Communication is difficult for all children with Autism. After all, it is part of the criterion for diagnosis. The goal for all parents of children with Autism that they will learn to talk. For many children with Autism, this is possible. However, sometimes talking comes much later for children with Autism than it does for most other children.
However, just because a child with Autism can’t talk, does not mean they have nothing to say. Not being able to expresses feelings or even basic desires causes a great deal of frustration for anyone. You and I can observe this when children have tantrums over something seemingly innocuous but it is something that unless we have experienced we will never fully understand.
When I first started teaching children with Autism, now more than eleven years ago, I wanted to experience what it was like to not be able to communicate so I can relate more with the children I was working with. So, I attended a week long church camping trip where everyone spoke only Spanish. I realize now, you can’t compare my experience what children with Autism go through, but I can tell you that by day two, I was in my tent crying.
The best advice I can give parents whose children are still learning to talk is to teach them a way they can communicate now. This is called alternative communication. Simply put, alternative communication is a way to communicate other than with vocal language.
Whenever I bring this topic up, parents ask that if teaching their child an alternative communication system might reduce their motivation to learn to talk. It’s an understandable concern. The good news is, years worth of research demonstrates that the exact opposite is true– teaching your child and alternative communication system can actually help them learn to talk.
There are many alternative communication systems available. It can be as simple as a choice board with photos of objects your child may want or as complex as a computer device or iPad app that can allow your child to have full conversations. The important thing is that they have some way they can tell you what they want.
It will save your family a lot of heartache and will likely increase the rate in which they acquire spoken language if it is something they are able to do.
Anna, L., et al. (2014) Long-Term Effects of PECS on So-cial-Communicative Skills of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Follow-Up Study. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 49, 478-485.https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12079
Brady, D. O., & Smouse, A. D. (1978). A simultaneous comparison of three methods of
language training with an autistic child: An experimental single case analysis. Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 8, 271–279.
Flippin, M., Reszka, S. and Watson, L.R. (2010) Effectiveness of the Picture Exchange
Communication System (PECS) on Communication and Speech for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 19, 178. https://doi.org/10.1044/1058-0360(2010/09-0022)
Ganz, J.B. & Simpson, R.L. (2004) J Autism Dev Disord 34: 395.