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These tips have been contributed by other parents, carers and professionals. We hope they will give you some ideas to try, but if you need further help why not post a question on our forums or talk to our resident Speech & Language Therapist.
Eye contactI put stickers on my forehead as a target for my son to look at. This helped him to look at people's faces and people feel more like he is engaging with them, despite him still struggling with eye contact
Create social stories
I have been creating my own social stories using pictures of my son and clip art pictures. You can find images of most things through Microsoft Office and easily type up your own personalised stories. Don't know why I did not think of this before!
NAS Social stories guide
NAS have produced a useful guide to writing social stories, with lots of links to other resources and references.
Show and Go books
Show and Go are personalised books which are created online by parents and carers of people with autism spectrum disorders and related communication problems. They're not social stories, although you can use them to create social stories. Seem like a really good idea to me.
MakatonI really recommend Makaton for people who are non-verbal, but can say some words. It's like sign language. Ask at your nursery or school, or Sure Start or even your health visitor about it.
Make 'flash cards'
Take photos of a non verbal person's favourite toys, family members, objects eg cup, biscuit etc. Choose the most motivating items to begin with. Print and laminate them postcard size. Giving a choice of no more than three cards at a time, encourage them to choose by pointing or touching. May also be helpful to put the relevant sign on the back of photo as a reference for others
Carry a surprise card
If you have a child with Autism or Asperger's, it's worth carrying a 'surprise' card with you for unplanned situations (like unannounced fire drills). On the card, have a surprise symbol (an exclamation mark) & 'SURPRISE! we are going to x, y, z' (your child's favourite place).
Puppets and singing
Often children on the autistic spectrum do not communicate with other people or make eye contact. Often children can, and do, communicate and often verbally with a puppet or even their pets. Some children find singing a delight and can sing wonderfully even though they use very little verbal communication. Use these strengths as an aid to interaction with your child.
Picture card communication
I create personalised visual resources & educational materials for people with autism & other disabilities, where communication is affected. My son is 27 and has autism & has always been a visual learner. I can email you free templates if you want to do your own printing & laminating, or I can ship them to you made up for a small charge. www.picturecardcommunication.com
Learn other ways to communicate
I think it is very important to teach people signing or Makaton when they are young, even if they do have speech, because it can deteriorate through age or illness. It is really frustrating for people who were once able to communicate, not to be able to do so.
Cerebra provides a free service to help parents create a personal portfolio for their child aged 16 and under. A personal portfolio is a user-friendly booklet about your child to introduce them to others. It is especially helpful when your child has communication difficulties. Very useful for teachers & professionals. www.cerebra.org.uk
I have two children on the spectrum, aged 7 & 5. My youngest was the most obvious from the start, and Intensive Interaction helped me stay sane and unlocked the barriers so I could communicate with him. We have made such progress he is now functioning in main stream school. www.intensiveinteraction.co.uk
Tapping for life
I recently read a book by Janet Thompson called 'Tapping for life'. It is about eliminating negative thoughts and emotions by tapping on different parts of the body. Our son can be very anxious in certain situations, eg being shaved. We did the sequence of tapping on him for anxiety before shaving him and it worked. Our daughter cannot tolerate people talking around her and will scream if you talk. We did the sequence of tapping on her and she let us talk. We have used this therapy on ourselves for anxiety and sleeping problems and found it helpful.
My son has a diagnosis of severe atheoid quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is non-verbal. We established his yes/no response by using Communi-bands - tap/wave/lift/move arm with green "yes" wristband or arm with red "no" wristband. This makes it clear for everyone to understand. Communi-bands are available from www.thegreencrab.com
screenr.comwww.screenr.com is a really useful free tool for people who struggle to remember solutions to everyday problems. You can use it to record visual solutions on a computer, which can be replayed.
Instant mobile photo's
Don't forget to make best use of your telephone (if it has a picture taking facility) - your mobile telephone is always with you and a fabulous instant device to use as a photo communication tool.
Use mirrorsIf looking directly into your eyes is too invasive for the person you're supporting, try using mirrors to see if they can look at you that way.
