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How to Help Children with Asperger's and HFA to Develop Language Skills

“Do children with high functioning autism tend to have problems with speech and language? How can parents tell if their child has problems in this area, and what type of interventions are recommended?”

Language seems to develop on time in kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), but words, while formulated according to the rules, seem to lack functional effectiveness, because they most often are used to express immediate needs or to expound on the youngster’s favorite subjects.

Young people with AS or HFA seem not to see the main idea or the pivotal point. They tend to have problems with abstraction, inference, or practical, functional language. Also, their semantic understanding is limited, which frequently shows up in tests and instructional measures of listening comprehension.

Instead of delaying language development, AS and HFA impairs the subtleties of social communication. These boys and girls have difficulty understanding nuances (e.g., irony, sarcasm, fanciful or metaphoric language, etc.), and many of them take language literally (e.g., expressions like “watching paint dry” or “smart as a tack” leave these kids very confused).

Young people with AS and HFA are often referred to as “little professors,” which is due to their stiff and often pedantic and monotonic use of language. The varied qualities of expressive language may be unusual, which is called prosody (i.e., the tempo, pitch, loudness, tonality, stress emphasis, and rhythm patterns of spoken language). AS and HFA speech patterns often seem odd to those who don’t know them. Tone, intonation and volume are often restricted, seemingly inappropriate, or appear at odds with what is being said.

These kids also have difficulty interpreting and displaying non-verbal communication. Body language, facial expressions, the use of personal space, gestures and postures are often mysteries to boys and girls on the autism spectrum. This inability to instinctively comprehend unspoken communication has led some experts to suggest Asperger’s is actually a non-verbal communication disorder.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children


How can parents tell if their AS or HFA child has language difficulties? We’ve provided a checklist below…

Characteristics Checklist for Asperger’s and HFA: Language Skills Deficits—
  1. Attempts to control the language exchange, and may leave a conversation before it is concluded.
  2. Creates jokes that make no sense.
  3. Creates own words, using them with great pleasure in social situations.
  4. Difficulty discriminating between relevant and irrelevant information.
  5. Displays a delay when answering questions.
  6. Displays difficulty analyzing and synthesizing information presented.
  7. Displays difficulty as language moves from a literal to a more abstract level.
  8. Displays difficulty sustaining attention and is easily distracted (e.g., one might be discussing plants, and the AS or HFA child will ask a question about another country — something said may have triggered this connection, or the child may still be in an earlier conversation).
  9. Displays difficulty understanding not only individual words, but conversations and material read.
  10. Displays difficulty with problem solving.
  11. Displays difficulty with volume control (i.e., either too loud or too soft).
  12. Does not ask for the meaning of an unknown word.
  13. Does not inquire about others when conversing. 
  14. Does not make conversations reciprocal (i.e., has great difficulty with the back-and-forth aspect).
  15. Engages in obsessive questioning or talking in one area.
  16. Focuses conversations on one narrow topic – with too many details given.
  17. Has a large vocabulary consisting mainly of nouns and verbs.
  18. Has a voice pattern that is often described as robotic or as the “little professor.”
  19. Has difficulty absorbing, analyzing, and then responding to information. 
  20. Has difficulty discriminating between fact and fantasy. 
  21. Has difficulty initiating, maintaining, and ending conversations with others. 
  22. Has difficulty maintaining the conversation topic. 
  23. Has difficulty understanding the meaning conveyed by others when they vary their pitch, rhythm, or tone.
  24. Impairment in prosody (i.e., the pitch, stress, and rhythm of the voice). 
  25. Impairment in the pragmatic use of language (i.e., the inability to use language in a social sense as a way to interact and communicate with others).
  26. Impairment in the processing of language (i.e., one’s ability to comprehend what has been said).
  27. Impairment in the semantic use of language (i.e., understanding the language being used). 
  28. Interprets known words on a literal level (i.e., concrete thinking).
  29. Interrupts others.
  30. Is unable to make or understand jokes/teasing.
  31. Is unsure how to ask for help/make requests/make comments.
  32. Knows how to make a greeting, but has no idea how to continue the conversation (e.g., the next comment may be one that is totally irrelevant).
  33. Lacks interest in the topics of others.
  34. Makes comments that may embarrass others.
  35. Moves from one seemingly unrelated topic to the next.
  36. Once a discussion begins, it is as if there is no “stop” button (i.e., must complete a predetermined dialogue).
  37. Processing of information is slow and easily interrupted by any environmental stimulation (i.e., difficulty with topic maintenance), which appears as distractibility or inattentiveness.
  38. Rarely varies the pitch, stress, rhythm, or melody of his speech – and does not realize this can convey meaning.
  39. Rhythm of speech is more adult-like than child-like.
  40. Uses conversation to convey facts and information about special interests, rather than to convey thoughts, emotions, or feelings.
  41. Uses language scripts or verbal rituals in conversation, often described as “nonsense talk” by others. Scripts may be made up or taken from movies, books or television programs (e.g., uses the voice of a movie or cartoon character conversationally and is unaware that this is inappropriate). At times, the scripts are subtle and may be difficult to detect.

Language Disorder—

Some children on the autism spectrum have a full-blown language disorder. Language disorder refers to problems with understanding the message coming from others (i.e., receptive language), and/or getting their meaning or message across to others (i.e., expressive language).

Language disorder is different than “delayed language.” With delayed language, the youngster develops speech and language in the same way as other kids, but later. In language disorder, speech and language do not develop normally. A youngster with language disorder may have any of the symptoms listed below:
  • difficulty finding the right words when talking, and often use placeholder words such as "um"
  • difficulty putting words together into sentences, or their sentences may be simple and short and the word order may be off
  • difficulty understanding what other people have said
  • have a vocabulary that is below the level of other kids the same age
  • leave words out of sentences when talking
  • problems following directions that are spoken to them
  • problems organizing their thoughts
  • use certain phrases over and over again, and repeat (echo) parts or all of questions
  • use tenses (past, present, future) improperly

Because of their language problems, AS and HFA kids often have difficulty in social settings.

Speech and language therapy is the best approach to treating this type of disorder. Psychological therapy (e.g., psychotherapy, counseling, or cognitive behavioral therapy) is also recommended because of the possibility of related emotional or behavioral problems. Moms and dads who are concerned that their youngster's speech or language is lacking should see their doctor. Ask about getting a referral to a speech and language therapist.

Many people believe that speech and language treatment can’t begin until a youngster starts talking.  This is not true.  Treatment can - and should - begin as soon as possible.  Research shows that kids know a lot about language long before the first word is ever spoken.  Your youngster’s treatment team might include a doctor, an audiologist, a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist, and/or a social worker. 

