How Caregivers can help their autistic child with communication development, play and behaviour


Tips for talking to your child during play:

  • Talk to your child at the level that they can talk – if your child can only say one word at a time, do not talk too much – use one or two words to talk back.
  • Be excited and fun when you talk to them during playtime – they will look at you more, they will concentrate better and learn more.
  • Always label things and talk about what you are doing. For example, if you are building a tower, say something like “build tower”, “blocks” or “build with blocks” to your child as you are doing it (bearing in mind the above point about their level of communication). This will improve their understanding of new words. Once you have done this a few times, wait before putting the block on to see if your child will use the words by him- or herself.
  • Give lots of praise if your child uses language in the correct way.

Tips for improving behaviour
If your child is grabbing things:

  • Stop them, take their hand, turn it and open it. Hold it open and place the thing they wanted in it while saying what it is. This teaches them how to ask for something by using their hands, if they cannot use words. It will also teach them the names of things so that if they do start using words they will know what it is called.

If your child is throwing a tantrum because they didn’t get something or don’t want to do something:

  • Ignore the behaviour – do not look at them, do not give them the thing they want, and wait. They will soon understand that throwing a tantrum is not going to get them what they want. Once they stop the behaviour, look at them and praise them for being quiet/calm.

If you child is throwing a tantrum because they are in a new place or are with a lot of people or there is a lot of light and noise:

They may not be used to this new place or there is too much going on around them (e.g. lights, noise, and people).

  • Take them out of the space (e.g. if it is a shop)
  • Calm them by giving squeezes to arms and legs, stroking and hugs (whatever they find soothing and calming).
  • Take them somewhere dark and quiet
  • And then give them time to calm down
  • Try telling your child a few days before, that you are going to be going somewhere new or seeing someone new – this will give them time to understand what is going to change in their routine.

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Things to do at home to teach language concepts

You don’t need to buy expensive toys in order to play with your child. Here are some toy ideas that you can make for your child, as well as how to use them to improve your child’s language:

  1. Collect small stones or sticks and paint them different colours.
    • Use these stones to teach the names of colours – get your child to sort the stones into groups of colours (e.g. put all the blue ones together). You can also ask your child to name the colours for you.
  1. Cut a hole in the top of a box. Use old plastic bottle caps and get your child to push them through the whole.
    • You can get your child to count as they push them through.
    • You can take turns putting a cap in the box so that your child learns how to take turns with another person.
    • You can also put a small hole in the bottle cap and use them to thread onto string.
  1. Use old off-cuts of wood and make blocks.
    • You can paint them and use them to teach colours (as discussed above).
    • Help your child stack the blocks (taking turns) and then push the stack over.
  1. Teach language at bath time and dressing time.
    • Label things for them. Name body parts while washing them for example, “wash your hands, wipe your face”; point to a body part and ask them what it is.
    • Label clothes for them – show them the things that they are wearing and name them. Then point to something they are wearing and ask them what it is.
  1. Cut out pictures from magazines and newspapers and stick these onto paper (make your own book). Look at these pictures with your child, telling them what you see, labelling items and asking your child questions about things in the pictures. This will help your child to understand pictures and learn new words.
  1. Fill old plastic bottles with things like small stones and sand to make a shaker musical instrument. Use this to make “music” with your child and get them to copy you – you should say something like, “Do this”, then make a sound (e.g. bang the shaker twice) and then wait to see if your child will copy you. If they do not, take their hands and help them make the same sound.
  2.  Use old tin cans to make “telephones” by stringing them together. Talk to your child – this may make talking exciting for them.
  3. Use old plastic bottles, fill them with sand – use them as bowling pins. Line them up and get your child to roll a ball and knock them down. Talk about what you/they are doing as discussed earlier, for example, “roll ball”, “knock down”.

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