Developing Your Autistic Child's Communication Skills

"Any tips on helping my child with autism to be more verbal?"

Although the cause of speech and language problems in autism is unknown, many experts believe that the difficulties are caused by a variety of conditions that occur either before, during, or after birth affecting brain development. This interferes with a child's ability to interpret and interact with the world.

The communication problems of autism vary, depending upon the intellectual and social development of the child. Some may be unable to speak, whereas others may have rich vocabularies and are able to talk about topics of interest in great depth. Most have difficulty effectively using language. Many also have problems with word and sentence meaning, and understanding.

No one treatment method has been found to successfully improve communication in all kids who have autism. The best treatment begins early, during the preschool years, and is geared towards the individual.

The goal of therapy should be to improve useful communication. For some, verbal communication is a realistic goal. For others, the goal may be gestured communication. Still others may have the goal of communicating by means of a symbol system such as picture boards.

A lack of communication skills may cause inappropriate behaviors and challenging situations for both the child and parent. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an augmentative communication system developed to help kids quickly acquire a functional means of communication. PECS is appropriate for children who do not use speech or who may speak with limited effectiveness (i.e., those who have articulation or motor planning difficulties, limited communicative partners, or a lack of initiative in communication). PECS has a number of advantages over other methods of addressing communication. Most importantly, it works, which encourages the child to communicate more often, reducing frustrating situations.

When your child hands you a picture or sentence strip, you can easily understand what they are trying to communicate with you. From the start, communication is initiated by your child, making it meaningful and highly motivating. It is an inexpensive communication system.

A PECS symbol can be as simple as a hand-drawn picture, or a snapshot. The child is able to communicate with anyone, versus sign language. Anyone willing to accept a picture is available, not just those who understand sign language or who are familiar enough with the child to understand him/her. Children are able to generalize communication to a wide variety of situations and people.

A uniform system for using Velcro fasteners on your symbols, boards, and books needs to be established. This will ensure that all of your PECS symbols can be used with any of the boards or books within the child's environment.

If the child doesn't eventually develop speech, printed words will likely be a more convenient and natural means of communication down the road than pictures alone. Also, we want to encourage reading in every child, and pairing words in a system that likely will become very motivating for a child might help hasten acquisition of those printed words.

The efficacy of various types of symbols may have to be tested with your child. Some kids can better interpret photographs, because they look more like the actual activity or object that the picture represents. Others may find all the colors and visual elements of a photograph too distracting or difficult to decode, and may find a simple black-line drawing easier to use. 

There are many apps for the iPad and iPhone that help tremendously with an autistic child's language and communication challenges.


1 comment:

  1. A friend with an autistic son keeps animals around. He says that his son is forced to talk to communicate with the animals and figure out what they want.

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