Although each of the children with autism spectrum disorder exhibits unique behaviors, these behaviors of these children follow a certain spectrum. Although each child with autism is affected by autism at different levels, they may have a typical developmental level in one area and a delay in another area compared to their peers. One of the areas where this delay is observed in language and communication skills.
Families often suspect that their children have autism because of delays or differences in their children’s speech. The spectrum includes children who do not speak or communicate in any way, as well as children with communication skills that are indistinguishable from their peers. Common speech and language problems in children with autism can be listed as follows:
- Echolalia (repetition of words and phrases),
- Having a monotonous voice
- Differences and lack of spontaneity in the use of language,
- Failure to use alternative communication skills such as signs mimics and facial expressions,
- Using third person singular (he, she, names, etc.) instead of first person singular (I) while speaking,
- Having difficulties understanding abstract expressions and metaphors,
- Lack of non-verbal communication,
- Difference between receptive language (understanding what others say) and expressive language (speaking).
The difficulties that children with autism exhibit in communicating not only make it difficult for them to be understood, but also bring along behavioral problems arising from not being able to communicate. For example, it is common for a child with autism to cry, who cannot express in any way that he is hungry or bored. In fact, this behavior takes on a communicative task over time, and the child exhibits crying behavior to report these situations over time. For all these reasons, important points about supporting the language, speech, and communication skills of individuals with autism should not be overlooked by primary caregivers, families, doctors, and experts.
Supporting Pre-speech Communication Skills
Communicating is much more than just speaking and understanding spoken words. It requires interaction in the first place. Therefore, communication skills can also be developed in children who do not speak at all or make very limited sounds. Neurotypical children begin to exhibit certain communicative behaviors before they can speak. The child’s looking at your face while you are talking or pointing at the desired object are examples of these communicative behaviors.
If the autistic child does not speak and does not exhibit communicative behaviors that can replace speech, teaching these behaviors will allow you to communicate easily with them and prevent possible behavioral problems (crying, shouting, throwing things, harming themselves or the other person, etc.). For this, you should choose behaviors that the child can learn easily. Once the child has mastered this behavior, you can move on to more challenging behaviors. For example, if you suspect that your child is giving some signals that he is thirsty, you can take him to the kitchen and encourage him to point to the glass. In the process, you can support him not only to show but also to say the word water. Only after saying the word do you need to give him water and have him say the word in the process.
Similarly, you can teach the child to use some pictures or signs to communicate their needs. For example, a child who wants to go to the toilet can be taught to pick up and use a card with a picture of the toilet seat, or a child who wants to go to the park can be taught to use a card with a picture of the park on it.
It should first be taught to use images for a few specific needs and then the number of these images can be increased. As a parent, you can better observe the needs of the child at home and accordingly, you can prepare bags or folders in which your children can easily choose these cards.
If you think your child can communicate with signs more easily than distinguishing images, or if you have decided that after trying it, you should teach your child to communicate with signs. For example, a child who wants to go to the toilet may tap his belly twice instead of showing a picture card or touching his lips when he is hungry.
Offer or Create Deals for Your Child
Not providing enough opportunities is one of the mistakes made in the developmental process of all children. Most of the time the child does not need to ask for anything. They are fed without being hungry, drinking water without being thirsty, or wearing thick clothes without feeling cold. In this case, the autistic child, who is not willing to communicate anyway, has no reason to try to communicate.
Sometimes just allowing these communication opportunities to occur brings along the development of communication and speaking skills. For this, it is necessary to evaluate the opportunities that occur spontaneously in daily life or to create new opportunities that do not occur in sufficient numbers. For example, hiding a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, placing a glass of water on a high shelf, and closing the lid of the jar containing the favorite candies provide opportunities for the child with autism to seek help from their caregivers, and this is very important.
Looking at daily life from this perspective will show how many learning opportunities even a single day can contain. At this point, caregivers should be creative and should not ignore therapist recommendations. Even if caregivers understand the child’s behavior, they should pretend not to understand and teach their children what to do to be understood and how to communicate.
