How to use everyday opportunities to help your child with autism learn language skills.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn best during everyday activities and interactions, such as riding in the car to school, eating a family meal or going to the grocery store.

During daily activities, parents can provide language-learning opportunities and promote social communication skills. In fact, research has shown that when parents learn specific strategies to promote their child’s communication skills, children with autism often have better language outcomes than those who just receive intervention from clinicians.

Take advantage of everyday learning opportunities

Incorporating language-building strategies into daily life can help children develop communication skills. Here are some tips to help parents become more effective communication partners:

Help your child understand language:

  • Get your child’s undivided attention. Try getting down on his level and communicating face-to-face.
  • Use simple, short sentences. If your child is nonverbal, using mostly single words can help with understanding. Use phrases and allow for processing time to help a child who’s using single words or short phrases to communicate.
  • Give your child time to respond to your language and offer support to help him follow through.
  • Adding visual support strategies, including gestures, actual objects and pictures can help your child better understand you.

Promote expressive language development:

  • Be aware of and responsive to your child’s nonverbal communication, including gestures, sounds, looking at things they are interested in or even using repetitive speech patterns. Nonverbal communication builds the foundation for language, so it’s important to be responsive to your child’s communication attempts.
  • Follow your child’s interests, and talk about what your child is doing and experiencing. Narrating playtime and activities helps socially connect your child and teaches new vocabulary. Adding new words to activities and building on your child’s interests keeps language skills growing.
  • Leave space to talk. Make sure your child has a turn to communicate. It may be difficult to not fill in the silence when your child doesn’t respond, but giving him time and then responding to his attempts helps him learn the power of his communication.
  • Provide choices within everyday activities. Giving choices allows your child to express preference and gives you the opportunity to model new language.

The ability to communicate verbally is a powerful social tool. Taking the time to help your child learn communication skills makes a powerful impact in language development. Read more about motivating your child to learn and try new things.


We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.