If your child has a communication delay associated with ASD, you probably want to do everything you can to help build his communication skills. The good news is that you can work towards helping him communicate in a meaningful way throughout his everyday routine with you. But first, you need to set up an environment where your child will have fun and be motivated to learn from you. If you haven’t already, first go check out my blog post on how to create a fun learning environment.
Once you’ve worked to set up a fun learning environment for your child, you can start teaching your child new skills. Here are 3 basic communication skills that unfold early in typical development that your child can learn.
For children that are having difficulty communicating, we often begin intervention by teaching them how to request things that they want. There are several reasons why we do this. First, the skill of requesting often unfolds early in typical language development. For many children, their first communicative acts have the purpose of asking for something that they want. You might think of the infant or toddler who first learns to reach for or point to his drink or a favorite snack.
Learning to request effectively also directly benefits the child, in that he gets what he wants. When children are just learning to communicate, we want to make sure their efforts are rewarded whenever possible. So, teaching a communication skill that immediately results in something that the child wants is usually a good idea.
Also, as a child learns to communicate to get what they want, they also learn to associate other people with getting good things. They learn that social interaction and effective communication leads to good things. This is especially important for children diagnosed with ASD, who often aren’t as interested in other people. Practically speaking, if a child can request something they want, this helps caregivers know their child’s wants and needs, and thus enables to them to meet their wants and needs more effectively. Teaching requesting early in development has also been shown to help increase other forms of language as well, including labeling and naming objects.
Finally, teaching requests can directly replace or help prevent problem behavior from emerging. Many forms of problem behavior such as aggression, whining/crying, and throwing tantrums happen when children have difficulty communicating what they want. By teaching a functionally equivalent response, such as a request for an item, the child may no longer have the need to engage in the problem behavior. In other words, if they know how to correctly ask for a chip, they might no longer throw a tantrum when they want a chip.
A label is naming or describing what you see. So, an item or object appears in the environment, and a child looks at the item and says its name– such as, a dog crosses a child’s path, and they say, “Doggie!”. Or, a child might not just say the single-word name of the item, but might label what they see in the form of a sentence, such as “There’s a doggie!” or “I see a puppy”. Those are still labels, because a child is naming or describing an item or object in their environment that they see. The purpose of this form of communication is not to get the item, such as it is with a request. The purpose is some form of shared enjoyment and social interaction. Typically, an adult or other person in the child’s environment would respond with some sort of comment such as, “Oh yes, that is a dog! How cute.” In doing so, social interaction and/or shared enjoyment is provided to the child. They receive attention and perhaps also praise for their labeling behavior. Learning to name or describe objects in their environment helps your child increase their vocabulary and learn how to better communicate about the world around them. By the time typically developing children are 2 to 3 years old, they have learned the names of hundreds of different items and objects in their environment.
“Intraverbal” is the fancy name for a verbal response that comes after and is related to another verbal response. This can include answering a question that another person asks (e.g., “What says ‘woof woof’?), filling in a statement from another person (e.g., “Woof woof says a… _____”), or listing items that belong to a certain category (e.g., “Tell me some animals”).
With a label, a child would see a dog and then say “Dog!”. With an intraverbal, a child might still say “Dog!” but in response to another person asking them, “What is your favorite animal?” The child is not requesting a dog, and they aren’t just saying the name of the animal they see– they are responding to another person’s question. This is an intraverbal. Like a label, the primary reason that children use this communication skill is for social interaction and social engagement.
These 3 critical communication skills start to unfold in typical development between the ages of 1 and 3 years. If your child is not consistently using these basic communication skills, and you’d like to learn more about how to teach him these skills, check out my online course that addresses this, Teaching Your Child Basic Communication Skills.