One of the primary concerns for many parents is to help their children with Autism develop meaningful language. Let’s just face it, communication is one of the most important life skills. If your child cannot communicate their basic needs, they will not be able to tell their teacher if they want a drink of water, tell someone if they need to go to the bathroom, order off a restaurant menu and frankly- tell you if there is a problem.  

The two most important factors of teaching a child communication is motivation and practice.  Typically the first thing a child learns to do is ask for something they want. Talking can be challenging for kids with Autism. It can be hard work for them. Therefore, the reward must match the effort they are putting into it.  If someone told you they would pay you $10 an hour to put your two hands on the wall and just stand there for eight hours a day, it’s very unlikely that you would do it. However, most of us probably would if someone offered us $10,000 an hour! When teaching communication, always use the things that are most motivating for your child and practice as often as possible!  There is a magic number of times every child needs to practice something before they learn it. If the number for your child is 2,000 times and you practice twenty times a day, it will take them 100 days to learn it. But, if you practice 200 times a day, they will learn it in just 10.  

Here are five easy ways you can encourage your child to practice requesting what they need by making simple adjustments to your daily routines. 

Tip 1: Arrange Your Home Environment So Your Child Must Request Access to Desired Activities 

One of the biggest mistakes that a parent makes is to give a child who is learning to request free access to everything they want all the time. If your child can get everything they want on their own, they won’t need to ask you for anything. Instead of giving your child constant access to all of their toys, put them in clear plastic bins that they cannot open independently so they must ask you for them. This simple strategy will provide your child with more natural learning opportunities. 

Tip 2: Give Your Child Food in Smaller Portions 

Sometimes the most simple things will give your child an opportunity to request. During mealtime try breaking the food into portions to give your child a chance to request more. When doing this be reasonable! For breakfast, give your child two small bowls of cereal instead of one large bowl. DO NOT give your child one piece of cereal at a time. I have heard therapists suggest this. However, this is ridiculous. How would you feel if someone gave you one sip of wine at a time? Do not do anything to your child that you wouldn’t want done to you! Remember, the more chances a child has to request, the faster they will learn to talk and little things like this quickly add up! If you simply broke your child’s meals and snacks into two portions, assuming they eat three meals and two snacks a day, you will create an extra 150 learning opportunities for your child by the end of the month!

Tip 3: When Doing Activities “Forget” (on purpose) to Give Your Child Something Needed 

This tip is along the same lines as the previous tip. Always look for a way to give your child a chance to request. If your child wants to paint, give them the paint and paper but “forget” to give them a paintbrush. If they want to play with their train set, give them just a few tracks or trains instead of the whole bucket.  Every opportunity adds up! This is a simple way to get more chances each day.

Tip 4: Make Sure to Give Your Child a Chance to Respond Independently 

When I first started teaching kids with Autism, we were told to prompt a child who did not respond independently after three seconds. I have found that most kids with Autism require more time to respond. Most times, teachers and parents prompt a child to respond too quickly. When offering something to your child, wait and give them enough time to ask for it. Don’t be too fast to give things to them or tell them what to say.  Many children would respond on their own if they were simply given enough time to think. 

Tip 5: Play with Your Child as Often as Possible

Let’s face it, you love your kids but we don’t always want to play blocks, and it’s entirely possible that you will have nightmares if you hear the song baby shark one more time. However, people underestimate the importance of playing with your child.  Children will learn to imitate us when they are having fun. Many children with Autism don’t learn play skills that neurotypical children develop naturally. It may never occur to them to fly their airplane in the air and say vroom vroom. You have to teach them.

Get on the floor and play with your child every day. Play whatever is most motivating to them when they are learning language. You may be concerned if your child is hyper focused on one thing such as numbers, letters or cars. There is no doubt that this can lead to behavioral challenges but communication is the most important thing. Use it to your advantage to motivate your child to talk. When playing, you must be talking constantly. Many parents are quiet when playing with their kids. I get it. It took a long time for me to be comfortable doing so much talking and making so many silly sounds but it is what they require to learn language.  When you are done playing with your child you should be exhausted from taking. Be silly! Make funny sounds! You would be surprised how quickly your child will start imitating you when you make a “farting sound”  every time you put a block on when stacking blocks.  Also try to engage in activities that allow for repetition such as blowing bubbles. Model the word bubble every single time you blow bubbles so your child can practice hearing as much language as possible. 

This is by far the most challenging task for parents especially when you are tired and have a million things to do but it is by far the most effective and totally worth it!