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and HFA Teens

In addition to speech and language therapy, there are a few things parents can do to assist early on in their child’s development. Here are some parenting tips for helping along your youngster’s language-skills acquisition:
  • Answer your youngster every time he speaks. This rewards him for talking.
  • Ask your youngster lots of questions. 
  • Describe for your youngster what she is doing, feeling and hearing in the course of the day. 
  • Don’t criticize grammar mistakes.  Instead, just model good grammar. 
  • Don’t try to force your youngster to speak. 
  • Encourage storytelling and sharing information. 
  • Expand on what your youngster says (e.g., if your youngster says, “fruit” …you can say, “Oh, so you want some fruit”).
  • Follow your youngster’s lead, so you are doing activities that hold his interest as you talk. 
  • Have your youngster play with “typical” kids whose language may be more advanced. 
  • Listen to your youngster. Look at her when she talks to you. Give her time to respond (it may feel like an eternity, but count to 10 before filling the silence). 
  • Look at family photos and talk about them. 
  • Make eye contact whenever you are conversing with your child (regardless of whether or not he/she is making eye contact with you).
  • Plan family trips and outings.  Your new experiences give you something interesting to talk about before, during, and after the outing. 
  • Play with your youngster one-on-one, and talk about the toys and games you are playing. 
  • Read books aloud.  Ask a librarian for books appropriate to your youngster’s age. If your child loses interest in the text, just talk about the pictures. 
  • Sing to your youngster and provide them with music.  Learning new songs helps your youngster learn new words, and uses memory skills, listening skills, and expression of ideas with words. 
  • Talk a lot to your youngster.  Tell them what you are doing as you do it. 
  • Use gestures along with words.
  • When talking to your child, frequently vary the tempo, pitch, loudness, tonality, stress emphasis, and rhythm patterns of your voice.

Young people with AS and HFA can have problems with any - or all - of these aspects involved in producing or understanding speech and language. Especially, due to their deficits in appreciating social situations, they may not have any understanding of how others might respond to a communicated message.

These children frequently appear to have deficits in paying attention to auditory information. Thus, they frequently have to be ‘trained’ to pay attention to sounds. Even when they are paying attention, they often seem to have difficulty in decoding what sounds mean and in matching them to words or thoughts. In some children on the autism spectrum, this may be because they actually have difficulties with words and thoughts themselves.

Some children with AS and HFA have difficulties with articulation, often as part of a broader problem of difficulty with oral-motor functions (i.e., movements of the lips and tongue, and associated breath control). On the up-side, though, these children are frequently very good with paying attention and appreciating visual materials. Thus, the visual route is often the best way of getting access to their minds and giving them a way of expressing themselves, in turn.
 
Question: Mark, thanks for the very comprehensive article. I work a lot with HFA adults, and I have yet to find a way to get speech therapy for them. Most speech therapists are mystified by adult autism, it seems. Any suggestions?  

Answer: The best approach for these adults is to simply focus on the social aspects of communication (i.e., how to use language in a way that results in a desirable connection for both parties involved in the verbal exchange). 

Aspergers Children and Language Development

Language seems to develop on time in children with Aspergers (high functioning autism), but words, while formulated according to the rules, seem to lack functional effectiveness, because they most often are used to express immediate needs or to expound on the child’s favorite subjects.

The child with Aspergers seems not to see the main idea or the pivotal point. They tend to have problems with abstraction, inference, or practical, functional language. And their semantic understanding is limited, which frequently shows up in tests and instructional measures of listening comprehension.

Instead of delaying language development, Aspergers impairs the subtleties of social communication. Aspergers children have difficulty understanding nuances such as irony, sarcasm and fanciful or metaphoric language. Many Aspergers children take language literally. Expressions such as “watching paint dry,” or “smart as a tack” leave these children very confused.

Children with Aspergers are often referred to as “little professors,” which is due to their stiff and often pedantic and monotonic use of language. The varied, expressive qualities of expressive language may be unusual. This is called prosody, which is the pitch, loudness, tempo, stress emphasis, tonality, and rhythm patterns of spoken language. Aspergers speech patterns often seem odd to people who don’t know them. Tone, intonation and volume are often restricted, seemingly inappropriate, or at appear at odds with what is being said.

Children with Aspergers also have difficulty interpreting and displaying non-verbal communication. Facial expressions, body language, gestures and postures are often mysteries to children with Aspergers, as is personal space. This inability to instinctively comprehend unspoken communication has led some experts to suggest Aspergers is actually a non-verbal communication disorder.


Characteristics Checklist for Aspergers: Language Skills

Impairments in Language Skills 

A. Impairment in the pragmatic use of language. This refers to the inability to use language in a social sense as a way to interact/communicate with other people. It is important to observe the individual’s use of language in various settings with various people (especially peers), since the impairments are in pragmatic language usage.

1. Uses conversation to convey facts and information about special interests, rather than to convey thoughts, emotions, or feelings.

2. Uses language scripts or verbal rituals in conversation, often described as “nonsense talk” by others (scripts may be made up or taken from movies/books/TV). At times, the scripts are subtle and may be difficult to detect.

3. Has difficulty initiating, maintaining, and ending conversations with others. For example:
  • Focuses conversations on one narrow topic, with too many details given, or moves from one seemingly unrelated topic to the next.
  • Once a discussion begins it is as if there is no “stop” button; must complete a predetermined dialogue.
  • Knows how to make a greeting, but has no idea how to continue the conversation; the next comment may be one that is totally irrelevant.
  • Does not make conversations reciprocal (has great difficulty with the back-and-forth aspect), attempts to control the language exchange, may leave a conversation before it is concluded.
  • Does not inquire about others when conversing. 
4. Is unsure how to ask for help/make requests/make comments:
  • Fails to inquire regarding others.
  • Makes comments that may embarrass others.
  • Interrupts others.
  • Engages in obsessive questioning or talking in one area, lacks interest in the topics of others.
  • Has difficulty maintaining the conversation topic.
B. Impairment in the semantic use of language. This refers to understanding the language being used. 

1. Displays difficulty understanding not only individual words, but conversations and material read.

2. Displays difficulty with problem solving.

3. Displays difficulty analyzing/synthesizing information presented:
  • Does not ask for the meaning of an unknown word.
  • Uses words in a peculiar manner.
  • Is unable to make or understand jokes/teasing.
  • Creates jokes that make no sense.
  • Interprets known words on a literal level (concrete thinking).
  • Has a large vocabulary consisting mainly of nouns and verbs.
  • Creates own words, using them with great pleasure in social situations.
  • Has difficulty discriminating between fact and fantasy.
C. Impairment in prosody. This refers to the pitch, stress, and rhythm of an individual’s voice. 

1. Rarely varies the pitch, stress, rhythm, or melody of his speech. Does not realize this can convey meaning.

2. Has a voice pattern that is often described as robotic or as the “little professor”; in children, the rhythm of speech is more adult-like than child-like.

