Managing Communication with Autistic kids

Elvis Elvis

Using Language

Children with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome may have difficulty with communication.

Around 40-50% of autistic children will be non verbal, and in many speech will be delayed.

Most children with Asperger’s Syndrome will learn to speak or communicate at around the normal age of around two.

All children learn to speak by imitation, by babbling first, followed by sounds, words and phrases, and finally sentences. At around three most children are starting to be spontaneous in their use of language.

To varying degrees however; children with Asperger’s Syndrome may continue with this imitation; or echolalia which means:

1. Psychiatry The immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases just spoken by others, often a symptom of autism or some types of schizophrenia.

2. An infant’s repetition of the sounds made by others, a normal occurrence in childhood development. ETYMOLOGY: echo + Greek lali, talk (from lalos, talkative).

My daughter will lapse into echolalia particularly when she is anxious or very excited.

For some children speech therapy or other intensive therapy may be needed to help them move beyond this phase of language development, some however; will continue to use echolalia into adulthood as their main means of communication.

Managing Communication with Autistic kids

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome may have a huge vocabulary which is very adult like and formal. It can also be stilted and monotone.

My daughter will use phrases such as: “Well actually mummy, you may not have guessed this but the dog was hungry.” Or “Excuse me Courtney, but would you be so kind as to pass me the pencil”

Understanding Language

Another area is the hidden deficit of understanding what is being communicated to them, via both words and non verbal information. (Body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and gaze modulation)

Children with Aspergers seem unable to process language in the way that neurotypical (non autistic) children are able to.

They are very literal and do not appear to understand jokes or sarcasm which can easily confuse them:

For instance my daughter came home from school with a request to take a skipping rope, and any spare skipping ropes, into school for an activity:

My sarcastic response (Before we knew about aspergers!!) “Well I don’t have hundreds of skipping ropes”

My daughter’s response “We don’t need hundreds I just need one.

Instructions are a problem area most of our children can only process one instruction at a time and cannot read the unsaid instructions within: For instance most of us know that “Go to Bed” would encompass getting changed, washing face and hands, putting on nightclothes, doing teeth and then getting into bed. Giving a child with Aspergers the “Go to Bed” instruction would have them in bed fully clothed.

You will need to strip your language to the basics and give clear short instructions that may need to be repeated on an ongoing basis.

Once your child has learnt how to do something in one situation ie get ready for bed in your home does not mean that they will be able to repeat that in another situation ie get ready for bed in nanny’s house.

Try not to generalise; as statements such as “We always do this” will lead to arguments as your child will remember the times when you didn’t do this.

When your child is out of control or on the edge of losing control is the wrong time to make deals such as “Let’s just buy this book, and then we will go for ice cream” From experience I know this does not work and just stresses us both out even more. At this point we need to be making a controlled exit.

We have found that using a low calm voice has the best results, getting impatient and shouting sends our daughter into a spin and she finds it very difficult to respond. Keeping a calm quiet atmosphere (not always possible, believe me, I know)also helps a great deal.

Don’t try to correct or give your child explanations until they are out of crisis and calm, and praise them for any effort they have made in trying to avoid a crisis. These children don’t want to be out of control and they try to curb these behaviours once they understand why they are not acceptable.

Social Stories are great for all sorts of situations from hygiene issues to social and communication issues. We have found Comic Strip Conversations and the Picture Exchange Communication System to be invaluable in helping our daughter to understand and set a routine and for explaining social interactions and for reading non verbal information, such as facial expressions.