How to Communicate Better?
You asked your child about his day at school. You asked him about his friends. But, there were no answers. Then, you proceed to asking him "how are you?" He answers "I'm fine, thank you" robotically. Deep down you know he memorised this scripted response from therapy without really understanding the context of this question. But you asked anyway just to get a response from him.
Most people will think their communication style is effective as long there's verbal exchange between two parties. But was it really effective? Was it meaningful and purposeful?
When communicating with ASD children, what parents really wished and longed for is the genuine connection and engagement from their child. Not some standard scripted answers.
To achieve effective communication, we want parents to know that Verbal interaction is not the only essential element in communication. There's also Non-Verbal communication (facial expression, gesture, eye contact, body movement) we should take into account for effective communication with children. More importantly, to promote effective communication with ASD kids, HOW we communicate matters.
Here are some tips to help ensure communication style is effective and meaningful for you and your children.
When we initiate a conversation with the child, we want to make sure we have his attention first before talking to him. Tapping on his shoulder or hands and calling his name is a good way to invite him into our conversation. Once you have his attention, interaction will become more effective and meaningful.
The Right Timing
Suppose the child is too engrossed in a specific activity or is currently in an emotional dysregulated state (sad, angry, overwhelmed). In that case, it is not the right time to initiate any kind of interaction with the child. We want to make sure the child is ready to end his activity or has regulated his emotions and calmed down before interacting with us.
We can try simplifying our sentences or words, keeping it minimal to avoid confusion in children. Sometimes less is more. Instead of saying "can you help me put this in the washer", we can try "put in washer."
When we're doing an activity or interacting with our child, instead of bombarding the child with back-to-back instructions and actions, we can slow down our pace and speed. When we slow down, we give the child time and space to think, analyse and respond.
Different Point of View
A change of perspective is a good way to help the child see things from a different point of view. We want to encourage out-of-the-box thinking and let the child engage in dynamic appraisal. For example, instead of "the tree is on your right side", we can change to "look at the tree, the leaves are falling."
When we're doing an activity with the child, we can assign roles to let the child know his responsibilities in an interaction. For example, when making milk, the child can hold the bottle while the mom pours the powder into the bottle. When the child has a role, he has a clear direction on contributing to the activity with you.
When the child feels overwhelmed by the activity, we can reduce the demands and simplify the action for the child. We can set the child up for success with lesser demands.
When we interact with the child, we want to make sure he understands and keeps his motivation going. Hence, our communication style has to be fluid and dynamic.
If he is busy with his toys or screen time, it's better to pre-inform him that you'll be ending the activity in 3-5 minutes. You can say "Lego is going to end in 3 minutes. Then we will clean it up together." In that way, we are showing respect to his boundaries without taking the toys away abruptly.
Breaking it Down
When the activity gets too complex or difficult to understand, we can break the action down into smaller parts by drawing or writing it down to help the child understand better.
Sometimes no matter how much we repeat our instructions, children may still find it confusing and hard to understand. In that case, we can step in to demonstrate it for the child. Be mindful that you're not doing it for the child. After demonstrating, you can let the child try it by himself.
In RDI, we want to increase declarative language (dynamic communication) more with our child. We can lessen our questions, instructions and prompts, and engage more in experience sharing kind of communication style.
When we communicate, we can include the use of our senses to experience share our feelings with the child. We can share what we hear, see, smell, taste and touch. In a way, we are inviting the child into our world to experience what we are feeling.
Here and Now
We want to focus on the here and now with the child. The process is more important than the result. When we're preoccupied with the expectation we want to achieve; we won't be able to enjoy the activity with the child.
Narrate Instead of Label
Instead of engaging in a static communication style like labelling what we see, we can narrate what we see into a story. For example, instead of “the bunny is so cute”, we can tell it into “oh no, the bunny is being covered by lots of leaves! She must be suffocating!”