Caregivers Should Be Models for Their Children and Provide Language Input
You should talk about the situation you are in daily life, the work you do, or what other people do, in as simple and plain terms as possible. It is important to use simple expressions to provide appropriate language input for the child with autism and to add new expressions to his/her vocabulary.
In addition, for children who can imitate you, this contribution will help them exhibit new communicative behaviors by modeling you. For example, you can use some simple expressions on the way home from the park, “Game over, we are going home”, after dinner “Lunch is over, let’s clear the table”, or before going out “We are going out, let’s change our clothes.”
Similarly, if you teach a child to ask for water by pointing, after true pointing behavior you can say, “Yes, you want the water. Water. Now, you need to say “water” too. Water.” You can say it and wait for your child to make a similar sound. However, at this point, it is necessary to be careful not to insist too much, as being too insistent can lead to some unwanted behavioral problems. Allowing the child to reach the water after a few repetitions can prevent behavioral problems.
Reward Communication Behavior and Speech
What enables each individual to continue his/her behavior to a large extent is the short or long-term gains as a result of this behavior. Communicative behaviors also have an advantage in this respect. Because communicative behavior itself is inherently rewarding as it enables the individual to achieve something they want. For children with autism, they reach the water by saying “water” or pointing, fill their stomachs by saying “hungry” or pointing to the food or have a fun time in the park after showing the card with the park image on it.
All of these are the natural consequences of your child’s behavior and are likely to continue, as they have rewarded consequences. However, while supporting communicative behaviors, offering social rewards alongside the natural consequences of behaviors will increase effectiveness. For example, if the child wants his caregiver to hold him in his arms and shows it by saying “hug”, the caregiver hugs him and says simultaneously that “You want me to hug you. How beautiful. You said “hug”. Well done.”. This is actually an example of social reward.
A social reward is provided for all appropriate communicative behaviors, even if initially with parental assistance. Over time, only not assisted behaviors are socially rewarded. Finally, only some of the communicative behaviors are socially rewarded, and only the natural outcome of the behavior is expected to be rewarding.
Accept the Behavior and Ask For More to Show/Tell
Make sure to let your child know that you, as a caregiver, understand communicative behavior. However, if you think this behavior is not enough, ask for more. Thus, you are giving the message that you understand his communicative behavior but want him/her to show or say more. For this, accept the communicative behavior, but help your child with how the behavior should take place.
For example, if your child asks for water by pointing or saying “this” when asking for water, “Yes, I understand you. You want water. Now, you can say “water”. In this way, you accept the behavior but also become a model for the more appropriate behavior. After presenting the direction, you should wait for a short time so that you give your child the opportunity to imitate. You should also keep in mind that being too persistent can trigger behavioral problems.
Play Imitation Games and Sing Songs With Your Child
As a parent, it is very important that you and your child imitate each other’s movements, sounds, or words in the home environment. If you have a child who is not yet able to imitate sounds, you can encourage him to imitate certain body and facial movements. If you have a child who can imitate sounds, you can ask him to repeat short words after you.
If you have a child who likes music, you can also benefit from songs. Some children enjoy listening to their favorite songs and accompanying them while listening. For this, you can encourage your child to complete the song or say a word in it by starting the song and stopping at some parts of the song.
Playing the “I Spy” Game
I Spy is a game of making the other person find and guess the object he/she sees in the room without saying its name. This game is for kids who can answer questions and understand how these types of games are played. It is a very useful game for expanding vocabulary, developing critical thinking, and providing word articulation. This game can be played by choosing a more specific object compared to other objects in the room, such as your child with autism’s favorite toy, the item he uses most, or the item he has to see the most. This game also strengthens the communication between parent and child.
You as a Caregiver Are Your Child’s Best Speech Therapist!
You do not need to be a licensed speech therapist to improve your child’s speech and communication skills. You will always be your child’s best speech therapist, as the person who spends the most time with him, is there for him/her at almost every moment, and provides his primary care. You can follow them with some simple activities that you can add to your child’s daily routine. You should never forget that it will be a very slow process and you need to be very patient.
Your autistic child progresses at his /her own pace, learns, and surprises you with this development every day. Remember that the tiniest bit of communication and speech is a success for children with autism, and you should celebrate that success.
