There are many parents of autistic children who have been told that if their child isn’t talking by 4 or 5 years old, they may as well give up hope that they ever will. But on a more hopeful note, some researchers take an opposing view. They point to children who developed language during grade-school or even adolescence.
A recent student involving over 500 children confirms this more optimistic view. Scientists at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, in Baltimore, review data on 535 children, ranging in age from 8 to 17, plagued with severe language delays at age 4 and thus considered autistic.
These researchers discovered that most of these children eventually acquired language skills. Almost half (47%) were able to speak fluently, while over two-thirds (70 %) gained the ability to express themselves in simple phrases.
But the researchers didn’t stop there. They sought to identify those factors that could predict if an autistic child who was severely language-delayed child with autism would be able to speak eventually.
Contrary to popular belief, these researchers found that the child’s level of repetitive behaviors and restricted interests was not significant in developing language. However, what they did notice is that those children with a higher IQ (as assessed with nonverbal testing) and lower impairment in the social realm was predictive of becoming verbal.
These discoveries clearly indicate that early intervention in developing social and nonverbal cognitive skills will go a long way in helping to promote the language.
So, what are those strategies that will help promote the development of language in children and teenagers with autism who are unable to speak?
1. Encourage Your Child to Interact and Play Socially
It has long been established that children learn much about life when they play- including developing language skills. When you play, aside from bonding, you are providing fun opportunities to communicate with your child as well. Be sure to focus on those activities that promote interacting socially.
2. Become Your Child’s Mimic
When you imitate the sounds that your child makes and those behaviors that come out in play, you will be encouraging your child to vocalize and interact more. What’s more, when you imitate your child he/she will often imitate you back, fostering even more interaction. Just make sure that the behavior is positive, and nothing gets broken!
3. Give Your Child Time to Respond
After you speak to your child and there is no immediate response, it is only natural to fill the vacuum of silence by speaking again. But this is a mistake as it doesn’t give sufficient opportunity for your child to respond. Pause for a moment, and look for any movement or sound, and then respond immediately. This will give your child a taste of the power of his/her ability to communicate, even non-verbally.
4. Non-Verbal Communication Should be a Focus
What many people don’t realize is that eye contact and gestures build a language foundation for your child. It is essential when you gesture to exaggerate that gesture. And be sure to utilize both your voice and your body when you are communicating. This form of “total communication” can be transformational for an autistic child.
Maximizing These Suggestions
Should you have any questions as to which strategies may be the most effective for your child, or how to implement them, don’t hesitate to consult with your child’s speech therapist. And keep the conversation going, sharing your successes and challenges as you move along the new continuum of helping your child find his/her unique “voice.”