I have a four year old son who has slight autism. Up until now he has babbled but never used any words associated with anything. We try to encourage him to talk by talking with him a lot, and we have tried sign language, but he doesn't seem to notice.

So what should we do to encourage him to communicate?

(p.s. he will be starting speech therapy soon which we hope to help a lot, but want something to try right away)

  • Can we have some more detail about how he does interact? Will he mimic you if you make funny sounds/faces? Does he hum, grunt, tap, or vocalize along if you sing a fun, easy song? How does he indicate hunger, needing to use the restroom, or other needs? Finally, how do you know he has autism? It's hard to diagnose correctly at that age, and treating the problem incorrectly can do more harm than good.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 8:47
  • We had a young boy live with us for a few months that was autistic. Using ASL with him made a HUGE difference while a speech therapist also worked with him. www.aslpro.com is a wonderful resource. Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 2:03
  • Recent studies suggest that some autistic people have abnormally high levels of, or sensitivity to, endorphines, so they simply don't get the increase in pleasure from human interaction that neurotypical people do. In practical terms, it means that the kid may already feel as good as he can, so positive motivators don't really do anything for him. Negative motivators (i.e. punishment) is not likely to help because he will either withdraw, or it will not mean much to him.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 6:30

4 Answers 4


At this point a speech therapy is your best choice.

And don't worry, you are doing good in talking to him a lot.

Just be careful of one thing... Don't make him feel any less, or discouraged or don't pressure him to talk. Be very very patient with him. This isn't an easy disorder.

He will eventually talk, just be really patient with him and make him feel okay. If he is okay with himself he wont be discouraged.

I'm not saying that you should make him believe that it is okey not to speak. Just be patient, I can't tell you how important that is.

Other vise. Intelligent programs, reading a book, talking, games, playing guess who, playing verbal games is always a good practice. Just make talking fun. Kids to everything if it is fun and rhymes and can be made a catchy song of. If it rhymes and is fun to say / sing chances are, he will enjoy it.

Hope this could help. Generally, I think you are doing fine. Just be strong and I wish the best to you.

  • Care to explain the -1? Since talking to a child singing and generally doing rhymes encourages the child to mimic it. And why is being patient bad?
    – Hannibal
    Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 9:08
  • Keep in mind that children with autism will often be picky about who they talk to and under what circumstances they will talk, once they do start talking. Many people thought the son of a friend of my family was non-verbal, and I had no clue because I was the only person he would talk to outside of his immediate family for several years.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 6:21

Children with autism are each very different but communication tends to be difficult for most of them. Getting a child with autism is speak is usually a great challenge even for a trained speech therapist, so know that there is usually no quick fix.

Observe carefully your child's communication. Encourage eye contact by holding object he desires near your face when you speak. For sign language choose a few words such as "more" and "eat" and help him form the signs by shaping his hand movements each time he would appropriately use the word. Choosing a few words that he can use many times each day give him lots of opportunities to practice and learn them before adding new signs.

For vocalizations, as a speech therapist, I've found that many of my children will imitate a sound in an "echo chamber" which is a large mouthed bucket or bowl. The echo microphones do not work as well because they tend to put their mouth on the device. The large mouthed bowl/bucket is less likely to stimulate the desire to place the rim in the mouth. I begin by copying any sound that the child makes (often a grunt or whine or cry). I hold the echo chamber near my face and match the child's sound EXACTLY or as close as possible. I use the same intensity, length, and pitch used by the child, then immediately turn the bowl toward their face and wait. Sometimes, they will move their lips or appear to be trying to make a sound but cannot. Clap and celebrate their effort and continue the process. As they are able to repeat the sound, then begin to change it up a bit. Stretching out the sound longer, repeating it twice or changing just one sound in it. As their imitation skills improve, continue the process until they are able to repeat words and phrases. The is not an overnight process, but I've seen it work for many, many children. Be sure to include all family members in this new imitation game, and he will be more likely to enjoy it. Make it fun!

I ask parents to imitate every sound their child makes for 5 minutes each day. This helps the parents recognize the variety of sounds a child makes and in what context and gives the child feedback and focuses his attention on his own vocalizations.

Also, communication using pictures is often another helpful strategy to begin with children with autism. Take photos or box covers of his favorite foods, toys, etc. Keep the objects out of his reach and have the photos nearby. Have him begin by reaching for the photo and then he is rewarded with the object. You can put the food photos on the fridge or cabinet and toys on the closet doors. Use no more than 2 choices at the start. Help him select the photo in the beginning and reward him immediately so he makes the connection between the two.

Your speech therapist will help you along the process and give more specific ideas that fit your little one.

  • @ Marie Hendrix +1 for the suggestion to use photos. I see a lot of answers with a focus on encouraging speech, but it seems to me the OP wanted help with communication, which has many forms, not just speech.
    – Jax
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 3:30

While you have sign language, have you tried sign supported speech?

My eldest son is hard of hearing. For his first couple of years of school, he went to a special school for children with severe speech and language difficulties. He was one of the few children there with a 'technical' hearing problem; most had problems somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

An important part of the teaching method there, was the use of a manually coded language, underlining the speech with signs. This is known as simultaneous communication, or sign supported speech.
This approach has two benefits:

  1. Instead of one, you're now offering two modes of communication simultaneously.
  2. Having to sign while talking, slows your speech down, which in itself can help a great deal.

Manually coded languages should not be confused with actual sign languages like ASL, which use no speech and have a completely different syntax.


I was in a similar position, my parents would say that I would point and grunt at things, and they'd get it for me. What they did was to make me ask for something if I wanted it. If I wanted milk, they would make me ask for it, if I only asked for something to drink, they'd get me water. After a bit of time at this, it should encourage them to talk.

Good luck!

  • 1
    I'm not sure that's a wise maneuver for an autistic child.
    – afrazier
    Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 18:40
  • This would work if the child has developed verbals skills and is simply too lazy to use them. In this case, the child is still non-verbal, and is not neurotypical - there is an underlying metabolic or mechanical issue in the brain that is not understood. You need a better foundation in place before even consider this.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 6:24

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