Declarative statements allow you to share something you feel or want without requiring a verbal response from your child. This approach models the natural way children tend to talk, and will increase your child’s desire to comply and communicate with you. Use declaratives to compliment, commiserate, flirt, wonder, comment, and share emotions.
A child never has to respond to a declarative statement, but they may, either verbally or nonverbally. I found using declarative statements expanded my son's natural, social language skills and increased his compliance and engagement with me tremendously.
On the other hand, imperative statements and questions put pressure on your child to communicate; they tell your child what to do, or compel him to make a choice, demand a reply, or provide the correct answer.
Examples: How old are you? What color is this? Say “thank you.” Which game do you want to play? Put on your shoes.
Think about the way teachers talk to students. It's almost always imperative. Imperatives are fast and easy. But they don't deliver the same impact as declaratives. And almost every imperative statement can be restated as a declarative statement with a little creativity. Sometimes, you can’t avoid it, but a goal is to reduce your imperative langauge to no more than 20% of your communication.
Model the kind of communication you want to hear from your child. If you want to hear please, thank you, and I'm sorry, be sure you use these words yourself, with your child.
For more great communication tips, read How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (Faber & Mazlish).
Get close to your child. Get eye-level (bend down, sit, put your child on a counter), arm’s length or closer, with as much contact as possible. Don't try to get your child's attention from across the room!
Children with autism tend to be very good at some things and have delayed development in many other areas. For example, it might be very hard for your child to throw, or even roll a ball, but he might like bouncing on an exercise ball.
It can be easy to over-estimate a child's abilities to do simple tasks and games. Look for work-arounds. Interact within your child’s competency level.
Do short, simple, everyday activities together, like brushing your teeth at the same time, or mailing letters. The modeling helps him learn.
You will know when he is ready to make the next step. Make it fun.
Don't insist on eye contact with commands like "look at me" or provide reinforcements such as "good looking!"
Studies are showing that direct eye contact can be uncomfortable for some people with autism and increase their anxiety level.
I have found that natural, social eye contact develops over time as the child learns to visually reference faces and connect to people.
Many children with autism have difficulty processing spoken language while processing all the other stimuli they take in. You can use your whole body to communicate -- your expressions, hands, feet.
Learn some sign language (it really comes in handy) or picture cards.
Try losing your voice for a period and only communicate nonverbally for fun. Your child may become surprisingly responsive to this!
One of the classic traits of autism is that these chilldren tend not to point at things to draw your attention to them. It's believed that children with autism struggle with theory of mind challenges -- they have a hard time understanding that you do not share the same thoughts they do.
Over time, however, this can be encouraged to develop. For example, demonstrating to your child that your face has information (by making it interesting) teaches your child to visually reference your face for information.
This is a process, which you can accelerate by making your face more fun and interesting to reference. Increase facial expressions and and gestures. Make your face so interesting your child will have a reason to look at you and pay attention. Even eye glasses and eyeliner, or a hat, can help!
I don't think it helps to constantly point out to young children with autism that you don't share their thoughts and experiences,
when they don't have skills to understand that. I have seen teachers do this: my son would start to share something that he did over the weekend, for example, a birthday party. He would start to say: Remember when... and the teacher would reply, "No, I don't remember because I wasn't there." This would confuse my son and he would stop initating the communication. I don't see any point in
discouraging a child with autism who is trying to communicate in a social way.
Until their theory of mind develops, which is a developmental process, you can choose to respond with "That must have been great! I love birthday cake." Or, "You're telling me about a party you went to. I bet you had fun." Then wait for to see if the child continues to share.
My son did not point at first. For years, he did not seem to understand that people had thoughts different from his own. But that does develop, as you see here. We worked hard with RDI techniques to help foster that. In this photo, my son is spontaneously (without prompting) pointing to something to draw my attention to it.
When you want your child's attention, don’t wear out his name. Try other attention-getters, such as “ahem” or a cough. Say his name once, and then touch his shoulder. Do not say his name over and over -- he will tune you out, and there will be times when you NEED him to respond to his name.
Most importantly, understand that children with autism process language differently. Use fewer words, and slow down.
And match the length of your utterances to your child’s ability. This might be quite low! Keep it simple, not babyish. The book "More Than Words" has excellent tips for this.
Make your words important by spotlighting key words with volume, pacing, pitch, an accent, expressiveness, and other emphasis. In "More Than Words," they advise: Say Less, Stress, Slow, and Show.
Legal disclaimer: The tools and recommendations on this website are not intended to replace the information, training, and support you may receive from qualified medical and therapeutic professionals. It is the parent's responsibility to verify the accuracy of recommendations and information before implementing changes that may impact the parent's child.