Communicating as a Leader

Teaching Children With Autism Better Verbal Communication Skills

Rachel Evans asked:

Children with autism commonly face problems with verbal communication. This is usually due to the frequent speech and language problems associated with the disorder. Though the actual reason that these problems are faced by autistic children is unknown, many experts believe that they are the result of several conditions occurring before, during, or after the child’s birth that have had an impact on the development of the brain. The inability to properly communicate verbally can make interpretation and interaction with the child’s world much more difficult.

The communication problems experienced vary from child to child, depending on the individual’s social and intellectual development. While some may not be able to speak at all, others may maintain extensive vocabularies and can express themselves regarding complex topics. However, most children with autism experience some form of communication difficulty usually with the appropriate use of the language, for example difficulty with intonation, rhythm, and word and sentence meaning.

Autistic children who are able to speak may say things without true information, expression, or content. They are only words with no meaning to the situation. Others will use echolalia, where they simply repeat what they have heard, even if they have been asked a question. And yet other autistic children will use delayed echolalia, using the question previously posed in order to ask for what they want. For example, a child who had earlier been asked “are you hungry?” may say “are you hungry” at a later time to express his or her hunger.

Many autistic children will have a stock of phrases that they use in specific conditions. For example, a child may introduce him or herself at the beginning of every conversation. Some autistic children learn scripts from television shows, commercials, books, or other recorded dialogues.

Autistic children able to speak can frequently speak extensively about a topic without the ability to actually converse with others. They may also make up a voice to use other than their own such as a robot voice, a deep voice, a squeaky voice or another similar type of alteration.

It is possible to help an autistic child to better his or her verbal communication skills with improvements made through the use of appropriate treatments.

The first step is to consult a speech and language pathologist in order to have your child’s communication skills evaluated. Specific treatments suitable for your child may be recommended during this evaluation.

No single method of communication treatment has been universally found to improve all autistic children, but starting early increases the chances of significant improvements. Try to target your child’s specific communication strengths and weaknesses. Different forms of goal orientated therapy for useful communications are the most successful techniques, though not guaranteed to work for all children. Periodic in-depth evaluations from a specialist are recommended for perfecting and altering the therapy to best work for your child’s unique needs.

Many parents find that consulting physical and occupational therapists can also be very helpful for helping to reduce unwanted behaviors during communication, which are common hindrances to the development of skills.

Find out what your child best responds to: a structured behavior modification program, an in-home therapy program, or another type of therapy that utilizes reality-based situations as a foundation for the therapy.

It may surprise you to discover that music therapy and sensory integration therapies may have a large impact on your child’s ability to use verbal communication. This is because stimulation of the senses often helps to improve the child’s ability to respond to sensory information, and therefore helps him or her recognize what he or she is hearing through verbal communication and seeing through non-verbal communication. The goal is to help improve the effectiveness of sensory understanding.

Medications may also improve an autistic child’s attention span, which in turn can help to improve verbal communication in your child. However, with long-term medication use there is the possibility of undesirable side effects.

To be certain that your child is at his or her fullest potential, mineral and vitamin supplements, as well as a tailored diet, psychotherapy, and overcoming sleep challenges may greatly assist in focus and attention, which should help improve verbal communication.


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