As Autism Awareness month approaches, we thought it would be an excellent time to discuss how Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects communication in children and adults. As you may know, the month of April is dedicated to spreading awareness to promote a better understanding of ASD. People often assume they understand what autism is based on media portrayal or misinformation. Still, as we have discussed in the past, autism is a spectrum disorder, and it can be very different for each diagnosed individual, especially when it comes to communication.
Today we will be discussing how autism affects communication and what issues it may cause, and how to improve any autism communication challenges that may occur.
Autism and Communication
It is estimated that autism affects 1 in 44 children in the United States. Although there are varying levels of the diagnosis, it is defined as a range of conditions categorized by challenges involving social interaction, repetitive & restrictive behaviors, speech, and non-verbal communication. It may not affect every child the same way, but children diagnosed with ASD typically have difficulty developing and understanding verbal and nonverbal communication.
Let’s compare communication challenges from neurotypical individuals to those diagnosed with autism. Communication issues can occur in neurotypical people, but they usually have the advantage of still understanding social interactions and nonverbal cues. However, individuals with autism may particularly struggle with social interactions. For example, one child may have excellent verbal skills but does not understand how to read unspoken social cues such as hand gestures or facial expressions. Other children may not be able to communicate using speech or nonverbal cues. In both scenarios, social communication seems to be one of the main challenges.
The relationship between autism and communication issues was first recognized in 1943 when Leo Kanner wrote about autism. In the paper, he observed that many of the children in his studies displayed challenges with communication, specifically social communication. In his research, he made note of the fact that the children were failing to make eye contact or respond to questions. When the children communicated with one another, he also noted a tendency toward obsessive or hyper-focused conversations. Since then, language impairments and social communication issues have been considered one of the core symptoms of autism.
How To Improve Autism Communication challenges
If you are a parent of an autistic child, then you most likely have struggled to communicate with your child from time to time–it's perfectly normal. Well, we have good news for you! According to some experts, there are plenty of ways that parents can improve communication with their children, especially when it comes to ASD.
Researchers have recently emphasized that if parents want to improve communication with their ASD children, they should attempt to do so in a way that makes sense to the child. So instead of having your child communicate with you in a way that makes sense to you, experts say to try flipping the script. Here are some of the most helpful ways and strategies that may help you and your child:
Communication or Visual Boards
If your child has difficulty with speech or verbal communication, communication/visual boards can be an excellent place to start. Boards such as these allow children to express themselves by pointing or choosing images such as photos, symbols, illustrations, etc. You can make the board to fit yours and your child’s lifestyle; you can also make it as simple or as advanced as you would like.
If spoken words do not come easily to your child with ASD, you may find that developing a series of gestures may help with overall communication. In fact, it could be a possibility that your child has already developed some gestures that they recognize and use to express themselves. If you notice that they have gestures in place, do your best to learn this method of communication and try to reciprocate using similar gestures.
Paintings or Drawings
Remember that the key to improving communication with your child may start with you following their lead and adjusting your way of communicating. Trying to do joint activities when it comes to paintings or drawings might help for parents and children to use art to express their desires. If your child draws a park, or their favorite food, go along with it! They may be trying to tell you something.
The way ASD is not the same for everyone, neither are the solutions to improving autism communication challenges. There may not be a one-size-fits-all approach but there are plenty of different ways to help improve communication with your child. Other ways to improve communication are through nutritional interventions (using Simple Spectrum Supplements) or even seeking the help of professionals through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.