Will my autistic child ever talk?
If you’ve ever thought, asked, or Googled that question, you are not alone.
Figuring out how to help a speech delayed child can evoke a multitude of emotions in parents, and while it has been said that no two people with autism are the same, many share certain characteristics, including problems communicating, interacting, and relating to others.
Of course, the extent of the relationship between autism and speech delay varies greatly from person to person, with some demonstrating vast vocabularies and others never uttering a word. It can be incredibly confusing and frustrating, but with so many advancements in therapy, treatment, and technology, it is possible to learn how to help a speech delayed child.
You just need to figure out what works for you and your little one.
Whether you’re the parent of a child with nonverbal autism, a teacher who is looking for speech therapy ideas to help a kid who is struggling with letter sounds and articulation, or you need additional resources to get started with PECS communication or to help develop your little one’s WH questions, we’ve rounded up 32 tips and activities to get you started.
Please note that these ideas cannot, and should not, replace the advice of a licensed professional. If your little one is showing verbal delays or challenges, I urge you to speak to your doctor so he/she can refer you to a specialist who can help your child thrive.
Tips for verbal children
If your child is verbal but struggles to carry on one-on-one conversations, try these ideas:
- Appeal to her interests. If your child is passionate about a certain object, toy, or TV show, use that to your advantage! The intention is to get your child to learn how to communicate, and as she becomes more comfortable with back-and-forth dialogue, you can slowly start incorporating different subjects and ideas.
- Be direct. Children with autism do not understand nuances in language. They are very literal, so keeping your communication as simple and direct as possible will help avoid confusion. Avoid sarcasm and be as specific as possible.
- Ensure she’s paying attention. If your child is engrossed in a TV show or lining up her dolls, consider waiting until she’s finished to try and engage her in conversation so she’ll be more interested and compliant.
- Remove sensory distractions. If sensory processing is an issue for your little one, try to remove distracting sights and sounds when you’re trying to communicate with her. This will ensure she isn’t overwhelmed and can better concentrate on what you’re trying to say.
- Ask fewer, simpler questions. Open-ended questions can be particularly difficult for kids with communication challenges, so try breaking them down. Instead of asking, ‘what did you do at school today?’, consider something a little less daunting like, ‘can you tell me one thing you enjoyed doing at school today?’
- Find nonverbal alternatives. If your child struggles with something specific when it comes to communication – for example, expressing emotions – try to find nonverbal alternatives. This could be through body movements (example: pulling on your ear to say ‘I love you’) or by using visual cards.
Tips for nonverbal children
If your child is completely nonverbal, there are several options you can research and implement at home to help develop her verbal skills, but these should be implemented under the supervision of someone who is specifically trained in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), which refers to the communication methods used to replace speech for those within spoken or written communication challenges.
- The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) allows people who cannot communicate verbally to communicate via pictures instead.
- Dynamic Display Devices are portable tablets that allow individuals to select prerecorded messages to be spoken aloud.
- While not used as widely today as it once was, Signed Speech – the process of simultaneously teaching sign language and speech – can help accelerate a child’s ability to learn how to speak.
- Gestures and body language can help a nonverbal child communicate basic needs.
- Computers and iPads allow children to communicate via typed messages, and there are lots of fabulous assistive communication apps available for purchase in the Apple app store.
Free Communication Boards for Autism (PECS)
One of the hardest parts about autism is that it effects everyone differently, and there is no hard and fast treatment plan. What works for one child may not work for another, and as a parent, it can be extremely frustrating and overwhelming trying to navigate the different options available. The only silver lining is that so many other parents have fought the fight before you, and there are HEAPS of new and innovative ideas floating around the internet.
The collection of communication boards for autism below is an excellent example. With so many free downloads and printables to choose from, getting started with PECS is easier than it’s ever been, and if you’re new to this system, this post by Kori at Home will help get your feet wet!
How to Use Visuals Purposefully and Effectively | The Autism Helper
Visuals offer a great way to help children with non-verbal autism communicate, and The Autism Helper offers some great clip art you can print out for free. All you need is a printer and laminator, and you can create all kinds of visual labels, charts, and schedules for your child!
15 Free Activity and Choice Boards | Talk To Me Technologies
Choice boards are another great tool to help children communicate, and this collection is sure to get your creative juices flowing so you can create some of your own!
End of Cabinet Communication & Message Board | By Stephanie Lynn
Stephanie offers a great way to set-up an easy-to-access communication board in your house using PECS cards and velcro. I love this idea as it’s setup at eye level for a child and provides an easy way to facilitate communication throughout the day.
Communication and Behavioral Cue Cards | Victories ‘n Autism
If you’re looking for communication cards you can print for free, you’re in luck! Victories ‘n Autism is giving you access to lots of great cue cards, which you can print, laminate, and attach to a large book ring for easy communication when you and your little one are on-the-go.
