Some people with autism are non-verbal throughout their lives. Others seem to talk from the time they're born. Either way, though, people with autism have difficulty in communicating their needs, thoughts and ideas so that others understand, respect and respond to them. Whether you're dealing with a lack of spoken language or difficulty in reading non-verbal cues, there are treatments and options available to build skills and develop communication.
As I've learned more about autism and communication skills, I've discovered there there are some surprising myths out there. The truth, as it turns out, is often less scary than word-of-mouth stories. For example:
- The fact that a child is not yet speaking, even at age five or six, does not mean the child will never speak. In fact, if your child is communicating non-verbally and is clearly intelligent, language use may not be a predictor for long term outcomes.
- Early Intervention, often touted as the key to "recovery," is more significantly the key to building basic communication skills. If a child at age 3+ has no useful ability to communicate, whether through words or other means, it will be very tough to build new skills. And people with autism DO build new skills throughout their lives, just like anyone else.
- Communication techniques such as Facilitated Communication and Rapid Prompting are highly controversial, and may be more illusion than reality. Anyone interested in these approaches, which require constant or intermittent physical contact with the autistic person, should look deeply and carefully into the methods before plunking down cash. Consider, instead, augmentative technologies for communication, ranging from keyboards and sophisticated digital technologies to sign language or picture cards.
If your child is non-verbal, pre-verbal, or verbal but not truly communicative, by far your best investment will be in speech therapy, offered by a professional therapist with a background in autism. Through your therapist, you may decide to move forward with special tools, such as picture cards, keyboards or sign language -- or you may find that your child is building the skills to use words to connect with the people around him.
To get started:
- Speech Therapy for Autism
- How to Find a Speech Therapist
- Reviews of the Hanen Center's outstanding parent-centered language skills resources, More Than Words and TalkAbility
- Picture Exchange Cards (PECS) and Autism
LK Koegel. "Interventions to facilitate communication in autism." J Autism Dev Disord. 2000 Oct;30(5):383-91.
R Paul. "Interventions to improve communication in autism." Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2008 Oct;17(4):835-56, ix-x.
RW Schlosser. "Effects of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on speech production in children with autism: a systematic review." Am J Speech Lang Pathol. 2008 Aug;17(3):212-30.