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  • Autism and Communication; 5 ways to communicate

    Any parent who has a child with autism will at some point wonder how their child will ever communicate back to them. Interestingly enough though, in many cases of autism it’s not the child who needs to learn how to communicate so much as it is that the parent learn how to communicate with the autistic child. There are 5 basic ways to know what they are saying and they all have to do with the senses.

    Most parents believe that they will have a child and teach them everything that their is to know about the world. However, when a child develops autism, it is then the child who teaches the parent; that is of course, if the parent is willing to listen and able to tune into their language. Most kids with autism speak in other ways than just words. Many of the ways that they communicate is through their senses and body language and refusing to understand this common fact will create many frustrating times not only for the child, but also for the parent and caretakers.

    Just because a child used to be able to speak a few words, then lost those words after around 18 months, does not always mean that they are going to be able to speak them again anytime soon. Nor does it mean that they understand the meaning of them anymore. In fact, most autistic kids lose all of their language that they once knew before during the regression period(s) as autism manifests itself.

    The strategy to learning how to communicate with a child who has autism is in the following five basic ways:

    1. Sight
    2. Hearing
    3. Touch
    4. Smell
    5. Taste

    Interestingly enough, these 5 basic ways of communicating with an autistic child are all the same ways that anyone else uses. The difference however, is that although kids with autism can absorb all the 5 senses, they have a difficult time expressing themselves through language. So remember, the only autism and communication problem there really is, is just the language barrier. People with autism really don’t have a communication disorder. Instead, the people who don’t understand them have the disorder and it’s called “Ignorance Syndrome”. If you experience any symptoms of Ignorance Syndrome, then you should call your doctor immediately and ask them for a lobotomy.

    All joking aside, people with autism really do communicate through body language triggered by their senses. There are 5 senses that we all have, but a child with autism can sometimes have a sixth sense called extreme hunger. Many autism cases are partially a result of a nervous system disorder which distorts the signal from the senses to the brain.

    Sight
    Sight sense in an autistic person would include things like hypersensitivity to lights and particular interest in certain colors or patterns. Most people can’t ever figure out why a child with autism might like a certain part of a toy instead of the whole thing; and this is because they are fixed on the color, pattern or both.

    Bright artificial lights, like in a supermarket, can be especially irritating to a child with autism because the lights produce a glare that causes strain on their eyes and makes them work harder. If the lights are in a pattern across the ceiling, this can be especially stressful because many autistic children see in pictures or skewed images. This is why they look out of the corners of their eyes at times.

    Flashing lights from a television screen, computer, or anywhere else for that matter, can also cause eye stress. Not only should you be concerned about eye stress with an autistic child, but you should also be very aware of the real fact that many kids who have autism also are epileptic and can have a seizure at any point. Certain lights and patterns can induce a seizure very easily.

    Understanding these things will help you communicate with an autistic child as their body language will indicate if lights or patterns affect them in any way.

    Hearing
    Hearing, or sounds, is such a powerful sense to a child with autism. So much so in fact, that a single noise of water running can cause a meltdown very easily. Most people think that their autistic child is out of control if they throw a fit, when it could be as simple as the ambient noises that we all overhear.

    I remember my preacher once telling a story of how an American Indian was brought to a big city for the first time by a friend of his. And while they were walking down the side walk during rush hour, he asked his friend, “do you hear that”? The friend replied, “Hear what?” Then the Indian tuned in more and reached down in the crack of the sidewalk and pulled out a cricket and replied, “This!” His friend asked how he heard the cricket with all the other noise? The Indian reached in his pocket, grabbed some change, then dropped some coins on the sidewalk. In the midst of all the other people and noise around them, the crowd then immediately turned to see the coins bouncing and rolling around. He then said, “People hear what they want to hear.”

    Kids too with autism hear the cricket out of all the other noise. They hear the TV on in the background, the fish tank filter, the furnace running, the clock ticking, and all those other noises that you don’t hear unless you want to. They can’t just turn off noises like we can. They hear it all. It all goes in and becomes extreme chaos; especially if they are trying to retain the information. Information overload if you will.

    Understanding this will help you communicate with your autistic child. Watch their body language and if they are covering their ears or throwing a fit or acting anxious, then listen really hard to the ambient noises.

    Touch
    Touch and feeling is no exception when it comes to a person with autism. If you really want to communicate with your autistic child, don’t expect to do it through touch. Many kids with autism have altered signals pulsating through their nerves. Where you and I might like a hug or getting dressed, it can be very painful to a person with autism. And if you have ever had the flu, that feeling right before it comes on when your whole body aches is exactly what a person with autism experiences most of the time.

    This is why some kids with autism undress themselves; they can’t stand the way the clothes feel. So find something that is light, doesn’t make noise as they move, and is more comfortable for them to wear. Don’t forget that color is important too. A bright yellow noisy coat could drive them crazy, so just consider this when dressing them.

