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"Unlocking Potential: Teaching Functional Communication.

Updated: Mar 26



Communication is a fundamental aspect of human interaction, but for children on the autism spectrum, it can be a significant challenge. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects communication and social skills, making it difficult for individuals to express themselves and understand others.

As a parent or caregiver of an autistic child, it can be frustrating and heartbreaking to see your child struggle with communication. However, there are strategies and techniques that can help you effectively communicate with them. In this guide, we will explore tips on ways to overcome communication challenges.

Understanding Communication Challenges in Kids

Before we dive into communication strategies, it's essential to understand the communication challenges that autistic individuals face. These challenges can vary from person to person, but some common difficulties include:

  • Difficulty with verbal communication: Many autistic children struggle with verbal communication, such as speaking, understanding language, and using appropriate tone and volume.

  • Limited nonverbal communication: Nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, and body language, can also be challenging for them.

  • Difficulty with social cues: You may observe difficulty understanding social cues, such as eye contact, turn-taking, and understanding emotions.

  • Sensory processing issues: Sensory processing issues can also impact communication. Your child may be sensitive to certain sounds, textures, or smells, which can make it challenging to communicate in certain environments.

Understanding these challenges can help you approach communication with your child with patience and empathy.


Tips for Communicating with your child

Now that we've covered some of the communication challenges, let's explore some tips for effectively communicating with your child.

1.Use Visual Aids

Visual aids can be a powerful tool for communicating and can help your child understand and process information more easily, as well as provide a visual representation of what you are trying to communicate.

Some examples of visual aids include:

  • Picture cards: Picture cards can be used to represent objects, actions, or emotions. You can create your own or use pre-made picture cards.

  • Visual schedules: Visual schedules can help your child understand and prepare for daily routines and activities.

  • Social stories: Social stories are short, simple stories that can help your child understand social situations and appropriate behaviors.

Using visual aids can also help your child communicate their needs and wants. For example, if your child is hungry, they can point to a picture of food rather than struggling to express it verbally.

2.Be Patient and Give Your Child Time to Respond

Communication can be a slow and challenging process for autistic kids. It's essential to be patient and give your child time to respond. Avoid rushing or pressuring your child to communicate, as this can cause frustration and make communication even more difficult.

Instead, give your child time to process what you are saying and respond in their own way. This may mean waiting for a few seconds or using nonverbal cues, such as pointing or nodding, to communicate.

3.Simplify Language

Young learners often struggle with processing complex language and may find it challenging to understand long sentences or abstract concepts. To improve communication, simplify your language and use short, concise sentences. Use visual cues, gestures, and facial expressions to support your verbal communication. By breaking down information into smaller, more manageable parts, you can enhance comprehension and promote effective communication.

4.Use Social Stories

Social stories are short narratives that describe specific social situations, interactions, or expectations. These stories can help children understand social cues, appropriate behavior, and routines. Create personalized social stories that are relevant to your child's daily life, and use them as a tool to explain and prepare your child for upcoming activities or events.

5.Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool for encouraging communication. When your child makes an effort to communicate, whether it's through words, gestures, or picture cards, be sure to praise and reward them.

Positive reinforcement can help your child feel more confident and motivated to continue communicating. It can also help build a positive association with communication, making it a more enjoyable experience for your child.

6. Be Mindful of Sensory Triggers

As mentioned earlier, sensory processing issues can impact communication for autistic children. It's essential to be mindful of your child's sensory triggers and try to create a calm and comfortable environment for communication.

For example, if your child is sensitive to loud noises, try to communicate in a quiet room. If your child is sensitive to certain textures, avoid using those materials in communication activities.

7.Verbal Prompts: A Helpful Communication Tool

One effective communication tool is verbal prompts. Verbal prompts are short, simple phrases or questions that can help guide your child's behavior or communication. They can be used to encourage your child to communicate, follow instructions, or express their needs and wants.

Some examples of verbal prompts include:

  • "Can you tell me what you want?"

  • "Use your words to tell me how you feel."

  • "Can you show me what you mean?"

  • "Let's take turns talking."

  • "Can you look at me when I'm talking to you?"

Verbal prompts can be tailored to your child's specific communication challenges and needs. They can also be used in combination with other communication strategies, such as visual aids or sign language.



Examples of Effective Communication with Autistic Toddlers

Let's take a look at some real-world examples of effective communication with children who struggle with communication.

Using Visual Aids to Communicate Needs and Wants

Four-year-old Alex is nonverbal and has difficulty communicating his needs and wants. His parents have created a visual aid folder on his tablet with pictures of common objects and activities, such as food, toys, and going to the park. When Alex wants something, he points to the corresponding picture on the tablet. This has helped him communicate his needs and wants more effectively and has reduced frustration for both Alex and his parents.

Using Verbal Prompts to Encourage Communication

Six-year-old Lily struggles with verbal communication and often becomes overwhelmed and shuts down when asked to express herself. Her therapist has been using verbal prompts to encourage her to communicate. For example, when Lily is playing with a toy, her therapist will say, "Can you tell me what you're doing with the toy?" This prompts Lily to use her words and express herself, rather than becoming overwhelmed and shutting down.


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