Typically, parents eagerly wait for their child to say the first word and learn communication. When it comes to parents who have a child with autism the learning has to be both ways. For the child to communicate back to them, the parents and caretakers of the child will have to learn the exact way to communicate with the autistic child. Unless the parents learn the communication requirements of a autistic child, the progress is going to be very slow.
The crucial part here for the parents is to remember to connect with the child and give her/him a chance to learn how to talk and express emotions. The parents needs to get tuned with their child, and learn to share his/her experiences, activities and enjoy doing things with him/her. Children with autism learn and communicate best when they know what to expect, so adding structure to everyday routines is crucial.
Here are few tips that would help parents to initiate communication with their child:
- Give your child an opportunity to pick an activity that is interesting to him/her. Join the child in the activity and allow your child to lead. You can further add a new idea or simple words to the activity to make it more interesting. Be watchful and patient without rushing to do things for your child. If you do everything for your child he/she will not get an opportunity to experience the fun or share it with you.
- Continue all the activities slowly without being in a hurry or rushing to gets things done, since this practice does not help the child to learn.
- Refrain from setting the ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ rules with your child, expecting him/her to follow it and learn. Remember children don’t learn much by being told but by doing things, hence allow them to learn from experience.
- Every parent expects some free time for themselves. Hence, they never have any problem with the child playing all by him/herself. When the child is playful and happy, the parents do not feel the need to be with the child, but take the opportunity to continue to do their work or watch TV. Unfortunately, allowing the child to play by him/herself most of the time, parents will not be able tune in with the child; thus losing the opportunity to help the child.
Tips For Initiating Learning Communication
- Parents love to guide their children, but actually the child will learn a lot if parents allow the child to be their guide. When leading the activity, he/she can be expressive. Parents should be attentive and watch what the child is interested in, look at the body language, facial expression and other clues to know what s/he is feeling.
- Watch the child and listen and see to what he is trying to say, even if it takes some time to understand.
- When a child picks up a toy or a book or any interesting object see what he does. Wait and watch to know how s/he uses the object.
- While watching look at the child and figure out if he is enjoying the activity or not interested in it. Parents should learn to identify the passive and active participation of the child in any activity. If he enjoys it, by smiling or making some interesting sound, the caretaker can copy the sound and imitate the child.
- Make eye contact and repeat the activity again. If the child does the activity repeat it again.
- Once the caretaker has the attention of the child, they can continue to play simple games like hide and seek.
- Even simple gestures like clapping or asking the child to come over will help communication to a great extent.
- Say simple words if of the child is saying something like say ‘bottle’, ‘cup’, ‘water’ etc.
- Do not wait for an opportunity to teach your child. Make every day a learning exposure.
- When giving a bath, talk to your child. Ask, “Where is soap?”
- For sensations, put your finger on nose, finger, legs, and hair while repeating their names.
- For fun activity, blow a bubble and say catch. Encourage child by clapping when he/she participates in the activity.
- Keep making eye contact with child keep and also continue increasing the communication.
- If child looks at the caretaker or the soap, make a bubble, catch more bubbles, and wait for the child’s request to create more.
- When the child is playing with blocks, encourage by praising his/her creation. The parents should be generous with comments like “What a lovely tower!” “Can I put a block?” and share the game time by saying, “Your turn now”.
- It helps to regularly take the child to the park where they have ample opportunities to play and improve their life-skills.
- Give child the choice to play. Ask, “What do you want to do?” instead of instructing the child to play on the slide or on swing.
- If the child runs towards the swing, the parent can appreciate his/her choice by saying “Oh swing! That’s fun”.
- Once your child knows that the caretaker is interested in him and his activities, his interaction will increase and he will start communicating back and forth which will result in building language communication to do things.
- Caretakers should always make eye contact at the level of the child’s vision. They should also imitate the child say whatever the child comments on. If the child says, round ball, big car or something similar, the caretaker should repeat, “yes it is round ball” “wow! What a big car” which encourages the child to communicate.
- It is also important to interpret whatever happens around. “Oh! Did you fall down?” “Did you get hurt?” “Do you want me to pick you up?” “Did your balloon go away, wait let us catch it again” and many other such sentences which gives the child an understanding of what is happening and how to communicate about it.
- Finally ask simple questions
If parents/caretakers persist with these activities in day to day life, like while feeding, bathing or playing, the communication of the child will improve gradually. Once there is some noticeable improvement in the communication of the child, more words for description and more activities can be added.
Instead of speaking monotonously, parents should use several gestures and remember to repeat activities and words to reinforce the learning.
When a new activity is added, talk about it describe the action. Parents should talk about future such as, “we will go to the park later” which will allow the child to know to speak about concepts or events that are not yet happening.
Parents and caretakers must build on actions and activity and let the child know so that he can connect and understand. While playing with child add new ways of playing and then wait for the child to imitate, start taking them and enjoy the play.
With a little bit of thought and creativity, parents can build simple innovative activities which will go a long way in improving the child’s generic behaviour along with communication skills.
Example: Pillow fight
Throw a pillow at each other.
Put a doll to sleep on it
Do not force or insist for the child to play. If a child turns way try something else. Always give the child a choice.
The parents know their child best. There is no doubt that they are the best option for the child to show improvement. They have an insight to the special strengths, abilities and interests of the child which may not be visible to others. Parents, more than the therapists and teachers are aware of the people, places and things that make the child comfortable, as well as to those things to which he is most sensitive or doesn’t like to be with. Though therapists and doctors can help the child, parents can do more since the child is at ease with the parents, hence more open to communicate with them.