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.

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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