Autism and an inability to effectively use spoken communication often go hand in hand. This is extremely frustrating for parents and caregivers and of course, the child. You may wonder how many children with autism are unable to rely on spoken communication and need to use an AAC device? According to the Diagnostic Center of Central California, it may be is as many as 50%.
Fortunately for parents who wonder if their non-speaking autistic child will ever develop functional verbal communication, a study involving 535 children provided evidence that 47% of these children do become fluent speakers. Read more about the study here.
What is the difference between the term non-verbal and non-speaking and does it affect intervention strategies?
Yes, there are differences in the meaning of these terms. The term non-verbal implies that the individual has a severe expressive language disorder. That is, some children with autism have the ability to speak but not the ability to use language, at least in a way that others can understand. The term non-speaking is often used as an umbrella term and may include those with a motor-speech impairment as well as those who are non-verbal.
The key is not to focus on the “term” used to describe an individual, but to recognize that AAC devices and strategies can benefit individuals with solely a motor-speech impairment and also those who have challenges when attempting to use language to communicate.
Here are 10 strategies you can use today to help promote language development for children with autism.
- 1) Encourage the use of an AAC system whether it is a low-tech communication board or a high tech device. Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems have helped thousands of children with autism to communicate with their parents and caregivers. As an example, the Gateway app can enhance a child’s ability to these devices to learn language and to communicate. There are pages that target some of the unique communication needs of children with ASD and am gratified by the benefits that it has provided to so many. Learn more about the Gateway App here.
- 2) Aided-Language Stimulation, sometimes referred to as modeling, is an excellent teaching strategy. The key here is for you to communicate with your child through the use of their AAC tool (communication board or high-tech device). The literature is filled with evidence-based articles supporting this intervention approach and numerous resources are available to guide parents and practitioners in implementing Aided-Language Stimulation strategies at home, in school and within the community.
By imitating your child you are empowering him/her to “lead”, you are engaging them and most important, you are encouraging them to imitate you.
- 3) Many parents and caregivers want to help their autistic child and one way they instinctively do this is by finishing their sentences or actions. I encourage you instead to be patient and step back. Give your child the time he/she needs to respond to you in his/her own way.
- 4) Reading to your child is something that many loving parents do and there should be no exception if your child is autistic. In fact, it may be even more important. The act of reading to a child with autism can encourage communication, be it verbal or non verbal. If your child uses an AAC device then have that available during this time for them to use.
- 5) Some autistic children find it difficult to engage in direct eye contact. If this is the case you can try using mirrors. It may be easier for your child to look at you in a mirror than to look directly at you.
- 6) It’s no secret that all children learn through play. Language development and learning through play is a huge opportunity for every caretaker. Some of the best games to use to encourage language development includes singing and music. Add simple melodies and songs to all activities (not just play activities).
- 7) Although all parents want to encourage their child to eventually communicate verbally, it’s important to not ignore the existing communication styles the child is currently comfortable with. Gestures, eye contact, simple sounds are all communication tools that your child may be using. Learn them, work with them.
- 8) In addition to AAC devices, the use of objects (such as toys) can be very beneficial when it comes to communicating and language development training for non verbal autistic children. One toy that you may find extremely useful is a puppet. There are multiple studies that outline the benefits of this along with tips on how to use puppets to encourage communication and to teach more advanced communication.
More information here.
- 9) In general, you want to encourage your child to speak / communicate more words than they currently use. A simple rule to follow is to add one more word to what your child currently uses. For non verbal autistic children, use one word. For children speaking one word, use two words. Be patient but persistent.
- 10) Every human being, autistic or not, has their own likes and dislikes. As a parent, you want to encourage the interests that your child has. By doing so, you are giving them the courage to learn through that specific interest. By talking about and doing what engages and ignites passion in your child, you will help their language development skills more easily.
For more information about the Gateway To Language and Learning App – click here.