Not every child or adult with autism has problems with communication but for those who do, the problems can range from mild to severe.
How can autism specifically affect speech and communication skills? The answer is complex. Many children who are autistic are self-directed and prefer activities that do not require social interaction. Due to a variety of factors including behavior, cognition and limitations in language comprehension, they may be unable to effectively express themselves or interact in a “typical” manner. They may find communicating through non-verbal approaches such sign language, Picture Exchange (PECS) or high-tech devices challenging.
These factors often make it very difficult for caretakers to communicate with children with autism and it creates numerous challenges for families.
The following are just some of the ways in which autism may affect communication skills.
- Some children with autism repeat what they hear or they may speak a phrase or sentence they have heard and use it out of context. Some children will even communicate via phrases they hear on television. A technical term to describe this language pattern is echolalia. What these children speak seems to be meaningless. Researchers including Prizant and Duchan believe that echolalia, especially immediate echolalia, often is used with clear evidence of purposeful communication. It can be used to represent a wide range of communicative functions including labeling, protesting, requesting, directing, and in some cases it may even indicate fear or pain. It is up to the caretaker to learn to comprehend what the child is saying.
- Other children with autism may be able to speak about a specific topic that they are interested in with great detail and clarity. Yet they may not be able to engage in a conversation about any other topic. You have certainly read, seen or heard about children who are considered “savants” because they possess extremely high skills in math or music or other specific areas but yet, they are unable to perform daily mundane tasks such as tying a shoelace. Again, these children are communicating but not in a traditional manner.
- Some children are unable to use gestures to communicate. They often avoid eye contact or are inattentive. Without meaningful gestures or the language to communicate, many children with ASD become frustrated in their attempts to make their feelings and needs known. They may act out their frustrations through vocal outbursts or other inappropriate behaviors. This affects families tremendously as it creates frustration and helplessness – for both the autistic child and the caretakers.
Of course, dealing with these communication issues, the goal is to understand how does Autism affect learning? How can the autistic child be taught to engage with the world around them?
Communication and How Autism Affects Learning
Teaching children with autism to communicate is essential to help them reach their full potential. There are many different approaches to improve communication skills. The best treatment program begins early and should be tailored to the child’s age and interests. It should also address both the child’s behavior and communication skills and offer regular reinforcement of positive actions. Most children with autism respond well to highly structured, specialized programs. Parents or primary caregivers as well as other family members should be involved in the treatment program so it will become part of the child’s daily life.
You can use the following keywords to help you search for organizations that can answer questions and provide printed or electronic information on ASD:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Speech-language development
- Learning Disabilities
Communication is a very important part of all our daily lives. We may be able to help you to improve your communication with your autistic child. Take a look at the products that we offer and of course, contact us if you have any questions.