A Paradigm Shift in How You Think About Communication

A recent worldwide study I conducted confirmed what I have already seen in my work with families since 1997: more than any other area, parents with autistic children want to help their children with communication development. 

Yes, social skills, self-help skills and challenging behaviors are all areas families want help with as well, but communication came out on top — for children of all ages and all stages.

As a new school year begins, I am sure you have important communication goals for your child, like using single words to communicate, speaking in fuller sentences, answering and asking questions, making comments, etc.

These are all very important goals, not just as a communication skill, but also because each one of these skills also demonstrates your child’s ability to connect, understand, and be genuinely curious and engaged in the world around him.

Each communication skill your child acquires runs deep — deeper than you might imagine.

As you work towards helping your child gain more communication skills, no matter what age or stage, I want to suggest a paradigm shift in the way you might think about communication.

The paradigm shift is this: Think of communication as a tool for your child to bring his unique self to the world in a fuller way — VERSUS seeing communication as a way for your child to show his/her learned responsiveness to your direction.

Let me explain further.

Time and time again I see parents and therapists focusing on a child being a “communication responder” by asking the child to repeat a word or sound, fill in the blank or respond to a prompt.  It is typically directed by the adult, not by the child.

While this can result in some learned communication — it won’t take your child very far on the playground (the other children won’t be prompting, directing or leaving blanks for your child to fill in).   It also does not give you further insight into what your child might want, think or feel.

Instead, I suggest focusing on your child becoming more of a “communication starter” — which means initiating communication in a way that is meaningful for him/her — no matter how “unrefined” this may be at first.

Here are 3 ways you can do this:

1.            Stop, Look and Listen:  Parents are amazed at how much communicating their child is already doing when they simply decide to become more deeply attentive to their child’s communication. Respond to all the ways your child is already communicating.  This will empower your child’s communicating experience and inspire him/her to communicate more.

2.            Give your child ample exposure to the skill you are focusing on.  This can be single words, “what?” questions, or sharing opinions.  Whatever it is, make it a point to model that for your child throughout the day to help your child become intimately familiar with that specific communication skill and see it “in action.”

3.            Zip it.  Yup — that’s right, stop the yapping.  Often times an adult does so much narrating to fill in the quiet space that a child would have to fight his way in if he wanted to communicate.  Make sure there are PLENTY of pockets of silence — these are golden opportunities for your child to communicate.   After hearing this tool, a parent wrote to tell me that her child said his first word (which was “hello!”’) during a totally silent moment in the playroom. Silence is precious.

As you can imagine, I have TONS to share on this topic — this is just a couple of nuggets to get you going.

I am guessing you are hungry for more, so…

Join me for my FREE training:

“Create Communication Breakthroughs: Learn 3 critical strategies so your child can understand and be understood — without the tantrums and  frustration!”

Tuesday, October 1st, 11am PST/2 pm EST

You’ll also get my COMMUNICATION ACTION GUIDE to help you take action so you can see concrete results (if you don’t know this about me yet, I am all about “actionable tools.”)

To sign up for this FREE training, just click here!


Tali Berman is an autism specialist, developmental play expert and author of “Play to Grow! Over 200 games to help your special child develop fundamental social skills” (with foreword by Jenny McCarthy). She is also the founder/leader of the Autism Empowerment Telesummit, gathering top autism experts on her elite panel, reaching thousands of families around the globe. You can learn more at: www.meirautism.org.

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