If your child with autism is verbal, have you ever experienced these kinds of situations?
Your son hasn’t been starting conversations with others about his recent summer vacation, so you instruct him, “Tell Grandma about your vacation.” When he responds with unimportant or unexciting details, you find yourself guiding him, “Tell Grandma about the big water slide you went on.”
Your daughter has just arrived at her friend’s birthday party. While the other guests are approaching the birthday girl or mingling, you direct your daughter to give her friend the wrapped gift. Your daughter drops the gift into the birthday girl’s hands and says, “It’s a jewelry box” and darts toward the chip bowl.
Maybe your child is able to have general conversations but sometimes doesn’t know when he or she is being tricked or doesn’t follow along with sarcasm or humor.
These types of scenarios – and countless others – are what I’ve strived to overcome with my students for the past 20 years as a Speech-Language Pathologist and Applied Behavior Analysis instructor. Children with autism experience problems with conversation because they often have challenges thinking about how to match words, or language, to the situation in a socially acceptable way. I knew there had to be a better way for children to improve communication that would grow stronger relationships with family, friends, teachers— and everyone. So, for the past 10 years, I did a lot of research, and during my therapy sessions I tried different, new ways to link together language, logical thinking, and social skills. Success! Once I saw my students make incredible communication breakthroughs with my method, I knew I could help children with autism everywhere.
My system helps children work through each and every step of a conversation from before he or she speaks — to the words spoken — to the final overall gist. Learning to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and take the other person’s point-of-view is crucial for meaningful conversations. The children are taught how to identify body language and facial expressions and to understand the reasons behind emotions and physical feelings in others so they can understand and express empathy. While her son was learning from my method, a mom was shocked when, for the first time, he said to his sick sister lying on the couch, “Oh, no! You’re sick. You will feel better tomorrow,” as he gave her a blanket.
After knowing how the person with whom they are talking feels and what they want, my method shows the children that the words they usually choose do not always match the situation. After being rewarded to use words that go together appropriately, the children learn how to say the same concept in different ways so that they truly understand what’s happening within the conversation. Their language skills expand and become more flexible, interesting, and diverse for better interactions. A father’s daughter would always wait for someone to ask, “What did you do at school today?” Through working with my system, the dad reported that, on her own, his daughter now says, “Dad, guess what I did at school today” and “Do you know what I did at school today?” and “Something cool happened at school today.” Also, this father sees that for the everyday over-used phrases, or scripts, like “I don’t know,” his daughter communicates more effectively when she doesn’t understand, responding with “I’m not sure” and “Hmmm…” and “I’m confused” and “Could you please help me figure this out?” and even “Huh?!”
Social skills, or unwritten social rules, are directly explained within my method which reinforce why, how, and when to use specific types of communication. Whenever I would ring the doorbell of one of my clients, she would swing the door wide open, grab my iPad, and run away. She learned the reasons we use hospitality to become closer. Now, she opens the door, greets me, offers me water on a hot day, closes the door behind me, and follows me in while chatting about her day.
I want to give children everywhere this new way of thinking so they have the power to take charge of their own communication and confidently engage in any topic of conversation. Like having me right there in the child’s home, I organized my method so it could be used on the iPad as an effective, interactive app.
Appropriately named, “I Can Have Conversations With You!™” is effective because it uses evidence-based teaching techniques like video modeling and role play, prompting, task analysis, and reinforcement. Through data collection that produces automatically calculated scores along with a checklist, parents see their child’s progress first-hand. The best part is research has shown that children with autism can maximize their learning from technology and tablets.
Communication is the most important and most powerful skill in life. Children with autism experience many communication difficulties that are complicated and can be overwhelming. Hundreds of parents and therapists across the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia have been overcoming these difficulties by working with “I Can Have Conversations With You!™.” Nothing compares when kids are proud of themselves because they are learning confidently and bonding with others…all while having fun.
3 Quick Tips To Use at Home
You are your child’s best and most important teacher. Here are 3 ways you can start using some techniques within my method at home with your child anytime, anywhere, and as many times possible. Help your child to:
- Make better eye contact: The first step for your child to understand someone’s true emotions and feelings, which is crucial for meaningful conversation, is to make eye contact and look at the other’s facial expressions and body language movements.
Explain that eye contact is necessary:
“I want to see your eyes.”
“You can’t see my face, so you don’t know how I feel.”
Give your child unclear directions so that she or he may look at you to figure out what you mean:
“Put it over by that.”
“Close this over here, please.”
- Choose conversational topics that are interesting to others: Help your child think about that particular conversational partner’s interests, background, occupation, etc. to try to tie in your child’s experiences.
- “Uncle Bob will want to hear about your trip to the lake because he likes the outdoors and animals.”
- “Your friend, John, is the pitcher on the baseball team, and you just got a baseball bat for your birthday. Think of something you can ask John to do together with you.”
- Have conversations about happy memories for the upcoming holidays: Your child might not always understand why other people want him or her to share memories with them. As your child is experiencing an event, you can help him or her connect better through emotion, language, and social skills.
DURING AN EXPERIENCE: Point out the interesting, odd, exciting objects, events, or activities.
- “Wow! Look at all those ornaments on that tree! There are too many to count!”
- “This is my favorite holiday song because I like the part that goes hmm—hmm—hmm…Sing it with me!”
AFTER AN EXPERIENCE: If you talk about your child’s experience, maybe he or she will want to talk about it more too or bring up another related event.
- “Remember when you had so much fun playing with all of your cousins at Aunt Betty’s house for the holiday? I am sure you wish that you could play with them every day, huh?”
- “You really like this gift that Grandpa gave you for the holiday. Grandpa would like to read a ‘Thank you’ card from you.”
Karen Kabaki-Sisto, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Applied Behavior Analysis instructor. For over 20 years, Karen has been helping people with autism improve their communication abilities. In 2015, she invented and launched “I Can Have Conversations With You!™,” a life-changing social language therapy system for the iPad to help people with autism make sense of words, gestures, and feelings to have confident conversations while building stronger social relationships. Learn more at: www.iCanForAutism.com.
This article was featured in Issue 40 – Conquering Stress