How to help my autistic child communicate?

One topic we get asked about a lot is to do with how to help my autistic child communicate. So, in this article we have pulled together some of our top tips on ways in which they might choose to express themselves and how to interact with an autistic child.



Understanding communication in an autistic person

Communication is what happens when one person sends a message to another person, either verbally or by non-verbal means. If two people communicate with each other and respond to the other persons communication then this is classed as interaction.

A lot of people who have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, seem to have difficulty in interacting with other people. They may struggle with actually initiating interaction, with responding to others in the correct way, or even being sociable in general. This can make family life, school life and social occasions very difficult for them.

Many people who are not on the autism spectrum seem to be able to communicate and interact with most people naturally, but struggle to do so with autistic people. Knowing a bit more about how they may behave and how to react to their different behaviours may help:

 They are not paying attention to what you are saying:

  • Make sure you always use their name when you are talking to them so that they know you are talking to them
  • Try and use the activity they are engaged in to engage with them
  • Make sure they are paying attention to you before you begin to speak

They are struggling to process what I am saying:

  • Talk slowly and as clearly as possible
  • Repeat specific key words
  • Pause between phrases to give them time to process what you have said, and also give them a chance to respond to it as well
  • Use non-verbal communication such as facial expressions and gestures to assist with their understanding
  • Use visual aids, such as those found on many speech therapy apps

They won’t answer open ended questions

  • Ask questions only when strictly necessary
  • Keep your questions as short as possible
  • Ask more specific questions such as ‘Did you enjoy your English lesson?’ rather than ‘How was your day at school?’
  • Structure your questions so that you are offering them a choice of answer

There are other ways that your autistic child may choose to communicate as well, such as:

Non-verbal Communication

Some autistic children have been known to be delayed in their use of language, and may not have developed speech even when they become adults. In cases like these, other methods of communication need to be used. If the child, or adult, does not respond to you when you are talking to them or make any attempt to communicate then you may need to use non-verbal communication such as:

  • Echolalia (word repetition)
  • Gestures
  • Looking at the object you want them to use
  • Reaching for things
  • Taking their hand to the object they want
  • Using pictures


Four Stages of Communication

There are four stages of communication, according to The Hanen Programme, and the stage that your child has reached will depend on:

  • How and why they communicate
  • Their level of understanding
  • Their ability to interact with another person

The communication they use may be:

  • pre-intentional, in that they are doing it without intending to affect anyone around them, or
  • intentional, so that they are doing it in order to send a message to someone else.

The four stages of communication, therefore, are:

#1 Own Agenda Stage

Communication is mainly pre-intentional and the child plays alone and is uninterested in other people

#2 Requester Stage

The child realises that their actions have an impact on other people, and start to communicate their wants by pulling others towards things

#3 Early Communicator Stage

Interactions become intentional and increase in length. They may start to use echolalia to communicate their needs. They may use gestures such as pointing to show you what they want and also begin to shift their gaze in order to encourage interaction.

#4 Partner Stage

The child is using speech and can carry out a simple conversation. They may be confident to do this in the home environment, but may need extra support when out and about.

How to Support the Development of Communication

  • Follow the child’s lead. Don’t direct them but rather let them lead you as then they will be more likely to focus on the same things as you and learn how to make their own choices
  • Use simple words. In the early stages of communication, you should try and use simple single words to encourage communication so that you are only giving them one thing at a time to process
  • Build in time for them to communicate. If you are always answering questions on their behalf, not giving them time to formulate an answer, then they will leave the communication to you. Don’t always fetch their shoes when you are going out, or bring them a biscuit to go with their juice – wait for them to ask for it.
  • Make sure you are face to face and at eye level when communicating. If you are face to face with the person you are talking to you are more easily able to pick up on non-verbal gestures and have a better understanding of what they want.
  • Imitate their attempts to communicate. They will start to pay attention to you if they pick up on the fact that you are copying their sounds, and they may start to imitate back which will give you the opportunity to create a new sound for them to copy.

App2Vox is one of the leading autism apps on the market today, developed in conjunction with autism together and proudly supported by COMMITT.