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6 ways to improve communication during daily routines

One of the earliest skills we learn in life is to communicate with those around us. When we are born, we communicate our basic wants and needs by crying. For many of us, crying quickly evolves into eye contact, reaching, gesture, making sounds and before you know it you have a little chatterbox on your hands! However, often for children with autism and/or language delays they need some extra support to develop their communication skills.

Human language and interaction are complex and can be broken down into so many skills and rules, far beyond just learning vocabulary. Learning how to communicate and interact with others is essential for children to be able to have their wants and needs met, communicate and understand thoughts and feelings, learn more about the world around them, and build meaningful relationships with others. Daily routines and activities can be a
simple and easy way for parents and carers of children with ASD and/or learning challenges to encourage language and communication with children. Routines are part of everyday life and therefore allow for frequent and repetitive opportunities for learning.

Language is complex, but with a little bit of practice during daily routines and activities, you can have a huge impact on your child’s language development.


Types of communication

Communication can take many forms, such as eye contact, gesture, sign language, picture communication and vocal speech. When encouraging language and communication with children, it is important to start at their level and focus on communication that is functional. Choosing where to start will depend on your child, however often you will need to start with non-vocal communication.

Here are some daily routines or activities that provide excellent opportunities to imbed language and increase communication in children with autism:

  • Mealtimes
  • Dressing
  • Bathing
  • Brushing teeth
  • Bedtime
  • Nappy changes or toileting
  • Driving in the car

6 Easy Ways to Embed Language in Your Daily Routine:

Narrate Your Day
When completing any of the different activities or routines above, try narrating what you are doing, even if your child doesn’t say anything back. Talk about what you are doing, hearing, seeing, smelling or tasting. For example, during cooking you could say things such as “we are chopping the carrots and broccoli” or “the pasta goes into the big pot of water to cook”. If getting dressed you could say “you are wearing a red t-shirt today, in goes one arm, then the next…”.

Expand and Extend Their Words
If your child attempts to communicate with you during an activity, take the opportunity to expand or extend on what they’ve said. For example, if your child says “carrot” or “ca…” you could say “That’s right, we are chopping carrots. Carrots are orange!” If your child reaches for or points at the broccoli you could say “That’s broccoli, it’s green and it’s a vegetable.” Try to use descriptive words such as adjectives and adverbs such as colour, size, speech or function.

Provide Instructions
During activities, present short and simple instructions that you can help your child to follow. For example, when brushing your child’s teeth, you could say “get your toothbrush”and then help them to reach their toothbrush. If getting undressed to have a bath you could say “take off your t-shirt” and then help your child to take off their t-shirt. These instructions may not have any meaning to your child initially, but by being repeatedly associated with the same outcome, your child will slowly learn the meaning behind what you are saying.

Fill in the Blanks
During an activity, use fill-in-the-blank statements to encourage more language. For example, when setting the table, you could say “the forks go on the _____.” During bath time you could say “the bath is full of ______.” At bedtime you could sing or read a nursery rhyme and pause for your child to fill in the missing word(s), for example, “twinkle, twinkle little _______.” Make sure you have your child’s attention before starting and accept close approximations your child makes, such as “st” for “star”.

Incorporate a Missing or Wrong Item
During an activity, try hiding a necessary item or giving your child the wrong item. For example, when your child is brushing their teeth, try hiding their toothbrush or toothpaste. During a meal you could “forget” to give your child cutlery. Once your child has noticed the item is missing, see if they attempt to communicate with you. If not, you can then help your child to request the missing item using whichever type of communication is appropriate for them. If your child uses non-vocal communication to request, make sure you model a vocal response at the same time. For example, if you child points to the empty glass where the toothbrush would be or says “too…” model the word “toothbrush” and provide them with the toothbrush.

Out of Reach
Another way to encourage communication is to place desired items out of reach of your child so that they need to ask you for help in order to be able to get the item. For example, at bedtime, you could place their favourite bedtime story on top of the bookshelf or after a bath you could place your child’s towel on a shelf that is too high for them to reach on their own. As with the previous tip, wait and see if your child indicates to you that they want the item and help them to request if needed, making sure to model a vocal response too.

When it comes to improving communication in children with autism and/or different communication or behavior challenges, the key to success is consistency and repetition. It can be disheartening to try new techniques and not see results right away. It is important to celebrate the small wins!

Language is complex, but with a little bit of practice during daily routines and activities, you can have a huge impact on your child’s language development.