Autism Communication Strategies: 5 Ways to Improve Communication

By improving communication, we can make a big difference in the lives of those living with autism. Here are five strategies you can use!

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects how people communicate and understand the world around them. 

It’s also more common than you might think — around one in 36 children aged 8 years or younger is living with some form of autism. 

For someone with autism, talking and using gestures, making eye contact, and reading other people's emotions can be hard. This makes everyday conversations and social interactions challenging. 

That’s where autism communication strategies come in.

By improving how we communicate with individuals living with autism, we can make a big difference in their lives and build a more inclusive society. That’s something everyone deserves.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex condition that affects people differently, affecting communication, behavior, and social interactions. 

  • It can range from challenges in understanding and using verbal and non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and tone of voice, to difficulties in maintaining conversations and forming relationships.
  • For example, some people living with autism may be non-verbal and communicate through alternative means, while others might have a rich vocabulary and speak in detailed sentences — it depends entirely on the person!
  • The spectrum nature of autism also means that while some might find social interactions and changes in routine challenging, others may have exceptional skills in specific areas, like memory, art, or mathematics. 
  • This makes personalized approaches to support and communication, recognizing each person's unique strengths and challenges, even more important.

If we want to develop ways of communicating that are inclusive of individuals living with autism, we need to recognize the differences that a spectrum represents for each person — and how to help within that spectrum.

Five Effective Autism Communication Strategies

1. Adapting Your Communication Style

When interacting with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), understanding and adapting your communication style is helpful. 

  • This could involve being more direct (yet gentle) and maintaining patience throughout the conversation.
  • Recognize that some individuals may interpret language very literally; it's essential to use clear, concrete terms and avoid idioms or sarcasm. 
  • For those with auditory processing delays, speaking slowly, using shorter sentences, and allowing extra time for responses can make a significant difference. 
  • This tailored approach fosters a supportive environment, encouraging individuals with autism to engage in communication more confidently.
  • It's also beneficial to observe and learn from the communication patterns of the person with ASD. Some might prefer visual cues to accompany verbal instructions, while others may find too much verbal information overwhelming. 

Adapting your communication involves not just altering how you speak or what visual aids you use but also listening and responding to the cues given by the individual with autism.

This two-way adaptation enhances understanding and connection, making communication more effective and meaningful!

2. Use Visual Support Tools

Visual support is a great way to make communication easier for many living with autism. 

  • These tools serve as a bridge for those who find verbal communication challenging, providing a visual context to abstract concepts.
  • From simple picture cards representing daily tasks to more complex systems like the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), visual supports can dramatically enhance comprehension and expression. 

Visual tools are more than communication aides — they are also educational tools that can help in developing vocabulary, understanding social cues, and following routines.

Implementing visual supports requires thoughtful consideration of the individual's specific needs and preferences.

  • For some, a visual schedule outlining the day's activities can reduce anxiety and improve the ability to transition between tasks.
  • For others, visual storyboards can assist in understanding social narratives and expectations. 

The effectiveness of visual supports lies in their consistency and customization, making them a versatile and powerful tool for enhancing communication for people living with autism.

3. Use Technology-Assisted Communication

Technology advancements have opened new areas in communication strategies for individuals with autism. 

  • Speech-generating devices (SGDs), tablets, and smartphones equipped with specialized apps can facilitate communication for those who are non-verbal or have limited verbal abilities.
  • These tools can be customized with familiar voices, images, and symbols, making communication more personal and effective. 
  • Apps designed for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can support a range of communication needs, from basic requests to more complex conversations.
  • Beyond facilitating basic communication, technology can also support the development of social skills and understanding. Interactive apps and software that simulate social situations, teach emotion recognition, and provide practice in conversational skills can be invaluable resources. 
  • As technology continues to evolve, it presents an opportunity for continuous innovation in communication aids, making it an increasingly integral part of communication strategies for autism.

4. Encouraging Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication plays a significant role in human interaction, and for individuals with autism, mastering these cues can be helpful.

  • Encouraging the use of gestures, facial expressions, and body language as forms of expression can open up new avenues of communication. 
  • Additionally, teaching sign language or the use of symbol cards for those who are non-verbal or have limited verbal ability can significantly enhance their ability to communicate their needs, desires, and feelings.

Incorporating non-verbal communication training into daily activities can be a fun and engaging way to develop these skills.

  • Activities can include games that focus on recognizing and mimicking facial expressions, storytelling with puppets to explore body language, and using mirrors to practice forming expressions. 
  • These practices not only improve communication but also help in understanding and interpreting the non-verbal cues of others, enriching social interactions.

5. Create a Predictable Environment

For some people living with autism, unpredictability can be a source of stress and anxiety, which in turn can hinder effective communication. 

  • Creating a structured and predictable environment can alleviate these feelings, providing a sense of security that enables individuals to focus more on communication. 
  • This can include establishing clear routines, using visual schedules to outline daily or weekly activities, and preparing for transitions well in advance. Consistency in the environment and in communication expectations can reduce confusion and build confidence.
  • A predictable environment also extends to the method of communication itself. Consistently using the same cues, whether verbal, visual, or technological, helps in forming a reliable framework for interaction. 
  • For example, if visual schedules are used, maintaining their format and the time they are referenced daily helps individuals with autism to understand and anticipate what comes next. 

This predictability not only supports communication but also fosters independence and self-confidence in individuals living with autism.

What to Avoid When Communicating With People Living With Autism


Individuals with autism may experience sensory input more intensely. 

  • To avoid overstimulation, ensure the environment is calm, with minimal background noise and soft lighting. 
  • For instance, using headphones to block out noise in busy settings or dimming lights at home can make a difference. Always be observant of signs of distress and ready to adapt the environment to their comfort.

Using Complex Language

Complex language, idioms, or sarcasm can confuse some individuals living with autism. Instead, use direct and literal language. 

  • For example, instead of saying, "It's raining cats and dogs," say, "It's raining very hard." 
  • This clear communication helps prevent misunderstandings and facilitates easier interactions.

Forcing Physical Contact

Some people living with autism find physical contact, like hugs or handshakes, overwhelming. 

Respecting their personal space is key:

  • You might offer a wave or a verbal greeting as an alternative.
  • This respect for personal boundaries fosters trust and comfort in social interactions.

Pressuring For Eye Contact

Demanding eye contact from someone living with autism can be stressful for them. 

  • It's possible to listen and engage in conversation without making eye contact. 
  • For example, they might prefer to look at another object while talking — and that’s perfectly fine! 

Assuming Non-Verbal Means Lack of Understanding

Non-verbal does not mean lack of understanding!

  • Individuals who are non-verbal often understand conversation and can communicate through other means, such as using a communication device or gestures. 
  • Always speak directly to them — not just about them — and involve them in conversations, acknowledging their presence and perspective.

Sevita’s Companies Provide Support For Children Living With Autism

Every child living with autism deserves a chance at a fulfilling life. 

Sevita’s companies help children living with autism break through barriers to boost connection and communication.

Using skill-building therapies and other support systems, our experts help children living with autism every step of the way.

Discover more about how we support children living with autism today.

Learn About Our Services

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