How-To: Slowed speech paired with gestures to improve communication

Children with autism often have difficulties with communication. A recommendation psychologists at The Autism Center of Northern California give to parents and caregivers to increase communication skills with children, is to instruct them to slow down their speech and simplify their language. By slowing down speech into a one-word inflected phrase such as; “Juuuuuiceee” and pairing it with a gesture such as pointing to a cup of juice several times, the child will be able to more easily take in the phrase, associate it with the object and make meaning of it. When too much language is used, the child cannot isolate a meaningful word from a large block of language. A parent can do this several times a day, ideally as much as possible, to help their child associate meaning with many items and actions. For example in the morning, when getting ready for school the parent can point to a t-shirt when helping their child get dressed and say, “Tttt-ssshhiirrrttt” slowly. Or for example in the evening, when assisting the child in getting ready for bed, the parent can help the child associate the toothbrush with the act of brushing your teeth by saying the word, “bbbrrussshiingg” very slowly and then reenact the act of brushing one’s teeth. Try to make sure that your child sees your actions so that they can internalize the action and eventually do it by themselves unprompted. 

Try not to get frustrated – this takes practice, both for you as well as your child! Use positive language and congratulate yourselves when you’ve worked on building communication. It will take you several times repeating words and actions for your child to take in what you are communicating and for your child to then learn to follow directions by themselves and initiate actions without being prompted.

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