Autism: Dealing with Social Communication Challenges
31 min · Special Needs
July 21, 2023

Autism: Dealing with Social Communication Challenges

Comprehensive Guide to Social Communication with Autism

Social Communication in Autism

What is social communication?

Social communication, also called pragmatics, means the way children use language within social situations.

There are three major skills involved in social communication:

  • Using language for different reasons like greeting or informing
  • Adapting the language depending on the context and listener
  • Following conventions and rules of that specific language.

Since communication is inherently social, you may find the term redundant.

However, neurotypical people may have problems with language but not with social interaction in terms of communication disorders.

But children with autism, for instance, particularly have difficulty in communicating within social context .

That is why this term is used. Social challenges and communication problems are core symptoms of autism.

Social Communication in Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction, along with restricted and repetitive behaviors.

Social communication deficits may be seen in various ways. This may include difficulties in social reciprocity in addition to challenges faced when using verbal and nonverbal communication in social situations.

Since social communication problems are a defining characteristic of ASD, social communication disorder cannot be diagnosed in conjunction with ASD.

Read: Autism Spectrum Disorder - The Definitive Guide

How Does Autism Spectrum Disorder Affect Social Communication?

Autistic children have difficulty developing language skills. They also find it challenging to understand what others say. Nonverbal communication through hand gestures, eye contact as well as facial expressions is also difficult.

Communication and language use of children with ASD depends on their intellectual and social development.

Some may have very limited speaking skills, while others are not able to communicate using speech or language at all. Autistic children may also have rich vocabularies and speak about topics of interest in great detail.

They may not understand body language, or different tones in language. All of these affect the ability of the autistic child to interact with others.

There are certain patterns of language use and behaviors seen in children with ASD:

Restricted/repetitive language Children who speak may say things that don’t have any meaning or are not related to the context. They may be inclined to continuously repeat words. This is called Echolalia.

Read: How to Treat Echolalia in a Child with Autism

Narrow interests and exceptional abilities Autistic children may really go into certain topics of interest. They may deliver a long, in-depth monologue about a topic even though they may not be able to maintain a two-way conversation about the same topic. Some children with ASD may be really talented and good at certain topics like math calculations. Around 10% of children with ASD have extremely high abilities in memorization, calculation, music, math or other specific areas.

Uneven language development Many children with ASD have an extensive vocabulary, good memory for information they just heard or seen. Some may be able to read words before the age of five. But they may not comprehend what they have read. Their speech and language skills develop unevenly.

Poor nonverbal conversation skills Autistic children do not use gestures in social situations. Avoiding eye contact also makes it difficult for them to maintain conversation. They may seem inattentive and rude.

When Do Social Communication Symptoms Become First Recognizable in Autism?

Babies show social communication indications right after they are born. They coo when their parents look at their faces.

There are certain milestones babies hit while they are growing up, like making eye contact or recognizing faces. Children with autism struggle with such social communication cues.

Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can be recognized as early as when the child turns 2.

What Are the Initial Social Communication Symptoms, Difficulties or Problems in Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autistic children have difficulty and deficits in their speech and communication.

There are three specific deficit areas in terms of social communication where symptoms are seen: joint attention, social reciprocity and social cognition.

The initial social communication symptoms are related to these areas.

- Joint attention - The shared focus of two or more individuals on the same object. Deficits in joint attention include the following:

  • Limited recognition and description of another’s emotions, ideas, intentions
  • Restricted range of communicative functions
  • Lack of desire to seek engagement with others

- Social reciprocity - The back-and-forth interaction between individuals where each person’s behavior impacts others. Deficits in social reciprocity include the following:

  • Difficulty in initiating interactions
  • Issues in responding to interaction attempts by others
  • Difficulty in recognizing the breakdowns in communication
  • Lack of ability to initiate and maintain conversations

- Social cognition - The mental processes involved in perceiving, attending to, remembering, thinking about, and making sense of the people in our social world (Moskowitz, 2005). Deficits in social cognition include the following:

  • Difficulty in social and emotional learning
  • Difficulty in understanding and regulating emotions
  • Challenges with recognizing other people’s ideas and emotions
  • Difficulty in using interpersonal skills to handle developmentally appropriate tasks (Payton et al., 2000).

