This week, researchers published the hopeful findings that, even after age 4, many nonverbal children with autism eventually develop language. (Read our news story here.)
For good reason, families, teachers and others want to know how they can promote language development in nonverbal children or teenagers with autism. The good news is that research has produced a number of effective strategies.
But before we share our “top tips,” it’s important to remember that each person with autism is unique. Even with tremendous effort, a strategy that works well with one child or teenager may not work with another. And even though every person with autism can learn to communicate, it’s not always through spoken language. Nonverbal individuals with autism have much to contribute to society and can live fulfilling lives with the help of visual supports and assistive technologies.
So here are our top seven strategies for promoting language development in nonverbal children and adolescents with autism:
1. Encourage play and social interaction. Children learn through play, and that includes learning language. Interactive play provides enjoyable opportunities for you and your child to communicate. Try a variety of games to find those your child enjoys. Also try playful activities that promote social interaction. Examples include singing, reciting nursery rhymes and gentle roughhousing. During your interactions, position yourself in front of your child and close to eye level – so it’s easier for your child to see and hear you.
2. Imitate your child. Mimicking your child’s sounds and play behaviors will encourage more vocalizing and interaction. It also encourages your child to copy you and take turns. Make sure you imitate how your child is playing – so long as it’s a positive behavior. For example, when your child rolls a car, you roll a car. If he or she crashes the car, you crash yours too. But don’t imitate throwing the car!