Tips For Talking To Kids With Autism
Since one of the classic symptoms of autism is a marked deficit in verbal communication abilities, a common problem for applied behavior analysts and others who work with children and even adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder is simply being able to carry on a basic conversation. Something as simple as finding out what they want for lunch or whether or not they are happy or sad or indifferent about their current school assignment can be nearly impossible to find out if you rely on normal conversational methods.
But dont let that stop you!
There are ways to have conversations with autistic kids and you can make them easier by keeping the following tips in mind.
Make Directions Clear Short And Concrete
For example, if your child is throwing food at the table say, eat your food rather than Be good at the table, Dont throw your food or Would you stop with that! You are always throwing your food. For children with difficulty understanding language, showing them a picture or a visual demonstration of the behavior you want to see, can be helpful.
Speech Therapy For Nonverbal Toddlers
Speech-language pathologists can really help children with their language and speech problems. They will first assess the best way to approach the situation. Here are a couple of techniques used during speech therapy for toddlers:
- Utilizing picture boards
- Exercising facial muscles to improve articulation
- Modulating the tone of voice
- Understanding body language
In speech therapy, the social communication and behaviors of the child are modified.
Caregivers and parents are also included in the process to create an approach best suited for the child. Certain techniques and combinations of them will be used in these sessions.
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Autism In The Classroom: How To Handle Behavior Challenges
Children with autism typically use behaviors to communicate their wants, needs, anxieties, and frustrations.
These behaviors can include:
- Refusing to follow directives
While behaviors are important communication tools, some behaviors can disrupt learning in a classroom setting. Various interventions teach children with autism new skills that help them develop acceptable ways to communicate, socialize, and function.
Emotion Regulation And Coping Skills
In general, children with autism have difficulty with emotion regulation. This skill set involves recognizing an emotional state or feeling that is occurring, being able to evaluate the outcome of reacting to the emotion, and moving forward by reacting and being able to cope with any negative feelings associated with the situation.
Children with autism often have difficulty with planning and judgment skills and therefore, emotion regulation can be challenging. In addition, being able to seek out appropriate coping skills when encountering an intense emotion is another skill set that can be tricky for children with autism.
When regulating emotions and subsequently utilizing coping skills is a challenge, anger and aggression are common behaviors.
Here are some of our best tips for helping kids with autism address emotion regulation and coping skills:
- Develop a menu or list of options for coping skills. Once sensory needs are determined, it is most helpful to have a menu or option list of coping skills. It might be beneficial to have this available as a visual to the child. This menu might include coping skills for a different emotions , internal feeling states , or situations . This ensures that a variety of contexts are considered and that the child has a number of effective options available.
It is important to note that a child is likely to be most successful when they are given the right tools or vocabulary to address what they are feeling internally.
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Listen To The Parents
Just as you surround a child with autism with acceptance, do the same for parents. Your support could mean the world to them.
Advocates explain that parents would love a night off to decompress and get away. If you feel comfortable with the idea, offer to babysit. If you don’t, provide a listening ear to a parent in need. Schedule a regular coffee date for decompression and chatter, or set up play dates between your children while you both supervise.
Theres A Difference Between Forcing Behaviors And Encouraging Independence
Ive learned from experience that trying to force independence is counterintuitive, whether or not your child has autism.
When we push a child, especially one prone to anxiety and rigidity, their natural instinct is to dig their heels in and hold on tighter.
When we force a child to face their fears, and I mean screaming-on-the-floor petrified, like Whitney Ellenby, the mother who wanted her son with autism to see Elmo, we arent actually helping them.
If I was forced into a room full of spiders, I would probably be able to detach from my brain at some point to cope after about 40 hours of screaming. That doesnt mean I had some kind of breakthrough or success in facing my fears.
I also assume Id store those traumas and theyd invariably be triggered later in my life.
Of course, pushing independence isnt always as extreme as the Elmo scenario or a room full of spiders. All of this pushing falls on a spectrum ranging from encouraging a hesitant child to physically forcing them into a scenario that has their brain screaming danger.
When we let our children get comfortable at their own pace and they finally take that step of their own volition, true confidence and security grows.
That said, I understand where the Elmo mom was coming from. We know our kids would enjoy whatever activity if they would just try it.
We want them to feel joy. We want them to be brave and full of confidence. We want them to fit in because we know what rejection feels like.