- Theory of mind - Difficulty in differentiating their own feelings from other people’s feelings, taking the perspective of others and adjusting the language based thereon

- Central coherence (Frith & Happé, 1994) - Difficulty in integrating diverse information in order to construct meaning within the context

Echolalia (Repeating Words)

A unique form of verbal imitation, Echolalia is the repetition of phrases and words that are heard. Toddlers learn to speak by imitating the sounds they hear.

After a while, typically developing children will start to use language to communicate. When they are 3, most children communicate with others by selecting and crafting phrases.

They use language in their own way to communicate in novel ways.

Echolalia is one of the most common characteristics of speech and communication in autistic people.

While it is a natural process of language acquisition, it becomes a sign of ASD when repetition continues after toddler years.

An echolalia example may be the following:

When you ask your daughter “Do you want some water?” and she answers “Water.” instead of yes, repeating the last word.

The reasons for echolalia in autism may differ. It may be a way of an attempt to maintain a conversation, attract attention, interact with people, and ask for things.

Toddlers between the ages of 1-2 should imitate those around them to learn. However, by age two, they should be using their own utterances as well.

By age of 3, echolalia should be minimal. Children should be creating their own simple sentences.

This might not be the case for children with autism. They may experience echolalia into their adulthood. Some high functioning autistic adults continue to have echolalia in their speech.

There may be several purposes for echolalia, which may change over time. Also, there may be a couple of purposes for a person at the same time.

  • As a sensory outlet
  • To communicate ideas
  • To self-aid
  • For building relationships
  • To communicate wants
  • Self-stimulation
  • To communicate mood

Echolalia can be a hindrance in daily life. However, eliminating it completely would be a bad idea. Echolalia can serve a valuable function in the lives of children with autism.

Functional echolalia could be really helpful. This means that your child has developed a way to communicate their wants and needs.

With the help of a speech therapist, this way of communication can be expanded.

In the case of non-functional echolalia, it may be a great point to start for speech and play therapy. The child may repeat phrases they memorized over and over.

This may be a way to calm their anxiety. Also, this behavior could indicate the child’s interest in whatever that they are repeating.

Can Social Communication Difficulties in Autism Be Treated?

If you feel like the symptoms fit, you may be wondering “How can I help my autistic child communicate?”.

The intervention should be designed within the WHO framework in order to:

  • Use strengths and address weaknesses related to functions impacting social communication,
  • Help the individual acquire new skills and strategies to enable them participate social interactions,
  • Modify the contextual factors that hinder the individual and enable factors that facilitate successful communication and participation.

In line with these, a treatment can be planned. This treatment will typically involve collaboration with professionals and parents and caregivers.

Behavioral intervention techniques can be used to modify existing behaviors and teach new ones.

In addition, treatment techniques like Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), Computer-Based Instruction, and Video-Based Instruction can also be used.

There are also many activities you can try at home to encourage social communication skills.

In line with the goals you develop for the child (along with the help of a professional like your child’s therapist), you may do the following:

- Turn-taking - Simple turn-taking activities imitating the flow of social interaction would be really beneficial in terms of teaching the skill. Rolling the ball back-and-forth, for instance.

- Reading and discussing - You can read a book with your child and ask them questions to encourage open-ended questions.

- Talking about feelings - Utilize books and stories to discuss feelings. You can ask your questions about a character in a story. Discuss their behaviors. Referring to real-life situations may also be helpful.

- Planning structural play dates - Starting with one friend, plan a playdate with a time limit.

- Use visual aids - Some children with ASD better process information visually. This can help them understand what is expected of them.

What is Social Communication Disorder?

Social communication disorder is characterized by the difficulties encountered with the use of verbal and nonverbal language for social purposes.

The main challenges are seen in social interaction, social cognition and pragmatics.

The disorder impacts the individual’s following abilities:

  • Communication for social purposes in an appropriate manner
  • Adjusting the communication based on the context
  • Following traditional conversation rules
  • Understanding gestures and non-verbal language
  • Understanding what is implied and not explicitly said

Social communication disorder can be a stand-alone diagnosis. It can also occur with other conditions like aphasia or learning disabilities.

Social communication problems are core characteristics of autism spectrum disorder along with restricted and repetitive behavior. That is why social communication disorder cannot be diagnosed in conjunction with ASD.

