Many parents of children with autism find themselves concerned about communication barriers between themselves and their kids. They often feel that their children simply aren't able to talk effectively with them, which frequently leads to discouragement and a feeling of helplessness to connect. Interestingly enough, many children affected by autism spectrum disorders are excellent communicators -- they just tend to communicate in ways other than traditional conversation.
Autism and communication
Between the ages of 15 and 19 months of age, many toddlers with autism spectrum disorders begin to lose language skills that had previously begun to develop. Because of this, it is important for them to learn how to communicate in ways that don't involve the use of words. If not properly understood and approached, this scenario can be incredibly frustrating for not only the child, but the parents and care givers as well.
Strategies to communicate
Autism and communication can go hand in hand when you have the proper tools at your disposal. Children with autism and their parents or caregivers can learn to successfully communicate every day using a method based on the five basic senses. These are:
- Sight - Hypersensitivity to bright lights and a fascination with specific patterns and colors are common in children with autism. Parents can learn to read body language cues from by observing the way their child responds to various visual stimuli and can alter his environment accordingly to improve his state of mind. The child will begin to recognize these actions as evidence that his parents can positively alter undesirable situations.
- Hearing – While most people learn to filter out extraneous background noises, children with autism are often bombarded by all of the aural stimuli they can't ignore. Simple sounds like traffic outside, the chatter of people in the store or a television in another room can be overwhelming and may often trigger a sudden fit or meltdown. Body language is key in determining whether or not your child is bothered by an ambient noise. When a child places his hands over his ears or throws an unexplained fit, audio overload may be the problem. Reduce excess noise and spend some in peace and quiet to show your child that he's safe and secure.
- Touch – Children with autism frequently engage in tactile defensiveness, a behavior in which they cannot stand to be touched. Their nervous systems are highly oversensitive and may send pain signals to the brain at the slightest sensation. Parents are encouraged to remember this when dressing and bathing their children, as this shows care, tenderness and concern for their physical comfort, thereby communicating love.
- Smell – The sense of smell is also heightened in children with autism spectrum disorders. Certain odors and food aromas may cause them to react in unpredictable ways. Determining which smells elicit a negative response in your child will help you learn to communicate and interact with him more closely.
- Taste – A child with autism experiences taste in a different way than most people. They may express severe distaste for something that other children their age seem to love. Parents should remember this fact when the child refuses to eat certain foods and accommodate these needs in a helpful, healthy manner.
Because children with autism find using language a challenging endeavor, these basic sense-based skills are an ideal way to communicate with them. Therefore, understanding and responding to their body language is key to effective communication with both parents and care givers. Analyzing their behaviors, actions and responses to certain stimuli allows the most important people in an autistic child's life to communicate thoroughly with them in a lasting and meaningful way.
For ways to work on Speech at home, check out the following activities! As always, adapt and personalize to fit your child and their needs.