Communication: The Key to Decreasing Challenging Behaviors

Many children with an autism spectrum diagnosis have some difficulty with the development and understanding of communication. Often times even the nonverbal communication skills, such as facial expressions, eye contact, and hand gestures are difficult to interpret as well with children diagnosed with autism.

Communication can be improved and developed during everyday activities. Through watching and listening our children can learn from our actions and dialog and start to communicate more and more.

Speaking and gesturing through what you are doing and what your child is doing is a very simple way to work on communication skills. has also provided a list of 7 ways to work on developing communication in children with autism that you can use in your every day with your child.

  1. Encourage play and social interactions: Children learn through play. Make it fun, sing songs, or make up dialogue for imaginative play. Always be at eye level when playing so your child can hear and see you.
  2. Imitate your child: Imitating their sounds and play will encourage them to do more. It also shows them turn taking. Just remember you don’t want to imitate disruptive behaviors, like throwing an item
  3. Focus on nonverbal communication: Eye contact and gestures can create an avenue for your child to communicate. Exaggerate your gestures with your body and your voice to make more of an impact on learning.
  4. Leave “space” for your child to talk: Sometimes pauses in language can feel awkward but give your child some time to try and communicate back. Even if it isn’t vocalization, watch for body movements or gestures as a way for your child to respond.
  5. Simplify your language: Using simple language can help your child understand more of what you are saying and can make it easier for them to imitate your speech and actions.
  6. Follow your child’s interests: Talk through what they are playing with. They will learn by listening to you and will feel as though you are engaged with them as they play.
  7. Consider assistive devices and visual supports: Assistive devices and visual supports do not just take the place of verbal communication. Instead, they actually can promote language.

Communication can also be used to decrease challenging behaviors. You will see in this video created from Autism Speaks that the father notices when his daughter becomes tired, and she begins to appear frustrated or upset. He did this from watching her nonverbal cues. The father quickly jumps in and communicates that he sees she is tired and has his daughter finish the task. By talking to her and letting her know he knew she was tired, he was able to redirect the situation before a behavior could occur.

At the end of the video there are 3 major takeaways on how to use communication to prevent, manage, and understand challenging behaviors.

  1. Respond to appropriate behaviors with praise: Always let you child know when they are doing something correctly.
  2. Notice signals before challenging behaviors begin: Watch for the nonverbal cues your child is communicating.
  3. Give warnings before challenging activities: Let your child know ahead of time when a task may be hard. This will help prepare them before they become frustrated.

Keep playing and having fun with your child. They will continue to develop and learn just from watching what you do and by listening to what you say.