The activities you do at home and the quality time you spend with your child as a caregiver will be very helpful in helping your child with autism gain the skills that he/she will need in the future. These skills can be speaking or social skills. If there is no physiological reason, parents can make great contributions to their children’s language and speech development thanks to the activities they will follow at home.
Instead of constantly seeking professional help, you can always try to talk to your child. This may be one of the greatest things you can do for your child. Because children imitate their parents, and you are always their first role model. Be patient and wait for your child to start imitating you. At some point, he/she will talk to you as you speak to him/her.
What Should the Right Approach Be?
- Practice: If your child has trouble saying a specific letter, work on that letter first. Encourage her to sing that letter alone. After you have your child work on this letter and it is now easier to say the letter, try to have your child say the short syllables containing this letter at first. Then you can try to make your child say the words containing this letter. It is very important to repeat and practice. You can also support this situation with positive reinforcement.
- Focusing on what they can do: Your child with autism can’t do more than their neurotypical peers. That’s why you should focus on what your child can do, not what they can’t do. That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge and reward small victories. Small situations in daily life such as pointing at the toy they want, saying water when they are thirsty, saying the name of their favorite food when they are hungry, etc. can be rewarded.
- Paying attention to noise or distractions: As a parent, you need to be extra careful if you have a child with autism. Because children with autism may experience sensory overload due to background noise or distractions. That’s why you should talk a lot with your child. Even if he or she does not answer you, it is beneficial to do it by telling your child about everything you do. But you have to be careful that watching TV cannot compensate for it. On the contrary, it negatively affects language and speech development. Because the parent does not talk much with the child who is watching TV and the child misses the daily language.
- Listening: Start by asking questions. You may not always get quick answers to your questions. You may even get no response at all. At this point, you have to be careful and patient. You should not interrupt your child. You should wait for what your child wants to say without putting pressure on him/her. Do not focus too much on your child while you wait for what he/she has to say. This can make your child uncomfortable and put pressure on him/her. Your child may be more negatively affected in this way. You need to keep the conversation mutual and natural. You should remember that it is not perfection that matters.
- Using straws: It can be helpful to use them to develop mouth muscles before practicing speaking. It can be used while drinking anything that your child likes to drink. It can also be made into a game and used by blowing air through them. There will be activities that support muscle development in every aspect.
- Reading: You can start by reading your child’s favorite book or fairy tale. You can then have your child summarize the story for you or continue the story. If your child is too young to read the book, you can choose picture books and ask him/her to describe the pictures he/she sees to you. Being able to explain what they see, continue the topic, remember the context, and keep the conversation going will also make your child feel good and will increase your child’s self-confidence.
Just Smarty Alphabet and Numbers Learning Toy, Interactive Learning Toy, Speech Therapy Toy for Learning ABCs
It is a very well-designed educational communication board to be used as a speech therapy activity. It is an electronic board to teach sounds and pronunciation. It is an interactive game to teach the alphabet, words, sounds, numbers, pronunciation, and spelling. It helps to develop memory skills, spelling, and logical thinking. It has a colorful design to attract your child’s attention as well. It provides fun family time as well at a highly affordable price. https://www.amazon.com/Just-Smarty-Interactive-Educational-Kindergarten/dp/B074PYYM51/ref=pd_rhf_d_dp_s_crs_dp_rhf_k2p_sccl_1_5/142-0939960-7853515?pd_rd_w=UM1yf&content-id=amzn1.sym.b4b29072-2a46-4040-9ae4-91e4b7e95920&pf_rd_p=b4b29072-2a46-4040-9ae4-91e4b7e95920&pf_rd_r=GTY0RFNSQKXE9KDRP0MV&pd_rd_wg=YN4Nv&pd_rd_r=aa5c5ced-b4e6-45a3-9d64-ef22b013fb13&pd_rd_i=B074PYYM51&th=1