3. Displays difficulty with volume control (too loud or too soft).

4. Uses the voice of a movie or cartoon character conversationally and is unaware that this is inappropriate.

5. Has difficulty understanding the meaning conveyed by others when they vary their pitch, rhythm, or tone.

D. Impairment in the processing of language. This refers to one’s ability to comprehend what has been said. The Asperger individual has difficulty absorbing, analyzing, and then responding to the information. 

1. When processing language (which requires multiple channels working together), has difficulty regulating just one channel, difficulty discriminating between relevant and irrelevant information.

2. Has difficulty shifting from one channel to another; processing is slow and easily interrupted by any environmental stimulation (seen as difficulty with topic maintenance). This will appear as distractibility or inattentiveness. (Note: When looking at focusing issues it is very difficult to determine the motivator. It could be attributed to one or a few of the following reasons: lack of interest, fantasy involvement, anxiety, or processing difficulty.)

3. Displays a delay when answering questions.

4. Displays difficulty sustaining attention and is easily distracted (one might be discussing plants and the Asperger individual will ask a question about another country — something said may have triggered this connection or the individual may still be in an earlier conversation).

5. Displays difficulty as language moves from a literal to a more abstract level (generalization difficulties found in the Asperger population are, in part, due to these processing difficulties).


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

High-Functioning Autism/Asperger's and Delayed Speech

Question

"Does a child with level 1 autism typically have delayed speech?"

Answer

Approximately 50% of kids with high-functioning autism (HFA) have delayed speech. While many of them grow out of this by age five, others go on to experience other language problems. These generally fall into one or more of the following three areas of linguistics:

1. Pragmatics—

Pragmatics refers to language usage and the way that context relates to meaning. Kids with HFA often have difficulty in holding a normal conversation where there is give and take and social interaction. While most children learn these skills by observing others, those with the disorder may need some personal coaching. Problems with pragmatics manifest in the following forms:
  • does not allow the other person to talk
  • does not use people’s names
  • focuses exclusively on topics that interest them
  • gives too much detailed information
  • interrupting others
  • lack of facial expression and eye contact
  • lack of greeting
  • oblivious to boredom in others
  • oblivious to emotional reactions in others


2. Semantics—

Semantics is defined as the meaning or interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form. While many children with HFA and Asperger's are extremely intelligent and avid readers, they often struggle in this particular area. They may have problems with the following:
  • difficulty in understanding jokes
  • difficulty in understanding metaphors and figures of speech
  • interpreting everything literally
  • pedantic speech
  • problems with understanding teasing
  • sarcasm is not understood

3. Prosody—

Prosody refers to the tonal and rhythmic aspects of speech. Kids on the autism spectrum often have a strange manner of speaking. It may come across with words enunciated precisely and formally and the speed, volume and rhythm may be odd. Problem areas to look out for include the following:
  • difficulties in coordinating speaking and breathing
  • little or no inflection
  • monotonous sound
  • stilted or formal speech
  • strange rhythms of speech
  • talking loudly

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's


Help for Linguistic Difficulties—

HFA kids and grown-ups with language problems can benefit from one-on-one training with a parent or speech therapist. The problems are often tackled individually and it takes perseverance and repetition to see lasting results. Methods vary but could include the following:
  • practicing eye contact and body language
  • practicing normal pronunciation and inflection
  • teaching how to start a conversation
  • training them not to interrupt
  • use of pictures to explain figures of speech

Unless they observe other areas of "slowness" during early development, moms and dads may hesitate to seek advice. Some may excuse the lack of talking by reassuring themselves that "he'll outgrow it" or "he's just more interested in physical things." Knowing what's "normal" and what's not in speech and language development can help you figure out if you should be concerned or if your youngster is right on schedule.

It's important to discuss early speech and language development, as well as other developmental concerns, with your physician at every routine well-child visit. It can be difficult to tell whether a youngster is just immature in his ability to communicate, or has a problem that requires professional attention.

These developmental norms may provide clues:

• Before 12 Months: It's important for children this age to be watched for signs that they're using their voices to relate to their environment. Cooing and babbling are early stages of speech development. As babies get older (often around 9 months), they begin to string sounds together, incorporate the different tones of speech, and say words like "mama" and "dada" (without really understanding what those words mean). Before 12 months, kids should also be attentive to sound and begin to recognize names of common objects (for example bottle, binky, etc.). Babies who watch intently but don't react to sound may be showing signs of hearing loss.

• By 12 to 15 Months: Children this age should have a wide range of speech sounds in their babbling (like p, b, m, d, or n), begin to imitate and approximate sounds and words modeled by family members, and typically say one or more words (not including "mama" and "dada") spontaneously. Nouns usually come first, like "baby" and "ball." Your youngster should also be able to understand and follow simple one-step directions ("Please give me the toy," for example).

• From 18 to 24 Months: Though there is a lot of variability, most toddlers are saying about 20 words by 18 months and 50 or more words by the time they turn 2. By age 2, children are starting to combine two words to make simple sentences, such as "baby crying" or "Daddy big." A 2-year-old should also be able to identify common objects, common pictured objects, indicate body parts on self when labeled, and follow two-step commands (such as "Please pick up the toy and give it to me").

• From 2 to 3 Years: Moms and dads often witness an "explosion" in their youngster's speech. Your toddler's vocabulary should increase (to too many words to count) and he or she should routinely combine three or more words into sentences. Comprehension also should increase — by 3 years of age, a youngster should begin to understand what it means to "put it on the table" or "put it under the bed." Your youngster also should begin to identify colors and comprehend descriptive concepts (big versus little, for example).

Language vs. Speech—

Speech and language are often confused, but there is a distinction between the two:

• Language is much broader and refers to the entire system of expressing and receiving information in a way that's meaningful. It is understanding and being understood through communication — verbal, nonverbal, and written.

• Speech is the verbal expression of language and includes articulation, which is the way sounds and words are formed.

Although problems in speech and language differ, they often overlap. A youngster with a language problem may be able to pronounce words well but be unable to put more than two words together. Another youngster's speech may be difficult to understand, but he or she may use words and phrases to express ideas. And another youngster may speak well but have difficulty following directions.


If you're concerned about your youngster's speech and language development, there are some things to watch for.

An infant who isn't responding to sound or who isn't vocalizing is of particular concern. Between 12 and 24 months, reasons for concern include a youngster who:
  • has difficulty understanding simple verbal requests
  • has trouble imitating sounds by 18 months
  • isn't using gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye by 12 months
  • prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate by 18 months

Seek an evaluation if a youngster over 2 years old:
  • can only imitate speech or actions and doesn't produce words or phrases spontaneously
  • can't follow simple directions
  • has an unusual tone of voice (such as raspy or nasal sounding)
  • is more difficult to understand than expected for his or her age. Moms and dads and regular caregivers should understand about half of a youngster's speech at 2 years and about three quarters at 3 years. By 4 years old, a youngster should be mostly understood, even by people who don't know the youngster.
  • says only certain sounds or words repeatedly and can't use oral language to communicate more than his or her immediate needs

Causes—

Many things can cause delays in speech and language development:

• Ear infections, especially chronic infections, can affect hearing ability. Simple ear infections that have been adequately treated, though, should have no effect on speech.

