Strategies to support communication development in children with ASD

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Speech strategies to support communication and language development in children with ASD

Every child on the autism spectrum is unique and special, so strategies that work for each child will depend on that child and what is motivating to them. Here are ten great speech language pathology strategies that will encourage language development in children with ASD:

  1. Play and social interaction – most children learn the basics of language through play and interacting with their caregivers in meaningful ways. Encourage your child to play with you, get face to face on the ground, and starting talking!
  2. Attention – Help your child pay attention to you when you’re playing together. You can encourage your child to make eye contact with you by holding a favorite toy or object near your eye and waiting for them to look at you before handing that item over. Try a fun game such as blowing bubbles or rolling a ball and wait a few seconds for eye contact before blowing a bubble, etc.
  3. Follow their lead – talk about what it is they are already paying attention to or playing with – they will be more likely to listen and learn vocabulary because you are talking about something they like.
  4. Keep it short – talk about what your child is doing, and if they are non-verbal, use one word sentences such as “ball” if they are playing with a ball, or “bounce” if they are bouncing the ball. This helps your child learn to understand language and to copy it more easily.
  5. Imitation – before children learn to copy words and talk, they learn to copy gestures and movements. For example, clapping hands, waving bye bye, knocking on a door, banging on a drum, etc. Children with ASD often have a harder time paying attention to others and may need more help copying others, including movements and speech. Help them learn to copy you by first copying them. Copy them if they bang on a drum. Take turns and see if the interaction keeps going. If they make a sound or say a word, repeat it back to them.
  6. Add structure – research shows that children on the spectrum respond best when they know what to expect, so having a routine or structure in place can help them relax so they can learn better. Having a visual schedule showing what the routine is at home can help your child follow routines, avoid meltdowns and learn the language associated with that routine.
  7. Augmentative and Alternative Communication – some children with ASD either are behind in talking and need a system to help them learn language while they are learning to speak, or may rely on an alternative system other than speech. Many tools and devices are available to help, such as sign language, PECS (picture exchange communication system), electronic devices such as the GoTalk or Tobii, or software such as ProloquoGo. Your child’s speech language pathologist can recommend the system that is best suited to your child.
  8. Social thinking – for older children on the spectrum who are talking or who have higher levels of language, talking with others may be challenging because of the social rules. These children may have a hard time knowing what the rules are, such as how to start a conversation, when to stop, how to stay on topic, or how to keep a conversation going. They might also have a hard time taking into account the feelings others or understanding another person’s point of view. Explaining the “rules of conversation” explicitly and reading books and asking your child to identify and interpret the feelings of the characters can be helpful. Social language groups are also a great way to teach and put into practice these skills.
  9. Create a team – children on the spectrum often have additional needs to speech and language, such as needing help with managing unwanted behaviors, fine motor movements such as using their fingers to dress themselves or write, or managing sensory overload such as being sensitive to noise or lights (or seeking out sensory stimulation such as making noise or banging on objects). Getting help to address these issues from the right people can help your child to learn language as they will be in a better position to pay attention and be motivated. Occupational therapists, behavioral consultants and other members of an allied health care team can help with those areas.
  10. Be part of the team – practicing speech strategies at home and incorporating them into your everyday routine makes all the difference! Parents are such an important part of the team and can help a child to reach their full potential.

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