Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that may cause considerable social, behavioral, and communication challenges. Spectrum refers to the varying skills, symptoms, and extents of impairments that people with ASD display. ASD affects how children interact and communicate with others, and the child’s symptoms can be anywhere on the spectrum.
How does ASD affect communication in children?
To understand this, one should first have a grasp of the meaning of the word autism. It comes from the Greek word “autos,” which translates to “self” in English. What this means is that kids on the spectrum seem to be in a private world, in which they have limited capacity to communicate with others.
Most kids on the spectrum have difficulty using non-verbal cues like eye contact, facial expressions, and hand gestures. Their ability to communicate effectively depends on their social development. Some children can converse using speech, while others have limited speaking skills. Most of the challenges are related to the rhythm of words and sentences. They could also be unable to understand the meaning of various vocal tones.
Breaking through the language barriers of ASD in children
Here are some examples of language use found in kids with ASD:
- Repetitive, rigid language
Kids on the spectrum may say things that do not have much meaning to the people they are conversing with. For instance, they might count from one to ten repeatedly in a dialogue that isn’t related to numbers. A child may also continuously say a word they just learned or heard. The condition is known as echolalia. Immediate echolalia refers to when a kid says something they heard. Delayed echolalia is when they repeat the words they heard earlier. Some kids on the spectrum talk in a sing-song or high-pitched voices. Others use stock phrases to spike a conversation. For instance, a child may say, “I am jack,” even when they are with family and friends.
- Uneven language development
Some children with ASD develop language and speech skills but do not attain the average level of speech. The progress is usually irregular. For instance, they may gain a strong vocabulary in a particular area of interest very fast. Many kids remember things they just heard or saw very well. Others can even read words before they are five but lack the comprehension of what they just read. Therefore, the child could be mistaken to have a hearing problem.
- Few interests and exceptional abilities
Some kids are unable to maintain an in-depth monologue on a conversation of interest, even when they cannot keep up a two-way communication on a similar topic. Others have a great ability to do math calculations or to sing. About ten percent of children with ASD have excellent skills in specific areas like math, calendar calculations, memorization, and music. To nurture such talents, parents should ensure kids have enough rest. Weighted blankets can help, but understanding what the blanket means is crucial before introducing it to your child.
- Poor non-verbal conversation skills
Kids with ASD have difficulty using gestures, such as making facial expressions. They usually avoid eye contact. Unfortunately, this can be thought of as inattentive, rude, or disinterested. Without meaningful gestures and nonverbal skills to enhance their language, the kids cannot relay their feelings and thoughts accurately. That is why children on the spectrum often communicate their frustrations using vocal outbursts.
6 Tips for interacting with a child on the spectrum
1. Patience is vital
It usually takes longer for a child on the spectrum to process information than for one that isn’t on the spectrum. To handle this, slow down your conversation to the speed that your little angel will understand.
2. Be specific
Use direct language. For instance, if you want a child to sit, say “(name) sit.” Avoid including other unnecessary words since the kid might get lost in the conversation. Something like “(name) kindly sit on that chair” is too lengthy and only comes out as an overload of information.
3. Be resilient in your persistence
Do not allow your feelings to get hurt if your child does not respond as you would like. Kids with ASD face difficulties in showing and controlling emotions. They might be blunt when responding. When they do so, don’t take it to heart.
4. Say what you mean
Rather than saying, “Don’t run,” say “walk.” In this case, the child might process the word run instead of the entire phrase. That is why you should be as specific as possible.
5. Interact through physical activity
Children on the spectrum have short attention spans concerning communication. Therefore, running around the compound is a better way of interaction than sitting in a room talking.
6. Avoid phrases with different meanings
Sarcasm and idioms are great, but not for children with ASD. They might interpret the expressions differently, which will hinder communication. Use concepts that can be understood easily.