Learning Resources Peekaboo Learning Farm – Learning Toys, Counting and Sorting Toys, Easter Basket Stuffers
It is an adorably designed educational game that can be played at home. It has a farm theme which is perfect for children on the autism spectrum with animal obsession. There are 5 animal puppets which are a cow, a pig, a chicken, a horse, and more. It helps to develop fine motor skills, enhance color recognition, and build creativity. You can teach your child sorting, counting, and sequencing. It is highly recommended by parents and professionals. https://www.amazon.com/Learning-Resources-Peekaboo-Counting-Matching/dp/B081P4CZQ9/ref=pd_rhf_d_dp_s_crs_dp_rhf_k2p_sccl_1_1/142-0939960-7853515?pd_rd_w=UM1yf&content-id=amzn1.sym.b4b29072-2a46-4040-9ae4-91e4b7e95920&pf_rd_p=b4b29072-2a46-4040-9ae4-91e4b7e95920&pf_rd_r=GTY0RFNSQKXE9KDRP0MV&pd_rd_wg=YN4Nv&pd_rd_r=aa5c5ced-b4e6-45a3-9d64-ef22b013fb13&pd_rd_i=B081P4CZQ9&th=1
LeapFrog Learning Friends 100 Words Book
It is a highly effective book, especially for bilingual children. It consists of both English and Spanish vocabulary to develop early vocabulary. It is an interactive book each page feature 12 different learning categories and sounds which are animals, vegetables, fruits, colors, daily routine activities, opposites, and more. There are more than 100 words that are chosen by professionals. It is an easy way to teach correct pronunciations and words to your bilingual child. https://www.amazon.com/LeapFrog-Learning-Friends-Words-Green/dp/B07B6ZN7P8/ref=pd_rhf_d_dp_s_crs_dp_rhf_k2p_sccl_1_9/142-0939960-7853515?pd_rd_w=UM1yf&content-id=amzn1.sym.b4b29072-2a46-4040-9ae4-91e4b7e95920&pf_rd_p=b4b29072-2a46-4040-9ae4-91e4b7e95920&pf_rd_r=GTY0RFNSQKXE9KDRP0MV&pd_rd_wg=YN4Nv&pd_rd_r=aa5c5ced-b4e6-45a3-9d64-ef22b013fb13&pd_rd_i=B07B6ZN7P8&th=1
LIGHTDESIRE Learning Toys Talking Flash Cards with LCD Writing Tablet, Speech Therapy Autism Sensory Toys 224 Sight Words Montessori Educational Toys
It is an educational and functional toy that help decrease screen time, especially for children with special need. There are double-sided cards included that consist of 224 sight words. Your child can listen and draw at the same time which promotes learning and vocabulary. It helps to develop fine motor skills, drawing skills, vocabulary, creativity, and pronunciation. There are 16 different categories to help your child to be familiar with which are transportation, vegetables, fruits, math, body parts, animals, instruments, shapes, colors, countries, jobs, family members, zodiac, and many more. There will be at least one thing to get your child’s attention. It is also made of high-quality material that meets safety standards. It has a portable and lightweight design to carry everywhere easily. It is highly recommended by professionals. https://www.amazon.com/LIGHTDESIRE-Learning-Montessori-Educational-Preschool/dp/B0BFB4SY51/ref=sr_1_20_sspa?keywords=speech%2Btherapy%2Btoys&qid=1678577300&sr=8-20-spons&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUFYVEZVREtSOUlMQ0ImZW5jcnlwdGVkSWQ9QTAzNDM2ODAzQzZYVllSWk1ETUJGJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTA5MDIxMjVRU0I1WEtCVExFRDUmd2lkZ2V0TmFtZT1zcF9tdGYmYWN0aW9uPWNsaWNrUmVkaXJlY3QmZG9Ob3RMb2dDbGljaz10cnVl&th=1
teytoy My First Soft Book, Nontoxic Fabric Baby Cloth Books, Early Education Toys Activity, Crinkle Cloth Book
It deserves to be the first book for your child whet with special needs or not. It teaches your child soft texture, basic reading, comprehension, numbers, animal world, food, and vehicle. It is made of non-toxic, harmless, and washable materials which are very important for parents. It is a very vivid book with vibrant images and educational activities. It is a great early developmental toy that is highly recommended by parents. https://www.amazon.com/Nontoxic-Education-Activity-Crinkle-Toddler/dp/B076P8C2X4/ref=sr_1_47?keywords=speech+therapy+toys&qid=1678577300&sr=8-47