Talking to a Child with Autism

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • As every parent of a child with autism will tell you, communication is difficult at best. Some children don’t have any verbal skills while others may talk but still have trouble communicating their feelings or explaining what they want/need. While talking to a child with autism may be hard, the following tips may help:

    Know what you want from the communication. One mother explained this concept: Everyday after school, she asked her son Jason a series of questions, such as “How was your day at school?” “Did anything special happen?” and everyday Jason gave her one word answers. One day Jason asked her why she bothered to ask the same questions every day when she knew what the answer was before she asked. She replied, “The answer isn’t important but every day you will know that someone in your life cared how your day went enough to ask.” Sometimes you talk to your child for information and sometimes there are other reasons. Remember what your goal is.

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    Talk about your child’s interests. Chances are, your child has at least one intense interest. Ask about his interest as a way to get him to open up.

    Use concrete language. Children with autism don’t always understand abstract thoughts and language. We, on the other hand, use idioms, puns, inferences and metaphors on a regular basis. For example, you might say, “Are you pulling my leg?” when you are really saying, “Is that really true?” Your child, however, will automatically answer, “No” because he isn’t pulling on your leg. Edit your speech to forego any of this type of language; instead use direct language.

    Use visual language and cues. Many children with autism are visual thinkers. Use pictures, charts, sign language, writing or pointing to what you mean. Allow your child to do the same when trying to convey feelings or share experiences with you. Use language that describes what you want, for example, instead of saying, “Come have dinner,” say “Please sit in the chair at the table.”

    Simplify your sentences. Your child may need extra time to process what you are saying. Instead of using complicated or long sentences, make your sentences slightly longer than he or she uses when talking. You may also pause for a few seconds to allow your child to process what you have said and be patient when waiting for a reply.

    Use one way of saying things. We often use different words to convey the same idea or request. For example, during dinner you may want to put salt on your potatoes. You might say, “Could you pass me the salt?” “Please hand me the salt?” “I would like the salt.” Remember to make it simple and use the same terms and words instead of varying how you say things.

    Know when not to talk. Children with autism are known for having meltdowns. During times hwn your child is upset, you might want to refrain from having a conversation or trying to get your child to talk. During times such as these, give him space and time to calm down without bombarding him with questions or adding to stimulation by continuing to talk.

  • References:

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    “Autism Fact Sheet,” 2009, Sept. Staff Writer, National Institute of Health

    “Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew,” 2012, Ellen Notbohm, AutismSpeaks

Published On: March 13, 2013