The word “Autism” was created by Eugen Bleuler way back in 1911. He was a Swiss psychiatrist famous for his contributions to understanding mental illness.
Leo Kanner, an Austrian-American psychiatrist, published the first clinical report on autism in 1973. Kanner mentioned the possible cause of autism and how it affects the behavior of children with ASD.
The developmental disorder in autism affects the brain and impairs communication skills in autistic people. It alters the processing of information by the brain hence impacting communication skills.
Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face difficulties in conversations and often fail to notice social cues. All people with autism face challenges of varying degree with communication.
Therefore, supportive teaching techniques and experienced educators play a huge role in teaching communication to students with ASD in a suitable environment.
Why Teach Communication in Autism
Communication helps you exchange your thoughts, ideas, or information. You use speech, writing, and verbal or nonverbal expression to communicate.
Communication skills are pivotal for students with ASD. These skills can help children express their needs and wants and eventually help them in their behavioral skills, learning, and socializing.
Students with ASD have a range of communication skills. A few people have good communication skills, whereas others find it hard to communicate. They face difficulties developing language or face challenges speaking a language or learning no language to communicate.
Therefore, students with ASD need support to learn and practice communication. It is now evident that:
- Communication is a crucial life skill
- ASD causes impairment in communication skills
Benefits of Communication Skills
Earlier, health professionals and parents rarely addressed the need for communication for student with ASD. However, communication skills should be the primary objective to help people express themselves and minimize their discomforts.
Developing communication skills in students with ASD can benefit in the following ways:
- It can help people meet their basic needs
- They can share information
- Raise queries and gather information
- Interact with others to share ideas, challenges, wants, and information
- Build other skills too throughout their educational career
How autistic children communicate
Some autistic students communicate differently from normal developing children. An autistic student sometimes:
- speak differently or use language in a different manner
- use non-verbal expressions
- communicate through behavior and actions
An autistic student uses the following methods to communicate:
1.Communication through the use of verbal language
Autistic student might:
- Repeat or mimic words or phrases of others in an unusual tone of voice.
- use self-made words
- Repeat the same word over and over
- Use of wrong grammar
Students with ASD might:
- manipulate an object or person or communicate
- To point, show, and indicate by letting know what they want
Sometimes autistic students behave uniquely to express and communicate. Exhibiting aggression, self-harming behavior, and throwing tantrums might be the student’s way of trying to convey their needs.
Teaching Communication Skills to an Autistic
It is often hard to understand students with ASD. Similarly, failing to make people understand can frustrate students with ASD. Sometimes they can cause injury to themselves.
You may use therapies and interventions to develop communication skills in students with ASD.
Some of the best-known therapies to develop communication skills in students with ASD are:
1. Visual supports and strategies
Visual supports and strategies help students with ASD by using objects, symbols, and photographs to improve their skills. The use of visuals helps them process information, use language, and understand people around them.
Healthcare professionals may use these portable and adaptable visual tools and support strategies in most situations and environments.
Visual supports help in:
- providing structure and routine
- encouraging independence
- building confidence
- improving understanding
- avoiding anxiety and frustration, controlling aggression
- support to interact with others.
Visual tools help to make communication consistent rather than fleeting or inconsistent.
2.Functional Communication Training (FCT)
Functional communication training intervention focuses on replacing inappropriate behavior with better communication skills. During FCT, the therapist teaches meaningful and acceptable communication to students with ASD in a natural way. The goal is to replace inappropriate behaviors with suitable and socially accepted communication.
Often, frustration and anxiety develop due to an inability to communicate needs and desires in students with ASD. It gives rise to inappropriate behavior.FCT and other behavioral interventions build the ability to communicate in alternate ways in students with ASD. FCT thus alleviates the frustration that results from the inability to communicate.
The focus of FCT is to provide the student with different ways to communicate and eliminate negative behaviors.
Implementation of Functional Communication Training (FCT)
An ABA practitioner who teaches FCT completes the therapy in the following steps:
- Determine and assess the appropriate behavior
- Decides the alternate way to communicate that is appropriate for the student
- Systematically teaches the new communication skill
- Reinforces the behavior of students whenever they use the desired communication
- Reminds the student to use the preferred way of communication
- Ignore inappropriate behavior whenever the students practice it
FCT is a slow but effective process for replacing inappropriate behavior. The FCT process of teaching new communication skills can take weeks or even months.
3.More Than Words
Expert speech-language pathologists have developed More Than Words® program to help autistic children develop communication skills. It is an evidence research-based program to develop communication skills in students with ASD.
More Than Words® fosters communication and language development in children with ASD below age 5. It provides the parents with the tools, support, and strategies to help their child achieve full communication potential. The Hanen Certified Speech-Language Pathologists themselves deliver the program. These specialists get specialized training from Hanen Center.
How More than Words® helps?
The More than Words® program empowers parents to help their children attain the following goals:
- Better back-and-forth interactions and social communication
- Improvement in playing and imitation skills
- The program has the strong support of well-established principles driven by research.
- The program show improvements in parent-child interactions and children’s communication,
The program strategies enable the parents to perform the activities in their children’s natural environments.
4.Alternative and augmentative communication (AAC)
Alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) is an intervention for improving communication in people with ASD with the help of systems and devices. It involves the application of communication channels to express thoughts, ideas, emotions, and needs by an autistic person.
Refers to systems and devices that help people with limited verbal skills or who are nonverbal in communication with others.
The usage of devices and tools like communication boards, electronic devices, and pictures enhances social interaction and communication.
Tips to Help Child Communicate
Some of the tips that can encourage communication in children with ASD are:
- Use short sentences when talking to students with ASD
- Exaggerate the tone of voice
- Encourage the student to fill the gap during a conversation
- Ask questions
- Allow the student to understand and respond to questions
- Communicating with the student on topics they are interested in.
Students with autism have unique needs for learning communication. You need to apply evidence-based strategies and therapies to minimize communication challenges in students with an autism spectrum disorder.
You can work on communication skills for autistic children gradually. Observe the child and the way he communicates to determine the level of communication.
There is no single approach to improving communication in autistic children. You need to understand the cues and try connecting with the child. It will help to decide the suitable strategy to teach communication skills.
Strategies discussed here are based on research and practice that help improve communication in students with ASD.