Why is play important for children with Autism?

Play is a vital activity for all children. Not only is it fun, but it is also one of the most effective ways to learn new skills. Play helps build skills for thinking, language, problem solving, creativity, and emotional regulation. These are all areas that children with Autism may have difficulty with. Therefore, development of play skills is often a leading goal in therapy.

Speech pathologists frequently use play to help a child be interested in other people and activities. Engagement is particularly important for transferring skills to everyday environments.

What are the 6 stages of play?

While it may look simple, play is a complex skill and has many stages. Here are 6 stages to help you determine what stage your child’s development is at:

  • Unoccupied play (birth to 3 months): A child makes movements to learn about their body.
  • Solitary play (birth to 2 years): A child is not quite ready to play with others. They play alone and prefer to hold all the toys.
  • Spectator/onlooker (2 years): A child begins to watch how other children play.
  • Parallel play (2+ years): A child will play next to others. For example, they may drive a car on a mat together, however their play does not overlap.
  • Associate play (3-4 years): A child will begin to interact with others during play. They may give things to others. There is interaction, however their activities are not yet organized and synced.
  • Cooperative play (4+ years): Children will play together, and they have interest in cooperating with others to reach a shared play goal. Play is often organized and there may be group rules and roles.

My child plays differently to other children. How can I help?

Many children with Autism demonstrate play skills that are different to their peers. They may show uncommon interests or may have difficulty progressing past solitary play.

It is important to first think about how your child plays; they may line up items, maybe they like watching the wheels spin on a toy car, or perhaps they like to build a block tower and knock it down. Either way, your first step is to play just like them. This shows them you are a fun and safe play partner. For example, you might also spin the wheels on a different car next to your child. Find a play level that your child is comfortable with and follow their lead.

Once you have shown that you are a fun and safe play partner think about how you can slightly extend you child’s play. This might range from moving a bit closer to them, all the way up taking turns to push a car. Your speech pathologist can help guide you to find small ways to change play while keeping your child interested and happy.

Games and toys which require another person can quickly help your child to involve you in play. Examples include blowing bubbles, row-row-row-your-boat, rolling a ball, peekaboo/hide-and-seek, playing chase, and tickling.

If you are focusing on play with other children, consider peers with common interests and peers that are able to use similar communication skills. It may help to pre-train peers, so they understand your child’s way of communicating and play. During peer play provide support through showing or discussing with them how they can play together. Remember to keep this at a level appropriate to your child’s current abilities.

What about language learning in play?

Just like above, start by using sounds, words, or sentences at your child’s level. Once you have them feeling comfortable with your play language move up one small step. For example, if you are just making sounds with your child, add a single word like Go! If they are already using single words you can show them how to add one more, like “Go car!”

Children with Autism often seek routine and predictability. Therefore, keep your play language predictable. Each time you play a game start it the same way by using the same actions and words. Your child will know what to expect and will remember the steps from last time your played together.

Avoid repetitive questions, like “what’s this?” and “what do you want?”. Instead, focus on modelling language that will get results in a game. Examples include “push, pull, go, swing, more, again, crash, help, down, up”.

How can a speech pathologist help?

Speech pathologists are highly trained in play skills as this is the prerequisite of communication and enjoyment with others. A speech pathologist will assist you ton find the best strategies and programs to suit your child’s play, goals, and your lifestyle. They will help you choose your goals, find ways to incorporate these into your daily activities, provide advice for game/toy choices, and guide you up and down the levels of complexity.

All Harrison Speech Pathology therapists are experienced in building play skills in children with Autism.

Social skills are what we use to interact, connect, and communicate with other people. These can be verbal or non-verbal communication skills and help us understand how to behave in social situations and understand the rules (written or implied).

Some examples of important social skills for children include sharing, taking turns, cooperating, and communicating in a clear manner.

However, children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder often find this area of communication difficult. Good social skills promote positive interactions with those around us, so it’s important to encourage social skills in children with autism.

As a parent, you naturally want your child to have rich, meaningful relationships and communication with others. We’re here to help. In this blog, we share some tips and strategies to help improve social skills in children with autism, as well as how to make it fun.

How to improve a child’s social skills and relationship with their peers

When a child has trouble developing their social skills, they often have a hard time getting along with other children. This is a major source of concern for many parents.