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Causes Of Anxiety And Meltdowns
Unlike their typical peers, few autistic children “throw fits” in order to garner more attention or to get a desired outcome . In most cases, autistic children react to physical or emotional stress without any particular agenda; they are simply expressing feelings of excitement, frustration, or anxiety or responding to sensory assaults.
The reality is that children with autism, in general, may have less control over their emotions than their typical peers; as a result, emotional explosions are more common.
It’s not always easy for a neurotypical parent to predict or even recognize situations likely to upset a child with autism. Ordinary changes in a daily routine such as a detour on the way to school can be terribly upsetting to some autistic children .
Odors such as the smell of fresh paint can be a sensory assault. Even the fluorescent lights at the grocery store can be overwhelming to certain individuals.
At the same time, however, any individual child may react differently to the same situation from day to day. An overwhelming stressor on Tuesday can be experienced as background noise on Thursday.
In general, it’s possible to predict at least some stressors and minimize them. For example:
- Very loud noises such as the sound of fireworks are easy to predict and avoid or minimize.
- Major changes in routine can be predicted, discussed, practiced, and planned for,
- Unavoidable noise and smells can be managed and planned for in advance.
Diagnosis Of Nonverbal Autism
There is no specific single test that determines nonverbal autism. A multi-phase process is conducted to diagnose the disorder.
When your child is at the pediatrician, they will be the first healthcare providers to assess for ASD. Parents and caregivers will sound their concerns to their doctor if they notice any symptoms.
The pediatrician then could request various tests to rule out other possible causes for the concerning symptoms. They may conduct physical examinations, blood tests, and MRI or CT scan imagings.
Pediatricians then refer your child to a specialist if they suspect autism spectrum disorder. Specialists will evaluate the medical history of the child as well as the parents.
After all of the extensive testing, autism-specific tests may be used to confirm the diagnosis of the disorder.
These tests include Childhood Autism Rating Scale Third Edition and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition They will help clinicians determine whether the child has nonverbal autism.
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Coping With Language And Communication Problems
Find Other Parents Who Will Understand And Support You
“It always has been invaluable to have other parents who are going through the same thing as you are, to call them up and say I cant believe this is happening to me today. Because to the rest of the community, the things that happen to us, theyre really not the norm.” Ruth Singer Strunck, the mom of two young adults with autism
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Tip 3: Create A Personalized Autism Treatment Plan
With so many different treatments available, it can be tough to figure out which approach is right for your child. Making things more complicated, you may hear different or even conflicting recommendations from parents, teachers, and doctors.
When putting together a treatment plan for your child, keep in mind that there is no single treatment that works for everyone. Each person on the autism spectrum is unique, with different strengths and weaknesses.
Your childs treatment should be tailored according to their individual needs. You know your child best, so its up to you to make sure those needs are being met. You can do that by asking yourself the following questions:
What are my childs strengths and their weaknesses?
What behaviors are causing the most problems? What important skills is my child lacking?
How does my child learn best through seeing, listening, or doing?
What does my child enjoy and how can those activities be used in treatment and to bolster learning?
Finally, keep in mind that no matter what treatment plan is chosen, your involvement is vital to success. You can help your child get the most out of treatment by working hand-in-hand with the treatment team and following through with the therapy at home.
Focus On Your Child Not Staring Bystanders
Meltdowns for any child can get noisy, but they tend to go to a whole other level of loud when its a child with autism.
These outbursts can feel embarrassing to parents when were in public and everyone is staring at us.
We feel the judgment from some saying, Id never let my kid act like that.
Or worse, we feel like our deepest fears are validated: People think were failing at this whole parenting thing.
Next time you find yourself in this public display of chaos, ignore the judgmental looks, and quiet down that fearful inner voice saying youre not enough. Remember that the person who is struggling and needs your support the most is your child.
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Characteristics Of Autism Can Include:
- trouble using and understanding language or certain aspects of language such as sarcasm, expressions, and body language.
- difficulty taking in sensory input in an ordinary way. For example, a vacuum cleaner may sound overly loud, a smell may be extra strong, or the feel of something may be extra itchy.
- a need for a particular routine so they know what to expect as they can become frustrated when things dont go the way they had expected.
- trouble recognizing another persons opinion or understanding another persons feelings.
- difficulty working on or participating in activities with no clear ending
- difficulty switching from one activity to another, especially if they have to switch from something enjoyable to something not enjoyable .
