We did an earlier post on communication tips to help structure reciprocal
conversation skills in particularly verbal children with ASD (click here
to go to the link) and there are countless other ways to help
facilitate communication for our younger or more beginning learners.
Firstly, think about what's motivating to the person with ASD. Is it a
favorite toy or a favorite snack? We hear stories from many parents
of two or three year-olds about how independent they are in getting
what they want, when they want it. Even though in some ways it's good
for kids to be independent, for children with autism, they are often so
independent because they are not always recognizing how other people
can be helpful to them . It is not exactly safe for little ones to climb
on top of the fridge to get the oreos, for example so we need to be
creative in helping to give them a way to express these needs and
wants even when the person may not have the words to do so.
One idea illustrated in the above picture is to put snack items in small,
clear containers that are sealed or taped shut so they cannot open them.
Then the idea is for the child to take the container and hand it to mom
or dad, or whomever it may be to get the snack for him/her. Do not expect
that by just puttingthe containers on a table and storing the snack items
high on a shelf the child will come over and initiate this exchange;
it has to be taught. Start by sitting across from the table from each other.
Then, you may need an additional person to shadow or sit behind the child
to gently move his or her arm to demonstrate how the exchange will go.
Then, once the child hands the container, he or she will receive the
chosen snack. We always advise that while teaching this concept,
only put out a few goldfish or desired snack option so that the child
has multiple opportunities to ask. You can also work on generalizing
this skill of asking in an exchange to many other tasks, such as the ones
In the above example I simply photocopied the puzzle pieces and then
set them in the inset to make it more visually clear which animal went
where. Also I used the pictures as a way for the person to ask for the
puzzle pieces. Notice that because
there are several animals in this puzzle, it provides numerous
opportunities to ask use this communication system to help teach the
power of communication.
If the person with autism simply grabs for the pieces across the table, help
model for them the purpose of the task by saying "I need________"
if they understand language or by using a shadow.
Again, think about what mode of communication you think your child or
student best understands, such as objects, pictures, or even written words
and use that same method in teaching communication skills. Even very verbal
children often need to learn the POWER of communication in this very specific
exchange. By handing a object, picture card, or written word to someone
else it helps to teach the skill of directing communication, which is a difficult
for individuals across the autism spectrum, regardless of IQ or verbal ability, etc.
The photo to the right is simply another example of a way to structure materials to make it a communication activity. We made this for a child who loved play-doh and we wanted to use this motivating activity to help increase communication. Here we have a product sample or photograph of the item we'd like for the person to build and again the idea is for him/her to take the photographs and hand them to the person across the table to get the item needed to finish the task. You can always continue to change what type of animal or structure the person builds but this way he/she can practice asking for what is needed.
We'll continue to post ideas of ways to help teach communication and social skills, which are more difficult areas by definition when diagnosing a child with autism. I think that automatically we assume that if an individual has speech, then the communication difficulties will go away, but with autism the problem is more than just language, it's about communicative intent and we need to think about ways to teach the meaning of communication and its purpose in more straight-forward, structured way. With time and practice, kids surprise us all the time on how quickly they pick up these routines!