Fortunately, you can support the development of social skills in children with autism in the comfort of your own home. Some fun and exciting strategies include:

  • Reading books. While reading, ask your child questions about how the characters are feeling and why they’re feeling that way (you may need to model or give examples). You can also ask what could be done to help the character feel better. It’s a fun and simple way to introduce the concept of compassion for others to your child – plus, books are fantastic for all areas of development!
  • Roleplay. Consider the social situations your child is having trouble with, then use props like stuffed toys and animals to act out the scenario with them. It’s all about practice.
  • Visuals. Make up some colourful posters to encourage your child to remember their new social skills e.g. using a friendly voice, using appropriate greetings, and so on. You can make these posters together during arts and crafts time.
  • Games. Try playing games where your child is not always “the winner” and take the opportunity to talk about ways to cope when things don’t go their way. It will also encourage appropriate turn-taking skills.

If in doubt, contact your local speech pathologist to help set up activities at home

Your child is a unique little person – the strategies above might not gel with them, or may not be as effective as you want them to be. If in doubt, have a chat with your local speech pathologist about other activities and games you can play at home to boost your child’s self esteem and communication skills.

At Harrison Speech Pathology, we have a team of experienced ASD speech pathologists on-site who can help set up some brand new activities and fun learning opportunities for your child.

Contact the team at Harrison Speech Pathology for more tips on building social skills in children with autism!

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In most jobs, communication is used constantly throughout the day. This may include greeting a customer, sending an email, answering the phone, speaking with management, providing and understanding instructions for a task, or writing a report. 

Successful communication generates idea sharing, increased productivity and straightforward conflict resolution. Miscommunication in the workplace frequently causes business shortfalls in addition to breakdowns of working relationships.

Before a person even gets a job, they often rely on their communication skills to demonstrate their skill sets. Resumes, phone calls, and interviews are all based on the skill of communication and are integral in the good seeking process. 

It is clear to see how some people with communication difficulties can struggle to achieve employment or perform to an optimum level in the workplace.

Can a speech pathologist help me in preparing for job seeking?

If you have a communication difficulty a speech pathologist can assist you in the goal of seeking employment. They will first help you to determine specific areas that you are having difficulty in, and then provide individualised therapy to target these. 

They can assist you to improve your communication in all stages of job seeking including:

  • Asking establishments for job application processes
  • Navigating websites and understanding the business you are applying for
  • Understanding job descriptions
  • Making and answering phone calls with potential employers
  • Creating an effective resume to communicate individualized skill set
  • Conducting yourself in a way which matches the job you are applying for
  • Understanding interview questions
  • Effectively answering interview questions
  • Managing and troubleshooting common communication problems which occur in interviews and application processes
  • Advocating for your needs and goals in the job role
  • Accepting an employment offer and understanding the information that follows

Can I get support if I already have a job but want to communicate better?

As communication does not stop after you have obtained a job, a speech pathologist can assist job holders. This includes verbal, written and social communication. Additionally, speech pathologists can assist people to access and use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) in the workplace. 

Areas which a speech pathologist can help you in include:

  • Writing emails, reports etc.
  • Literacy skills
  • Understanding instructions and following procedures
  • Making sentences which effectively convey your message
  • Understanding other people’s language
  • Improving memory of spoken information
  • Understanding a range of workplace vocabulary
  • Saying sounds clearly
  • Managing and problem-solving issues with voice volume
  • Practicing safe voice use to avoid voice injury
  • Making appropriate conversation with others
  • Answering the phone in a confident and expected social manner
  • Determining how to vary interaction styles based on your communication partner
  • Problem solving and conflict resolution using communication
  • Choosing the right AAC option for your workplace
  • Setting up or adding to and AAC system to suit your needs
  • Providing strategies of how to include people who use AAC
  • Assisting you to advocate for your needs

What should I expect during appointments?

Your first appointment will be dedicated to finding out about factors which influence your communication, including your areas of strengths and weaknesses.

From here your therapist may conduct formal and informal assessment to determine how therapy can be tailored to your specific needs and personal goals.

The frequency of ongoing appointments depends on your lifestyle, presenting issue, and therapist recommendations. 

Your speech pathologist will work with you to determine the best approach. Newly learnt skills will be applied in a manner which mimics natural workplace environments to assist generalisation of these skills to all contexts.

This may include mock scenarios such as responding to an interview, phoning the therapist to discuss a business proposal, using technology to create emails and search information, and managing social conversations with the therapist.

