As the parent of a child with autism, you will already know that one of the most tricky things that your child will ever have to do is learn to communicate and interact with you and those around them. A recent research study has shown that providing parents with strategies and skills for interacting with their young children with autism is the best way to help develop that child’s communication skills in the long term. This means that YOU have the power to help your child communicate to the best of their abilities, starting with these 5 strategies…

1) Use Visual Helpers: Most children with autism are visual learners, which means they learn best by looking. You can help your child learn more and communicate better by using visual supports such as photos, gestures or pictures in your day-to-day activities.

Activities to Try at Home:

  • Take a photo of your child’s favourite foods and stick them to your fridge. Help your child learn that they can pass you the image to request what they want for snack time
  • Learn some simple ‘Key Word Signs’ to use each time you say ‘help’, ‘finished’ or ‘more’. Eventually your child should be able to use these independently to communicate their wants and needs
  • Help your child understand ‘no’. The ‘no’ sign is a circle with a slash through it diagonally. You can place the ‘no’ sign over pictures of items that are not available, such as when you’ve run out of favourite foods or if the iPad is unavailable.

2) Be Necessary!  When a child has difficulty communicating, it is often tempting to try and provide them everything they need easily. The problem here is that if your child can get everything they need, they have no reason to communicate with you. For this reason, it can be useful for you to ‘cause problems’ and ‘play dumb’ in order to encourage your child to communicate with you more.

Activities to Try at Home:

  • Store favourite food, drink or toys out of reach but in view so that your child has to communicate with you in order to get your help.
  • Offer your child their preferred food bit by bit, so they have to request ‘more’ using Key Word Sign gesture.

3) People Games:  Helping your child to learn anticipation helps to draw them out of their inner world and into a shared world with you. It is often easiest for children with autism to interact with others when there are no other toys present.   People games are structured and predictable games you can play with your child to help them learn anticipation, turn-taking and social engagement.

Activities to Try at Home:

  • If your child enjoys bouncing on a fitball, you can use this activity to help them learn ‘Ready, Set…. Go!’ and ‘Stop!’  Say ‘Ready, set…’ and pause expectantly before saying ‘Go!’ and bouncing them on the fitball. After a few moments, say ‘Stop!’ and wait for your child to indicate ‘more’, either by looking at you and smiling or using ‘more’ key word sign.
  • If your child likes to run around the room, turn this into a game of chasey and end in giving them a tickle if that’s what they enjoy. Repeat!

4) Offer Choices:  By helping your child learn to make choices, you are empowering them to communicate their preferences and express how they feel. The easiest choice for a child to make one between two things they can see; one that they like and one that they don’t. You will know your child has mastered choice making when they look at both items, reach for their preferred item and also look at you.

Activities to Try at Home:

  • ‘Do you want apple or broccoli?’ (when you know they prefer apple).
  • ‘Do you want a pen or your shoes?’ (when going outside).
  • ‘Do you want bubbles or playdoh?’ (when you know they prefer bubbles).

5) Wait… and wait some more!  Many children with autism take extra time to process information they hear and to plan a response. In general, we all have a very short expectation for what we consider a ‘normal’ wait time in interactions. This means that as a parent of a child with autism, you will have to intentionally practice waiting longer for your child to respond. This can be hard to do!! Waiting longer can give your child more opportunities to initiate interaction with you.

Activities to Try at Home:                                                               

  • When playing People Games like those mentioned above, deliberately count to ten in your head when waiting for your child to request ‘more’. Try to practice this in many daily interactions so that waiting for a longer period of time becomes natural for you.

At Inner West Speech Pathology in Melbourne, we are trained in Hanen More Than Words and the DIR Floortime Approach. These approaches are evidence-based and specifically designed to help your child with autism communicate to the best of their abilities. We use these approaches to provide parents with functional strategies to practice, like those outlined above. If this post describes areas of communication that you would like your child to develop, please call us on 03 9078 2455 to discuss your child’s needs and how we can help.

Categories: Autism