses different ways to help children with autism to communicate with the world around them.

Morelli says that parents know their children best, even understanding their subtle, nonverbal cues better than anyone else, which can be great around the home, but children may also learn that they don’t need to learn to request things. When the child gets older and begins to attend school and go out into the community more, it will be vital for them to be able to communicate what they want or need to those around them, whether it’s verbally or nonverbally. Morelli points out that, while many people think communicating is strictly speaking, it’s actually so much more than that. Eye contact, gestures, pointing at or reaching for things – these are all important forms of communication that don’t require speech. The earlier a child is taught these alternative communication skills, the easier it will be for them to have their needs met.

Signs your child is ready

Every child has a unique set of strengths and skills, so our team works closely with each family to identify your child’s existing communication skills and better understand what they are trying to convey through each action, sound, and gesture. Some children may guide their therapist’s hand to a toy, some might point to or reach for an item, and others may make sounds in an attempt to say the item’s name. These are all signs that your child may be ready to build upon the skills they already have. Once your child’s primary form of communication is identified, our team can work on ways to teach them how to request items in a way that can be understood across multiple environments.

Tips to practice at home

A great way to practice communication is by using some of your child’s favorite items in their most comfortable environment. If your child has everything they need with them at all times, there is no motivation to learn how to ask for anything. Using your child’s most preferred items will encourage them to learn effective ways to request their favorite toys, food, and activities, while practicing in familiar environments, such as your home or a close family member’s home, will help them generalize these skills across different settings.

One example of this is limiting your child’s free access to track pieces when building a train set by keeping them close to you, then encouraging them to ask for each piece as they need it. Another way to practice communication is if you know your child is going to want a preferred snack, instead of pre-emptively grabbing it for them, prompt them to request the snack themselves. It is also important when working on communication to be patient, consistent, and offer plenty of praise when your child does request something. Showing excitement towards their requests will pair the requests with social praise and make them more motivated to request items and activities in the future.

Share what you learn with the team

The best way to make progress and work through the challenging moments is to work as a team. By sharing what has been working at home with your child’s BCBA, they can work with you to create a more effective plan to increase your child’s communication skills during ABA sessions as well. Being on the same page with your child’s ABA team will help their skills improve at a faster rate as well as generalize them across multiple people and settings. Increasing your child’s ability to ask for the things they want and need will have a profound effect on their ability to form relationships with others, and will also help them prosper in school. Communication is such an important fundamental skill, and Morelli emphasizes that when your child can increase their ability to communicate with others, it can help them flourish in so many other ways as well.

Thanks for reading! If your child is currently receiving services with us and you would like to discuss ways to improve your child’s communication, please reach out to your child’s clinician to determine a plan tailored to your child’s specific skills and needs. Be sure to follow us on social media to catch the latest blogs and stay up to date on what’s new with Gateway. Have a great day!

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