• Hearing problems are also commonly related to delayed speech, which is why a youngster's hearing should be tested by an audiologist whenever there's a speech concern. A youngster who has trouble hearing may have trouble articulating as well as understanding, imitating, and using language.

• Many children with speech delays have oral-motor problems, meaning there's inefficient communication in the areas of the brain responsible for speech production. The youngster encounters difficulty using and coordinating the lips, tongue, and jaw to produce speech sounds. Speech may be the only problem or may be accompanied by other oral-motor problems such as feeding difficulties. A speech delay may also be a part of (instead of indicate) a more "global" (or general) developmental delay.

• Speech delays in an otherwise normally developing youngster can sometimes be caused by oral impairments, like problems with the tongue or palate (the roof of the mouth). A short frenulum (the fold beneath the tongue) can limit tongue movement for speech production.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

What Can A Speech-Language Pathologist Do?

If you or your physician suspect that your youngster has a problem, early evaluation by a speech-language pathologist is crucial. Of course, if there turns out to be no problem after all, an evaluation can ease your fears. Although you can seek out a speech-language pathologist on your own, your primary care physician can refer you to one.

In conducting an evaluation, a speech-language pathologist will look at a youngster's speech and language skills within the context of total development. Besides observing your youngster, the speech-language pathologist will conduct standardized tests and scales, and look for milestones in speech and language development.

The speech-language pathologist will also assess:
  • if your youngster is attempting to communicate in other ways, such as pointing, head shaking, gesturing, etc.
  • sound development and clarity of speech
  • what your youngster can say (called expressive language)
  • what your youngster understands (called receptive language)
  • your youngster's oral-motor status (how a youngster's mouth, tongue, palate, etc., work together for speech as well as eating and swallowing)

If the speech-language pathologist finds that your youngster needs speech therapy, your involvement will be very important. You can observe therapy sessions and learn to participate in the process. The speech therapist will show you how you can work with your youngster at home to improve speech and language skills.

Evaluation by a speech-language pathologist may find that your expectations are simply too high. Educational materials that outline developmental stages and milestones may help you look at your youngster more realistically.

What Can Parents Do?

Like so many other things, speech development is a mixture of nature and nurture. Genetic makeup will, in part, determine intelligence and speech and language development. However, a lot of it depends on environment. Is a youngster adequately stimulated at home or at childcare? Are there opportunities for communication exchange and participation? What kind of feedback does the youngster get?

When speech, language, hearing, or developmental problems do exist, early intervention can provide the help a youngster needs. And when you have a better understanding of why your youngster isn't talking, you can learn ways to encourage speech development.

Here are a few general tips to use at home:

• Read to your youngster, starting as early as 6 months. You don't have to finish a whole book, but look for age-appropriate soft or board books or picture books that encourage children to look while you name the pictures. Try starting with a classic book (such as Pat the Bunny) in which the youngster imitates the patting motion, or books with textures that children can touch. Later, let your youngster point to recognizable pictures and try to name them. Then move on to nursery rhymes, which have rhythmic appeal. Progress to predictable books (such as Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear) that let children anticipate what happens. Your little one may even start to memorize favorite stories.

• Spend a lot of time communicating with your youngster, even during infancy — talk, sing, and encourage imitation of sounds and gestures.

• Use everyday situations to reinforce your youngster's speech and language. In other words, talk your way through the day. For example, name foods at the grocery store, explain what you're doing as you cook a meal or clean a room, point out objects around the house, and as you drive, point out sounds you hear. Ask questions and acknowledge your youngster's responses (even when they're hard to understand). Keep things simple, but never use "baby talk."

It is never too late to seek help for speech difficulties. While a child may never sound completely normal or be able to hold a perfect conversation, there are definitely ways to work towards a great improvement. The key to success is often a commitment from a parent or family member to work with the youngster for extended periods of time.

Whatever your youngster's age, recognizing and treating problems early on is the best approach to help with speech and language delays. With proper therapy and time, your youngster will likely be better able to communicate with you and the rest of the world.

==> More parenting methods for dealing with the traits of ASD can be found here...


Pragmatic Language Impairment in Kids on the Autism Spectrum



"Any tips on how to help my high functioning child who has problems making friends, mostly because he initiates conversations that are off-topic or one-sided? He also has problems following conversations from others - so he reverts back to his topic of interest (make sense?)."

Pragmatic speech is language used to communicate and socialize (e.g., knowing what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and generally how to “act” around others during conversation). Many children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have difficulty using language in various social situations – even though they may have large vocabularies and are able to speak in full sentences that are clearly articulated. These “special needs” children may say words clearly and use long, complex sentences with correct grammar, but still have a communication problem if they haven’t mastered the rules for social language known as pragmatics.

Children with pragmatic speech issues may embarrass their parents (albeit unintentionally because they lack social skills) by making what others view as rude comments. They may have little variety in language use, say inappropriate or unrelated things during conversations, or tell stories in a disorganized way.



Pragmatics involve 3 major communication skills:
  1. Changing language according to the needs of the listener or situation (e.g., talking differently to a baby than to a grown-up, speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground, giving background information to an unfamiliar listener, etc.)
  2. Following rules for conversations and storytelling (e.g., how close to stand to someone when speaking, how to use facial expressions and eye contact, how to use verbal and nonverbal signals, introducing topics of conversation, rephrasing when misunderstood, staying on topic, taking turns in conversation, etc.)
  3. Using language for different purposes (e.g., requesting, promising, informing, greeting, demanding, etc.)

All kids have pragmatic difficulties in some situations. But, if problems in social language use occur often and seem inappropriate considering your youngster's age, he or she may have a pragmatic disorder. Children with Pragmatic Language Disorder have particular trouble understanding the meaning of what others are saying, and they are challenged in using language appropriately to get their needs met and interact with peers.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

Young people with the disorder often exhibit the following: 
  • aphasic speech (e.g., word search pauses, jargoning, word order errors, word category errors, verb tense errors)
  • delayed language development
  • difficulty explaining or describing an event
  • difficulty extracting the key points from a conversation or story
  • difficulty following conversations or stories
  • difficulty in distinguishing offensive remarks
  • difficulty in making and maintaining friendships and relationships because of delayed language development
  • difficulty in reading comprehension
  • difficulty understanding choices and making decisions
  • difficulty understanding contextual cues
  • difficulty understanding questions
  • difficulty understanding satire or jokes
  • difficulty with organizational skills
  • difficulty with pronouns or pronoun reversal
  • difficulty with reading body language
  • difficulty with verb tenses
  • stuttering or cluttering speech
  • tendency to be concrete or prefer facts to stories
  • tendency to get lost in the details
  • tendency to initiate conversations that are "off-topic" or "one-sided"
  • tendency to repeat words or phrases

Pragmatic disorders often coexist with other language problems (e.g., vocabulary development, grammar). In addition, pragmatic problems often lower social acceptance (e.g., peers may avoid having conversations with the affected child).


