Nonverbal Communication in Teens with Autism

Verbal communication is something that many of us take for granted. We are used to asking if something is wrong with a friend, or asking a family member what they need. But for some teens with autism, verbal communication can be challenging or nonexistent. Teens with autism may have difficulty developing language skills and understanding what others say to them. For some teens limited verbal communication may present as rigid or repetitive language, echolalia (a condition where a person repeats when has just been said to them), uneven language development, or apraxia of speech (a disorder that can interfere with a person’s ability to say what they want correctly.). 

Communication Strategies for Your Nonverbal Teen

To make things more challenging, teens with autism often have difficulty communicating non verbally, such as through body language, eye contact, and facial expressions. Learning to communicate in a new way can feel daunting for families, but there are many different strategies you can use to support your teen in nonverbal communication.

Follow the leader: Imitation is a great way to open the lines of communication with your teen. If they are doing an action like building with legos, sit down and copy their movement. You can give words to the actions, but think of it more as narration of the activity rather than expecting them to repeat after you. Try engaging in games that involve role playing as a way to interact and communicate with gestures and imitation that don’t necessarily require words at first.

Utilize Visual Cues: Visual strategies can be a very effective form of communication with teens. A daily calendar shows them how their day will go so that they can understand what comes next in their day. A flip book of actions such as “drink”, “eat”, “bathroom”, gives your teen the tools they need to ask for what they want without having to rely solely on the verbal skills. 

Let them take the lead. If you find that certain activities hold your teen’s attention more than others, let them lead the activity. When they can choose something they enjoy, they are more likely to stay engaged and focused. You can use a visual strategy such as an activity board with pictures of different options to help them choose. This helps teens feel more independent and then more invested in the activity they have chosen. 

Assistive devices. Electronic devices and apps with pictures that your teen can touch to produce words can help them communicate. Many teens with autism feel more comfortable with technology than communicating directly to the peers or adults in their life, and these devices can help them become more confident in their communication. 

New Focus Academy Can Help

At New Focus, students learn to create meaningful connections with therapists, coaches, peers, and those in the community. These connections allow students to break out of their shell and build confidence in themselves.

Our approach focuses on helping students gain independence in daily activities and their social lives. Subsequently, students develop confidence and self-esteem as they find success in accomplishing activities independently. For more information please call (844) 313-6749.

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