Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can find it difficult to learn life skills. This includes social skills, communication and personal care. Communication problems have always been considered a core feature of autism.
The word Autism originated from the greek word ‘autos’, which translates to ‘self’. This makes total sense as Children with ASD often seem to exist in their own world, where they have limited skills in successfully communicating and interacting with others. Children with ASD often find it difficult developing language skills, which includes understanding what others are saying to them. As their skills are slower to develop they may also have problems reading body language or the meaning of different vocal tones, although lack of understanding vocal tones is less common. With these limited (or lack of) skills combined it makes it difficult and affect the ability of children with ASD to interact with others, especially people their own age, if they are children. Communication is social and complex, which makes it difficult to encompass the words we use, the order in which we use them, as well as eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and other non verbal cues.
There are some common behaviours and learning patterns of communication or language in children with ASD.
Repetitive or rigid language is extremely common in autism. Often a child with ASD who can speak or has limited use of communication skills, will say things that have no relation to the conversation they are having with another or others. A child may start reciting ABC’s or counting repeatedly during a conversation that has no correlation to counting or reciting ABC’s. Echolalia is a common condition within communicating and Autism in children. This is where the child repeats and sometimes continually repeats words they have learned, or the child may repeat words someone has just said or asked. It may be you ask your child if he/she would like a biscuit?, your child will respond, Do you want a biscuit? It will then continue into asking, Do you want a biscuit?, whenever he or she is hungry. It is common for children with ASD to copy and repeat what they hear on television, even down to the tone of voice or language. They often speak in melodic, high-pitched, robot-type voices and even pick up on a different accent. A common one is the American accent.
Children with ASD develop speech and language skills, however not at a normal level of ability. Their progress is usually uneven. This makes sense as this is how children with ASD learn. They learn slowly, then plateau out for a bit so their brains can process.
Uneven language development is common with ASD. Many children will develop, some speech and language skills, however not to a normal level of ability, and usually uneven, meaning they may have a strong vocabulary around a particular area of interest, eg: cars, very quickly. Many children have good memories for information. Some may be able to read words before the age of 5, however may not comprehend or understand what they have read. Children with ASD often have poor non verbal skills. They often avoid eye contact, which can make them seem rude, uninterested or inattentive. Without being able to communicate meaningful gestures or other non verbal skills to enhance their oral skills, they can become frustrated, to make their feelings, thoughts and needs known. They may act out through vocal outbursts or other inappropriate behaviour.
Teaching children with ASD to improve their communication skills is essential for helping them reach their full potential. There are many different treatment programs to explore, however the best programs begin early.