If you are a parent of a child (or children) who are nonverbal, then you may be asking yourself ‘how to help my autistic child communicate’. For many children on the autism spectrum, difficulties with communicating are one of the first signs that your child is autistic. As we have spoken about before, all autistic children are different and so will have different level of communication skills – some children may have a large vocabulary and be able to read well, while others may have trouble understanding facial expressions and other communication cues. Communication Issues Some of the patterns of language or behaviour your autistic child may display can include: Repetitive or rigid language – such as responding to questions with questions, or talking in a specific way such as a robot voice or using a high-pitched sing-song voice Uneven language development – they may develop a rich vocabulary in a specific area of interest, they may be able to read really well but have no understanding of what they have read, or they may not respond to their name or the speech of others. Poor nonverbal skills – they may avoid eye contact and be unable to use gestures such as pointing to help with their speech There are, however, some simple ways in which you can try to help your autistic child to communicate: Ways to Help Your Autistic Child to Communicate Ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking questions which require a yes or no answer only, try asking more open-ended questions. So instead of saying ‘Do you like the pasta?’ you could ask ‘Do you like the pasta or not like the pasta?’ This gives the child the option to expand on their answer and give you more information than just saying yes or no. Use music and singing to communicate. Quite often it is the case that children with autism are able to sing a lot better than they can speak, so use this as a way of communication. Even totally nonverbal children have been known to hum along with music. You can try using musical instruments, or digital recordings as a way of helping their speech to progress. Keep instructions simple. It is very easy for autistic children to get confused and bogged down when they are trying to follow instructions, so you should try and give them just one instruction at a time. So rather than saying ‘Go to the toilet, brush your teeth and get in bed’ you can say ‘please go to the toilet’ and then ‘please brush your teeth’ and finally ‘now it’s time to get into bed.’ Once they have grasped this, you could introduce the words ‘first, then and now’ into the instruction so that they know in which order to complete them. Teach them phrases and figures of speech. Kids with autism often struggle with simple phrases and figures of speech, such as ‘can you catch the waiter’s eye please?’ Helping them to learn that there are some sentences we use that don’t actually mean exactly what they seem to imply can be a hard lesson for them to learn, but one that is well worth teaching them. Don’t be overly critical. Sometimes they may use phrases that you are not expecting, the aim is to keep them practicing their verbal skills and developing their language so encourage them as much as you can. Can Autism Apps Help? One way of helping autistic children to develop their language and communication skills is to use autism apps. They may be apps that are prescribed by your child’s speech therapist and are sometimes called augmentative and alternative communication interventions or AAC apps. 56 studies of AAC apps took place between 1980 and 2007 and a review of all of these studies was undertaken by Debora R P Nunes in 2008 for the International Jornal of Special Education. She concluded that; “Some of the advantages of using sign language included (a) its portability; (b) its characteristic of being a true language system and, (c) the possibility of communication occurring at a faster pace. Among the positive aspects of using a visual-graphic system were: (a) its iconicity; (b) its non-transient nature; and (c) the limited motor requirements for its use. SGDs were considered advantageous for (a) they allowed communication to occur at larger distances; (b) they permitted messages to be easily deciphered, and (c) required limited cognitive and motor demands.” There are a variety of autism apps available on the market, with the most common being visual boards. Let’s take a look at some of the tools that are out there: Visual Boards. These apps help children with autism to express their emotions and preferences and also understand their schedules as well. They usually consist of a series of pictures which the child can point to or arrange in a line to express their wants or needs. They can be modified sometimes to the child’s needs by the use of more complex or simple pictures. They are usually attached to a board by the use of Velcro so that they can be moved round easily. If you have used App2Vox with your autistic child, then you will recognise that our app is based on this type of tool Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). Similar to visual boards, in that these are picture related, with the pictures being broken down into six successive stages. The stages are: how to communicate, distance and persistence, picture discrimination, sentence structure, responsive requesting and commenting. These skills all build on one another and can help children with their communication. They start off by showing their parent or carer a picture of something that they want, as they progress they will start to arrange the pictures into sentences, then they will learn how to use modifiers, initiate conversations and even answer questions. Sign Language. One of the most widely recognised forms of communication, sign language is not only practical but also a functional way for nonverbal autistic children to be able to communicate. There is American or British sign language, but for autistic children many therapists recommend Signing Exact English (SEE) which follows the speech patterns and sentence structure of spoken English, therefore making it easier to help them transfer the signs they have learnt to speech as their skills develop. Low technology AAC inventions. These inventions are generally supports to other methods of communicating, such as adaptive writing tools like weighted pencils and large ruled paper. They assist children to access the language and speech skills they already have. High technology electronic devices. These devices can help autistic children to vocalise their speech with the use of pictures and type, and are generally apps that can be downloaded to smartphones or tablets – such as App2Vox. App2Vox is aac software which was developed in partnership with Autism Together, as we both strongly believe that all autistic children should be given the opportunity to communicate. You can find out more about how it works by checking out the Features page of our website.