    Feeling might also be right up there with hunger, so i’ll touch on it here. The feeling of hunger for anyone can be extreme, but in an autistic person, it can feel 10 times greater. A lot of self abuse and self stimulation, or stemming, comes from hunger in an autistic person. Add that to the frustration of not being able to speak and you could have a major problem. Biting their own tongue lips or other objects could be a sign of extreme hunger. However, if you have a boy with autism symptoms and they bite their lips and tongue, please see Lesch-Nyhan syndrome and if you have a girl with compulsive eating issues and she is unable to gain weight, then please see Rett Syndrome.

    Food textures can also be a problem with these kids as well. Pay attention to their gag reflex with certain foods and try to eliminate any problem foods for them.

    If you are noticing a trend yet, then that is because the senses can all play together and in most cases do. I have personally learned in my own daughter who has Rett Syndrome that a burden on two or more senses at a time is when we see the biggest behavior problems. Hunger while smelling food, yet not able to eat yet can be the worst. Watch the malls because they also come with noise, patterns, colors and lights. Malls and stores are specifically designed to grab your attention to something through your senses. This is all part of genius marketing that successful retail and food centers use to get you to buy something. However, these marketing zones can wreak havoc on someone with a sensory disorder.

    Understanding the sense of touch will help you understand how to communicate with your autistic child.

    Smell
    Smell in a autistic child can be like that of a super human or of an animal. Not many smells get past a person with autism. Preparing food can trigger unusual behavior as mentioned above already. Add this to hunger, and it could spell disaster.

    The list of offensive smells could be drawn out on several pages, but perfume, shampoos, food, dirty animals, farting, etc are all at the top of the list of smells that can create undesirable situations. Basically though, if you smell it, they smell it 10 times stronger.

    Understanding how an autistic person smells things will help you learn how to communicate with them better.

    Taste
    Last but certainly not least is the taste of things in an autistic person. Right along with hunger and smell, is the almighty taste of something. Something that tastes good or bad to you, will certainly be amplified in a person with autism. Also consider that they will have their own preferences too though, so go easy on them when they don’t like all of your cooking; because when it’s bad, it’s really bad tasting to them.

    Understanding how taste affects a person with autism will help you understand how to better communicate with them.

    Body language plays a huge role in what a person with autism is trying to communicate. You don’t need a device to know that a scream in a restaurant is caused by the smell of food and/or the additional white noise they hear, or when they cover their ears every time they walk by the fish tank, that the running water might be the issue. Yes, you can find devices to help them to communicate. A Tobii device is used often times for girls with Rett Syndrome, while simply reading their body language becomes a second language.

    They understand you, but do you understand them? Pay attention to their body language and their use of the five senses and then and only then will you be able to speak their language with them. It’s really that simple, so now it’s time for you to tune in an be the student for a while, allowing your child to teach you how they speak.

    By the way, not everything burdens their senses. Find what your autistic child likes and see if there is a way to use this to help them communicate better. Sometimes food can be a great motivator and is often used with Applied Behavioral Analysis ABA Therapy.

    Good luck and God Bless!

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    Autism and Communication; 5 ways to communicate4.2543

8 Comments

  1. #1 Priscilla says:
    August 22nd, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    This article was incorrectly titled. It gave the impression that there will be tips on how to communicate with an individual with autism using those 5 senses. However it only explained the issues that arise affecting those with autism within those senses.

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    • #2 Silly Mummy says:
      August 22nd, 2014 at 11:52 am

      I agree with Priscilla.

      It only raises the issues, it tells that you need to understand them but it doesn’t explain how to.

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      Rating: 3.3/5 (3 votes cast)
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  2. hi priscilla,
    I don’t agree with your critics. I found this article very interesting and it answered some of my questions. Teaching art to autistic children is a new challenge for me. In the beginning I thought that many autistics are non verbal. Now I recognize that this is untrue. Their language is just different as well as the way they experience communication. One has to listen and to pay good attention to details to learn their language instead of expecting them to learn ours.

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    • #4 christine mayor says:
      August 22nd, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Why not learn a child with Autism the language to speak if they speech is already there, We parents listen every min of the day to our child and even though a child cant communicate we still know in our heart what they want and need in life.. I learn my son each day to put words together and he his getting there, So for you to say pay attention to details to learn their launguage.. WE DO ….

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  3. Thank you for this article. I feel like I have a better understanding of my sons worldand will hopefully be able to adjust how I react to things. Very helpful <3

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  4. Awesome. Just awesome. The point made about ignorance is so true. We miss out on time and wonderful moments with children when we are caught up in what insurance based medical professionals tell us. They dont know it all. I have spent the last few years dumping myself into everything possible I could learn about children with Autism. Everyday I learn something new. How do we expect the medical community to know and support things which they have no time to learn about. This article is awesome.

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  5. On an additional note, the reason I found this site is because I was trying to find help with color and font as they relate to visuals on flash cards. We are developing a new series of flash cards for American Sign Language for children with Autism. I want to make sure we use the right design, colors, and font.
    Still working on the font issues.

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  6. I think the point of the article was not to teach you how to speak to an autistic child, but to listen to them. That is how you will communicate with an autistic child. You have to listen.
    I personally liked this article because it explained things very well and made it very understandable for someone who is not autistic. It is a great insight to an autistic person’s mind, and I really am thankful for that. I long to understand how to effectively communicate with my younger brother. Thank you.

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    Rating: 4.8/5 (4 votes cast)
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