For young learners, motivation may be facilitated through the use of games and apps. 

After your appointment your therapist will typically provide you with easily achieved home tasks between sessions.

This will continue your learning outside of appointments, in addition to assist you to transfer your new skills to all environments. 

The therapists at Harrison Speech Pathology are experienced in working with all ages and therefore are able to assist people with their communication during any stage of their working life. Get in touch to find out more.

Autism is a neurobehavioral condition that causes impairments in the areas of communication, social skills, and may cause restricted and repetitive behaviours. 

It ultimately effects how the person is able to interact with the world around them. The level of impairment and specific challenges varies widely between people. Some people may have difficulty using verbal language, while others may struggle with only social skills.

Does Autism mean my child won’t learn to talk?

Every person will develop communication differently. Approximately 30% of people with autism are classified as nonverbal. 

This label does not necessarily mean the person cannot say any words, and instead it refers to an inability to complete daily tasks using adequate communication. These people may use gesture, speech generating devices, or pictures to better communicate. 

How does Autism effect communication?

Two aspects of communication skills include language and social skills. Language refers to understanding and using words and sentences, whereas social skills refer to the application of these to interactions. 

The impact of autism on language depends largely on an individual’s social and intellectual development. Children with autism may experience a regression of skills, be slower to develop communication, not use verbal communication, have difficulty understanding others, or need more time to communicate. 

Some children with autism may have rich vocabularies and be able to talk about a variety of subjects in detail, however, may struggle with social rules. This may include difficulty making eye contact, understanding body language, starting a conversation, using conversational social rules, using politeness markers, staying on a topic, or developing play skills.

How can I help my child?

There are many strategies to assist your child in communicating:

  • Get them engaged and interested in interactions. The first step in assisting any child with language difficulties is to get them interested in others and ready to learn. With very young children try to play the same way they do, for example stacking blocks, or lining up cars. This shows them you are a safe play partner and can play in a way they find satisfying and fun.
  • Provide lots of modelling. Watching or hearing someone demonstrate a new skills is very important to learning. Avoid testing the child, such as asking them to repeat everything you say or asking them lots of questions.
  • Show them how communication is beneficial. It is important that skills being taught will benefit their day to day activities. This may include showing a young child how making a sound can help get a toy they want, or for an older child, how learning about conversations can assist them getting a job.
  • Give them time to communicate. Give your child time to think of and use their message. They may also need more time to understand what you have said.
  • Use technology, games and their hobbies. This is particularly beneficial to older children. Think about ways that their communication goals can be used in tasks they are interested in. This can increase their motivation to learn and also improve retainment of the skill.
  • Include the child in their goal setting. For older children make sure they have a say in what they wish to work on. They may be more concerned about having a range of topics to speak to friends about compared to their sentence structure.
  • Directly teach and show the child unspoken social rules.

How can I help an adult who has autism and communication difficulties?

Everyone has the need and right to communicate. Never assume that a person who does not talk, cannot understand or communicate. You can assist an adult by trying to understand how they best communicate. 

This may include interpreting their gesture, using pictures, helping them to internet search a phrase or picture, asking yes/no questions to better understand their message, or using their own communication device. It is also helpful to give the person time to make their message, particularly if they are using a device. 

If an adult with autism appears panicked or overwhelmed use simple language or their device, and if appropriate help them find a calm space. During these times they may not be able to communicate what they need.

If you or your child experience communication difficulties, please do not hesitate to call Harrison Speech Pathology and speak directly to one of our trained therapists.

There are many augmentative communication systems that can be used with individuals who have been diagnosed with autism. These systems can range from ‘high-tech’ systems such as a speech generating device, a ‘low-tech’ system such as a communication book or a ‘no-tech’ system such as using Australian Sign Language. Below are the three augmentative communication systems that Harrison Speech Pathology recommend for supporting the communication of individuals that have been diagnosed with autism.

Augmentative Communication system #1: Proloquo2Go

Proloquo2Go is an application that can be purchased and downloaded onto a suitable device such as an iPad. The application uses visual symbols, pictures, words and speech generating features to support communication.

What are the pros and cons of this device?

