Autism Communication Strategies

An estimated 2.1% of adults in the US have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And approximately 1 in 44 children is diagnosed with ASD.

Anyone with this condition may exhibit mild to severe communication and behavioral problems. They usually have difficulty expressing themselves and understanding social interactions. And their world can become small and isolating because of these challenges.

To help your loved one feel less alone, you can use this guide on autism communication strategies. Here, you'll learn techniques for communicating more effectively with a person with ASD. That way, they will be more comfortable with the people around them.

How ASD Affects Behavior and Communication

Autism can negatively impact someone's behavior or communication skills on varying levels. Here are some common symptoms of ASD:

  • Speaking in a flat or monotonous tone
  • Using gestures in place of speaking
  • Showing minimal to no interest in socializing
  • Lacking empathy for others
  • Making little to no eye contact during social interactions
  • Obsessively focusing on one topic
  • Misreading social cues
  • Engaging in repetitive motions or behaviors that can sometimes be self-harming or self-destructive

Those with severe ASD symptoms may have more noticeable or disruptive behaviors. Still, there are various methods of addressing these behaviors and improving communication.

What Are Autism Communication Strategies?

Early intervention is crucial for building communication and social interaction skills. It helps improve speech and other developmental delays.

Your best option is to reach out to a speech-language pathologist. They're qualified to help people on the spectrum develop language and communication skills.

In addition, speech therapists can guide you on how to perform the following best practices. You will, then, be able to help reinforce your loved one's communication development.  

Use Visual Support Techniques

Visual support tools typically involve symbols, images, objects, and written words. They help people with ASD learn and understand speech and process information. This type of support also builds fundamental language skills for effective communication.

People on the spectrum respond well to visual tools. They can repeatedly use these tools as a point of reference. For instance, they can refer to a picture book or board with an image of food whenever they want to express hunger.

As the individual's knowledge of symbols and words expands, so does their vocabulary. Then, they use these new words to create sentences and respond to questions.

You can rely on this Picture Exchange Communication System as another support tool. It will help improve your loved one's deliberate and functional communication.

Another beneficial tool is a visual or picture schedule. Individuals with ASD can depend on it to understand the steps of a daily ritual, like brushing their teeth or getting ready for school or work. With this technique, they become increasingly aware of the order of a routine through a series of pictures.

People on the spectrum can learn each step of the routine with a better understanding of what comes first, what happens next, and so forth. They'll also begin to identify when there's a shift in the routine. Since change may be challenging for some people on the spectrum, the picture schedule can help prepare them for that change so they can adapt more quickly.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

AAC is helpful to people with ASD who either can't talk or are difficult to understand. Usually, it involves gestures, sign language, pictures, objects, videos, written words, computers, and mobile devices. And you can implement AAC in all environments at any time, not just in therapy.

There are two primary types of AAC: unaided AAC and aided AAC. The former uses hand signs and gestures or incorporates them with speech. This form of sign language, known as hand signing, makes the sign for a word and joins it with the sound and image of that word to promote speech.

Aided AAC, on the other hand, uses low or high-tech strategies to encourage a person on the spectrum to speak. Low-tech devices are anything paper-based (cards, picture books, photos, etc.), hand signs, or anything else that isn't electronic. In contrast, high-tech aids encompass a wide range of electronic communications devices.

These visual support techniques help develop speech by assisting with sound pattern recognition. Through these techniques, your loved one can also build language skills as they connect the sound with the appropriate image. Last, AAC allows more time for a person with autism to process information by slowing down communication, which prevents them from getting overwhelmed.

How to Support Effective Communication

For successful communication between you and your loved one with ASD, it's essential to be aware of how you express yourself. Here are some recommendations to help support communication with a person with autism:

Limit Your Speech

Say less to ensure the individual understands you. You can modify your language by using keywords that get to the point of what you want to say. Repeating and emphasizing the keywords may also help.

If you're engaging with someone who only recently started using verbal communication, it's best to use single words with accompanying gestures. It's also more helpful to use clear, simple instructions and provide time for the person with ASD to process before repeating yourself. Avoid using nonliteral or vague language such as idioms or metaphors.

Speak Slowly

Take pauses between words and phrases to give the person additional time to understand what you are saying. And allow them time to answer.

Be Specific

Make sure to use specific language. Taking the time to ask specific questions or provide detailed instructions or descriptions of items helps a person with autism determine what you're saying. You can add visual components for further support.

Use Nonverbal Language

Use visuals, written information, and gestures in conjunction with your spoken language. For instance, visual schedules (mentioned above) are great for helping an individual adjust to changes in routine.

Some examples of gestures you can use to support someone with autism include:

  • Nodding and shaking of the head
  • Miming an activity
  • Waving hello and goodbye

Recognize Repetitive Behavior

When you notice a person performing repetitive behaviors, such as rocking, spinning, or flapping, it's best to avoid asking that person to stop. Repetitive behavior usually conveys the feelings of an individual with ASD. So if you recognize your loved one is rocking back and forth, that could mean they are feeling anxious or excited.

To help an individual with ASD cope with stress, especially if they're unable to express themselves, you can try calming strategies for autism. These techniques usually include breathing and physical exercises, structured activities, and more.  

Provide Structure

Most individuals with autism perform well and have fewer "meltdowns" when there's structure. Creating routines and scheduling timed activities can also encourage independence and communication with you.

You can use special devices to time the activities, which lets your loved one know what to expect next. Also, you can provide visuals of the time passing during each task. These methods help them feel less anxious about what they're doing and give them a sense of autonomy.

Try to avoid surprises or changes to the routine without proper warning or support tools. This disruption may set back any progress made. Instead, you can offer rewards, incentives, or reinforcers, such as allowing access to a preferred activity to encourage your loved one to engage in a structured task.

During planned activities, it's best to change your communication style to match the context or needs of the listener. For instance, you would speak to a child differently from an adult.

And when you ask your loved one to do something, divide it into steps. By providing your instructions in chronological order, the individual will have an easier time understanding the particular task. They also will develop the language skills to describe what they are doing.

Seeking Professional Services

We hope this guide on autism communication strategies provides the necessary help for someone you know who's on the spectrum. A qualified speech therapist can assist if your loved one shows signs of delayed speech and language, a common autism trait. The therapist will work with them to improve those skills for better communication and social interaction.

The sooner you seek professional services, the better communication with your loved one will be. Would you like more information on autism spectrum disorder communication strategies? Contact us, and we'll gladly help you and your loved one locate the resources and services you need.

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