Improving Parent/Child Communication with Autism

As a parent, we experience much joy when our autistic child gains the ability to answer static questions, but what does it look like for our child to communicate in a much deeper sense, and how do we help them improve?


What are Static Questions? 

Static questions always have the same answers. The word static means unchanging. Two plus two always equals four. Apples and grapes are always fruit. When we place one foot in front of the other and walk, we are always moving forward. 

Static intelligence is an important factor in life, and autistic children typically do well with the never-changing aspects of everyday life. Their challenges increase predominantly, however, in situations that require dynamic thinking and communication abilities.


Communication that Builds Dynamic Thinking

Dynamic thinking and communication involve changing situations and experiences, leading to problem solving and expression. Your child’s ability to effectively communicate, including non-verbal, is essential to their development. 

The ability of your child to express their basic wants and needs, especially as they process challenges and think their way through situations as you participate as a guide, plays an integral role in their obtainment of independence in life.


How do You Improve Communication with Autism? 

A healthy starting point is to guide with verbal language as well as body language and gestures. Prompt your child to do what you are doing, but do not over zealously prompt to the point of stirring up confusion. Less is more when giving verbal prompts to your autistic child. 

Related: Gestures and Communication

Give your child time to listen and process. This supplies your child with a boost of encouragement. It allows your child time to think and realize, “I can do this! She/he is not pressuring me.” This also strengthens your relationship and interaction. Your child’s enthusiasm will grow, and they will want to learn and become more involved. 

Here is a fun example of communication that gives your child time to process without you interjecting or prompting:  

Your child chooses cereal for breakfast and you ask them to set the table.

You switch the spoon out with a fork. As your child starts to eat, the milk and the cereal drop from the fork, or your child may not attempt to eat their cereal with a fork. Either way, he or she looks at you and asks (perhaps through a non-verbal gesture or questioning expression), “What do I do?”

 You shrug your shoulders, make a goofy face, and say, “Oops! Silly me, I made a mistake! I’ll continue doing (whatever you are doing), and I know you’ll go get what you need to eat your cereal.”

You acknowledged the verbal/non-verbal question from your child. You then responded (both verbally and with body language/gesture) that you made a mistake, and you communicated to your child that they can correct the situation. 

You gave your child time to process their thoughts and get the spoon that they needed to eat the cereal. You did not direct them, nor did you pepper them with questions or comments, such as, “Did you get that spoon, yet?” or “Now think! Don’t you need a spoon?” 

You did not overcompensate by getting the spoon for your child. You practiced patience. Children sense when we are impatient and become discouraged.

Related: Executive Functioning with Autism

You turned a static situation (you cannot eat cereal and milk with a fork…you always use a spoon) into a dynamic-thinking challenge. You handed responsibility from you to your child. You helped build competence in your child, and you added to the building blocks that reinforce and grow their interest in additional engagement. All of this resulted from mindful communication!

RDI® Experience-Sharing

Improved communication with your autistic child is encouraged through simple shared activities that promote problem solving and expression, which supports development beyond the ability to answer static questions. 

At RDI®, we believe communication is not entirely about verbal speech. Our focus is developmental growth through example and participation between the parent guide and the child. Learn more

We place emphasis on everyday non-forced family interactions which become the foundation that opens the lines of communication up to both the parent and the child. 

As a parent, you may feel you are on an island alone with this. Know that you do not have to do this by yourself! RDIconnect’s online learning community is designed for parents to find connection and support with others, with access to the most current resources, and an open door to reach out for professional consultation if additional help is needed. 


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