Language Problems in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism 



Pragmatic Language Skills Development—

Moms and dads can help their AS and HFA children to use language appropriately in social situations (i.e., pragmatics). Here are some general suggestions to help develop these skills:

1. As often as needed, encourage your child to rephrase or revise an unclear word or sentence. Provide an appropriate rephrase or revision by asking, "Did you mean _____?"

2. As often as possible, take full advantage of naturally occurring “teaching-situations” throughout the day. For instance, have your child practice (a) requesting necessary materials to complete a project, (b) greetings at the beginning of a day, (c) saying goodbye to friends, (d) asking siblings what they want to eat for lunch, and so on.

3. Demonstrate how nonverbal cues are important to communication (e.g., talk about what happens when a facial expression does not match the emotion expressed in a verbal message, such as using angry words while smiling).

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

4. Pretending to talk to different people in different situations is a great pragmatics exercise (i.e., role-playing different conversations). For instance, create a situation in which your child has to explain the same thing to several people, such as how to make a grilled cheese sandwich or play a particular game. Model how your child should talk to a peer versus a grown-up, or a sibling versus a stranger.

5. Teach storytelling skills. Provide visual cues (e.g., pictures, objects, etc.) or a story outline to help tell a story in sequence.

6. Teach the use of “persuasion.” For instance, ask your child what she would say to convince you to let her do something. Discuss different ways to present a message. For example, indirect (“I wish I could go next door to see my friend.”) versus direct (“Can I go next door and see my friend?”), or impolite (“I’m not going to eat those green beans!”) versus polite (“Can I please have something other than green beans for my vegetable?”).

7. When your child speaks, respond to his “intended” message rather than correcting his grammar or pronunciation. Also, provide an appropriate model in your own speech. For instance, if your child says, "That's how it doesn't work," you can respond with, "Correct. That's not how it works.”

Kids with pragmatic language impairment are often unable to vary their language use, to relate information or stories in an organized way, or to say appropriate and “on-topic” things during conversations. Pragmatic speech disorder can also be related to difficulties with grammar and vocabulary development. As kids get older and more social skills are demanded, peers may avoid conversation with the child experiencing pragmatic speech problems. As a result, these “special needs” kids have fewer friends, are less accepted in social situations, and may be bullied or teased by peers.

If you think your AS or HFA youngster may have a pragmatic speech problem, contact a local licensed speech pathologist for an evaluation.


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Aspergers Children and Social Skills Interventions

In this post, we will look at the ingredients that are critical to making “social skills interventions” successful for kids with Aspergers. Here you will find basic principles for teaching social skills that capitalize on the strengths of such kids, while specifically addressing their deficits:

Make the abstract concrete—

Relative to some academic skills, teaching social competence involves abstract skills and concepts. Because kids with Aspergers tend to be concrete and literal, the abstract nature of these interpersonal skills such as kindness, reciprocity, friendships, thoughts, and feelings makes them especially difficult to master. A first critical step is to define the abstract social skill or problem in clear and concrete terms. The behavior must be explicitly operationalized and the youngster taught to identify it and differentiate it from other behaviors (Is this a friend or not a friend? Is this a quiet or a loud voice? Were you being teased or not? Are you following directions or not?). Kids learning eye contact may respond better to the more concrete “point your eyes” than to “make eye contact” or even “look at me.” Personal space can be defined concretely as “an arm away” or “a ruler away” instead of “too close.” “If-then” rules can be taught when the social behaviors involved are predictable and consistent. For example, “If someone says ‘thank you,’ then you say ‘you're welcome’.” Short menus of behavior options can be presented for particular social situations for kids to choose among (e.g., three things you can do to deal with teasing).

Visually-based instruction is another example of a way to make the abstract concrete. Many kids with Aspergers, even those who are high functioning and who have considerable verbal skill, demonstrate a visual preference or learn best with visually cued instruction. Incorporating visual cues, prompts, and props to augment verbal instruction can make abstract social skills more tangible and easily understood. Pictures can be used to define concepts or clarify definitions. Examples of intermediate and finished products can be used to demonstrate steps in activities or projects. Written lists can be used to summarize discussion topics. Voice volume or affect intensity can be depicted visually, in a thermometer-like format. In the PROGRESS Curriculum, a large “Z” made of cardboard is used to depict the back-and-forth of a conversation. Similarly, kids are taught to look at the eyes of others using a cardboard arrow. They are instructed to hold the arrow on the side of their face, next to their right eye, and point it at the eyes of the person to whom they are speaking. This aligns their face and eyes in the correct direction. Once this skill has been practiced using this concrete visual cue, use of the arrow is faded. When a youngster needs a reminder to look in someone's eyes, the arrow can be held up unobtrusively as a cue. Such visual prompts can then be faded and the skill can be practiced in more natural contexts.

Structure and predictability—

In most group therapy, including social skills training, topics and session content change from week to week. One way to ease the anxiety that this may cause, while also facilitating transitions between activities and increasing comprehension, is to provide structure, predictability, and routines. Specifically, maintaining a consistent opening, lesson, and closing format, regardless of session topic, can be helpful, as can predictable group rituals, such as weekly songs or joke time. For example, younger kids might always begin with a singing routine that welcomes each participant by name. Older kids and adolescents might start each session with a routine in which each member recounts a positive and a difficult event from the previous week. The greeting might always be followed by an instructional activity. Although the content, focus, and technique would change from week to week, the sequence of this instruction always following the group greeting would provide some measure of predictability. Group instruction might always be followed by a snack, with accompanying conversation on an identified topic of interest or joke telling. A closing routine should always signal the end of the session. This routine could include a review of the session's topic, a song, a story, a quiz, or a goodbye to each participant. The essential ingredient is the predictability of the routine, not its specific content.

Visual cues, such as picture schedules and written lists, also can clarify the sequence of events during group and prepare members for upcoming transitions, new activities, or unexpected changes. The session schedule used in the PROGRESS Curriculum resembles a traffic light with picture-word icons depicting each activity. The icons in the upper-most green circle of the traffic light begin the session, those in the yellow circle occur during the middle of the session, and those in the bottom red circle close the group. As an activity is completed, the icon is removed from the traffic light.

