Teaching children with autism to ask questions is a vital communication skill for many reasons. We all need to ask questions to gain information, clarify our understanding and clear up any misconceptions we may have. However, asking questions is also a vital social skill. Questions help us to show an interest in our peers, keep a conversation flowing and can allow us to switch topics in a conversation. Here are a few tips to help you build this foundational language skill.
Often therapists will introduce the concept of asking questions with flashcards. For example, using a set of simple noun cards they will place the card in front of the child and ask the question “what is it?” Over time they will move toward encouraging the child to ask simple questions and then move to more advanced question sets that focus on how and why, which are more abstract concepts. You may want to work with the same set of flashcards at home to reinforce what the therapist is working on. However, while flashcards can be very effective at quickly introducing and providing lots of practice with asking and answering questions, it is vital to practice this skill in a wide variety of settings.
Moving beyond flashcards you can practice questions by playing games. There are a variety of games that are fun and work well for practicing questions such as lotto games, Charades or Go Fish. There are also games designed by professionals that target questions such as Jeepers Peepers.
While reading a book, ask questions while pointing to pictures, let the child practice pointing and asking a question. You can practice
asking and answering simple questions like “what is it” and move on to more complex questions like what happened, who, where, when and why.
Ask questions in natural settings as much as possible. For example, while out taking a walk point to something and ask what is it? The next time you see a police officer point and ask who is it?
You don’t have to wait for natural opportunities to ask questions, you can also create opportunities for the child to ask questions in natural settings. For example, you can ask a child to bring you a cookie but don’t specify where it is.
Harness the power of curiosity. The next time you bring something inside the house place it inside a box or bag before presenting it to the child. Next let them guess what’s inside. You can guess by category; is it a food, a toy or a tool? Encourage guessing by attribute; is it big, small, soft, red? Or try guessing by function; do you wear it? Can you eat it? Does it fly?
Remember to wait for a response when asking a question. It may take the child with autism extra time to formulate an answer. If the child can’t answer the question, then give them some extra help (a verbal prompt). For example when you point to an object and ask what is it? If there is no response you can say: it is a… and then wait for the child to answer. If the child still doesn’t answer then model answering the question. It is a car.
A close working relationship with your child’s therapist is vital. Make sure to ask them what skills they are working on with suggestions on how you can help your child practice these skills at home. Do you have a suggestion on this topic? Please share it in the comment section below.