- difficulty organizing themselves in productive play when not directed or given specific instructions.
Sometimes these characteristics lead to problem behaviors at home, in the classroom, or in the community which can be frustrating for the child and the adults caring for him.
Here are some strategies which can prevent problematic behaviors or promote positive behavioral changes :
Successfully Handle Autism Behavior Problems In The Classroom
Children with autism may exhibit challenging behavior in the classroom. Several strategies can help staff handle behaviors appropriately, reduce classroom disruptions, and provide every student in the class with access to a safe and effective education.
Despite these steps, some children with autism may need even more support. A specialized school like the Sarah Dooley Center For Autism provides an educational setting thats designed to meet the childs specific needs and successfully handle behavior challenges.
Learn more from these related resources:
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Talk About The Child’s Interests
Narrow or extreme interest in specific topics is a core autism symptom. Children can be fascinated by almost anything, including maps, numbers, recipes, geography, and more.
For children with autism, talking about these topics brings comfort. They enjoy sharing knowledge, and they can talk endlessly about the subject without asking for your feedback.
Bond with the child by listening to the topic. Ask questions, if you can. Avoid changing the subject. Just let the child talk until you know one another better.
Understanding Aggressive Behaviour In Autistic Children And Teenagers
If you understand what causes your autistic childs self-injurious and aggressive behaviour, you can help your child learn to manage the behaviour.
You can do this by looking at whats triggering the behaviour and what your child is getting out of it. Try keeping a diary of the behaviour for 1-2 weeks, noting what happens before and after the behaviour.
Understanding how well your child can communicate is also a key step in finding out whats causing the aggressive behaviour. When children cant express feelings or ask for what they need or want, they might use aggressive behaviour to communicate.
It can be helpful to ask yourself, Is my child trying to tell me something? For example, if your child doesnt like corn flakes but cant tell you, your child might hit you as a way of saying Take it away, I dont want it!
One way to manage your childs aggressive behaviour is by changing the triggers for the behaviour. Our article on managing challenging behaviour in autistic children explains how to do this.
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How To Calm Down An Autistic Child During A Meltdown
A meltdown is generally a reaction by the individual as they are overwhelmed. The first thing in learning how to calm an autistic child is to identify what is actually overwhelming for them.
By identifying the trigger, the meltdowns could be prevented later on. Keep a diary to see if meltdowns occur at particular times or places.However, there are also things to try while the autistic child is having a meltdown to calm them down. Here are some tips and strategies:
A Temper Tantrum Is Not An Autism Meltdown
A temper tantrum usually occurs when a child is denied what they want to have or what they want to do.
Parents observe many tantrums during the terrible twos. This occurs when young children are developing problem-solving skills and beginning to assert their independence.
In fact, this terrible twos stage is typically experienced between 12 months through 4 years old!
When you look at why temper tantrums occur at this stage, it is important to consider typical development and why toddlers are so easily frustrated:
- Emerging desire to become independent, but limited motor skills and cognitive skills make it impossible to actually BE independent.
- Emerging, developing language skills make communicating wants/needs frustrating.
- The prefrontal cortex of the brain has not yet developed – this is the brain center responsible for emotional regulation and social behavior – so they do not have the ability to regulate!
- Toddlers are developing an understanding of their world, and its often anxiety-producing. This anxiety and lack of control often result in tantrums when it all gets to be too much to manage.
A hallmark of a tantrum is that the behavior will usually persist if the child gains attention for his behavior, but will subside when ignored.
When parents give in to tantrum outbursts, children are more likely to repeat the behavior the next time they are denied what they want or need.
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How To Support A Child With Autism In The Classroom
Below is a letter by Mrs. Kamini Lakhani, who founded Support for Autistic Individuals in 2004 in Mumbai, India. Kamini is the mother of a young adult with autism and has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 20 years. The post originally appeared on the SAI website here.
We met at a party. She was young and vivacious. We hit it off immediately as we both were from the education field.
She was a 4th grade teacher. As soon as she heard that I worked with people with autism, a barrage of questions and comments followed. You see, she was teaching a child with autism in one of her classes.
Its impossible to handle him.
Hes totally disruptive and creates a ruckus in my class.
What an attention seeker!
Do you think he should be attending regular school?
He cant sit still, even for a moment.
I dont think hes capable of learning.
His mother is so demanding and she overestimates her childs abilities.