Engaged transitions—

Another way to ease the anxiety and behavior difficulties often associated with transitions is to focus participants' attention on a concrete task that naturally leads them from one activity to the next. For example, when transitioning from the structured group activity to the snack period, kids might work in pairs to put away materials and prepare the room for the snack. This focuses them on a specific task, as opposed to the change of activity. The PROGRESS Curriculum transitions kids from the opening group circle to the structured skill development activity in a novel way. The transition is facilitated by an activity called “Pick-and-Pass,” which uses a large container decorated with question marks that contains objects, pictures, or words that are used in the subsequent activity. Each youngster removes an item from the can and passes it to the next youngster as the rest of the group chants “Pick and pass” while clapping. This is usually met with great excitement as the kids select an item or wait for the can to be passed, easing the transition between activities.

Scaffolded language support—

There is a complex interplay between social skills, cognitive function, and language. Kids with Aspergers have not only social challenges, but also communication and cognitive challenges. It is therefore vitally important to consider the cognitive and language abilities of the kids participating in social skills intervention and to adapt the intervention as needed. Social skills curricula can be designed to meet the needs of kids with Aspergers at a variety of ages, developmental levels, and language abilities. One way to do this is to group kids by general language ability, so that those who need extra structure, support, and language scaffolding are treated together. Then activities can be adapted to the amount and level of language support and structure required by the participants. For kids who do not have fluent language, directions and activities need to be visually clear, concrete, and hands-on. Language models or scripts can be provided so that group members need little or no spontaneous language to participate. Conversely, activities for kids with fluent expressive language (e.g., those with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism) would require greater independence in generating spontaneous language. Fewer concrete supports would be needed and activities enabling them to practice social skills in more natural social interactions would be more appropriate.

The following example demonstrates how an activity from the PROGRESS Curriculum has been modified for kids at two different language ability levels. In the friendship unit, one session is devoted to learning more about other people. One activity uses a board game format, in which the cards that advance players around the board require them to ask other group members personal questions. For kids with more fluent language, a card might read “Find out three things (name) likes to do.” For kids with greater language difficulties, a comparable card would use words and picture icons to read “(name), what is your favorite color?” If the peer cannot respond verbally, pictures of different colors are available so he or she can point. Thus, fewer expressive language skills are required. Questions are more specific, address concrete attributes, and avoid abstract concepts. Responses are more circumscribed and less open-ended in this format. Yet the goal of finding out about others is fulfilled, just as for kids with more verbal fluency.

Another example of language scaffolding from the PROGRESS Curriculum comes from the conversation skills unit, in an activity that teaches contingent commenting. Kids with fluent language sit in a circle, spin a topic spinner that visually depicts several categories (e.g., food, animals, movies), and comment on the topic indicated. This same activity is redesigned for kids with limited language skills to provide significantly more language modeling, visual prompts, and concrete directions. Kids are given a card with a carrier phrase written on it, such as “I have a ___.” The group leader reads the words for the kids, if necessary. A tray of interesting objects is then placed in the middle of the circle. Each youngster selects an object and uses the carrier phrase to comment, “I have a (item from tray).”

The length and complexity of the opening and closing songs also can be adapted to the language abilities of the participants. For example, in the PROGRESS Curriculum, the opening song for kids with limited language use is (to the tune of Goodnight Ladies): “Hello (name), hello (name), hello (name), I'm glad you came to group.” This song is elaborated for kids who are functioning at a higher language level by including an extra verse tailored to preview the session's topic. For example, during a lesson on teasing, the opening song is (to the tune of Frere Jacques): “Hello (name), hello (name). How are you? How are you? Sometimes people tease me, I don't like it, how about you? How about you?”

Multiple and varied learning opportunities—

Although many kids with Aspergers demonstrate strengths in visual processing, there is still diversity in their interests, preferences, and learning styles. Some kids learn best while moving their bodies, others need to sit and focus to learn. Some kids learn well through reading, others are not yet literate. Some kids find music calming and facilitating, whereas others find it a distraction or even an irritant. Just as kids with typical development demonstrate multiple “intelligences”, so too do kids with Aspergers. Varying the learning opportunities, techniques, and approaches within and across sessions maximizes the likelihood that the particular learning styles or preferences of participants will be tapped. Different learning modalities include construction tasks, games, role plays, craft or cooking projects, gross motor activities, reading or writing tasks, drawing or art activities, and countless others. At different times, kids can practice working in dyads, small groups, and large groups.

As an example, the PROGRESS Curriculum's session focused on sharing starts by reading a story about sharing. The kids then transition into pairs by selecting objects from the Pick and Pass can that are part of a pair of toys (e.g., miniature baseball and miniature bat) and matching up with their partner. In these pairs, they then share a toy that encourages turn-taking. At snack, the kids pair up with the peer beside them and are given a single, large piece of cake. They must agree on how to decorate the cake together. Once completed, they share the piece of cake by cutting it in half. The group then plays a group game, “Musical Shares” (an analog of Musical Chairs). The kids walk around on mats while music is playing. Each time the music stops, they must find a mat to share with a new friend. In this way, sharing is practiced in a variety of different ways and through a variety of different activities.

“Other”-focused activities—

In positive social group environments, the members typically have a sense of community and friendship that develops over time, through repeated interactions. For kids with Aspergers, a feeling of “group belonging” is rarely achieved. The desire to attend to the interests of others, get to know others, and do things for others is often impaired. One way to facilitate the development of these skills is to ensure that all or most activities in the curriculum are “other”-focused. Nothing that can be done in a pair or group is ever done alone. Kids help others, rather than help themselves. For example, in art activities, kids can make something for a peer, rather than for themselves. They may be required to find out information about a peer, and then use that peer's favorite colors and preferences to develop a picture for him or her. During snack, kids can serve each other, rather than themselves. If they need more food, they must request it from another youngster rather than get it on their own. Through repeated, required social opportunities and practice, cooperation and partnership become the culture of the group, over time creating an environment of group camaraderie. Through this process, it is hoped that the participants come to recognize that social interaction can be rewarding and enjoyable.

Perspective taking and sharing the interests of others is also encouraged in the PROGRESS Curriculum through a weekly routine called “Special Spotlight.” During this part of the session, one youngster shares a topic of special interest with the group. Another youngster in the group is designated as the “spotlight partner.” His or her role is to learn about the “spotlight” youngster's interest and bring something to share or discuss related to that topic. This exercise serves to expand the partner's own repertoire of interests and knowledge, while also improving the ability to take another person's perspective. The other kids in the group are encouraged to make comments or ask questions about the spotlight topic. Assignments for the “special spotlight” and “spotlight partner” are made in advance so that the kids can prepare by bringing relevant items, developing a list or script, and so forth. Topics chosen by the kids have ranged from pets, dinosaurs, and video games to bus schedule collections, lectures on the solar system, and theme park brochures. Although the primary goal of the “spotlight” activity is to promote interest in others, it also serves as a way to focus or channel the circumscribed interests of group members into a specific part of the session, so that they do not distract from the rest of the group's activities.