Interactive Visuals for Commenting, Asking, and Answering Questions | Speechy Musings
This packet of interactive AAC visuals is a great way to help your little one ask and answer questions!
Autism Visual Aid Sentence Starters | Adapting for Autism
Another great freebie to help a speech delayed child!
Fun Activities for Nonverbal Children
A great way to develop communication skills in nonverbal children is to engage them in fun activities that feel more like play than practice. This will help teach them fundamental skills, like identifying and expressing emotions appropriately, asking for things he or she needs, taking turns, and learning how to communicate with others.
If you’re looking for fun and interactive ways to figure out how to help a speech delayed child, these activities for nonverbal children offer a good starting point.
Fishing for Feelings | Little Page Turners
Grab some paper clips, magnets, kids fishing pole, and some thread, and let your kids go fishing in your living room while simultaneously teaching them about feelings and emotions.
Learning Activities Binder (Free Printables) | Typically Simple
If you don’t own a laminator, this post by Typically Simple will convince you to order one online TODAY. With so many great free printables, she will give you the inspiration you need to create all kinds of activities to teach your child important skills and encourage language development.
Emotion Box: Expressing Emotions Through Actions | Way 2 Good Life
Who knew the movie Inside Out would offer such a fun and brilliant way for parents, teachers, and therapists to teach kids of all abilities about emotions? Grab a set of Inside Out figurines and let Way 2 Good Life inspire you to create different games and activities at home to teach your kids about anger, sadness, fear, joy, and disgust!
Building Social Skills for Students Who Are Nonverbal | The Autism Helper
Great tips to help build social skills in children with nonverbal autism both at home and in the classroom.
I Feel and I Need Visual Aid | Teachers Pay Teachers
Teachers Pay Teachers offers so many fabulous resources at a small fee, and this I Feel and I Need visual is no exception. You will need some velcro and a communication folder, which are 2 things you’ll want on hand ALL THE TIME after reading through all of the ideas in this post!
Activities for Communication | The Autism Helper
The Autism Helper always has great ideas to help children on the spectrum grow and learn, and this collection of activities is no exception.
Commenting Visuals for Kids Who Are Nonverbal | The Autism Helper
As a follow-up to the idea above, The Autism Helper has more ideas to help your child expand his or her commenting skills.
Let’s Build a Pizza: Sequencing Vocational Tasks | Teachers Pay Teachers
Few things get kids excited like pizza (!!!!) and this is a great activity for so many reasons. It can be a group or independent activity, and helps teach important skills like following directions, completing a task in sequence, identifying ½ of the pizza with or without a visual cue, identifying small, medium and large sizes, and naming pizza ingredients. All of these offer an opportunity to engage and practice communication skills in a fun way.
Sound Therapy Activities for Verbal Kids
If your child is verbal but struggles with letter sounds and articulation, or needs additional help with WH questions, there are HEAPS of sound therapy activities for kids you do at home together. I’ve rounded up 8 ideas below, and while some of these are more structured, I feel they offer fabulous inspiration to help you turn everyday events into learning activities for your child.
Learn with Mr. Potato Head
There are so many toys and games that can be adapted for speech therapy, and this post on The Dabbling Speechie will inspire you to get your hands on a Mr. Potato Head set if you don’t already own one!
Repetitive books are a great way to practice articulation, and there are heaps of great children’s books that focus on particular sounds to help with speech therapy, including:
- Silly Sally
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
- The Cat in the Hat
- Fancy Nancy
- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
- Chick Chick Boom Boom
- Llama Llama Red Pajama
Duplo Letter Sound Matching
This beginners phonics activity by This Reading Mama offers a great way to practice different sounds with your child. All you need is a pack of LEGO Duplo Basic Bricks, and you can adjust this activity to target all kinds of tricky sounds and words!
All of those silly songs your kids sing in preschool like ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Start’, and ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’ aren’t just for fun. They also help develop language skills! Don’t be afraid to make up your own words and melodies to help practice the sounds your child struggles with most, and remember to keep it fun and engaging so it doesn’t feel like practice.
Grab a plastic bowling set and make this Articulation Bowling Activity I found on Consonantly Speaking. It’s one of those easy-to-make activities that keeps kids interested and motivated, which is a win-win in my book!
WH-Questions Pizza Party!
Another freebie, this speech therapy game on Teachers Pay Teachers targets basic WH- and How-Questions to help with language development, reading comprehension, etc.
Mega Fluency Pack
If your child struggles with fluency, this Mega Fluency Packet for Speech and Language Therapy on Teachers Pay Teachers helps kids who struggle with things like repetition, interjection, prolongation, and circumlocution.
As difficult as it is to learn how to help a speech delayed child, remember to be patient, to practice often, and to never give up hope. Our children have a way of surprising us in the most amazing ways, and the more we adapt and help them learn in a way that makes sense to their individuality, the more successful they will be.
With that, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Paul Collins:
‘Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’ve destroyed the peg.’
Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?
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