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Autism and Communication Issues

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 1/17/2012

Though autism affects the communication skills of the autistic person, there are methods to adapt to this issue. This article explores some of the communication issues faced, as well as providing tips on how to overcome some of these issues.

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    No Communication

    One of the biggest reasons that children end up diagnosed with autism is because their parents take them in when the child is not communicating on an age appropriate level. A lot of parents aren't even thinking about autism. They are wondering if their child has a speech or auditory problem. For a parent who is simply waiting to hear their child say a sentence to them, the diagnosis of autism can be a bit more than they expected.

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    How Autism Can Effect Communication Skills

    When it comes to autism, the best thing a parent can do is to learn to think "outside the box." But first, they need to understand the process. Here is one example of how autism can effect communication skills and why.

    We all know that the brain is constantly processing information. It tells our body to perform survival tasks such as breathing. It responds to outside stimulus. When you speak to a person, the sound is captured by the ear drums and routed along various channels in the brain that potentially acknowledge there was a sound and process what the sound means. The brain is decoding information. However, in autistic children, there is a miscommunication or a dead end of communication.

    Imagine that you are trying to get to a certain web page on your computer, but your browser is having processing errors. When you type in the page, you receive some type of error message. This is similar to what happens to children with autism. They may discard the information (sounds) or it may even irritate them because they don't understand it, comparable to your browser freezing up. So what do you do with your computer when this happens? If you can't fix the browser then you use a different one. If Internet Explorer isn't working, maybe you switch to Firefox. Now you can communicate online again.

    In the autistic child, "switching browsers" isn't quite so simple as pushing a button on the mouse, but requires similar thinking. If your child isn't understanding what you are communicating in a verbal manner, then try a new one. Visual aids work great. These often start with pictures and work their way to letters and words. As you say the words that you are writing or the picture you are showing, the brain begins to correlate those words with the images being processed. There are many devices to assist in the progress of this correlation.

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    Let's Look at It Another Way

    What would you do if everyone around you spoke a foreign language? What if this fact had nothing to do with your location? No matter where you moved, you were unable to communicate with those around you. Imagine how trapped and frustrated you would feel. That may be a taste of how someone who has autism feels and the communication problems that go with it.

    As we grow, there are milestones to reach physically and mentally. Our brain develops very rapidly as children and we are immersed in a complex world with never ending sources of information. Our bodies, brain and emotions all work together to develop a personality. However, it is thought that in those with autism, the synapses in the brain are not always connecting when they should be. Basically what that means is that the brain is receiving the information and sending it along the line, but somewhere along that line the message is getting garbled. If you think of minds like calculators this concept is not so hard to understand.

    The calculator performs the function that you request it to. However, if you take a basic calculator that is made only to perform basic functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, there is no sign for the concept of cubed. You must do the problem long form. In other words, instead of putting in 3 cubed, you would put in 3x3x3. The answer is the same, it's the method of getting there that has to modified.

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    Tips to Deal With the Problem

    For those with autism that have problems with communication, you have to find the source of the problem. This may be done by trial and error. For instance, the autistic child hears what you say, but the message is not translated in their mind so that they can understand you. What if you wrote it out or used pictures? This method uses a whole other process in the brain to communicate. Eventually, using this method, the autistic child may be able to communicate orally, but the use of visual aids helps to stimulate oral recognition. Here are a few methods to consider using when developing communication with the uncommunicative autistic child.

    • visual aids such as pictures
    • keyboards
    • sign language for those able to use their hands in such a way
    • drawing
    • story boards

    These are just a few ways that communication may be developed. Explore with the autistic child to see what works for them. Once you find what works for them, expand on it. In a way, their communication is trapped inside a box. In turn, you must think outside the box!

Autism Communication

Worried about communicating with an autistic child? Though autism affects the communication skills of the autistic person, techniques have developed to adapt to this issue. This series explores some of the communication issues faced as well as providing tips on overcoming some of these issues
  1. Autism and Communication Issues
  2. Autism Communication Resources: Computers and Technology

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