First, Id like to commend you for taking up this profession. You had a choice of other more lucrative careers but you chose to take up this noble profession. Im certain that your intent was to make a difference in the lives of children. But here is this one student, who you cant handle, who makes you uncomfortable, and creates a storm in your classroom. Secretly, you wish he wasnt in your class.
Here are five things you can do immediately to teach children with autism better.
Heres something beautiful for you.
How To Recognize Reactions
Just as it’s challenging to predict the response of an autistic person, it can also be difficult to interpret autistic reactions to difficult emotions as these reactions may take different forms.
In some cases, reactions take the form of major temper tantrums, but other reactions can look very different. For example, they might take the form of:
- Screeching or other noise-making
- Bolting or eloping
- Intensive self-stimulation
- Aggression toward others
- Sensory avoidance
- Sensory seeking behavior
- Refusal to engage
- Compulsive behaviors such as touching the same objects in the same order over and over again
Some of these behaviors are actually attempts to self-calm. Others are simply physical manifestations of internal upset.
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Dont Stop Trying To Include Us
Autistic children, their siblings, and their parents are simply people, and people like to feel as if they are a part of a community. Though spending the day with a child on the Autism Spectrum may come with a few additional challenges, continue to spend time with them. Ask families to come to the Sunday BBQ, ask questions to better understand, and invite the parents out for dinner and an evening away. If they say no, ask again next time.
Create A Comfortable Classroom
Sometimes students are unsuccessful because they are uncomfortable or feel unsafe or even afraid in their educational environment. Providing an appropriate learning environment can be as central to a students success as any teaching strategy or educational tool. Students with autism will be the most prepared to learn in places where they can relax and feel secure. Ideas for making the classroom more comfortable include providing seating options ; reducing direct light when possible ; and minimizing distracting noises .
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Dont Use Creative Language
Children with autism take things literally. If you sprinkle your conversation with irony, sarcasm, exaggerations, or idioms, you’re bound to confuse the child.
For example, don’t tell a child to “keep an eye on something. The child may reach for it and put the item near his face.
Be as literal and direct as you can, so the child knows exactly what youre talking about.
If you slip and say something unusual, dont laugh at the child for taking your words literally. Apologize for your mistake, and rephrase the sentence so your meaning is clear. Theres nothing funny about a misunderstanding like this.
Learn During Calm Times
In neutral times, when your child is not upset, you can talk to them about ways to keep their emotions from flaring up. By learning to own their anxiety and frustration, they can get through it with a little patience or by taking things in smaller steps.
You can work with your child and their teachers regarding the best ways for them to learn to calm down.
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Tips To Help Your Child Find Their Voice
It is important to give your child the opportunity to find their voice while also supporting them. They may show some initiative but they may need direction while learning how to express themselves.
There are some exercises that you can practice to promote speech and encourage your child to express themselves clearly.
Make an effort to talk: It is a difficult situation. But dont just avoid including your child into conversation. These attempts at conversation could actually be beneficial for them to understand the practice.
Keep it simple: Keep your sentences short and be direct. Adjust the conversation level to that the child can maintain. Wait for them to process fully.
Take note of nonverbal signals: Being nonverbal does not mean that your child is not communicating in some other way. Be aware of their behaviors. Since children with autism have difficulty in expressing themselves by using language, they refer to behaviors that could signal what they might try to verbalize.
Dont push: Yes, of course increase the level of activities to expand the boundaries of your childs capabilities. But if you feel like your child is overwhelmed, then take a break and try again later at a better time. Children with autism have very specific routines and they get.
Complementary And Alternative Medicine Treatments
To relieve the symptoms of ASD, some parents and healthcare professionals use treatments that are outside of what is typically recommended by pediatricians. These treatments are known as complementary and alternative medicine treatments. CAM treatments refer to products or services that are used in addition to or instead of traditional medicine. They might include special diets, dietary supplementsexternal icon, chelation , biologicals , or mind-body medicine .
Many of these treatments have not been studied for effectiveness; moreover, a review of studies on chelation found some evidence of harm and no evidence to indicate it is effective in treating children with ASD . Current research shows that as many as one-third of parents of children with ASD may have tried CAM treatments, and up to 10% may be using a potentially dangerous treatment . Before starting such a treatment, talk to your childs doctor.
To learn more about CAM therapies for ASD, go to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines Autismexternal icon webpage. The FDA has information about potentially dangerous treatments hereexternal icon.
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