Autism is a misunderstood condition, characterized by difficulty with communication and social interaction. Of course, there are different levels of autism, some more severe. Individuals with autism can still lead happy, healthy lives – treatment for the condition has developed tremendously in the last century, making it easier than ever for autistic children to develop into otherwise normal adults.
The best thing you can do for your autistic child is to teach them about communication. Without communication, an adult cannot function. Here are some tips you can use to aid your child’s communication, helping them to grow happily and healthily:
Always Use Their Name
Autism is on the rise. All it takes is a look at current autism statistics to see this. Because the condition is becoming so much more common, expecting parents can do themselves favors by learning about it. While the chances of having an autistic child are low, it can still happen. In conversation make sure that you always use your child’s name. Addressing them by their name will familiarize them with it and help them to learn to recognise it, benefiting them outside of the home.
Make Sure They Are Paying Attention
Before engaging your autistic child in conversation, make sure they are paying attention to you. The attention spans of autistic children are much lower than average children’s. Autistic children can get distracted very easily. If they are not paying attention when you talk to them, then they won’t absorb what you are trying to tell them. A good way to get them to pay attention is to call them by their name. If your child is not paying attention to you then do not start a conversation, instead, focus on getting them interested in talking to you.
Use Their Hobbies to Engage Them
Autistic children tend to be very passionate about their hobbies. As the parent of one, you will no doubt already know this. A good way of getting your autistic child engaged in conversation with you is to bring up their hobbies. Starting a conversation about their hobbies, using keywords, should get their attention and hold it. You can then slowly divert the conversation away from their hobby into something else. Autistic children have a habit of getting fixated on things so conversation diversions will likely take some practice.
Say Less and Speak Slowly
When you are talking to your child, it is important to say as little as possible and speak slowly. The purpose of your conversations with them should be to convey important information. If you do not speak slowly and you use too many words, they could get confused and miss the point of what you are actually saying to them. Speak slowly so they can follow along and understand each word. Moving too quickly can be a detriment to their understanding. Ensure that when you are talking, your voice is raised just enough so your words are clear. Do not shout, however, as this can cause anxiety.
Use Specific Key Words In Conversation
In conversations with autistic children, specific keywords can convey messages more effectively than wordy explanations. In the previous section, reference was made to the fact that you should keep your conversations concise and to the point. Using keywords is an important part of doing this.
Maintain Eye-contact With Them
During conversations it is also a good idea to maintain eye contact so that your child knows you are talking to them. It is not uncommon for autistic children to avoid eye contact, so by teaching them to maintain it comfortably from a young age, they will be less likely to find it uncomfortable as an adult.
Use Less Non-verbal Communication
While eye contact is indeed an effective way of letting an autistic child know that you are talking to them, you should minimize non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication can be a detriment to your child’s social performance. As autistic people find it difficult to interpret non-verbal behavior, putting a lot of emphasis on it will take away from their conversational development and confuse them. Confusing your child will hinder their development.
Avoid Sensory Overload
Sensory overload is a big problem for autistic children. Avoid taking your child anywhere that there are a lot of other people, especially when they are young. Exposing your child to busy places and lots of noise will cause them to shut down. Autistic children are notorious for shutting down, as in going completely mute.
Keep Questions Short
When you are asking your child questions, keep them short. Again, do not overload them. Asking long questions can confuse your child, making them unsure of themselves. If they are confused and do not follow your question’s trail they could end up refusing to answer or engage with you. Spend some time learning to shorten your questions so you do not confuse yourself or your child in conversation.
Ask Specific Questions
Asking indirect questions can confuse even the most astute individuals. Indirect questions in conversation with autistic children are a bad idea. There is very little chance that they will be able to pick up on your question’s hidden meaning. Rather than being indirect, be as upfront and direct as you can. Every question needs to be clear and easy for them to understand. Ambiguity in conversation will make their lives extremely difficult, especially as far as conversational development goes.
Identifying Distressed Behavior
One of the most important things you can do as the parent of an autistic child is to learn to identify distressed behavior. When an autistic child is feeling sad, distressed, or scared they might not show it in ways that other children would. When you are working with your child to improve their conversational performance and socialization skills, there are times when they will get overwhelmed. If you cannot spot the signs of anxiety and overstimulation then you will push your child to these mind states again and again.
Autism is not an easy condition to live with. It is especially difficult being the parent of an autistic child because it becomes your responsibility to socialize with them and ensure they develop healthily. You can get support by getting in touch with an autism charity or care provider.