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How to Communicate With Autistic Children

by Elle Blake

Communicating with autistic children can be a challenge. Autistic children are often described as being distant and unresponsive, almost as if they are in their own worlds. The condition causes information to be processed differently by the brain, which makes communication very difficult. This often leads to frustration, which only exacerbates the problem. Despite this, there are ways to make communicating with Autistic children more successful and easier for everyone involved.

Focus on your body language. Many autistic children find words overwhelming and confusing, and they respond much better to physical communication. Allow the child to communicate what he wants using his body. For example, a child wanting a drink may lead you to the fridge, or he may point to a toy that he wishes to play with.

Learn the child's own signs. Many autistic children have their own way to communicate, which you can pick up on and use. For example, rubbing the tummy could indicate a tummy ache, or putting hands on the head could indicate a headache. You will pick these up naturally over time, although the child's parent may be able to help you learn them faster.

Use direct language. Autism can cause a very literal mind frame, meaning figures of speech and metaphors often do not make sense and can confuse and frustrate. Think about what you wish to say and how you can phrase it directly. This means the child is likely to understand immediately, rather than becoming frustrated.

Consider introducing official communication systems. This would need to be agreed upon by the child's parents before any steps are taken, but it can provide the child with another way to express himself. A popular option is PECS, or Picture Exchange Communication System. PECS was developed to help those with autism, and it can be used throughout childhood and adulthood. The PECS website gives information on how the scheme works and how to implement it.

Label rooms and objects. If the child can read, this will prompt him into being able to say the word, or give him an opportunity to point at the correct sign. Examples of signs include rooms, such as the bathroom; toys the child may want to play with; activities he may wish to do and items of food and drink. You could also create a set of cards that the child can bring to you to show you what he wishes to do.

Tip

  • Always keep calm. If you find yourself becoming frustrated or annoyed, remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible and use breathing exercises to relax.

References

  • "How to Help Your Autistic Spectrum Child: Practical Ways to Make Family Life Run More Smoothly"; Jackie Brealy, Beverly Davies, Richard Craze, and Roni Jay; 2006.
  • "Playing, Laughing and Learning with Children on the Autism Spectrum"; Julia Moor; 2008

Photo Credits

  • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images