Ways to Help Children with Autism Improve Their Speech
If you’re the parent of an autistic child, you may have noticed that they sometimes experience nonverbal periods or have difficulty speaking. Your autistic child might also be entirely nonverbal. Either way, here is what you, as a parent, should know about helping children with autism improve their speech.
Patience, Support, Understanding
The most important thing you can offer your child is support and empathy. It is important to know that though autism symptoms present differently for each individual, most autistic children and adults can understand you just fine when you speak to them.
You do not need to speak to your nonverbal autistic child slowly or as if they lack comprehension. This is especially true of those who go nonverbal while having a meltdown. They can still understand you. They are likely still responding mentally. The disconnect is between their brain and mouth—their mouth simply will not make the words they want to say.
When your child is nonverbal, it is essential that you do not attempt to force them to talk. A previously hyperverbal child is likely already frightened by their inability to speak. Pressure from you will only cause additional unnecessary stress.
Instead, be kind and patient, and understand they will speak in their own time. Your support and gentle encouragement will help more than any effort to force them to speak.
Give Them Alternate Methods For Speaking
Many nonverbal autistic children and adults use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to communicate. These devices use text and images with speech-generating software to make it easier for autistic individuals to communicate.
If your child is nonverbal, consider getting them an AAC device or teaching them sign language. You can continue to work with them in speech therapy, but giving them an alternative communication method can help them immediately and make it easier for you to communicate with each other.
If your child goes nonverbal during meltdowns, consider getting a notepad or dry-erase board for them to communicate with you. Just be sure to choose a sensory-friendly option—not a chalkboard that squeaks as you write.
Speech therapy helps many children, including nonverbal autistic kids. Therapists can use hippotherapy, therapy with horses, in combination with speech therapy to help kids learn to speak. The breathwork involved in riding a horse is just one of the benefits of hippotherapy—breathwork like this can help kids understand the cadence of speech.
These are just a few of the ways to help children with autism improve their speech. With practice and patience, you and your child will learn to communicate—even if it isn’t through conventional methods.
Photo – Nicola Barts