Children diagnosed with Autism may face several issues like difficulty in communication and social interaction, sensory integration issues, cognitive and psychological challenges. One such issue that can be commonly seen in children diagnosed with ASD is difficulties related to speech and language. Speech therapy can help children who lack the same, develop better speech and language abilities. To support this, here are the 6 most effective strategies that can help support speech development in a child with Autism.
- Focus on peer interaction
Several children on the Autism Spectrum may experience a hard time interacting with their peers. However, it can be peer interaction can be effectively used to encourage speech and language development in a child. Gradually introduce the child to other children of their age group.
For instance, you can organize a play date by calling a few children of your child’s age. In this, you can bring your child’s favourite toys to capture their interest. As the child may observe their peers talking among themselves, he/she may be encouraged to interact too. Also, you can lightly nudge the child and ask him to say “hello” or “goodbye” to teach them how to greet others.
- Establish spontaneous, functional communication
This should be one of the major goals for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder who has speech and language-related issues- to have functional and spontaneous communication. In simple words, a child should know how to communicate their basic requirements to parents, caregivers, or for that matter anyone around them, without requiring a prompt.
Basically, without an adulting asking, “Do you want food?”, the child should be able to say on their own- “I want food.” If this aspect is yet to be present, focus on gradually fading the prompts that he/she receives. For example, tell the child that when he/she is feeling hungry, say, “I want food.” Further, when you feel that the child is trying to communicate the same but is not using the appropriate words, prompt them by saying, “Use your words.”
Gradually, as the child starts to use the words appropriately, fade the cues/prompts, ensuring that he/she doesn’t get habitual of receiving them. If in case, the functional speech is absent, one can teach the child how to use sign language, picture communication system, and voice output augmentative alternative communication (AAC) device.
- Fine-tune their communication skills while other skills improve- There are many different communication skills, which directly or indirectly impact a child’s ability to effectively communicate themselves. While the child’s major challenging areas are being worked upon, the smaller challenges may also be addressed. For instance, figurative speech difficulties, incompetency to answer and ask questions, grammatical errors, sound related errors, etc can be worked upon as a strategy to support the development of speech and language in a child.
- Imitate the child- Speech therapy experts suggest mimicking the child’s play behaviors and sound as it encourages more interaction and vocalizing. In turn, the child also understands to copy what you say and learn to better communicate themselves. However, ensure that you only imitate those behaviours and sounds produced by your child that are positive. For instance, if your child is playing with his/her toy car and rolls it on the floor, roll it too. When he crashes it on an object, imitate the same. However, if your child throws it, do not imitate the same.
- Leave some space and give them time- As an instinct, any parent or caregiver may find it necessary to complete or fill the sentence that the child is trying to communicate. However, one should wait for the child to respond and not jump in immediately to complete it for them. This will give the child adequate time and opportunity to communicate, whether orally or through body gestures, on their own.
For instance, if your child wants to play, pause for some time and look at them expectantly. Look out for a body gesture or finger pointing towards their toy, and immediately respond to that prompt. This will help your child understand the power of effective communication.
- Speak clear, short and simple words or sentences- When an adult or for that matter a peer, uses clear, short and simple words and sentences to communicate, it becomes easier for the child to understand, comprehend and probably imitate the same. If the child does not speak at all, try to speak to them using single words. For instance, if he/she is playing with a dice, say “dice” or say “roll.” If he/she already communicates in single words, use double word phrases, like- “roll dice.”
Hopefully, these speech development strategies will help develop your child’s speech and language skills. Also, while you are at it, try to stay patient with your child. For better guidance and assistance, look out for a speech therapist who can offer speech therapy to your child. Through speech therapy, your child will be able to learn how to communicate themselves better.