Language disorders are a common characteristic of children with autism. They may use speech in a way that is not meaningful to the conversation or question asked of them, or they may repeat what you say. So, how do you help the children in your care with autism communicate? "The best place to start is by observing the child until you have determined what methods or actions he uses to communicate and under what conditions he is most likely to communicate," explains Clarissa Willis in her book Teaching Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Finding out what motivates a child, figuring out their stage of communication, and not pushing the child to communicate before he or she is ready are other important factors.
Clarissa Willis shares the following information on stages of communication that preschool children will experience and provides a variety of tips for educators in Teaching Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder:
Stages of Communication
- Egocentric Stage – This is the "all about me" stage. Children in this stage may scream or cry when they don't get something they want, be shy around strangers, etc.
- Requesting Stage – The requesting stage is when children start to realize that they can use communication to get what they want. They may say a few basic words or grab your hand and show you what they want.
- Emerging Communication Stage – Children begin to use communication in a more functional manner in this stage. They may answer simple questions or use words and signs in a more meaningful way.
- Reciprocal Communication Stage – The reciprocal communication stage is when children have more direct communication with a partner. However, children with autism may struggle with understanding social cues, sarcasm, and jokes. Children in this stage may express ideas and feelings that are relevant to them or start to use longer sentences with more descriptive words.
Setting Appropriate Goals
Setting communication goals for a child with autism can be difficult, but here are a few good tips to keep in mind as you work on coming up with appropriate goals:
- Communication is most effective when it involves interaction with others.
- The child must have a reliable form or way to communicate in order to communicate effectively.
- The ultimate goal for any child is to learn to communicate because it is meaningful to him or her and used as a form of self-expression.
Example Communication Goals:
- For a child in the egocentric stage of communication, require the child to show you what he or she wants by pointing, gesturing, or using sign language.
- For a child in the requesting stage of communication, play a game or start an activity. Then, stop and try to get the child to request more by either moving his or her body or looking at you.
- For a child in the emerging communication stage, work on building the child's expanding vocabulary by giving him experiences that help him develop new words.
- For a child in the reciprocal stage, ask other children in the classroom to be peer buddies and talk with the child.
If a child with autism is not using words, doesn't comment on things, or respond to questions, using an alternative way to communicate may be the best option. Sign language and/or pictures can even be used to supplement communication as a child starts to learn speech.
Be sure to read Teaching Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder for other tips and resources on how you can make your classroom more inclusive for children with autism.