One of the greatest challenges faced by parents of children with autism undoubtedly lies in the challenge of teaching communication skills to children who find socializing extremely difficult. As a primary facet of autism, difficulties with communication can put stress on familial relationships and deeply affect how a child performs in school and job training; fortunately, there are ways to help an autistic child overcome their struggles with verbal and non-verbal communication.
Thinking Patterns of Autism
To truly make a difference in the life of a child with autism, it is imperative for parents to understand why communication is so difficult for people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). For children with autism, psychological processes that neurotypical individuals often take for granted are experienced differently and with far greater difficulty. An autistic child will often experience a high degree of sensory overload when placed in a social situation, making the process of communicating with others feel overwhelming and even painful.
Where a neurotypical child would process social information quickly and efficiently while communicating with peers or adults, for example, a child with autism will “shut down” as the part of their brain that controls executive function struggles to cope with what it perceives to be as a multi-faceted problem. Just as most of us would feel overwhelmed if we were suddenly presented with four difficult math problems that needed to be solved simultaneously and within a limited timeframe, a child with autism will often view the multiple processes at work in socializing with anxiety and trepidation.
Learning By Doing
With these concepts about the chief qualities of autism in mind, parents can help children overcome difficulties in communication by modeling the kind of interpersonal skills that children with autism often struggle to learn or cope with in a social setting. Exaggerated modeling of social skills by parents has been shown to be particularly effective in teaching autistic children about socializing; emphasizing the kind of gestures and eye contact that are central to clear interpersonal communication can do wonders for children who are learning the basics of social skills, for example, as can reducing speech to its barest elements.
As a parent of a child with autism, you may also find that your child develops a seemingly all-consuming special interest in a subject; there is a reason that engineering is known as the “autistic career,” for example, especially when considering that many children with autism demonstrate a fascination with the way in which machines work and function. (It should not surprise us that Einstein became a physicist; as a child, the future scientist was fascinated with the inner workings of nature.)
Fortunately, letting your child speak in their own time and in their own way about their “special subject” can be a great help in teaching a child to use their new communication skills. For example, a child with autism may become preoccupied with accumulating knowledge about subjects such as dinosaurs or computers; they will often seek out as much information as they can find about such subjects. Speaking at length about such subjects is a great way for a parent to help their child communicate.
Playing to the Autistic Child’s Strengths
Children with autism are often said to be “visual thinkers,” and parents may find that a child with autism responds extremely well to visual cues about information. Numerous computer programs exist to help visual learners master new subjects, and such programs can be great assets to parents of autistic children; indeed, by helping a child with autism connect visual cues with communication skills, parents will often notice that their child’s ability to socialize will greatly improve.
Teaching communication skills to children with autism is not easy, but with the right amount of effort and patience, parents will be amazed at the progress that they are able to make in communicating with their child. For children on the autistic spectrum, learning to manage difficult emotions around communicating can make an enormous difference in the ability to function in school and in a job, and for parents who meet the challenge of raising an autistic child, that can be the greatest reward of all. If there is one thing that autistic children are good at, it is learning new things; above all else, help your child to enjoy the journey of learning about the world!