Symptoms of social communication disorder depend on the individual’s age and development level.

They include deficits in social interaction, social cognition, and pragmatics. Some of the symptoms are the following:

  • Not using appropriate greetings,
  • Not being able to adjust the language and style based on the social context,
  • Challenges in interpreting verbal and non-verbal signs by others
  • Difficulty in understanding gestures,
  • Difficulty in making friends,
  • Not being able to tell and understand stories,
  • Struggling to engage in or initiate conversation
  • Challenges in maintaining back-and-forth conversation
  • Difficulty in rephrasing when misunderstood; mending the communicating breakdowns
  • Difficulty in using appropriate verbal and nonverbal signals so as to direct the interaction

As a new diagnosis in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) , Social Communication Disorder is a relatively new condition.

There is no specific treatment for this disorder. However, speech and language therapy can help with the symptoms.

The social communication disorder (SCD) treatment should be specific to the individual. The focus should be on functional improvements in the communication skills.

Through treatment, the weaknesses related to social communication can be addressed. In addition, in natural communication environments, individuals can achieve independence.

Treatment of social communication disorder includes parents and caregivers to help with the process.

In addition, your child’s therapist may also reach out to the teachers of your child to ensure consistency in practice at school, as well as to receive feedback.

In the treatment, the following tools can be used:

  • Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to realign the existing behaviors and teach new ones
  • Video and computer-based instruction to teach vocabulary, social skills, social understanding etc. and to provide model for target behavior
  • Peer-practice to incorporate instruction, role playing and feedback
  • Comic book conversation styles
  • Scripted responses developed by the therapist to help the child initiate conversation

Social communication disorder in adults causes difficulty with pragmatics. This is the linguistics area that dictates the social use of language and communication. The following are some of the symptoms in autistic adults as well as adults with social communication disorder:

  • Lack of interest in social interactions
  • Not being able to adjust the language according to the social situation
  • Not being able to understand proper greeting
  • Tendency to go into monologues
  • Difficulty in understanding gestures and facial expressions

Social communication disorder vs. autism spectrum disorder

Social communication issues are core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. However, social communication disorder can occur without the presence of ASD.

People with both autism spectrum disorder and social communication disorders have difficulty in social communications.

But ASD also includes other symptoms, such as restricted and repetitive behaviors. SCD can be a standalone diagnosis.

What is the Difference Between Social Communication Disorder (SCD) and Autism?

As mentioned before, social communication issues are core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

One of the main differences between ASD and SCD is that children with autism exhibit restrictive and repetitive behaviors while also having difficulties with social communication.

Restricted and repetitive behaviors include the following:

  • Repeated movements like rocking or flapping hands
  • Intense and obsessive interest in specific objects or subjects
  • Sensitivity to certain stimuli like sounds or tastes
  • Fixation on routines and rituals
  • Aggression when routines are disrupted

If the child is not showing the above symptoms but still has difficulties with social communication, their diagnosis may be social communication disorder.

Since it is considered a core part of an ASD diagnosis, SCD cannot be diagnosed with ASD. It is important to rule out ASD before diagnosing SCD.

Autism and Social Communication

Autistic individuals face challenges with a variety of verbal and nonverbal skills. These include grammar, correct use of pronouns, responding, etc.

The characteristics of the disorder depends on the individual, but the majority of individuals with autism have difficulty in social communication.

An autistic person could show a variety of social communication differences. The following are some of the symptoms:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not responding to verbal communication
  • Not using nonverbal gestures to communicate
  • Inappropriate use of words in wrong contexts
  • Not being able to effectively communicate their ideas
  • Repeating the words and phrases they hear

Autism and Social Interaction

Children with autism may struggle in social situations. Although the characteristics of ASD vary from one person to another, the individual is assessed based on having persistent and significant difficulties with social interaction and social communication to make a diagnosis.

Children with autism may have the following social interaction difficulties :

  • seeming distant
  • seeming indifferent to other people
  • preferring being alone
  • preferring playing alone
  • not initiate contact

These social interaction deficits in autism may cause the child to have difficulties in social situations. Their peers may not understand them, causing the autistic child to be outcast.

How to Overcome Social Communication Difficulties in Autism Spectrum?