Do you want X or Y?When I am out and about with my non-verbal son, I say 'do you want X' (tapping my hand in one spot) 'or Y' (tapping my hand in another). He then selects a spot. We use it for all sorts of communication now - not just choices.
Find other means of expressionJust because a person can not speak does not mean they have nothing to say! Give them an opportunity to express themselves. Dance, music, drawing, painting, messing with textures, running on Hampstead Heath, banging drums, shaking maracas - and ‘join in’ too. Don’t be afraid to lay down with them on the carpet and see the world from their point of view.
Complex needs guide
MakatonMy top tip is Makaton sign language! We are so glad we taught Zoe to use Makaton. Although she can't yet say any words, signing relieves any frustration no end - she can tell us what she wants, and the signs we use help her understand what we say. It takes a while but it's really worth sticking with.
Objects of reference
Objects of reference are a great way of helping people with profound learning disabilities and/or other sensory impairments to understand the world around them. Use an object to symbolise the activity they are about to particpate in, eg a fork for dinner, towel for bath. More info
If you need a communication aid and you're having problems finding something that your son or daughter finds socially acceptable, try an iTouch with Proloquo2Go http://www.proloquo2go.com
Symbols and pictures for charts
We really like www.do2learn.com/ they provide print off series for lots of different activities which you can use around the house. Eg washing hands, using the toilet …
It's not obvious
Therapist often ask you to keep eye contact with them. We (Aspies – people with Aspergers syndrome) often avoid eye contact because it helps us to focus on what someone is saying. I find it hard to process verbal information and think about signals from someone's face at the same time.
If you are running a home based ABA programme or using symbols/photo cards, get a laminator – they come in small sizes and are brilliant for making your own sets of letters, picturces, pecs etc.
Likes and don't likes
We think it is important to give Ashley the opportunity to say what she likes/doesn’t like. There is no right or wrong answer which makes it a fun activity. You can use smiley/sad faces as symbols for like and don't like and use them in 'real life' situations as well as when looking at books etc.
It has meaning - it's just not obvious
We treat every non verbal indication as a communication and try to work out what Gaby is trying to say to us.
Make it mean something
Katie can clap her hands so we have taught her to clap when she wants to say yes
Level it up
Playing and talking are easier if you can see each other. Sit so you are at the same level.
What isn’t distracting for us can be a problem for Toby who finds it hard to focus. We don’t just turn down the T.V, we turn it off. Also we only have out one or two activities at a time.
Talk about it
Eddy can’t speak and also has limited understanding but it is important to keep talking to him about what’s going on.
You can download an app called 'Touch to talk', which effectively turns your ipod into a communication device; great for those with no or limited speech. It is an American voice and not a great one, but still a useful app and you can download it for free.
Keep it simple under stress
When upset we can all get confused by language so obviously each person will have different needs. Make some 'key word' cards as visual supports e.g. home/ school/ park/ car/ etc. or whatever is important and carry them with you as re-inforcers. I do them on the computer and laminate them and put in small book or key fob but it could be hand drawn and very simple.
Carrie likes cartoons. We accidentally cottoned on to the idea that we could use them. We use cartoons with speech bubbles to make information more accessible for her.
A communication passport is a one page document that the child has with him or her all of the time. It gives the people they meet basic information about how they communicate and what support they need. You can find out more about communication passports at www.communicationpassports.org.uk
Communication books & charts
Some children can learn to make choices by pointing to a symbol and or word in a communication book or on a communication chart. They might be able to point with a fist or a finger or they might be able to point with their eyes or with a head pointer. There are tips on making communication books and boards and a sample eye pointing board that you can print out at: contactcandle.co.uk
What is he trying to say ?
A communication chart can help to identify the communicative meaning of behaviours. You can make a table to fill out as follows -
What is happening ? This is where you record the circumstances where communicative behaviour occurs
What the person does - here you describe the communicative behaviour
We think it means - this is best guess by those who know their person well as to the meaning of the behaviour
We should - this describes how others should respond to the behaviour.
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