Helping My Child Express Needs in a Positive Way

By: Paul Napier

One of the greatest challenges of having a child with autism is that it isn’t always possible to figure out exactly what they need. Particularly true of nonverbal children, it can also be difficult for a child with words. No one wants to figure out that a child is hungry because they bit another one, so what are some positive ways you can help your child express their needs?

Reinforce Positive Behavior

Praise can go a long way to helping a child repeat a desired behavior. If instead of hitting another child to get a toy back, you catch them holding back and using their words, praise them. A simple, “great job” can be helpful, but a “Wow, John I am so proud of you for using your words! What a great decision you just made!” followed by a high five or a hug will go even farther.

Be a Role Model for Your Kids

The first and most powerful role model a child has is their parents. If you want a child to ask for food when they are hungry, you need to show them how to do it. Whether it’s role-playing and doing it yourself or giving them the words and letting them practice saying them, you can show them the desired behavior.

Set Up Play Dates with Typical Children

Children with autism can get a skewed look at how to behave if they are only surrounded by kids like them. By giving your child ample opportunities to interact with other typical children, they can learn a lot about expressing themselves. They will get to observe how those children ask for things like food, a drink, the bathroom, or help. And simply by witnessing it, may start to do it themselves.

Explore and Download Apps for Your Child to Use on Tablets and Other Devices

There are some great apps available on a variety of tablets and computers that can help your child express their needs. Some apps help children express their feelings, others can literally act as a voice for your kids, and still more can help children practice how to express their needs in real life situations. Autism Speaks has a section on their website, which you can find at, that provides information on 100+ apps that can be helpful for children with communication issues.

Talk With a Professional

Social workers, psychologists, teachers, and therapists (particularly speech therapists) all have tools in their armory to help children with autism communicate their needs. Be sure to check in with these professionals for additional methods to try. They can help you customize the strategies you use to your child’s individual needs.

Communicating in general can be difficult for a child with autism. Often, because they don’t know how to express themselves effectively, negative behaviors can result. By showing your children how to express their needs to you and the people around them, they can get what they need and everyone can feel satisfied knowing their needs are met.