Overcoming Social Communication Difficulties in Children with Autism Spectrum

Social communication difficulties can cause social, emotional and learning difficulties. There are certain interventions that can help children overcome the symptoms and learn social skills.

Social skills interventions for autism are designed to address social skills deficits of autistic children. The type of intervention varies based on the age and developmental level of the child.

These interventions are administered by a therapist or teachers. Many of them include peers, parents and caregivers. Several types of social skills interventions are supported by studies .

Among them are peer mentoring, social skills group and video modelling. Other types such as social stories have been shown to be effective.

How to teach social communication to children with autism spectrum?

Some of the methods used are as follows:

Peer monitoring

In this type of social skills intervention, typically developing peers are trained to interact with autistic children. This is done to enhance positive development of social skills in regular social communication environments like classrooms.

Social skills group

In this type, around 4 or 5 students with autism take lessons about social skills topics. This can be done at school or clinic facilities. Within this group there may also be typical peers to be role models.

Video modelling

Through this practice, autistic children watch videos that show peers demonstrating certain social skills. Autistic children are then encouraged to practice the skills themselves.

Social stories

Social stories can help children with autism to learn appropriate social skills by reading short stories written in first person. You can create social stories together with your children. Also, mobile device applications provide social stories with visuals and social situations that can help your child. You can check out Otsimo Special Education app for fun, comprehensive, and effective social stories.

Picture books

Children with autism learn better and quicker with visuals. By looking at photographic sequences of social skills, they may learn how to perform a skill as well as the purpose of such.

Not being able to fit in socially can create a lot of social anxiety for children with autism. Through therapies, the child can be equipped with social skills and this anxiety can be alleviated.

Overcoming Social Communication Difficulties in Adults with Autism Spectrum

Adults with autism can also suffer from social communication difficulties. Social interaction can be a significant challenge for these individuals.

As they grow up, the demands of social life can make daily interactions overwhelming. Of course, there are activities and practices that can be tried.

The therapy methods used with children may not be applicable in some cases. However, there are certain practices that can be tried to overcome the difficulties.

How to teach social communication to adults with autism spectrum?

Game nights can be a great way to get together with people. Everyone can bring their favorite game and take turns to play different ones. To facilitate casual conversation during these activities, a group leader can be determined. Here the objective is to facilitate casual conversation.

Non-competitive sports can be another great activity to overcome social anxiety. It is a fun way to build relationships. Although it can be challenging for those who like structure, non-structured and non-competitive sports like swimming can really help individuals to share with others. Through these, the autistic adult can have many opportunities to practice conversation.

Taking classes with other people is another amazing activity to help facilitate social skills. Autistic adults can take classes that focus on their specific interest. If the individual is interested in the topic, it will be easier for them to interact with the group. If the autistic adult is non-verbal, someone could go along with them for support. In time, this support could be decreased as the adult will build skills and confidence along the way.

- Creative activity - Initiating a conversation can be challenging for many individuals with autism. However, this is an important social skill that can increase the quality of life. Through creative activity, adults with autism use a variety of art supplies to create an art piece representing something special to them. This may be about their topic of interest, or even their family. After that, participants pair off and talk about their work. There are various questions to get things going. There are also topics to avoid. This activity is suited for verbal adults.

Non-Verbal Communication in Autism

A lot of individuals with autism have some deficits in communication and speech. However, some of the autistic people do not speak at all.

Verbal autistic people may struggle to talk or carry on a conversation, while nonverbal don’t speak at all.

Here are some of the symptoms of nonverbal autism gathered under three main categories:

- Behavior - Obsessive about routines. Interruptions in their schedule can make them upset. Some develop obsessive interests. They spend hours fixated on a certain topic or object.

- Social - Individuals with autism have difficulty with social interaction. They may be withdrawn, avoid eye contact and not like physical contact. This may cause them to feel isolated. They, in turn, feel anxiety and depression.

- Development - Each individual with autism develops at different rates. While some children may develop at a typical pace for a couple of years, they may have delays around the age 2-3. Development for some may be delayed, start from an early age, and continue into adolescence. These may improve over time with age. Symptoms may become less severe.

Verbal Communication in Autism

You may follow the speech development of your child and wonder, “can a verbal child be autistic?”. The answer, in short, is yes.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder who are fluently verbal may have language and communication issues.

