Developing Expressive Communication Skills for Non-verbal Children With Autism

by Susan Stokes Autism Consultant

If you reprint or use this article, or parts of it, please include the following citation:"Written by Susan Stokes under a contract with CESA 7 and funded by a discretionary grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. "


What is Communication?

Communication is a range of purposeful behavior which is used with intent within the structure of social exchanges, to transmit information, observations, or internal states, or to bring about changes in the immediate environment. Verbal as well as nonverbal behaviors are included, as long as some intent, evidenced by anticipation of outcome can be inferred. Therefore not all vocalization, or even speech, can qualify as intentional communicative behavior (7). This definition emphasizes that communication takes place within a social context. Speech/verbalization becomes communication when there is a desire or intent, to convey a message to someone else. Because social relations are a primary area of difficulty for children with autism, it is not surprising that effective communication is significantly impaired for these children. These two areas, communication and social skills, are tightly interwoven and interdependent. Therefore the development of communication skills cannot be the sole responsibility of the speech/language pathologist. While she may provide the "guide posts" and strategies, communication must be addressed continually by everyone who comes in contact with the child.

The two-fold purpose of this article is to provide:

I Key questions to consider in order to determine the child's current communication abilities;
II Information regarding the development of a communication intervention program based on the child's communication needs.

  1. Key questions to consider in order to determine the child's current communication abilities.

In order to develop an appropriate communication intervention program for the non-verbal child with autism, it is essential to determine the child's current communication abilities. The following are important questions to consider in order to make this determination: