Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How to Talk to a Children with Autism









We talk to children for many different reasons.  Sometimes we are just chatting to ourselves and don't really expect the child we are talking toward to respond--in which case, you need not modify the way you talk at all.  Hopefully, more often, we actually want and expect the child to respond to what we say.  Here is where it gets tricky if you are talking to a child with autism.  The child may not respond at all.  Or the child may not respond in a positive way.  There is a good chance, when this happens, that the child is not understanding what you say.  Don't give up when this happens, help the child notice and understand what you are saying, change the way you are talking.

So, how to talk to a child with autism?  

  • Talk about something that the child is interested in. It is much easier for you to get on the child's train of thought than it is for the child to get onto your train of thought.  
  • Use an animated voice.  An interesting voice and facial expression will help the child pay attention to you.
  • Use shorter sentences.  The guideline is to use sentences that are one to three words longer than the child uses when he or she speaks. 

  • Demonstrate what you mean. This might involve using an action, a picture (often called using visual supports) or just pointing

  • Pause more often so that your child has time to process what you say.  Some children take many seconds to make sense of what they hear.  Count out six seconds right now and feel how long that is.  One thousand one...One thousand thousand three....One thousand four....One thousand five....One thousand six.  I have worked with many young children who needed six seconds or even longer to understand and respond to things that I said.   

  • Say things one simple way rather than three different ways.  Most of us can say a thing in a dozen different ways.  If we want a Teddy Bear we can say Hand me the Teddy Bear or Could you pass the Teddy Bear? or I need the Teddy Bear now or I won’t be able to do this without the Teddy Bear.  This variation is what makes language delightful for those of us who understand every one of those sentences.  This variation is what makes language impossible for young children who have autism.   Use a simple way of saying a thing and demonstrate what you mean as you say it to insure that the child will understand.  If you are going to be asking for the Teddy Bear several times in a row, perhaps as part of a Teddy Bear Exchange Game that you have created, then ask for a Teddy Bear the same way every time.


Brenda Rothman (Mama Be Good) said...

Hi, Tahirah, Just discovered your blog. Great suggestions, great stories! Love all the strategies that include play - this has been so important to my son and my a world of difference. Especially your post about the Aaron and his progress - inspiring! And about the scary games - we found that out, too. My son LOVES scary games and it motivated him to do all sorts of things as well as a safe environment to play out his fears. Love reading your stories!

Fielding J. Hurst said...

I started talking to my daughter as if she understands everything I say and I sort of thing she does. She does at pretty much everything when I give her a pep talk on the way to school, etc.

Also, we stopped talking about her, her therapies, meds, etc. in front of her. This impacts her negatively.

Sometimes we use this to our advantage and let her think she is eavesdropping. We'll talk about her in a good way or talk about something we would like her to do. She thinks she's in on a secret or something and will often go do it.

Tahirih said...

Brenda, I am glad you are finding the blog useful and enjoyable. I keep thinking that I need to write more about different kinds of "Safe Emergencies" because I use this idea over and over to motivate kids to communicate and interact.

Fielding (what an interesting name), It is not always easy to know what children with autism understand. Many children use all the clues in the situation to help comprehension and so understand in one situation but not in another. I was recently overseas and was shocked at how many conversations I could understand without actually knowing the language. I completely agree that we should not talk about kids in front of them. I could figure out when people were doing that in situations where I did not understand the language, too. I always urge parents to make language a little less challenging and add more nonverbal clues to help children understand, though, because I find that children respond sooo much better when parents do this.