Special needs

Teaching "the point" to a child with autism

There’s more to communication than talking—especially for kids with autism spectrum disorder. The index finger can be an essential tool!

By Joel Yanofsky

Teaching "the point" to a child with autism

Photo: iStockphoto

When a kid with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggles with verbal communication, frustration levels can mount. A little pointing can go a long way in getting messages across. Here’s how applied behaviour analysis therapist Sunbul Rai suggests teaching “the point.”

1. Start with an object that is highly motivating for your child—for example, a favourite toy.

2. If your child is able to imitate you, model the point for them and then wait for them to copy you. When they do, give them the object they’re pointing to and reinforce their communication success by saying, “great pointing!” or offering praise or a cuddle—whatever works best for your kid.

3. If your child needs more help with pointing, use a hand-over-hand prompt to help them imitate the point. Be sure to withdraw this prompt as quickly as possible. You don’t want them dependent on a physical or, for that matter, verbal prompt.

4. You can also practise at mealtimes, giving your kid a choice between a favourite and least favourite food. The one they point to is the one they get.

5. After your kid is successfully pointing to items, quickly expand the exercise so they’re pointing to favourite family members, objects in the environment, pictures in books and so on.

6. Most of all, make pointing as much fun as possible for your child. It can be an invaluable form of communication.

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