Your child’s healthcare team can be a great resource for helping them communicate with you, and if they are working with a speech and language therapist, that person probably has great insight into what your child’s specific challenges might be when it comes to communication. Baby is unique, though, and that includes the way they think, and how they communicates, and even with great guidance, it may take some trial and error to figure out which types of encouragement for communication work best for Baby. As you’re figuring it out, there are a few different strategies it can help to hold in your mind.
Look for what your child is already doing
If your child is already trying to communicate, that’s already a huge step, and figuring out what and how they're trying to communicate is a great place to start when figuring out how to expand their communication. This might mean looking at the way they try to communicate or what they try to communicate about – or both.
Starting with your child’s interests is a great way to demonstrate why they might want to communicate. Identifying the ways that they already might be communicating, and responding to them, is the most encouraging way to show them that you’re interested in what they have to say.
Work with them and give them lots of openings
Talking to them, and making sure language is a big part of their life, is just one part of helping them communicate – the other part comes when you make sure to leave spaces in the conversation for your little one to take part. Especially for parents whose children have been nonverbal for a while, it’s natural to want to fill the silence, but making a statement, pausing, and then turning to your child and showing them that you’re interested in how they would respond, you’re giving them the space to start to think about their response – even if they aren't ready to make it out loud yet.
Consider assistive devices
Your child’s ability to communicate – to make themself understood, and to interact with the people around them – is far more important than whether speech is the way they do so. In addition, for some children, assistive devices can be a step on the road to verbal communication, or can be a great supplement to verbal communication as it develops.
Baby’s therapists will be able to talk through different types of assistive devices with you in more detail. In general, though, assistive devices often work by allowing children with ASD to communicate by pressing buttons on either dedicated devices, like GoTalk devices, or through programs loaded onto devices like tablets or phones. Children can press buttons associated with pictures and, later, written words, that symbolize concepts like objects, types of food, greetings, or any number of other words, and have those words come from the device out loud. Assistive devices can help young children feel confident in their ability to communicate, can give them scripts for what talking can sound like, and can help them make connections between spoken words and ideas.
Late talkers and ASD
There’s a reason “language delays” are listed as one of the more common symptoms of ASD. While some children don’t end up developing verbal speech (which doesn’t mean they won’t develop other ways to communicate), others may develop speech in their own time, even if that time ends up being significantly after their typically-developing peers. A 2013 study published in Pediatrics, which followed children with ASD who had not developed speech before age four, found that 70% of the children studied developed phrase-speech (communication in phrases of two or more words) at or after age four, and that 47% of the children developed fluent speech at or after age four. If your child isn’t speaking, or isn’t speaking fluently yet, they still may – and even if verbal speech doesn’t end up being the way they communicates most comfortably, by working together, you’ll be able to figure out the way of communicating that works for your family.