Verbal autistic individuals may:

  • Seem like they have a vast vocabulary
  • Appear to have a sophisticated command of the language system

However, in some cases, this sophisticated language may actually reflect repetition. The child may be repeating a sentence or even a monologue they heard from the television.

This echolalia does not mean that the child knows when and where to use certain phrases or sentences they learned.

Majority of children with autism do not comprehend the depth of meaning for specific words. It may seem like they have a vast vocabulary, but they may not understand the meaning of them.

Verbal individuals with autism may

  • Seem to have difficulty with figurative language; they may not understand metaphors
  • Not understand the context
  • Lack the understanding that certain words may have different meanings in different contexts
  • Respond in a very literal manner to information, suggestions, instructions
  • Not comprehend the main idea, and draw conclusions from the conversations or TV programs heard

Autism speech patterns are important diagnostic features. They vary from mild to severe.

Some children experience normal development, while others experience deficits and delays in their ability to communicate after a while.

Difficulty of Expressing Emotions in Autism Spectrum

Autistic individuals find it difficult to express their emotions. This definitely does not mean that they don’t have any emotions.

Children with autism spectrum disorder find it hard to recognize facial expressions. This leads them to not understand emotions behind them.

They usually copy or use the emotional expressions. They may not understand and interpret emotions, and seem like they lack empathy.

By school age, autistic children on the less severe side of the spectrum show their feelings in a similar way to typically developing children.

However, they may find describing their feelings very difficult. Children with more severe ASD seem like they have less emotional expression compared to typically developing children.

This may cause autistic children to look like they don’t respond emotionally. They may get very angry quickly.

Despite popular opinion, high functioning individuals with autism do have empathy.

Social neuroscience researcher Dr. Indrajeet Patil stated that in their study they found that autistic individuals did not differ from healthy controls in terms of moral decision. Autistic individuals feel deep empathy, may not be able to outwardly communicate this.

There are ways to manage and regulate emotions for autistic individuals. It is important to remember that behavior has a purpose.

Be patient - This is not a change that will happen overnight. Track behaviors. This will help notice small changes. Set achievable goals. Choose one or two behaviors to focus at a time.

Be consistent - Consistent approach to behavior will help you create strategies.

Take into account the sensory environment - Everyday information may be difficult to process. Certain tastes or textures can be difficult to manage. Sudden changes in the environment may cause the autistic children to be overwhelmed.

Effective communication - It may be difficult for autistic individuals to express themselves. This can cause frustration. When you are talking to your child, speak clearly and use short sentences. This will prevent them being overwhelmed with the information and help them process more easily. Since it is easier to process visual information for some autistic individuals, you may want to resort to visual tools.

Help to identify emotions - Abstract concepts like emotions are difficult for many autistic people. But these emotions can be turned into more concrete concepts. You can choose an object with numbers or colors to represent the level of feeling. For instance, a green traffic light can mean that the child is calm, while red light can mean that the child is angry. This could help them understand what calm or angry means. Social stories can also be helpful way of explaining how to manage a certain emotion.

Positive reinforcement and reward - The connection between their behavior and a punishment is a difficult concept to understand for autistic people. However, using rewards and positive reinforcement can encourage a particular behavior. This can help coming up with a new coping strategy. Giving praise and reward right after will enable the individual to feel positive about their behavior or coping strategy.

Difficulty of Conflict Resolution with Communication in Autism Spectrum

Conflict is difficult for everyone. It is difficult to say what we are feeling. Conflicts are especially difficult for people with autism at times as they are mostly not sure what is appropriate to say or feel.

It is important to learn conflict resolution considering that communication already comes difficult for autistic people.

Through communication strategies for autism, certain tactics can be learned for conflict resolution. It is important to remember that all feelings are alright to have.

Most autistic people wonder if their feelings are okay to have. They worry if getting angry over something bothers others.

The first thing to reaching a resolution is to know that all feelings are okay to have.

In times of conflict , the person should allow themselves to feel sad or angry about the situation. But then they can decide how they want to deal with it.

Things are not black and white. This makes it difficult to navigate around situations.

Many people with autism spectrum disorder may feel like if they make someone angry, they will no longer be loved.

That’s why they suppress their feelings rather than make others angry. Here, with support, the individual can try their hardest to view the situation from their perspective.