Pros of this device are:

  • Provides visual and verbal supports for communication
  • Can be adapted specifically to suit the individual using it
  • Supports social interactions through its interactive nature
  • Assists the user in developing their vocabulary of words

Cons of this system are:

  • Must ensure the battery is always charged for communication all the time Can be a timely process to learn how to most effectively navigate the system
  • Requires access to appropriate technology
  • The expense of the application

How can this system benefit my child?

Proloquo2Go can benefit all users. The app can support early communicators through to advanced communicators. The versatility of the app allows for communication access to a range of disabilities including autism spectrum disorder. The application provides an alternative way to communicate but it also helps improve various language skills such as vocabulary development and sentence structure. The system also allows for increased inclusion in social interactions and allows nonverbal users to express basic needs, wants and emotions.

Where can I get this system?

This application can be purchased on appropriate iOS devices from the Apple iTunes store.

Augmentative Communication device #2: PODD books

PODD stands for Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display. It is a type of communication book that uses words and symbols to represent a large vocabulary of words. It is arranged in a systematic way which supports the social use of language.

What are the pros and cons of this device?

Some pros to this system are:

  • Highlights visual learning and communication strengths in autism spectrum disorder
  • PODD books can be individualized to suit the user
  • Provides a visual scaffold to support communication and process thoughts The book has structure and routine with the categories and placement of the symbols

Some cons to this system are:

  • PODD books can initially look overwhelming to the user
  • The books can get quite big and bulky to carry around all the time
  • Can be a timely process to teach the user how to use the book with decreasing dependence
  • Takes time to identify individualised vocabulary to ensure the user’s vocabulary is not restricted

How can this system benefit my child?

The written and visual components of the PODD book develops understanding and use of language as well as increasing literacy skills. The book allows the user to choose vocabulary that suits a range of communicative functions such as requesting, commenting and greeting.

It has the flexibility to quickly indicate needs like “toilet” or have an extended conversation and express personality.

Where can I get this system?

If you are interested in getting a PODD book for your child, book an appointment with one of our clinicians. We will be able to help you identify which PODD book will be the most appropriate and individualise it with you.

Augmentative Communication system #3: Key Word Sign

Key Word Sign (KWS) is the use of specific manual signs along with gesture, body language and facial expression that assist communication. It uses Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) signs with only the key words (or essential words) in a sentence being signed.

What are the pros and cons of this system?

Some pros of using KWS:

  • Adds extra support for verbal communication
  • Assists communication partners in understanding what was said Promotes language development while verbal expression may still be developing
  • Adds further meaning to verbal expression

Some cons of using KWS:

  • Communication partners may not understand some key signs without some verbal expression
  • Requires fine motor control for some signs
  • Can be a time consuming process to learn all appropriate signs

How can this system benefit my child?

Key Word Sign can benefit your child by providing a good visual and tactile model along side their verbal expression attempts. Using it takes the pressure off using verbal expression as the sole means of communication. This system also encourages users to really emphasise key words and slow down their rate of speech.

Where can I learn this system?

If you are interested in using Key Word Sign to assist your child’s communication, book an appointment with one of our trained clinicians. We will be able to help you find the best method of communication for your child.

In this blog, we will explore the most common difficulties experienced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder and some of the strategies that can be of assistance across home, education and community settings.

How to help with difficulties with language

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder may experience a range of difficulties expressing their needs, wants and feelings and also struggle understanding different aspects of language such as following complex directions and understanding words that have multiple meanings. They may also have an impairment regarding their social language skills where they make irrelevant comments or have a tendency to interrupt others.

There are a number of strategies that can assist individuals that have autism spectrum disorder and language difficulties. The specific teaching of conversational skills can assist where the rules and cues regarding turn-taking in conversation are taught individually as well as when to reply, interrupt or change conversation topic.

Great learning can occur from videotaped conversations to identify both the verbal and nonverbal features of successful conversation. In terms of supporting understanding, it is often helpful to repeat, simplify or write down instructions and check that they have been understood by asking the individual to repeat back what has been asked of them.

Helping children with autism in social interactions

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder may experience difficulty understanding how to interact with others in terms of identifying the emotions of others and interpreting the meaning being conveyed in different conversations. They may need assistance and support to learn about appropriate social distance when communicating with others.

Different strategies can assist the challenge of learning to interact with others such as explicitly teaching the rules of social interaction through social stories, modelling and role-playing. In the school setting, it may be helpful to provide supervision and support at lunch breaks and recess. Visual supports can be utilised to teach how to start, maintain and end play and also supporting the development of different social skills such as flexibility, cooperation and sharing.

