Two children smiling

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have difficulty relating to and communicating with other people. They may be slower to develop language, be non-verbal, or have significant difficulties understanding or using verbal language. Through the use of various tools and resources, along with ongoing speech and language pathology sessions, children with autism can learn and build upon various means of communication. We’ll explore:

  • Developing Communication Skills: Typically Developing vs. Children with Autism
  • Unconventional Communication Methods
  • AAC Options During Speech and Language Pathology Sessions and Natural Environments
  • Pairing AAC and Speech and Language Pathology

Mother and son sitting and talking

Communication and the Typically Developing Child

Children tend first to use communication to ask for something, protest, or satisfy a need. The second phase of communication is typically to get or maintain someone’s attention. This phase may include a child wanting attention or asking to be held. Lastly, and the most challenging part of communication skills, children learn to direct a person’s attention to an object or an event for social reasons.

Communication and Children with Autism

Children with autism learn to communicate best through a step-by-step process and usually require in-depth speech and language pathology sessions. Teaching communication skills may include gradual phases, such as reaching towards a toy they want. After this skill is successful, move to utilize eye contact. Verbal skills will eventually be the last step to teach in this progression.

Autism and Communication

Children with ASD often can’t grasp the concept that communication is a process that uses a combination of resources, including:

  • Eye contact
  • Facial expressions
  • Gestures
  • Words and sounds

While some children may develop speech, others may have difficulty using language to communicate effectively with others. How well they learn to communicate is vital across other areas of development, including:

  • Behavior
  • Learning
  • Social interaction

The Role of Speech and Language Pathology

Speech and language pathology methods are essential for children with autism across all developmental areas. Early intervention and ongoing speech and language pathology therapy are especially vital in your child’s communication skill success. Through speech and language pathology, children with autism learn to recognize and adopt acceptable skills and behaviors, leading to more effective communication methods. During speech and language pathology therapy, your child’s ABA goals, and best practices help strengthen desirable outcomes through modeling, repetition, and positive reinforcements.

Unconventional Forms of Communication

Many children with autism use words and various verbal strategies to communicate unconventionally. Echolalia, for example, is very common in children with autism. Children mimic words and phrases without particular meaning or in an unusual tone of voice. They may tend to repeat words they hear immediately or at a later point in time. They may repeat words they hear from others around them, on TV, radio, or videos. They may also use neologisms, or made-up words, focus on one word and repeat it, or mix up pronouns.

Common Nonverbal Communication

Children with autism may utilize additional ways of communicating, including:

  • Physically manipulation an object or person: this may include taking your hand and moving it towards something they desire
  • Pointing, shifting, or showing through a gaze

Communication Through AAC

The use of AAC helps give children with autism a voice. It enables them to interact with the people around them. Alternative and Augmentative Communication refers to any means of communication, other than traditional speech, that allows your child to use language. AAC tools may include gestures, using pictures, sign language, various visual aids, or a speech-output device, such as a tablet.

Research has shown that the use of AAC resources does not prevent the development of a child’s verbal communication skills. Many research findings support the use of AAC, noting an increase in speech, supporting the child’s development of verbal communication. AAC is often a powerful steppingstone to their verbal communication.  It supports challenges children may have when developing speech and language skills through typical aging or even ongoing speech and language pathology sessions. In fact, AAC options are common during speech and language pathology sessions, often helping to decrease challenging behaviors children exhibit when they cannot successfully express themselves.

Children playing on a phone, learning communication skills.

Pairing AAC and Speech and Language Pathology

Introducing AAC methods during your child’s speech and language pathology sessions allows them to explore the ability to communicate their wants and needs in a more effective, non-verbal way. Through the touch of a button or the use of an image, they learn to express themselves without tantrums and undesirable behaviors. Through redirection and the introduction of high and low tech AAC tools, speech and language pathology sessions offer your child a new communication method, building a stronger bond and trust between them and their caregivers and peers.

AAC High Tech Options

During your child’s speech and language pathology sessions, their therapist may utilize a variety of AAC devices. Through speech and language pathology, your child’s therapist will explore tech options that suit your child’s ABA therapy goals and overall needs. The use of AAC high tech options in your child’s speech and language pathology sessions and various natural environments may include:

  • Speech Generating Devices: VOCA’s, or Voice Output Communication Aids, help children communicate in various environments and situations while strengthening verbal and non-verbal skills through:
    1. Expressive language
    2. Joint attention/gestures
    3. Pragmatics
    4. Reading skills
    5. Math skills
  • LAMP Words for Life: LAMP, or Language Acquisition through Motor Planning approach, centers around neurological, motor learning principles, and clinical experiences to address your child’s language development and communication needs. The LAMP program provides consistent motor patterns for words and a systematic way to help them develop communication skills and growth.
  • TouchChat: an app utilizing words, phrases, and messages, either spoken with a built-in voice synthesizer or by playing message recordings. TouchChat offers a variety of choices for your child, such as voices, English and Spanish, and screen display features.

Your child’s speech and language pathology therapist will work with you, your child’s caregivers, and the rest of their ABA therapy team, offering training and guidance with various AAC options.

During your child’s speech and language pathology sessions, they will also explore various low-tech options. These may include the use of picture books, choice boards, and:

  • PECs: Picture Exchange Communication helps your child communicate through pictures while encouraging their spontaneous use to communicate with others. PEC’s start with one image then helps them gradually progress to adding on images and developing sentence strips.
  • Social Stories: narratives that illustrate various situations and issues and how children can deal with them, helping them understand social norms and how to communicate with others appropriately

Your child’s health and wellness are our top priority. From communication skills to school readiness, our highly trained team of professionals are here to support you through this journey in every way we can. Individualized ABA and speech and language pathology are just the beginning of meeting your family’s needs. For additional resources and to learn more about the all-encompassing services we offer at Blossom Behavior Wellness Center, visit us today.

One Comment

  1. Curtis Butler March 11, 2021 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    You make a good point when you mentioned how systematic phases should be used to slowly teach children with autism how to communicate. My nephew has been having trouble expressing his emotions, and his parents would like to help him learn how to communicate with children his age before he attends kindergarten next month. Maybe they should find a language therapy service that can help their child learn how to speak to others.

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