• Autism Help UK

How to communicate with my child?

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Communication in any functioning relationship is important. To help build and maintain a healthy and happy child it is crucial to understand them. If you can't communicate with your child you will struggle to understand their behaviour, which can lead to children feeling isolated.


Overview:

  • Why is communication important?

  • Understanding the challenges

  • Tips to help


Why is communication important?

Children with autism can find it harder to communicate with people. This can be due to many common traits such as being slower to develop language or having no language at all, or in some cases having difficulties in understanding what is being said to them.


In many cases of Autism, many children find it hard to communicate in what we refer to as a two-way communication process.


This is clear communication that will use the combination of eye contact, facial expressions, gestures as well as words to deliver a clear dialogue. These are the social keys to look out for when helping develop your child's communication.


You might find that your child has developed and clear speech but will only communicate to state emotions for example protesting or exclaiming excitement rather than socially opening up to someone by having a general conversation.


Communication is important in all child development. Communication helps develop behavioural issues and can help progress a child's learning ability.


Understanding the challenges

In cases with autistic children, many use languages in their own creative way. For example, echolalia is a very common trait found in autistic children. Echolalia is the state where children will mimic words or phrases without any context and sometimes in a different tone of voice. Another side to echolalia is repeating someone's words straight away or later on again without context.


Your child might be trying to learn to communicate in different ways which you might not understand but can help develop their communication because it is a personal coping mechanism.


Autistic children will often do the following:

  • Use made-up words, which are called neologisms

  • say the same word over and over

  • confuse pronouns and refer to themselves as ‘you', and the person they’re talking to as ‘I’


Again the communication is there it is just misunderstood. For example, children with echolalia learn to talk in a particular way as a stepping stone into developed communication where more people can understand.


You might find your child repeating questions you have previously asked like “Do you want treats?” This is their method of asking for treats.


There are many methods where autistic children communicate in different ways. One of the biggest challenges to overcome and learn as a parent/guardian is nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal communication can be found in the following ways:

  • Pointing, showing or starting: This can indicate that your child is wanting the object they are pointing at

  • Physically moving a person: Grabbing a person and physically showing them the thing they want

  • Using objects: Handing an object to a person to show that they want them to use it


These are common traits in all children however there are traits that can lead to an unhealthy child and need to be carefully monitored. The following are traits to keep closely monitored:

  • Self-harming behaviour

  • Tantrums

  • Aggression


These signs are a desperate attempt a child makes to state they aren’t happy with something or are really confused or possibly frightened. Do not ignore this behaviour and keep calm when this happens. The best method is to keep clear-minded and understand the cause of these problems.


Tips to help


Keep calm

Communication is found to be one of the hardest challenges to overcome with autistic children. It is a massive learning development not just for your child but for you as well. It is best to take it in steps and go through each process slowly. The key is patience and keeping a clear mind to understand each situation as it comes.


Let situations happen Naturally

When working on communication step by step don’t force a situation. Your child will come to you with many scenarios you can work and develop on constantly. For example, if your child points towards the item they want it is important to label the item and keep constant eye contact. It is also good to start off with keywords only using as few words as possible.


An example would be:

If your child is pointing towards a chocolate bar, stare at them and wait until they look at you. When they make eye contact nod your head and state a keyword for example “choccy”. Then go get the chocolate.


From this, you can further progress over time. When your child starts saying “choccy” you can wait for maintained eye contact while stating the question “what do you want?”.


Key tips

There are many ways to encourage clear communication with your child. Remember this list below:

  • Use short sentences: for example, “Sit down” “Shoes on”

  • Use child-friendly communication: for example, ‘Mud is very dirty and messy in house

  • Exaggerate your tone of voice in situations you want to teach important information: “This water is VERY HOT”

  • Encourage as much dialogue as possible: Ask many open-ended questions so your child can talk

  • Talk slowly and clearly, and leave enough time for your child to respond in their own time.

  • Keep constant eye contact and use clear body language



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