Let’s look at pre-cursors to speech
A frequent concern of parents is wondering when their autistic child will talk. There are some children on the autism spectrum who are early talkers but others who show a speech delay. In thinking of how to teach speech to an autistic child, I look first at precursors to speech. These include a child’s ability to socially engage with others and listen and understand others. I also look at how a child uses gestures to communicate. Another important skill is how a child stays regulated for daily activities. All of these skills are crucial to becoming effective verbal communicators.
These skills are also common concerns with children with autism. Before teaching your child to talk, I have 4 strategies for parents and caregivers that will help build your child’s skills. They will also directly help your child verbally communicate. For additional excellent information about how to teach speech to an autistic child, please refer to Autism Navigator here, a great resource!
JUMP into Daily Routines
Each letter in the word, JUMP, contains a suggestion for helping your child with autism communicate during daily routines. Specifically for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), these suggestions work for all kids.
J – The letter, J, stands for Join your child.
Children with autism often appear to be socially unengaged and difficult to reach. How do we help children learn to talk when we can’t seem to get their attention? The first thing is to Join them in what they are doing and enjoying.
Before a children will participate in our world, we must Join them in theirs. Children with autism may have unusual interests and may be hyper-focused on objects or activities. Jump into their activity in any way you can. If he has a car, grab a car yourself and do what he is doing. Talk about the car, sing a song about the car, make noises that a car would make. You can also simply do actions with the car like sending it down a ramp, hiding it under a blanket, or parking it in a box. Watch your child’s responses to what you are doing when you Join his world. What a child loves will often become the first words a child says.
U – The letter, U, stands for Unregulated and Understanding.
Unregulated children cannot learn effectively. They also have difficulty Understanding the world around them and the words said to them. Always remember that if your child does not understand words said to him, he may show frustration. He will also very likely not be able to say those words to communicate.
Observe your child carefully to determine when he or she is starting to escalate in frustration. When you see that happening, brainstorm what may be causing the breakdown. Think about what you can do to settle him down. You may need to limit your use of words. Visuals may help to calm him. Perhaps try a calming song. You may need to just take a break. Finally, your child may need to practice that routine many times so that he understands the routine. Consistent practice can create a pattern of understanding which then converts to a more regulated child.
Suggestions are numerous and should be specific to your child. That is difficult to do in a general article like this. Just know that regulation is important. Keeping your child regulated does not mean that you have no expectations for your child. It just means that you need to give your child the support he needs to be successful. Adjust the tasks that are necessary for him to do. Being regulated will help him learn words, understand them, and begin using them.
M – MUSIC, MOVEMENT, and MOTIVATION can be very helpful with daily routines.
These 3 tools, music, movement, and motivation can be helpful in teaching children to imitate and to learn common vocabulary, concepts, direction following and questions.
Music can help children stay regulated and learn to say words. Using songs during a daily routine such as tooth brushing can help him learn words related to that activity. A song encourages your child to imitate because the words are repeated frequently. Many of my Talk It Rock It songs have been used by parents and professionals to facilitate imitation, engagement, and attention. The most popular song sets are: Imitation Exploration and Rock and Roll with a Language Goal. In addition, Animals Movin’ and Groovin’ comes with animal face posters, great for taking verbal turns.
To establish a connection with a child and increase language skills, I love combining movement with a song. Swinging a child while singing “Swinging, swinging, now we STOP”, rocking him in a laundry basket while singing, Row Your Boat, are great activities to try. You can also try rocking back and forth while singing a song entitled, “Walking Elephants” from my Animals Movin’ and Groovin’ Song Set. These wonderful activities are meant to establish interaction, eye contact, shared enjoyment, communicative intent, and imitation of gestures and words. Movement combined with music can become a way to establish the crucial connection between you and your child.
One of the best activities for teaching speech is to choose an activity that your child enjoys. Write a list of things that have made your child laugh or smile. Those motivating activities can often be the easiest to promote communication skills. But even in daily routines that are not preferred by your child, you can explore ways to make the activity more Motivating for him. Music and movement are certainly 2 things you can use. Visual schedules and videos that model the steps to an activity may also be helpful. Giving him a job can certainly create motivation and a sense of accomplishment and participation. Always try to remember ways to make any activity as motivating as possible for your child.
P – Our final letter, P, stands for Predictable and Productive.
Predictable routines will help a child stay regulated, learn vocabulary, and establish connections with loved ones. With every activity in a child’s life, he should also be Productive. It may appear that your child doesn’t want to do a specific activity because he looks disinterested, unfocused, and doesn’t follow verbal directions related to the activity. Very often, kids don’t know what their job is and, therefore, cannot be productive. In every daily routine, keep it Predictable and help your child be Productive by giving him a job. This consistent routine will help your child understand the words and will help your child eventually say those words himself during those routines.
Best wishes! May you find the resources you need to teach speech to an autistic child. Follow my blog as I offer new ideas on how to help children with autism.