Communication for Autism (ASD)
How do I teach my child with autism to ask questions?
Most children with autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) need a certain degree of support with their language understanding. When children with autism interact with people during class and other social situations, there will be times when the language being used is beyond their understanding and therefore do not know how to respond. These children may appear to be confused when others are talking because they do not understand what is being said. One way for them to better understand the situation around them is by teaching children with autism to ask questions.
“What is this?” “Where is the object/person?”, “Which one?” are basic and common questions that our children can use in order to understand situations better. This language skill allows them to communicate when they are unclear and do not know what to do. First of all, your child has to be motivated to be involved in the activity/setup in order for him or her to have the intent and desire to ask questions. Learn how to set up for your child to communicate in this article:
Steps on how to teach your child with autism to ask questions:
1. "What is this?"
First, create a structured situation for your child to have the desire or the intent to ask the question – arrange some picture cards on the table, with those that your child already knows and the unfamiliar ones at the back.
Ask your child to label each card. When your child labels it correctly, remove the card from the pile. At this junction, we are creating a pattern for your child to think that he or she knows all the labels that are being presented. And here is when we disrupt the pattern to create the desire to ask the question – flip over the picture card that your child does not recognize. When your child appears to be confused, that is when you can provide your child with the language to ask the question “What is this?” and have your child rearticulate after you.
When your child copies and asks “What is this?”, you will have to re-articulate, followed by a short praise (for example “Good asking!”) then immediately provide the answer – which is the name of the picture card. Once your child receives the answer from you, he/she will be able to have the card removed from the pile.
This is to teach your child that when he or she doesn’t recognize something, he/she can ask “What is this?’, following which, the answer will be revealed and he/she can move on quicker to complete the task!
Following the previous setup, you can also place some objects that your child knows and does not know around the room. Ask your child to tell you what he sees so as to establish the opportunity for him to ask questions when he sees something that he doesn’t know.
This setup is less structured and slightly closer to a more natural environment where a child sees something that fascinates him/her and then asks the question in order to learn more about it!
2. “Where is the (Object /Person)?”
To create the desire to ask a “where” question, your child has to have the intent to want the item before he/she can have the motivation to ask “where” to get it. The item that your child wants has to be placed somewhere out of sight and ensure your child will not be able to find it on his/her own.
Once you are certain that your child wants the item, hide it and place it somewhere that your child least expected it to be. This is to make sure that if your child goes and searches for it, he/she will not be able to find it and will have to ask “Where is (object/person)”.
For example, if the iPad is always at the charging dock, your child may then go to the charging dock to search for it. So, we should then hide the iPad in the kitchen cabinet for example as your child may not expect it to be there and therefore will not be able to find it on his/her own!
Now, you can announce it is play time/let’s play on the iPad! Allow your child to go get the item and when you notice that your child is looking around but unable to find it, give your child the language to ask “Where is (object)?”
When your child copies and asks “Where is (object)?”, you will have to re-articulate, followed by a short praise (for example “Good asking!”) then immediately provide him/her with the location of the object that he/she is looking for. The most natural reward for asking a question is to provide your child with the answer.
Eventually, we want our children to understand that asking “Where is (object)?” will lead them to locate the item that they want. This will motivate them to ask “Where is (object)?” more, as it is motivating and rewarding! However, remember to actively set up such situations, in order for your child to build this understanding!
Here are some other examples which may lead to your child asking “Where is (object/person)?”:
- Ask your child to give something to a person and that person is hiding
- Give your child an instruction that includes an object that he/she cannot find and will have to ask “where” in order to get it and complete the task
- Hide a part of a toy somewhere else so that as your child has the desire to play with the item but cannot find the other pieces, he/she has to ask you to help look for it
3. “Which One?”
We ask “Which one?” when we have many similar options and we do not know which is the exact item someone is looking for. Similarly, for our children, in order to create this desire to ask, “Which one?” we need to place multiple similar items in the environment and be vague about what we want them to get.
Once you have similar-looking items, for example, markers of various sizes and colors placed on the table, tell your child to get “a marker” for you. When asking your child to give you an item, the label that you say should be as generic as possible so that your child does not know which item exactly you are asking for. For example, you can ask for “a marker” instead of “green marker.”
As your child reaches out to one of the markers and attempts to give it to you, you can tell your child, “that’s not the one” and your child might then go for the next marker and so forth. When you notice that your child is hesitant to decide on the marker to give, you can then provide him/her with the language to ask, “Which one?”.
When your child copies and asks “Which one?”, you should re-articulate, followed by a short praise (for example “Love you asking!”) then immediately show him/her which item he/she is looking for!
What we want our children to understand is that, whenever they are not sure which item to get, they can ask “Which one?” to get more information and therefore pick and make the right choice!
You can also place several identical or similar containers in the environment and ask your child to keep an item for you. When asking your child to keep the item, the location that you indicate should be as generic as possible so that your child does not know which container exactly you are referring to.