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Early Detection And Intervention Can Help Children With Autism Communicate

Ido Kedar is a young man on the spectrum who has an excellent blog called Ido in Autismland. In his own words, he says:

“I am an autistic guy with a message. I spent the first half of my life completely trapped in silence. The second – on becoming a free soul. I had to fight to get an education. Now I am a regular education student. I communicate by typing on an iPad or a letter board. I hope to help other autistic people find a way out of their silence too.”

Ido’s recent blog post on Motor Difficulties in Severe Autism is brilliant. He challenges our assumptions on how we perceive nonverbal people with autism. He says:

“Most theories about severe autism that are used today by educators and other professionals are based on the premise that severe nonverbal autism is a learning problem with receptive and expressive language delay, low cognitive capacity, concrete thinking, lack of humor, lack of empathy, lack of theory of mind, and often even an absence in basic awareness of the surrounding world. The expressionless faces, inability to make eye contact, the sometimes bizarre looking self-stimulatory behavior, and the inability to speak can make intelligent people appear not to be. As a person with autism, this is deeply frustrating.”

How Can You Tell If Your Baby Is Having Communication Challenges?

It is clear from Ido, that being non-verbal does not equal being unintelligent. Early intervention on behalf of very young children ( even as young as 9–18 months) who are struggling with some of the building blocks of communication is the key, but how can you tell since most babies are non verbal, and toddlers can develop language skills at different times? There are three factors you can use to determine whether or not your child will be slow to communicate, or non-verbal when they are older: joint attention, ability to imitate, and engagement in functional and pretend play. Children with autism often show signs of deficits in these three areas when they are still babies, and young toddlers.

1)Joint Attention

Joint attention is when you or your child shares a common focus or subject matter, like when you point out a bird, or dog in the park. The child should both respond to your initiation of a shared focus, and be pulling your focus to share things that he/she is interested in.

2)Ability To Imitate

Imitation is not only the greatest form of flattery; it is one of the best ways for a child to learn to communicate. A young child should be copying sounds, facial expressions, body movements, and actions with toys or objects.

3)Engagement in Functional and Pretend Play

Functional play is when a child uses toys in ways that are expected: a toy car going down a ramp, kicking a ball, putting puzzle pieces in place. Pretend Play is when a child uses toys in unexpected, creative, or imaginative ways: putting pretend gas into the car, dressing the ball up as a person, or using the puzzle pieces as food for a doll. Young children should be experimenting with both forms of play.

Children with autism can show signs of difficulty with these areas of learning at even very young ages, and that is important that parents and doctors take notice, because with the right intervention at an early age we can give our children the help they need to develop their communication skills, and then maybe they too will be able to go from being “trapped in silence” to “becoming a free soul.”

So What Can You Do To Help Jump Start Your Child’s Communication At An Early Age?

  • Notice what your child is looking at, even if it’s something unusual that you wouldn’t notice normally, and use it as an opportunity to interact. Talk about it out loud. Pick up the item, or touch it. Even if your child doesn’t seem to listen to your words, they are taking it in.
  • Get on your child’s level. Literally get down on the floor to where they are so you can really see what they are looking at and engage with it.
  • Imitate what your child is doing. If they see you imitating them, they might take interest. Once you have their interest, you can take the lead and see if they will copy you.
  • Don’t get frustrated, and take your time. Teaching a child with autism the building blocks of communication may take time. Don’t push for “results”, just enjoy sharing some connected and interactive moments no matter how limited they might be.

For some more great tips on early detection of communication difficulties, and how to help your child develop their fullest range of communication skills, check out this article from the Hanen Centre to help build better communicators from an early age.

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