One aspect of interacting with children many people find challenging, or awkward, is the simple act of communication. It can be easy for many adults to forget to adjust their language and tone to best be understood and responded to by a child. Due to communication challenges autistic children typically face, even more adjustment is needed.
Let’s start with communication habits to avoid. Children with autism tend to have difficulty with sarcasm or other forms of ambiguous language, such as idioms, metaphors, and hyperboles. It is also important not to interrupt your child, or try to fill in words for them if they are struggling to find the right word to use.
Children with autism thrive off of direct, specific communication. Look at your child as he or she is speaking, pay close attention to what he or she is saying, and direct your body posture toward him or her. Use his or her own words to make sure you understand fully, your child will correct you if you misunderstood.
If your child is at a point developmentally where his or her language ability is low, apply the “one-up” rule. This means avoiding speaking in long sentences and only limiting your responses to your child’s statements to phrases that are one word longer than what he or she has said. For instance, if your child is drawing and says, “draw picture” you can respond by taking a crayon to the paper and saying, “I draw the picture.”
Since social cues are often missed with autistic children, modeling appropriate nonverbal communication is key. This includes maintaining appropriate eye contact, body posture, and tone of voice. In order to do this effectively, you will likely need to exaggerate these motions so your child will more easily pick up on them and imitate them in the future.
Fixation is often seen as a deficit for autistic children. However, you can use this to your advantage when teaching communication. This tendency tends to lead to rule-based thinking. You can frame certain aspects of communication, such as not interrupting, not using hostile language, and maintaining eye contact, as rules of communication to help him or her remember.
Most important of all, take note of what subjects your child is interested in and frame your conversations around them. This will not only help your child become more eager to learn healthy communication but to help you build a stronger bond overall.
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