Activities That Improve Speech in Autistic Kids

By Jaime Vargas-Benitez
Flashcards are an effective tool in increasing an autistic child's vocabulary.
Flashcards are an effective tool in increasing an autistic child's vocabulary.

A diagnosis of autism does not have to mean a lifetime of non-communication for any child. There are activities that help encourage autistic children to develop vocabulary, grammar and speech skills. Some of these are in the forms of games, like matching games. Other tools can be sign language and repetitive stories or songs. There are many different options to cater to a specific child's preferences and function level. Parents do not have to sit by and miss out on communicating with their child due to autism. It takes patience, time and persistence, but the rewards are certainly worth the effort.

Video Modeling

Video modeling is a successful tool used to improve an autistic child's conversational speech, increase their vocabulary and boost their confidence in communicating. A study published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis studied autistic children and analyzed their conversational abilities before video modeling and again afterwards. The study, “Teach Autistic Children Conversational Speech Using Video Modeling,” showed several videos of both adults and children having typical conversations about things like toys, the weather and general life occurrences. The autistic children were found to increase their conversational abilities for at least a 15 month period. The study showed the children also increased the topics on which they would have conversations after watching the videos. Video modeling helped these autistic children increase their vocabulary and their scope of conversational topics.

Picture Exchange Communication System

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is recommended by the Autism Society as an effective tool for increasing verbal communication in autistic children. PECS is a six phase system that links pictures with verbal communication and teaches autistic children effective communication. Phase 1 introduces pictures as symbols for communication. Phase 2 enables children to put physical distance between themselves and the board, and come back to the board to communicate. Phase 3 teaches discrimination skills when choosing pictures for correct expression. Phase 4 introduces sentence structure, such as "I want" or "I see." Phase 5 introduces descriptive vocabulary, like color specification or amounts desired. Phase 6 incorporates verbal commenting into the exchanges. This step-by-step process helps parents/caregivers and autistic children effectively communicate together.

Sign Language

Sign language effectively teaches autistic children how to communicate and increases verbal skills, according to Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. In an article for Autism Research Institute titled, “Signed Speech or Simultaneous Communication,” Edelson says sign language is best suited for autistic individuals with little verbal communication, as opposed to high functioning individuals that have verbal skills. Reinforcing verbal communication with physical symbols allows for better understanding of what an autistic child wants or needs, and thus their parents/caregivers can better meet their needs. Edelson advises parents use the “Signed English” form of sign language because it incorporates grammar usage, which will help with later communication. Sign language stimulates different areas of the brain, which is why Edelson says, it helps further language development.

Repetitive Speech

Children crave routine, but autistic children must have routine. Repetitive speech is a technique for increasing vocabulary through routine recommended by the website, Love to Know Autism. For instance, for a child about to slide down a park slide parents can say, “Ready, set, go!” Parents can begin to pause in order to let the child finish the sentence, “Ready, set,” and then the child has the opportunity to add their, “Go!.” Love to Know Autism also recommends using songs to increase vocabulary. Choose songs that the child reacts strongly to, and as they hear them repeated, parents can take a pause and let the child jump in with their contribution. This method makes learning new words fun and encourages continued vocabulary development

About the Author

Jaime Vargas-Benitez has been a parenting writer since 2010. She has worked in the child wellness field in various roles for over 20 years. Along with the experiences of raising her own kids, she has been privileged enough to participate in the raising of hundreds of other children as well.