How We Taught Our Child with Autism to Speak

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Please remember that Autism Spectrum Disorders are very diverse and no two children are alike. I am not a therapist or a doctor. All I can share is what has worked for us but our techniques are not guaranteed to work for you.

how to teach an autistic to speak

Lira was non-verbal until about 3 years old. All I wanted was to hear “Ma-Ma.”

I picked up on her Autism at 15 months, and we started Early Intervention before age two. As I look back, our early start really helped put Lira where she is today.

Step One ~ Pointing & Choosing

I watched every session with the speech therapist and applied those ideas to our daily life. The first step was teaching her to choose what she wanted. Since Lira did not point, this was how we started encouraging her to communicate. I would give her two choices, saying the word for each, and encourage her to point to which she wanted. ”Lira, do you want milk or juice? Point to what you want.”

To encourage her to point, we would play a game where I would touch my index finger to her index finger. (Kind of like E.T. and Elliot in the movie.)

Another thing we would do is point out things that we would see, making a concentrated effort to actually point. I had no idea how little Bill and I would actually point until we started doing this. I had to remember that children learn by example.

Step Two ~ Using Words

To teach her to talk, I would show her an object, say the word, and then touch the object to my chin, say the word. Then, if she was willing, I would touch the object to her chin and say the word. If she would say the word, she would get an M&M. (Funny that she would not eat them due to her sensitivity to textures but she liked collecting them.)

I always tried to direct her attention to my mouth. Still, to this day, I will often touch my chin and tell my children, “Look at me.” I just became programmed to do that constantly and habits are hard to break.

Step Three ~ Conversational Language

When Lira finally began to speak, it was in echoes. She knew the episodes of Dora the Explorer word for word. She would repeat what she had learned from Dora and interject into conversation whether it fit or not. During this phase, I remember she had a lot of tantrums. In the heat of the moment, I failed to realize that her tantrums were actually a result of her frustration at our failure to understand what she was trying to tell us, but we dealt with the tantrums firmly. It was always okay to get upset but you had to go to your room and stay there until you could calm down. The rule applied to everyone in the family.

As her speech continued to develop, her word choices were extremely formal but typically, they made more sense. We had to be very straight-forward. No jokes. No riddles. No sarcasm. It was harder on our fathers than on anyone else. They like to tease. You could not tease with Lira. Everything had to be explained to her in a literal way. Once you explained a joke, she would laugh because everyone else had. As futile as that seemed to me, now I know that we were actually training her to be social.

Now, Lira speaks clearly and her word choices fit. She will still correct other people when they have problems with subject-verb agreement but I have noticed lately, that even Lira has been making a few mistakes. Is it crazy to be excited about that?

Ideas for You ~

If you have a non-verbal child, the following is a video that I found extremely insightful. Hopefully, these techniques might work for you.

In this video, I love the use of the pictures and buttons to connect to the sounds. If you do not have sounds available, I think just saying the words with the cards will help. (We actually had tons of flash cards and I would flip through them with Lira often.)
Do not forgot about YouTube. Therapy sessions and ideas are available in abundance!

What tips have you used successfully to teach your child with Autism to talk?

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  1. Our son was diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech at the age of 2. He had lots of sounds but I didn’t get to hear Momma either, until he was 3. It was, in fact, the only word he had that contained consonant sounds– for a very long time. We taught him some basic sign language from age 1 until the words finally came, and he was difficult to understand until he was about 5 or 6. It’s a long road and now at 11 he still doesn’t get innuendo or riddles, and idioms and sarcasm are hard for him to grasp, but he’s getting better. I still feel like we’re training him a lot of the time but every little bit helps.

    • Absolutely. Every tiny bit helps. Sometimes I feel silly explaining why a riddle or joke is funny but at the same time, I am helping Lira makes those connections and hopefully, one day those things will just be second-nature for her.

  2. sherah kraan says:

    Hi penny! :) I just found your blog today through pinterest as I was looking for homeschooling tips for homeschooling four little ones. I just found out I’m pregnant today,so was looking for encouragement and suggestions as my oldest is 7 and has Autism (nonverbal till three as well,we’ve seen tremendous improvement through a gluten free diet and high omega 3s) I’m really happy the Lord led me to your blog. It seems we already have a bit in common. I’m a huge AIG fan and have been interested in learning more about Apologia…would you be willing to write a post on that curriculum?I’d love to see what it looks like “in action”.

  3. Hello, I just found your blog today, and I must say I was touched. My brother has Autism and the rest of my siblings (four others) have aspergers. So I know your struggles. Are you doing any therapies, like ABA or RDI? We found a big difference, when we went on a gluten and dairy free diet, and he really struggles with speech, when he has corn or soy. And not make yourself depressed, by saying nonverbal. Our RDI consultant calls him preverbal. :)

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