Fostering self-awareness and self-esteem—

Most kids with Aspergers experience frequent social failure and rejection by peers. Because social encounters are seldom reinforcing, kids with Aspergers often avoid social interaction. Over time, they may develop negative attitudes about themselves and others. The poor self-esteem that may result makes it difficult to further attempt social interaction and thus, the cycle continues. Therefore, another essential ingredient of social skills interventions is fostering self-awareness, self-appreciation, and self-acceptance. It is only within a positive and nurturing environment that a straightforward examination of strengths and weaknesses can be achieved and the process of self-value initiated. Opportunities for self-awareness and self-acceptance can be incorporated throughout the curriculum. Positive attributes and strengths should be the focus whenever possible. Many kids with Aspergers are more used to a focus on their deficits and express surprise that Aspergers also involves much strength (e.g., memory, visualization, reading, rule-following, passion and conviction). To foster self-acceptance, group leaders can regularly comment on members' strengths. Kids can be taught the concept of complimenting and can be regularly required to compliment peers. In the University of Utah's adolescent group, participants give positive and constructive feedback to each other at the end of each session.

The adolescent group also includes a specific unit devoted to self-awareness. In one session, the game Bingo is adapted to focus on aspects of the Aspergers style and help individuals become more aware and accepting of their “quirks” or behaviors. The Bingo card lists strengths and weaknesses associated with the autism spectrum (e.g., “hard to point my eyes,” “like to flap my hands,” “know a lot about computers,” “good memory”). The group leader then reads these characteristics aloud one by one, with participants placing a marker on any trait they notice in themselves. Occasionally, several participants achieve “Bingo” (five characteristics in a row, column, or diagonal) at once. The teens are usually surprised and fascinated to find that they share behaviors with others. This activity can be especially helpful in the development of self-acceptance, as many comment that they have never met anyone else like themselves.

Select relevant goals—

Difficulty with social skills is not isolated to kids with Aspergers. Many kids exhibit difficulties with a variety of social skills for a variety of different reasons. As described at the beginning of this article, however, curricula developed to address general social impairments do not adequately tackle the social skills deficits specific to Aspergers. Thus, when selecting social goals for intervention, it is critical to prioritize and address the skill deficits that are most relevant and salient to Aspergers. For example, eye contact is probably a greater priority than manners or negotiation skills, given its centrality to social interaction (e.g., to monitor other people's reactions, to indicate interest or engagement). Related to this, it is important that all activities have an underlying social purpose. In our experience, it is a great deal easier to design fun activities than it is to design fun activities that target specific and relevant goals.

The PROGRESS Curriculum addresses five broad topic units that the authors believe are particularly relevant to Aspergers: basic interactional skills, conversational skills, play and friendship skills, emotion-processing skills, and social problem-solving skills. The Interaction Basics unit teaches the nonverbal behaviors that are important to social interaction, such as appropriate eye contact, social distance, voice volume, and facial expression. The second unit, Conversation Skills, covers basic elements of how to start, maintain, and end a conversation. The more subtle aspects of conversations, like taking turns in conversation, joining a conversation already underway, making comments, asking questions of others, using nonverbal indicators to express interest, and choosing appropriate topics, are included. The third unit teaches basic friendship and relationship skills. The concept of friendship and the important qualities of being a good friend are discussed, listed, and practiced. This unit also includes greeting others and responding to greetings, joining groups, sharing and taking turns, compromising, and following group rules. Next comes a unit on understanding thoughts and feelings of self and other people. The curriculum begins by increasing emotion recognition and vocabulary skills, as many kids with Aspergers are not familiar with emotional terms beyond the basics. Perspective taking and empathy training are included in this unit, requiring the kids to act out situations in which different people think different things or have different underlying motives. The final unit addresses social problem solving, such as what to do when a youngster is teased, feels left out, or is told “No.” The focus is on the development of practical solutions, coping mechanisms, and self-control for these difficult interpersonal situations.

It is important to make clear to the participants how and why the goals selected are relevant for them. For most people, whether they have Aspergers or not, learning is facilitated when the necessity of the learning or its application is made clear. Teaching the relevance of the social skill is believed to facilitate improved skill awareness and use in natural, daily settings for kids with Aspergers. One way to do this is to use Social Stories to introduce new social skills. Social Stories are written, sometimes illustrated, vignettes that present social information. Although they provide some specific guidance about what to do or say in a social situation, they also highlight social cues, peoples' motives or expectations, and other information that the person with Aspergers may not have appreciated. Thus, Social Stories can provide a rationale for why the youngster or kids should do or say what we tell them they should do or say. In addition, regular reminders regarding the importance of the skill being practiced should be regularly infused within group activities. For example, if a youngster is not making eye contact when requesting an item from a peer, he or she might be reminded, “Point your eyes and body so your friend knows you are talking to him.”

In addition to choosing group goals that are relevant to Aspergers, individualized goals can be identified for each group member. Each youngster should be aware of his or her personal target goal and should be reinforced for meeting it throughout the session. Individual goals may be consistent across weeks, or vary from session to session, depending on the needs of the youngster. A variety of different systems can be used, including reinforcement charts posted on the wall, individual goal or point cards, or cups in which the goal is affixed and tokens are placed. Reinforcement schedules can be individualized as needed to best promote skill acquisition and maintenance. For new or emerging skills, kids might be reinforced the moment the skill is displayed spontaneously. Once the skill is established, maintenance can be promoted by reinforcing after longer time periods or at the end of an activity or session.

Sequential and progressive programming—

Skills taught in isolation or without adequate practice and repetition most likely result in poor skill mastery and limited generalization and use. It is essential that the skills and behaviors addressed across the curriculum have relevance to each other and build on each other. As more complex, higher-order skills are learned, basic skills learned early on must continually be practiced. This not only promotes skill maintenance, but also integrates the individual skills into a larger, more fluid, social competence. Complex behaviors must be broken down into specific skills that are taught sequentially and then integrated.

This goal is achieved in the PROGRESS Curriculum in the following manner. Each topic unit consists of five sessions. In the first week of the curriculum, the new unit topic and set of skills are introduced, defined, or described (Introduction Phase). In the second and third weeks (Skill Development Phase), specific individual skills or situations are addressed and practiced. In the fourth week (Integration Phase), skills practiced individually in the previous 3 weeks are integrated and practiced. In the last week (Generalization Phase), the group meets out in the community to practice specific skills, socialize, and participate in natural age-appropriate activities with invited peers and friends. For example, the first session of the conversation unit describes the importance of conversation and outlines the three distinct skills that follow: starting, maintaining, and ending a conversation. Then one skill, such as greeting, is introduced. The following week, another skill is taught (e.g., making a comment) while the first skill (greeting) continues to be practiced and reinforced. In the next week, yet another skill is added (e.g., asking a question), as the previous two skills continue to be practiced and reinforced. In the fourth week, all three of the previously isolated skills are integrated (e.g., greet a peer: “Hi, Mike!”, make a comment: “I like your picture”, then ask a question: “How did you do it?”). In the final week, the skills are practiced in less structured and more typical environments during a community outing; for example, the group gathers at a local restaurant and practices conversation skills while eating pizza.

