If your child is diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), chances are, they probably have some issues in the area of communication and socialization. Difficulties in communication can range from a child being not verbal to having high vocabulary while displaying repetitive speech and an inability to read social cues. Once your child receives an ASD diagnosis, seeking professional help is the first step towards helping your child reach their full potential. Early diagnosis and early intervention services show promising results to help your child live a fulfilling life. ABA therapy has shown empirical evidence to increase socialization skills, improve communication skills, build adaptive skills, decrease problem behaviors, and increase overall confidence. Below are some ABA techniques that parents can implement to help their child increase socialization and communication.
Finding a System of Communication
Each child with ASD has a different communication abilities; some children communicate with verbal language or word approximations; others are not verbal and may need professional help to develop a system of communication, such as gestures, using pictures, or/and a communication device. If your child is receiving ABA therapy or/and speech therapy, work together with the your child’s clinician to figure out what is the best way for your child to communicate at this point in time. If your child does not have verbal language in their repertoire, that does not mean that they won’t be verbal in the future. Fostering current abilities will help your child get to the next level of communication.
If your child is displaying problem behaviors, they might be communicating wants and needs in an inappropriate way due to communication barriers. Teaching your child a more appropriate way to communicate, while not rewarding with preferred items during problem behavior, decreases the problem behavior and increases appropriate communication.
Set Up Opportunities for Communication
Once you and your child’s clinician found the best communication system, start setting up opportunities for your child practice expressing wants and needs in an appropriate way by using preferred toys, activities, and/or food items. For example, if your child likes to pop bubbles, have your child request “bubbles” every couple of minutes. If you are playing with blocks, have your child request the color/shape of block that s/he wants. If your child wants a particular item, put it within your child’s view, but out of reach, so your child can request it. You can even set up opportunities during snack time. Give your child a little bit of food item at a time and have him/her request more. If your child doesn’t communicate within 5 seconds, prompt them to use their current communication method. Prompts are signals to help a person complete a task. You always want to fade your prompts to avoid your child becoming prompt depended. Talk to your child’s clinician about the best prompt sequence and a prompt fading program for your child. Do not provide your child with preferred items during a problem behavior. It is important to reward only appropriate communication. When your child requests items independently, provide a lots of praise and preferred item within 2 seconds. If the item is not available, let your child know when it will be available, and/or if there is alternative/ replacement item.
Building Language During Playtime
A good way to help your child build receptive and expressive vocabulary is to label items and actions during play. For example, while playing with blocks, saying “red block goes on top”. When playing with cars, saying “car goes zoom”. The repetitive statements associated with items will help your child increase vocabulary, especially during play. Any time your child labels an item or receptively identifies the item by pointing, provide a lot of verbal praise and encouragement. Make sure this activity is rewarding and fun. It is important for your child to associate play and the use of communication with good things.
If your child is verbal and has the ability to label items and answer questions, ask your child various questions regarding toys such as, “what color is the truck?” “What color is this block?” If your child enjoys looking at books or reading book, have your child describe to you what they see in pictures or/and tell you what the story was about. This can also be an opportunity for learning various emotions by labeling the feelings of each character. Provide lots of verbal praise and rewards during this activity.
Sunberg, M.L., Partington, J.M. (2013). Teaching Language to Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities (Version 3). Pleasant Hill, CA: Behavior Analysts.