The Art of Communication in Autism

Annie Tanasugarn, PhDc, BCBA CEO/AUTHOR, The Autism Analyst
"Autism Awareness simply means to acknowledge that Autism exists; Acceptance is to acknowledge its value."

Hey everybody! T.G.I.F! We hope you’ve all had an Au-somely productive week!

Piggy- backing on our latest blog we did about the differences between ‘developmentally-appropriate’ and ‘age-appropriate’, I decided that it would be pretty cool to help parents sort out the often frustrating verbiage associated with speech and Autism. You can check our latest blog on developmentally appropriate vs. age appropriate here: Difference Between Age Appropriate and Developmentally Appropriate

Human language is not just some arbitrary exchange of words. It can be considered an art-form. Looking at the casual conversation there are many things happening – often at the same time – such as eye contact, body gestures, listening, attending, comprehending, and responding. That’s a lot for anyone to handle! Now, imagine how overwhelming this can be for a child with Autism?

First things first

Body Language. Let’s break it down into simple steps for parents. You may want to focus only on eye contact with communication. This is perfectly fine. Baby steps are often encouraged until one step is mastered, then you can comfortably introduce the next step. Body language can include proximity (how close a person gets to your personal ‘space bubble’), hand movements, eye contact, gestures, stance, and facial expressions. All are important parts of body language, but some should be addressed in order of importance. For example, if your teenager stands uncomfortably close to others when listening or speaking, perhaps proximity should be addressed first. There are many ways to introduce these concepts to kiddos using fun, exciting and educational programs – we’re a click, email or call away for professional support!

Receptive Language. This is the ability to understand, or comprehend, what someone is saying. Issues with receptive language ability can indicate a communication problem, so it should not be ignored. In my private practice, I use many fun ideas and often ‘pair’ more than one idea together in order to increase the ability for my clients to understand. For example, if I ask a child, “Point to the kitty”, I may want to speak this command while pointing to a picture of a cat. Supporting receptive language development should include several steps such as offering more processing time, more responding time, limiting the use of aversive words such as ‘no’ and ‘stop’, and ensuring you have your child’s full attention before speaking with them, which includes eye contact.

Expressive Language. This is the ability to expressively speak, vocalize, use augmentive speech devices (PECS), to get your communication point across to your listener. The best advice parents, is for you to find a way to communicate with your little one, that works for both of you. If you know your child holds his blanket during times of stress, allow him to hold it while speaking to you, at least initially. Use visual supports (PECS, pictures, actual items) to help increase expressive language. Teach “I don’t know” and “Help Me” to your little one to help prevent meltdowns associated with struggling with speech for concepts they do not know how to independently express.
And last but not least……let us help! The Autism Analyst has quickly evolved into the fastest growing parent support blogs for Autism and we are expanding our private practice to families in the Southern California area. Please feel free to confidentially email us at:

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