Tips for communicating with aspergers children: a guide for teachers and parents
Asperger children learn through visuals. Here a child wears a famous logo demonstrating he has learned the importance of name brands through peers.
Aspergers children are challenged by communication. Verbal communication is difficult, but when nonverbal is added in the mix, communication becomes overwhelming. To add to the dilemma family members and caregivers may not recognize a child has aspergers syndrome because the child does not exhibit a significant delay in language, cognitive development or self-help skills. The problems with communication are much more subtle in the asperger child; in other words, the child learns to talk, but fails to understand social as well as nonverbal communication.
Asperger syndrome is a communication disorder, and it is also a pervasive development disorder. People with aspergers syndrome, including children, experience significant problems in socialization, communication, and behavior, and these problems affect them throughout their whole lives. Early in the asperger child's life, we see communication problems developing in the classroom with peers and in the home with family members. These communication issues may result in behavior problems. With early interventions we can help the aspergers child. Following are helpful tips for parents and teachers to minimize frustration for the asperger child and help them with communication problems.
When speaking to aspergers children remember to consider the actual meaning of what you are saying. The asperger child understands language in a very literal way. For example, if you were to say “run next door” the child would not run over to the neighbor’s house, instead s/he would run to the next door down the hall in your house. Clear communication based on consideration of literal meaning of words is essential when communicating with the asperger child.
Words must also be consistent with actions. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. When you say there will be a reward for a positive behavior, you must follow through with a reward. Similarly, if you stipulate a consequence for a negative behavior, you must impose the consequence. Many asperger’s children are rule-based in their thought, and they do not understand exceptions to the rule. As an authority figure you must make sure what you say coincides to what you do, otherwise the child will be very confused which will lead to increased anxiety.
Another communication tip is stay in control by keeping your voice calm and staying on topic. These strategies can lower the anxiety level of the asperger child. Sometimes it’s difficult to not raise your voice when a child misbehaves, but yelling only aggravates the situation by heightening the child’s frustration and stress. Equally important is remembering to keep the child on the topic of conversation. Asperger children often like to focus conversation on their special interests because they like controlling the dialogue. You should stay in control of the focus of conversation because this teaches the child to communicate about other interests and develop better social communication. Also, aspergers children may try to manipulate the direction of the conversation to avoid talking about strategies to improve their behavior. A discussion about making better decisions can easily go off track if you allow the child to control the direction of the conversation.
When speaking with the asperger child, consider your own voice volume and modulation because you are the role model. Aspergers children sometimes have difficulties with using the correct volume and modulation in certain situations. For example, they may speak way too loud for a one-on-one conversation with a friend. Inapppropriate voice volume and/or modulation affects social communication negatively. Peers don't understand why the asperger child speaks too loudly or with a strange pitch in their voice, and communication breaks down. Besides role-modeling correct voice volume and modulation, take time to correct the asperger child when s/he does not use his/her voice in an acceptable way. The asperger child learns through repetition, so if you correct the child over and over while also praising him/her for proper voice control, s/he will learn what is socially acceptable.
A parent's role in teaching social communication:
Books on Aspergers and Communication
For more on Asperger's Syndrome and Children see:
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To help asperger children to understand the meaning of verbal communication and social situations language professionals sometimes suggest the use of visual organizers or social stories to reinforce meaning. Visual organizers can be especially for younger students or students who must complete a series for steps in a task. Social stories are created with the child as a sort of visual picture of what to do when a difficult social situation arises. Both these tools can be helpful because they reinforce what has been taught verbally.
Both parents and teachers should be aware of the difficulties aspergers children face as they try to navigate through a world with so much information being communicated verbally and nonverbally. Keep in mind tips to help the asperger child with communication so anxiety and behavior problems are decreased for these children.