February 1, 2024

Communicative Intent in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often struggle with communicative intent. Here is how to help your child.

Communicative Intent in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Have you ever thought to yourself, “How did I know that my infant wanted their bottle?”, “How did I know that my toddler wanted more juice?”, or “How did I know that my school-aged child wanted some water?” The answer is that they demonstrated some form of communicative intent.

What is communicative intent?

Your infant likely cried or fussed, and then calmed once he received the bottle. Perhaps your toddler directed his eye gaze and reached towards his juice cup. Your school-aged child most likely utilized words to say, “I want some water, please and thank you!” Communicative intent is the use of gestures, facial expressions, verbalizations, and/or written words to deliver a message. There are two types of communicative intent: intentional and non-intentional.

What’s the difference between intentional and non-intentional communicative intent?

Non-intentional communicative intent is the communication of a message that is automatic and completed without thinking (spontaneous). Intentional communicative intent is the deliberate communication of a message to a person, whether it’s via gestures, gaze, or vocalizations. The infant mentioned above exhibited non-intentional communicative intent through crying and the toddler and school-aged child demonstrated intentional communicative intent through eye gaze, gestures, and speaking.

How does this relate to autism?

Demonstrating communicative intent is often an area of difficulty for kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Children diagnosed with ASD may have trouble utilizing gestures, eye gaze, and/or words to communicate. Additionally, they may not understand or be aware of the messages they are sending to others. This makes knowing what your child wants and needs a challenge!

What can I do to Help My Child With Autism Communicate?

Anticipate communication opportunities: Anticipate when your child is going to need to communicate- meal times, ends of routines, transitions, etc. Prompt them to communicate what he wants in a meaningful way by modeling the desired behavior and helping your child perform the behavior. When your child wants more juice, hold his juice and model and prompt them to say ‘more’. This helps to enforce the power of the word ‘more’. If your child is not yet producing words consistently, encourage your child to reach for the juice, point to the juice, look at the juice, or sign ‘more’.

Give consistent responses: Provide consistent responses for your child’s words and gestures. Following through with your child’s requests enforces the fact that his words and gestures have power and are going to result in his needs and wants being met. Follow through with the request even if you know it is not really what your child wants. This creates an opportunity for your child to use his words (“no”) to communicate his dissatisfaction and then another opportunity to communicate his message accurately.

Utilize these tips to help teach communicative intent at home. Consult with a speech language pathologist if you are concerned with your child’s ability to communicate his wants and needs effectively.

Download our Guide for Families

We know that choosing a local ABA facility can be a hard decision. We’ve created an informational guide to help you understand more about the questions you should be asking while meeting with different providers.

Although we talk about our services here, our highest goal is for you to feel comfortable and knowledgeable about picking a provider that is the best fit for your needs. You are making a decision that will impact the entire trajectory of your child’s life!
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The cover of the NSPT Guide for Families, which helps families to figure out the questions to ask when picking an ABA provider.

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