How do I teach my child with ASD to communicate spontaneously?

Why do children with ASD have trouble communicating?

Why do we have the desire to speak with others? That is because we have the motivation and we know there is a need to communicate with others. However, children with autism may not have the desire to communicate or share therefore making ‘spontaneous communication and the use of ‘spontaneous language’ difficult for them. For this reason, we have to create the desire and “temptation” for them to speak, and this is what we call Communication Temptation.

In Part 1, we provided an Introduction to Spontaneous Communication and what Communication Temptation is. This article will explore ways to help your child to communicate spontaneously using Communication Temptation techniques.


How do I get my child with ASD to speak?

First, let’s help them by creating the need for them to talk. This guide will explore three ways to create these desires.


A. Create desire by INTERRUPTING A PATTERN your child knows

One way is to build and find a pattern that the child knows, and then interrupt or break it. Imagine eating ice cream and it is melting. You go to your usual tissue box and you realize instead of having tissue in it, you see trash piling in the box! Because the need for a piece of tissue is so strong, you would probably ask where the box is or ask someone to get one for you.

For our children, we also need to disrupt what they’ve always expected, and that’s when there is a need for them to communicate. For example, your child knows that there are snacks in the snack box. What we can do is to remove all the snacks from the box – either we leave it empty, or we put something else inside. Now, it is tea-time and your child wants to have a snack. When your child opens his snack box… he realizes that there is no snack inside! As he wants to have a snack, what do you think he will do? We can encourage him to communicate and let us know that “The snack box is empty!” or “I want (a) snack!” or even “Where is the snack?”. As your child attempts to communicate, we can reinforce his communication by honoring his request, and giving him his preferred snack.


B. Create desire by WITHHOLDING an item your child wants

Another way is to let your child have a short ‘taster’ of his preferred toys and then withhold it.

Let’s say you are enjoying a slice of cake and suddenly someone comes and takes away your cake. What would you do? Would you let the person be or would you approach the person and ask what’s going on? Most of us would probably ask to have the cake back!

Similarly for our children, we also need to withhold something that they like so that there is a need for them to communicate. As your child wants to get his toys back, we can then encourage him to say “I want the toy” or “Can I have it back?”. Communicating this way helps to reduce our children’s frustration especially when their toys are being snatched by someone else.


C. Create desire for your child to WANT a certain item

We can also create the desire for your child to want a certain item.

When we are out at a mall, we see signs like ‘SALES!’ or ‘NEW ITEM IN STORE’. Or when we are reading an article and you see a page titled, ‘YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT THIS CAN DO!’ These signs and titles serve to tempt us to purchase something from them or to check out that page.

As for our children, we have to create these tempting situations for them to want these items or to participate in these situations. For the child to gain access to these tempting items, they will have to communicate to express his or her desire, “I want the xxx” or “Let me check it out” as examples. This helps them express their desire, potentially encouraging curiosity and developing more confidence as they communicate.

As mentioned, children with autism do not have the desire or motivation to communicate. By creating the desire for your child to communicate using ‘Communication Temptation’, you will create opportunities for your child to initiate communication, help them express their needs more effectively, and at the same time decrease their frustration.


Information provided by:

Loh Li Ling, B.A. Psy, Senior Case Supervisor
Loh Li Ling is currently a Senior Case Supervisor at Autism Partnership Singapore. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from James Cook University, Australia.
Having worked at Autism Partnership Singapore since 2014, Li Ling has worked with many children of varied age groups, ranging from 2 to 16 years old in both one-to-one and classroom settings, with an average of 4 to 6 children per group. Her expertise in groups includes teaching children relevant skills required for school; to improve and have an understanding of appropriate social behaviors as well as to develop meaningful effects for one another. She is also a member of the Autism Partnership Singapore Jumpstart team.
Li Ling has also provided shadow-aide support for children in mainstream and international schools to assist and facilitate children to adapt to a school environment. She has conducted social groups, regularly bringing groups of children aged 10 and above on regular outings.
Li Ling also does parent and helper training to guide caregivers on managing their children in the everyday, natural setting.

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