Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that is caused by differences in the brain. It affects communication and interaction in various ways and those with ASD tend to struggle in social settings and have restrictive or repetitive behaviours or interests. Those with autism may also have different ways of moving, paying attention, and learning. 

In this blog we will be taking a closer look at how to communicate with someone with autism, including effective communication strategies such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). As an autism charity, we work with children and young people with varying needs, including autism. Read on to find out more.

Understanding autism and communication

Autism is a complex spectrum disorder and it influences how a person views and interacts with others. It is common for those with autism to have communication challenges but this can vary in degree between individuals. While some individuals with autism may be non-verbal, others may have difficulties using language effectively. Understanding that individuals communicate differently with complex learning difficulties is the first step to effective communication.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

AAC refers to all of the ways that an individual can communicate besides talking. Individuals of all ages can use AAC if they have trouble with their language skills or speech. However, it is important to know that AAC is not a one-size-fits-all solution and it can range from sophisticated electronic devices that can generate speech to easy to use picture cards. 

AAC can be beneficial for those who suffer significantly with verbal communication, including non-verbal individuals with limited speech ability. Types of AAC systems are broadly categorised into two different types: 

  • Unaided systems –  include body and sign language and no external tools. 
  • Aided systems – This involves the use of tools or devices, such as picture boards.

How to use AAC for communication

  • Start simple – it is important that you keep things simple when first using AAC and use basic tools. This can include simple gestures or picture cards. You can then gradually move to more complex systems based on ability. 
  • Consistency is key – While moving to a different form of communication may take some getting used to, it is important that you use AAC tools consistently. Consistency is crucial in reinforcing learning and understanding, both for you and the individual who has autism. 
  • Be patient – As well as consistency, patience is also crucial. It can take time and a lot of practice to learn and use AAC systems for communication. Remember that it won’t happen overnight. 
  • Encourage expression – it is important that you encourage any form of expression, whether through verbal communication, AAC or any other forms. You should ensure that every communication is valued and acknowledged.

Benefits of AAC

While there are different forms of communication that you can implement with communication with someone with autism, there are several benefits for autistic individuals. It provides a means of expression for those who have limited speech or are non-verbal which helps to reduce frustration and enhance self-esteem. Additionally it can aid the development of social interaction and language skills.

Seashell’s top AAC communications tips

  • Use clear and concise language – when communicating using AAC it is crucial that you use clear and simple language. This means avoiding to use idioms or phrases that could potentially be taken literally or create further confusion. 
  • Visual supports – we recommend using visual aids where possible to supplement communication. In many cases, autistic individuals are visual learners so this could make communicating easier. 
  • Listen actively – it’s important to pay attention to any non-verbal cues as this can help aid further communication. Be patient and allow time for the individual to process what you’ve said and give their own response. 
  • Flexibility – while you may be keen to encourage someone with autism to use a specific communication method, such as AAC, it is important that you are flexible in your approach. If you feel that one approach doesn’t work then try something else. It may be that another method is more suited to that individual.

While communicating with someone with autism can be more of a challenge, there are other types of communication methods that you can use aside from the more traditional verbal methods. The main things you need for communication with someone with autism is understanding, adaptability, and patience. AAC offers a method of enhancing communication through different systems, including aid, unaided and electronic communication. Here at Seashell, we use assistive technology for students with disabilities to increase the learning opportunities available to all our students.

The key to communicating with someone with autism is to find what works best for them and support them in their journey to express themselves and understand others. Keen to learn more? Why not join Seashell and volunteer with disabled children for an opportunity to change the lives of young people whilst also learning and developing your own skill set.

For more information on the work we do here at Seashell and the support we offer children and young people with complex learning difficulties and additional communication methods, contact us.