Teach me how to talk: 10 Tips for teaching language to children with Autism

1. Motivation: Identify reinforcers, i.e., the student’s preferences, and make sure these vary as often as possible.

2. Create opportunities for the students to ask for access to things or activities they like, make comments, respond to other people’s questions.

3. Use a variety of antecedent stimuli (e.g., pictures, objects, questions) so that the acquired skills are functional and easily generalised.

4. Carefully assess the conditions under which the child uses language, so that you can identify where intense teaching is required and which are the next targets to work on.

5. Identify which are the verbal or non-verbal pre-requisite skills that should be taught first in order to facilitate later teaching of more complex verbal skills.

6. Select and teach the use of alternative communication forms (e.g., sign language, picture-based communication systems, text-based communication systems, use of voice-output digital devices) only when a significant delay in teaching speech is foreseen and in combination with teaching this. We should not forget that students will be included in an environment where the majority of people around them use speech as the main means of communication, so our target is that our students can also acquire it. However, since the ability of our student to communicate with others is of crucial importance independently of the used communication form, when the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) forms is deemed necessary, we should carefully assess which methods would better suit our students in their environment.

7. We continuously record data on the student’s progress on all verbal and non-verbal skills we have set, so that we can at any given moment assess which teaching methods are effective and which need to be modified.

8. We carefully plan for the generalisation of mastered skills with other people (e.g., other adults, classmates) and in different settings (e.g., playground, home, school).

9. We teach complex verbal skills to students who are at an advanced developmental level by following the behaviour-analytic methods that have proven to be effective in numerous studies. We do not forget that ABA is an applied science, thus it is effective with individuals of any age that need to learn new skills, independently of whether these are basic skills (e.g., children using single words to ask for things) or complex (e.g., secondary school student responding comprehension questions on a text and reciting history).

10. Finally, we do not forget that many academic skills (e.g., reading, writing, mathematical calculations) are also verbal skills or their progress depends on the progress of verbal skills! Therefore, in order to teach them we use the same evidence-based techniques and a similar manner of analysis as we do for teaching language/verbal behaviour.

For details on evidence-based therapeutic intervention for autism, read our article here.

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