Your child with autism has just initiated something verbal (with words) and/or nonverbal (body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc.). These initiations are totally precious because they are rare and generated by your child after much effort orchestrating multiple requirements for communication. So valuable are your child’s initiations, they deserve productive adult responses as models to further grow their language skills and continue the conversation. These techniques can help!
1. Acknowledge: Regardless of how incorrect her initiated sentences might be, whenever naturally appropriate, acknowledge verbally whatever she has said:
Along with your verbal input, make your nonverbal body language match your words like nodding ‘yes’, tone of voice, and facial expressions.
2. Emphasize: Use interjections to add emphasis and animation to your acknowledgment when appropriate:
Children learn by watching and listening to the various models of others, especially when you incorporate what your child has just said. Your child will naturally imitate your words if he or she chooses. Respond with short sentences or phrases presented slowly in an audible, clear voice.
After acknowledging and emphasizing, model through incorporation of these three strategies:
3. Expand: Restate whatever your child says using proper grammar to form a complete sentence.”
Child: “Car go.”
Adult: “Yes, the car is going.”
Child: “Her hungry?”
Adult: “Hmm…is she hungry?”
4. Extend: After applying the expansion technique above, add new information.
Child: “Car go.”
Adult: “Yes, the car is going. It’s a fast car!”
Child: “Baby cry.”
Adult: “Aw, yeah…the baby is crying. He’s hungry.”
5. Request imitation: If your child does not choose to imitate your words on his own, at times you may request his imitation. Since imitation cannot always be demanded or expected or performed flawlessly by your child, discretion should be used. Insert pauses in order to make it easier for your child to repeat:
Child: “Mommy, truck going!”
Adult: “Oh my goodness, yes! That truck is going too fast! Johnny, say, ‘Mommy,’ [pause for your child to repeat] ‘that truck’ [pause] ‘is going’ [pause] ‘too fast!’”
(Immediately following, try to have your child imitate the whole sentence without pausing.)
Adult: “Ok…Sarah, say, ‘Can I have milk, Mom?’” or “Yes…Sarah, say, ‘Mom, I want milk.’”
In situations where your child initiates something vague or inadequate, you can respond to what you think his intention was with these two strategies:
6. Paraphrase: To achieve greater clarity using different words, paraphrasing provides rich input for your child to hear and imprint into his repertoire.
Adult: “Oh! You want milk. Ok, here’s a glass of milk.”
Child: “My shoes?”
Adult: “Hmm…you are looking for your shoes. Where are your shoes? Let’s try to find your shoes.”
7. Evoke clarification: When your child initiates a vague or inadequate request or demand, respond with something factual. This might influence your child to consider using other words to clarify:
Child (as a request for milk): “Milk?”
Adult: “Yes, that is milk.” Or “M-hmm. The milk is white.”
Desired clarification from your child: “May I have milk?”
Child (as a demand to turn the TV back on): “TV on!”
Adult: “No, the TV is not on. I turned the TV off.”
Desired clarification from your child: “Turn the TV on.”
If your child does not spontaneously produce other words to clarify, you can provide the correct model for imitation (e.g., “Sarah, say, ‘Mom, I want milk.’”), or paraphrase with a request for imitation (e.g., “You want me to turn the TV back on. Sarah, say, ‘Mom, please turn the TV back on.’”).
With these seven strategies, your child’s priceless initiations can be further developed and reinforced to create more natural, meaningful communication. Feel free to Email me using the form below to share your experiences and to ask questions.
Though it is unnatural for some people with autism, we should encourage and expect eye contact from them. Eye contact is crucial as all other social interactions stem from it. It sets the basic social foundation to ensure attention to the conversation or interaction. Eye contact signals that the person is present, engaged, and connected with others because our face – especially our eyes – embodies who we are as a person.
Research shows that most communication is expressed nonverbally through facial expressions and body language. While it is true that the spoken word is important, true feelings and intentions can only be seen when one looks at another’s face and body. Nonverbal communication enhances, clarifies, and reinforces the spoken word and deeply impacts social development.
Many people with autism do make eye contact, but it may be fleeting or occur at inappropriate times. Below are four ways to help your child improve eye contact. The frequency, duration, and under which circumstances will determine which methods will be best for you to utilize.
These INDIRECT METHODS stimulate active thought processes to occur:
Indirect verbal methods
Explain that eye contact is necessary:
“I can’t see your eyes.”
“I want to see your eyes.”
“I can’t answer you because I don’t see your eyes.”
“I’m over here.”
“You can’t see my face, so you don’t know how I feel.”
Give vague commands using vague, general terms to incite confusion and possible eye contact for clarification:
“Put it over by that.”
“Bring something there.”
“Close this over here, please.”
As you would in any circumstance where you are not aware of being personally addressed, withhold your response, or cue with:
“Who are you talking with? Are you talking with someone over there?”
“I guess you’re not talking with me because you’re not looking at me.”
Indirect nonverbal methods
Physically bring the child toward you in close proximity.
Allure the child to catch her eye with outrageous paraphernalia on your head or face (e.g., a clown nose, fake mustache, huge sunglasses, a weird wig). Along with this very instance, it is possible that in the future she will might look at you again to assess whether you are wearing other odd items. This method should be used sparingly because it is highly unnatural and unreasonable to constantly repeat.
DIRECT METHODS are explicit, passive, and do not require active thought processes:
Direct verbal methods
Directly tell or indicate your child to make eye contact with you. For example, call his name with an expectant intonation in your voice:
“Look at me.”
“Look at my eyes.”
“You have to look at me if you want me to talk with you.”
Go toward her eyes and say:
“Now I can see your eyes, and you can see my eyes.”
*This method should be used with caution because the adult, as opposed to the child, is the one making the effort to do this action.
Direct nonverbal method
Physically move a desired item, or simply your finger, from his eyes toward your eyes.
Whichever method above that you utilize, be sure to encourage, acknowledge and reward your child for looking at you. Do things like widen your eyes, smile, and praise such as, “I’m glad you are looking at me” or “Oh, good! Now I can see your eyes.” The more your child sees the nonverbal cues which dominate social interactions, the stronger social bonds will be with others.