Communicating With a Child on The Spectrum

We all know and love a child on the spectrum, whether you are their parent, grandparent, relative, friend, or even neighbor. With that love is the desire to build a strong relationship with the child, but do we know how?

Every month, we will highlight a different topic catered towards understanding and connecting with a child on the spectrum. This month, we are providing a few basic tips on communication between you and the little one!

Communication is a vital piece in developing a better relationship with children on the spectrum. The proper communication allows you to understand their current emotions and respond appropriately.

This month’s theme is all about helping you communicate at home, at the playground, and even in Pretend City! Our exhibits are ideal for practicing your communication skills in our self-contained and supportive spaces!

We reached out to one of our community partners, the Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, for a few tips on enhancing your communication with a child on the spectrum. Michelle L. Wahlquist, MS, CC-SLP, their Lead Speech-Language Pathologist is here to help!

Communication Tips:

Provide Face-to-Face Directions

“Make sure you have [the] child’s undivided attention before you give a direction,” said Wahlquist. “To do this, you need to avoid giving directions from across the room. Instead, make sure you walk over to [the] child, get down on their level so you are face to face, and then give them the direction you want them to follow.”

Along with a face-to-face interaction, children on the spectrum tend to respond better when given clear and simple instructions. For example, when asking a child on the spectrum to sit in their chair, you can say “Sit in chair,” as opposed to “Can you please sit in your chair?” You’ve simplified the directions by highlighting the important pieces. This creates clear instructions to follow.

Allow ‘Wait Time’

“Sometimes we can be quick to repeat a direction… but it can take a few extra seconds for children with ASD to hear and understand what has been said to them,” said Wahlquist. “After you give a direction, make sure to wait 3-5 seconds before repeating it. Give [the] child enough time to hear and process what you have said.”

Encourage Your Child to Ask for Clarification

“Children with ASD can be hesitant to ask for help or clarification when they do not understand what has been said. As a result, they may guess what it is you have asked them to do and end up doing the wrong thing. Encourage [the] child to ask for repetition of directions if necessary,” said Wahlquist.

This is such an important step! You want to feel that the little one understands what you are asking, and the little one wants to do it right! If they still feel a little fuzzy on your direction, provide a visual queue to help you explain. Providing that visual piece to the conversation often clicks in the child’s head more than verbal instruction.

Building a relationship with a child on the spectrum is a beautiful experience! If you have any questions, please contact our Good To Go Coordinator at (949) 428-3900, ext. 209, and register for August’s Family Autism Night here.

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