Difficulties with concentration and attending on tasks

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder may experience challenges sustaining attention and concentration on a given task. They may be easily distracted and appear disorganised in their thoughts and actions.

It is important to support individuals with autism spectrum disorder who are experiencing difficulties with their concentration by repeating instructions given or breaking down task requirements into manageable smaller parts. Setting time limits for periods of attention to tasks may also be of assistance as well as the use of schedules, calendars and checklists.

Helping children with sensory sensitivities

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder may experience various sensory sensitivities involving sound and touch, taste, light intensity, colours and smells. Sudden, unexpected noises such as a telephone ringing can be frightening as well as environments where there are multiple sounds being heard such as in shopping centres.

It can helpful for carers, teachers and peers to be aware that normal levels of sound and visual input can be perceived by an individual with autism spectrum disorder as too much or too little. Earplugs may be of assistance to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder to avoid some sounds that are particularly annoying or disturbing. Relief may be provided by listening to music to reduce the perceived volume of certain environmental sounds and may help coping with background noise sensitivities.

If you would like more information on how to assist individuals with autism spectrum disorder, please contact Harrison Speech Pathology today. We can help you with your enquiry.

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Red Flags for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong condition that affects 1 in 88 children. It impacts upon the way an individual interacts and communicates within their home, school and community environments.

Early intervention provides the best outcomes for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The earlier a carer can identify symptoms in their child, the sooner therapy can commence to maximise a child’s potential in terms of both their expressive language skills and comprehension abilities. There are three major areas of functional difficulties experienced by a child that has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder: communication, behaviour and social skills.

Communication red flags

Communication is a critical part of a child’s development and sets the foundation for building relationships. Autism Spectrum Disorder impacts upon children differently regarding their communication abilities. Some children will achieve all speech and language milestones and experience difficulties only with social communication and interaction when they grow older and go to school. Other children may have significant difficulty learning to talk and may need ongoing support to communicate their needs and want to others.

Speech pathologists assist people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder with their communication abilities. If your child displays the following symptoms, we recommend you get in touch with your general practitioner and a speech pathologist:

  • No babbling by 11 months of age
  • No simple gestures by 12 months such as pointing
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No two-word phrases by 24 months
  • No response when their name is called
  • Loss of any language or social skills at any age

Behavioural red flags

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have differences in their behaviour in comparison to other children of the same age. Such behaviours include restricted and repetitive interests, problems with sleep, motor coordination issues and sensory processing dysfunction.

If your child possesses any of the following symptoms, it may be worth speaking with your general practitioner.

  • Odd or repetitive ways of moving their fingers or hands
  • Oversensitivity to certain textures, sounds or lights
  • Lack of interest in toys, or plays with them in an unusual way (e.g. lining up, spinning, opening/closing parts rather than using the toys as a whole)
  • Compulsions or rituals – has to perform activities in a special way or certain sequence and may be prone to tantrums if these rituals are interrupted
  • Preoccupations with objects such as light switches, doors, fans, wheels
  • Unusual fears

Social red flags

These red flags are more easily identifiable when your child begins to interact with other children on a regular basis. The symptoms below are a few of the many social red flags – your general practitioner and speech pathologist are the best professionals to contact when you recognise these symptoms in your child.

  • Rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people
  • Does not point to show things he/she is interested in
  • Rarely smiles socially
  • More interested in looking at objects than at people’s faces
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Does not make attempts to get parent’s attention
  • Does not look when someone is pointing at something
  • Seems to be “in his/her own world”
  • Does not respond to parents attempts to play
  • Avoids or ignores other children when they approach

Children, adolescents and adults living with Autism Spectrum Disorder each have unique challenges and differing abilities regarding their communication skills, behaviour and social skills.

Early diagnosis and early intervention is critical for maximising a child’s skills and providing strategies to assist with improving a child’s overall functional abilities.

Assessment and diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder involves assessment by a medical practitioner, speech pathologist, psychologist and often also an occupational therapist. Anyone who is concerned regarding their child and a possible diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder should speak with their general practitioner and a speech pathologist.

Support and assistance at any age can provide critical strategies to assist individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder to engage and interact across home, education and community environments to their greatest potential.

Please contact our team today for more information on our services for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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