Conflict resolution involves working with the differences people have. Here are a few activities to be mindful of:

Be an active listener: Make sure you are paying attention to what the other person is saying rather than occupying yourself with what you want to say

Reflect: Think about what has been said and if you need clarification, ask for it

Question: If you feel like you are unsure about something that is being discussed, asking question is the way

Confidence: Use clear sentences and “I” statements and be confident As can be seen, communication is the key to conflict resolution. The more the person feels comfortable and confident, the better they will be able to advocate their sides.

Difficulty of Playing Games by Using Communication in Autism Spectrum

Communication problems can greatly affect play time for children with ASD. They enjoy playing games, but some types can be difficult for them.

They play with a few toys in a repetitive manner. They may line the cars up, or spin their wheels to watch them rotate.

Autism spectrum disorder affects development of certain skills, such as social and communication skills. During play, children gain a lot of abilities.

They explore the environment, share objects with others, try to empathize and wonder what other people are thinking, and take turns.

Parents and caregivers can help their children with ASD to learn and develop the skills needed for play.

Here are some of the games to play with children with autism:

Functional play helps learn how to play with and use in their designed manner. The following steps can help them engage in play. You can sit in front of your child where they can look at you and communicate with you. Offer a couple of toys they like. While giving them a choice, this will not make them overwhelm. Before guiding, join with you child. Start with what they do and then use the toy in its manner. Encourage and reward their positive behavior. If they get bored, stop and continue later.

Pretend play is when children with autism pretend and use their imaginations during play. You can use teddy bears to show how feeding works, or pretending to be driving a car. Pretend play usually happens around the age of two in typically developing children. It is very sophisticated and particularly important for developing the necessary skills required for social relationships, language, and communication. Although delayed in children with autism, they can ultimately develop pretend play. Use simple, everyday pretend actions for your child to learn to use in pretend play, such as riding a horse or driving a car. When your child can do some pretend actions, you can develop their imaginative and play skills. Make it fun. Use picture instructions to help your child with autism better understand what to do. Encourage them to engage in the activity. Use role-play. Take your child’s favorite story and act it out together. This way you will introduce new themes. Guide your child towards being independent.

Physical play is running around, rolling, and other physical activities that engage the entire body. This exercise can help your child develop their gross motor skills.

Communication at School: Autism Spectrum

Good communication between you and the school is really important. Building a positive relationship with your child’s school will help you advocate for your child more easily.

You know your child the best. You can help the school staff learn information about your child like how your child reacts to or how they cope with different situations.

In terms of children with autism at school, using visually aided communication could be a really helpful approach.

This will help developing appropriate communication skills, and social interaction skills. Also, positive behavior and participation of students with autism will also increase.

These are all the things that should be discussed beforehand with the school.

Communication at Home: Autism Spectrum

There are certain activities to try at home to encourage of building communication skills for children with autism.


Encourage and motivate your child to practice communication skills. For instance, showing them their favorite toy would encourage them to ask for the toy. They will then engage in communication activities based on their interests. After this, you can give positive reinforcement.


Role-modeling is a proven technique. Speak, use gestures and facial expressions. This will encourage your child to imitate. Sit in front of your child or near them for them to be able to see your actions. Praise after using the new skill.

If your child is nonverbal, you may want to use tools, like an AAC device. This would supplement their speech. Or you could exchange picture cards to communicate, or use apps on tablets.


Provide verbal, visual as well as physical guidance to prompt new communication skills. You can, for instance, hold up picture cards saying “No, thank you” or “Yes, please” while you are giving your child food. Based on the response, you can change the food with something they like.

Allow Independent Communication

In order to avoid the child becoming dependent on the prompts, slowly remove them from the communication attempts. Wait a few seconds before using a prompt and provide the child with the opportunity to communicate without depending on them.


After your child learns how to say “No, thank you,” you could add new words the child has learned to the phrase, like “No water, thank you.

This can be generalized to everyday activities like using the bathroom and brushing teeth. It should be used consistently in different settings over time to be effective.

Read: Best Communication Apps for Autism

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

What is AAC? - Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) includes a wide range of nonverbal communication methods from picture boards to (to high-end) device applications.

Communication systems, strategies and tools that support natural speech are known as AAC. It includes all methods that help a person with communication challenges.

