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Why do Autistic Children Struggle with Language and How Can We Help Them?

With consistent practice, children with autism can be much better in their language.

Children usually start developing their language by interacting with people like parents, teachers and caregivers or through play with other children, but it doesn’t work the same for a child with autism as they may be less interested in other people during their first year of life. They may be more preoccupied with what is going on around them and they may not require or desire to communicate with others as much as neurotypically developing children. As such, they do not have as many opportunities to develop their language skills (Language Development in Autistic Children, 2020).

Listed below are 7 ways we can help children with autism and their language (Teaching Nonverbal Autistic Children to Talk, n.d.).

  • Encourage play and social interaction

  • Eg, singing and reciting nursery rhymes.

  • Imitate your child

  • Imitate positive actions that your child does. Eg, if he/she pushes a car, imitate by doing the same.

  • Focus on nonverbal communication

  • Eg, clapping. Also, respond to your child’s gestures. If they point to a toy, you play with it or pass it to them. If they point to a book, then you read it to them and also do the same by pointing to something and picking it up.

  • Leave “space” for your child to talk

  • If your child does not respond, just pause for a few seconds to hear a sound if not you should prompt them.

  • Simplify your language

  • Use a word extra than your child is using. Eg, you start off by saying ball and your child says the same after a while then you could say ‘roll ball’, ’kick ball’ etc.

  • Follow your child’s interest

  • Narrate what your child is doing. Eg, if he's using a shape sorter, you might say "in" when he places a shape in its slot.

  • Consider assistive devices and visual supports

  • Use pictures that your child is able to request or indicate their thoughts.

Work with your child’s therapist and let them know your struggles and successes with your child and this could better help in their progress.

Written by Jasvinder Kaur.


Language development in autistic children. (2020, December 7). Raising Children Network.

Teaching nonverbal autistic children to talk. (n.d.). Autism Speaks.

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