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The power of communication is often taken for granted until you have an autistic child that is trying to talk too. Even a nonverbal child with autism can eventually develop their own unique language.
Each child with autism is unique in their own special way. A strategy that works well for one child may not work with another one. Not all will be capable of verbal communication but will require tremendous effort and eventually develop their own unique brand of communication and enable them to contribute to society.
Here are a few strategies for promoting language development in nonverbal children with autism:
• Try to encourage play and social interaction with others. Children learn through playtime and that includes learning communication through language. Try playing activities that promote social interaction i.e. singing, reciting nursery rhymes and hide-and-seek but don’t make yourself too hard to find.
• Try to imitate your child by mimicking their sounds and play behaviours as it will encourage more vocalisation and interaction. It also encourages your child to copy you and take turns. Only imitate the positive behaviour, not temper tantrums etc.
• Try to focus on nonverbal communication through gestures and eye contact. When you model and responding to their behaviour, you will encourage them to try to communicate more. Exaggerate your gestures and use both your body and voice when communicating. By extending your hand to point when you say ‘look’ and nodding your head when you say ‘yes’. When they look or points to an item, hand it to them or take the cue for you to play with it.
• Try to leave time/space for your child to talk. Whilst you may feel the urge to fill in the gaps in language when a child doesn’t immediately respond, they will never be encouraged to talk when you are always doing it for them. When you ask them a question, wait a while for them to respond. Watch for any sound or body movement and then respond promptly. That will encourage them to feel the power of communication.
• Try to keep your language simple which helps your child follow what you’re saying. It will also make it easier for them to imitate your speech. Instead of full sentences, you may need to use single words i.e. just say “apple” instead of “do you want an apple”
• Try to believe in their ability. Assuming they are competent is one of the most crucial things you can do to encourage them in general. It is a way of empowering them. Children can understand when you speak to them differently or not. It does not matter if they have a disability or not. If you assume your child can do it, they will do it.
• Consider assistive devices and visual supports that can do more than taking the place of speech. They can foster its development. Here are some handy apps or communication with speech generating devices like these.
By working together with a therapist, it is possible that you can help your child to find their own voice.