There are two AAC techniques :

1. Unaided AAC - This type of AAC does not use any tool other than the body. No tech AAC. Here the person uses facial expressions, body language, sign language, and gestures.

2. Aided AAC - Here some sort of tools or devices are used. These are categorized into two subcategories: basic and high-tech. Picture board or a pen and a paper are basic aided AACs. This is where the child points to letters, words, or pictures on the board. In high-tech AACs, the child can touch the letters or pictures on a computer or a smart device screen. These devices then speak for the individual. These are called speech generating devices and can be found in many languages. Try Otsimo for a comprehensive AAC that will help your children in their communication challenges.

How AAC Can Help Social Communication Difficulties in Autism?

The purpose of AAC is to help individuals that have communication deficits and challenges communicate through certain tools and strategies.

Autism spectrum disorder causes mild to severe communication challenges for the individuals.

AAC can be a communication tool for individuals with autism. The child can use simple or high-tech AAC tools to tell how they are feeling or what they want, establishing social communication.

Some use it for everything, while others use AAC for complicated sentences or when they are in a new environment. It can be helpful in school, at work, and at home.

Read more: What are the Benefits of Using High-Tech AAC?

Other Useful Strategies for Parents to Encourage Social Communication in ASD

Social communication and interaction are important part in daily life. Students with autism generally want to interact with others but can’t due to not having the social communication skills to engage with them.

There are some strategies that can be used in teaching social skills to students with autism to increase peer interactions:

  • Reinforce positive behavior
  • Model social communication actions
  • Show both motor and verbal imitation
  • Teach context clues
  • Praise the strengths and use them in favor
  • Determine peers to model social skills
  • Focus on social learning
  • Teach reciprocity and empathy

Social scripts, also known as social stories, can also help in encouraging social communication.

They are one of the most effective ways to support children with autism. Social script is a short narrative. It is written in first person and describes one problem issue.

  • You can use photos, drawings, comic strips. You can also use video to support social scripts.
  • It would be really helpful to include the child into creation process of social scripts. They can select the photos, or illustrate.
  • Social stories should be positive.
  • Check to see if the child understands the script, and use it a couple of times to reinforce learning.

There are also certain strategies for developing social interaction skills. They can be learned like writing skills.

Some learn it through imitating others, others learning at a pace, one skill at a time, by practicing.

Common social interaction skills are the following:

  • Play skills
  • Conversation skills
  • Emotional skills
  • Problem-solving skills

The following are some of the practices and strategies that can be tried to develop such skills:

  • Play games with teddy bears and imitate everyday activities such as driving a car
  • Provide information to your child about the activities you are about to do so that they can know what to expect
  • Role-play or modelling could help your child see how to manage social situations in different ways
  • Visual supports can be used to help develop problem solving skills

Other Useful Strategies for Parents to Manage Communication in ASD

Children spend most of their time at home. They learn basic social skills when they are home. It is important for caregivers and parents to have the information necessary to manage communication with their children with autism.

At home, the child has the chance to practice social skills they learned at school. It would be beneficial to talk to their teachers and therapists to see where they are and what they need to improve.

You and your child can play games and use visual aids to help them learn social interactions. They can learn everyday practices such as communication, and understand social rules.

Reading books, playing turn-taking games, creating stories, and modelling appropriate behaviors help them acquire these vital skills.

Getting Professional Help for Social Communication Difficulties in Autism

Since it is a relatively new diagnosis, there are no specific treatments for social communication difficulties.

However, there are many ways that professionals can ASD children with social communication difficulties.

Speech therapy pathologists can work with your child. They show them and practice with them certain skills like turn-taking, and conversational skills.

Through games and visual aids, they teach children strategies to manage social situations and interactions. The therapists will also provide you with information showing how you can reinforce these skills at home.

In addition, at school, an Individualized Education Program will be developed with you and specialists. This way, your child will have the support they need in terms of in-class social skills.

There are also various applications developed by specialists and experts in the field that can provide professional help to develop social interaction skills for your child.

Last Updated: November, 2021


This article is examined by Clinical Child Psychologist and Ph. D. Researcher Kevser Çakmak, and produced by Otsimo Editorial Team.

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This post does not provide medical advice. See Additional Information.