1890 333 777 To Make An Appointment or book@spectrumhealth.ie

Communicating With a Child With Autism

In order to raise awareness about autism, April has been designated as Autism Awareness Month. Now in its ninth year, the campaign will kick off on Sunday the 2nd of April, the official Autism Awareness Day. Thanks to campaigns such as these, the general public are now much more informed about what autism is, but many still struggle to understand how to approach communicating with an autistic person. This blog will lay out some of the top tips for communicating with autistic children.

Slow Down

One of the most fundamental aspects of communicating with a child who has autism. Whether you’re playing, talking, getting ready, or whatever else, autistic children need more time to absorb their surroundings and fully comprehend what’s going on. It may seem as if the child is ignoring you or being uncooperative, but, just like many other people, they can’t relax if they aren’t fully aware of their surroundings.

Recognise When They Are Unsure

Similarly, if it seems like an autistic child is ignoring your instructions, it may be because they didn’t understand them. Vague instructions like “Hand me that thing”, or instructions that are not clearly directed at them could confuse the child, or not be heard in the first place. Rephrasing the language, using visual cues, and speaking directly to the child will help them understand what you are trying to say.

Follow their Lead

Although autism is a spectrum and can be experienced in wildly different ways, most autistic children will have a tendency to become fully absorbed in the task at hand. Interrupting them could be very upsetting to the child, but joining them could help open the lines of communication. The child is more likely to take an interest in you if you are doing what he/she is already interested in. Copying the child’s actions is a powerful way to make a connection with them, and may lead to them copying your actions, increasing the level of interaction between you both.

Use Visual Cues

Visual cues are an effective way to help any child learn, especially for children with autism. Using pictures, items, and gestures makes it much easier for a child to understand what is being discussed. But, as stated above, remember to slow down. Many autistic children experience the senses at different paces, so while they may see you speaking, they could also experience a slight “delay” before hearing you. Bear this in mind when speaking and using visual cues at the same time.

Identify their Triggers

On the subject of senses, different children will become upset by different things. Whether it’s a certain noise, the texture of their food, where an object is supposed to be located, anything could be a trigger. Usually though, these triggers are very consistent, and so can often be avoided.

Identify Emotions

Understanding emotions is one of the biggest struggles faced by autistic children, so this is an important step in many cases. When a child is clearly feeling a particular emotion, you should vocalise that they are experiencing it. If they are laughing, tell them it’s clear they’re having fun. If they’re drinking a lot, say “Wow, you are thirsty”, and so on. This needs to be done with precision and consistency, as it is the best way for the child to link what they feel with what is being expressed verbally. Stick to factual “You are…” statements instead of questions if the child is actually performing the action, as questions may confuse rather than educate them.

Autism is a very broad condition that can affect different people in very different ways. These tips are some of the most widely applicable, but autism communication should always be approached on an individual basis, and if the child begins to get distressed, it is important to know when to back off.

Autism Awareness Month kicks off with Autism Awareness Day, Sunday the 2nd of April. To learn more about the campaign, please click here.