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Helping Children with Autism Learn to Communicate

Three young school kids in jackets and hats walking together on an autumn sidewalk.

Written by: Amber Valentino

It’s relatively common for individuals with autism to have communication difficulties. Some may not vocalize at all, some may babble, and others may be highly vocal but may have incoherent or unclear speech. Whether your child is communicative or not, Trumpet Behavioral Health is experienced in helping children with autism learn to communicate with the outside world. Read on to learn more about our evidence-based approach to growing your child’s communication skills.

What Does It Mean For A Child With Autism To Be Nonvocal?

Communication can be different for children with autism. Some children quickly learn to speak vocally, while others may need other strategies to help them communicate with others.

When you join the Trumpet family, our experienced Board Certified Behavior Experts (BCBAs) will perform various assessments to understand your child’s vocal abilities. As pioneers in the field, the Trumpet team has created a simple system to understand if your child can grow their vocal language system through verbal cues alone, if they need an alternative system to support their communication skills, or if they would be best served by a combination of both.

Read More: Language Assessments at Trumpet

Common Vocal Communication Alternatives For Autism

At Trumpet, our ultimate goal is to help your child communicate verbally, and we use alternative systems as a bridge to vocal speech. Alternative systems are used to prompt your child to communicate and help them experience the positive elements of engaging with others. Although there are a wide variety of vocal alternative systems, we typically use the following:

Sign Language

When used as a communication alternative, sign language isn’t used to teach the language and culture associated with the deaf community. Instead, this alternative includes teaching children simple gestures associated with things that are meaningful to them. For example, they may learn gestures for their favorite toys, snacks, or family members, and learn simple responses to questions.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS®)

This alternative involves giving a child a picture of a preferred item and teaching them to exchange the picture for that item. For example, your child may exchange a certain picture to signify they want a hug, a snack, or a favorite activity. Eventually, this system can develop into teaching your child how to use complete sentences and parts of speech when communicating with others.

Voice Output Devices

There’s a range of high-tech voice output devices, and this system is commonly used when prescribed by a speech-language pathologist. These devices are used in much the same way as the other systems and teach kids to ask for things they’re interested in and respond to others.

Helping Vocal Children With Autism Improve Communication Skills

In general, if your child has or develops the vocal ability to “go verbal,” your therapy team will build their communication skills by teaching them to echo. For example, if your child gestures to a glass of water, the autism therapist will say “water’ and ask your child to repeat the word. By teaching echoing, your therapy team will continue to strengthen your child’s communication skills so they can label things, ask for things, and respond to others.

How Parents Can Help Kids With Autism Communicate

Constant practice will help your child grow their communication skills. Your therapy team will teach you their approach to an alternative or verbal communication system, and you should look for opportunities to have your child communicate. For example, imagine a child who’s learning to vocally echo. If she loves bathtime and knocks on the bathroom door to signal she’s ready for her bath, you could take the opportunity to say “bath” and encourage her to echo the word. Capturing these communication opportunities is incredibly important to helping your child learn to communicate and generalizing their skills to new environments outside of therapy.

Trumpet has helped thousands of children learn verbal and alternative communication systems to help them connect with others. If you’re interested in learning how we can support your child in growing their communication skills, contact us today or visit an autism therapy center near you.

 

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