A similar sequential and progressive plan should exist across the curriculum units. Skills learned in the first unit should be relevant to and practiced in the subsequent units. For example, eye contact is first introduced as an isolated skill in Unit One, Basic Interactional Skills. In Unit Two, Conversation Skills, group members are regularly reminded to point their eyes at their peers as they learn to greet, make comments, and ask questions. In Unit Three, Play and Friendship, the kids, as needed, are encouraged to make eye contact and use appropriate greetings as they learn to share and take turns with others, and so forth.

Programmed generalization and ongoing practice—

Skill mastery and generalization require significant practice and repetition in a variety of settings. As described earlier, providing multiple and varied learning opportunities promotes generalization, as does practice of skills in more naturalistic settings through community outings. Another way to promote generalization is to practice skills with a variety of different people. Unfamiliar adults or peers can be invited to group parties or to snack so that kids have the opportunity to practice their new skills with others.

When group social skill intervention is provided in a clinic setting, transfer of skills to the home or school also can be enhanced through “generalization activities” (akin to homework). A written handout can be provided to moms and dads, teachers, or others, briefly describing the week's target skill and describing a specific activity that practices this skill outside of the group. For example, to generalize conversation skills, moms and dads might be prompted to ask their youngster to tell them three things that happened at school each day, using visual prompts (e.g., photographs or relevant objects) or multiple-choice lists as necessary. Or kids might call another group member on the phone to practice back-and-forth conversation, using a list of prearranged topics or a script as necessary. Generalization may be further enhanced through a concurrent parent training group that apprises moms and dads of the skills their kids are learning and provides ideas on how to practice the skills or implement specific techniques at home or in the neighborhood.

Generalization of behaviors learned in a social skills group to the “real world” may be greater when the group is offered in a natural social setting, such as a school. At the least, the same training model and format described in this article can be implemented in a school, rather than a clinic. Additional methods will likely be necessary to generalize such training to more natural school settings, however, if the training is conducted in a segregated setting (e.g., a separate room, with special education personnel). Written handouts describing the youngster's target skills and individual goals can be provided to the classroom teacher or other school staff. The handout might identify natural opportunities throughout the school day when staff can prompt students to use their skills with peers (e.g., during a small group classroom activity, at lunch). A description of how to best prompt the youngster can be included. It is ideal if classroom teachers or other relevant school staff have the opportunity to observe the social skills group to learn and use the same prompting techniques and teaching strategies. Generalization also might be enhanced by including the social skills group leader in the Individualized Education Plan meeting so that social skills goals can be included in the youngster's overall educational goals and objectives. The benefits of offering social skills intervention and generalization within the school setting include teaching skills in the environment in which they will be used, creating positive social communities with peers who interact daily, and having regular contact among staff members who can promote skill use in natural settings.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Aspergers Checklist: Impairments in Language Skills

"I'm interested in Aspergers children and their language skills deficits. Do you have any information on this topic?"

Sure... Below is a handout on "Impairments in Language Skills" that I used in a recent workshop for parents with children on the spectrum:

Impairments in Language Skills--

A. Impairment in the pragmatic use of language: This refers to the inability to use language in a social sense as a way to interact/communicate with other people. It is important to observe the individual’s use of language in various settings with various people (especially peers). Since the impairments are in pragmatic language usage.

1. Uses conversation to convey facts and information about special interests, rather than to convey thoughts, emotions, or feelings.

2. Uses language scripts or verbal rituals in conversation, often described as “nonsense talk” by others (scripts may be made up or taken from movies/books/TV). At times, the scripts are subtle and may be difficult to detect.

3. Has difficulty initiating, maintaining, and ending conversations with others. For example:
  • Focuses conversations on one narrow topic, with too many details given, or moves from one seemingly unrelated topic to the next
  • Once a discussion begins, it is as if there is no “stop” button; must complete a predetermined dialogue
  • Knows how to make a greeting, but has no idea how to continue the conversation; the next comment may be one that is totally irrelevant
  • Does not make conversations reciprocal (i.e., has great difficulty with the back-and-forth aspect), attempts to control the language exchange, may leave a conversation before it is concluded
  • Does not inquire about others when conversing

4. Is unsure how to ask for help, make requests, or make comments. For example:
  • Fails to inquire regarding others
  • Makes comments that may embarrass others
  • Interrupts others
  • Engages in obsessive questioning or talking in one area, lacks interest in the topics of others
  • Has difficulty maintaining the conversation topic



B. Impairment in the semantic use of language: This refers to understanding the language being used.

1. Displays difficulty understanding not only individual words, but conversations.

2. Displays difficulty with problem solving.

3. Displays difficulty analyzing and synthesizing information presented. For example:
  • Does not ask for the meaning of an unknown word
  • Uses words in a peculiar manner
  • Is unable to make or understand jokes/teasing
  • Creates jokes that make no sense
  • Interprets known words on a literal level (i.e., concrete thinking)
  • Has a large vocabulary consisting mainly of nouns and verbs
  • Creates own words, using them with great pleasure in social situations
  • Has difficulty discriminating between fact and fantasy

C. Impairment in prosody: This refers to the pitch, stress, and rhythm of an individual’s voice.

1. Rarely varies the pitch, stress, rhythm, or melody of his speech. Does not realize this can convey meaning.

2. Has a voice pattern that is often described as robotic or as the “little professor”; in children, the rhythm of speech is more adult-like than child-like.

3. Displays difficulty with volume control (i.e., too loud or too soft).

4. Uses the voice of a movie or cartoon character conversationally and is unaware that this is inappropriate.

5. Has difficulty understanding the meaning conveyed by others when they vary their pitch, rhythm, or tone.

D. Impairment in the processing of language: This refers to one’s ability to comprehend what has been said. The Aspergers individual has difficulty absorbing, analyzing, and then responding to the information.

1. When processing language (which requires multiple channels working together), has difficulty regulating just one channel, difficulty discriminating between relevant and irrelevant information.

2. Has difficulty shifting from one channel to another; processing is slow and easily interrupted by any environmental stimulation (i.e., seen as difficulty with topic maintenance). This will appear as distractibility or inattentiveness. (Note: When looking at focusing issues, it is very difficult to determine the motivator. It could be attributed to one or a few of the following reasons: lack of interest, fantasy involvement, anxiety, or processing difficulty.)

3. Displays a delay when answering questions.

4. Displays difficulty sustaining attention and is easily distracted (e.g., one might be discussing plants and the Aspergers individual will ask a question about another country; something said may have triggered this connection or the individual may still be in an earlier conversation).

5. Displays difficulty as language moves from a literal to a more abstract level (generalization difficulties found in the Aspergers population are, in part, due to these processing difficulties).


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==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content