How To Teach An Autistic Child To Point ☝️


Fact-checked by Vincenza De Falco, Autism & Learning Disabilities Specialist Coach.

Children use the pointing gesture as a means to communicate with those around them. In children with autism spectrum disorder/condition (ASD/ASC), this small gesture can go a long way since they often have trouble with verbal communication, leading to immense frustration. This is where nonverbal communication, like the pointing gesture, comes in – it helps them get their point across to another.

Scroll down to learn how to teach an autistic child to point.

Pointing Is Essential

A pointing gesture is the hallmark of non-verbal communication. It also helps build the foundation for verbal communication. In typical development (TD) children, the onset of gestures, like pointing, prognosticates the onset of similar spoken words. Research suggests that such gestures are just as fundamental to vocabulary development in children with autism and other developmental disorders as they are for TD children. 

For this reason, it is essential to try and teach autistic children to point from an early age. When you are teaching your child to point, it is advisable to use both your body and voice while communicating.  

Step#1 Get them Interested 

It is important to understand that your child will not point to anything unless they want to. You can bring out the best books and toys, but they won’t point if they are not interested. To bring out the best in your autistic child, you must find reliable stimuli they are interested in.

It is crucial to choose the right activity to do with a child with autism. Try to think of things and activities that they’ll find appealing and fascinating. From a favorite toy to a cookie, it can be anything! 

Step#2 Move the Object Away 

Now that you have the child’s attention, move the object of interest away. Keep it close enough so that they try to reach out for it. As they reach out, let them grab the object and praise them for reaching out. Gradually, move the objects further away. Here are a few ideas to model the behavior you want and help your autistic child point and reach out for the object: 

  • You can encourage them to reach out or point by telling them to grab it, reach out or point. Verbal instructions may clear up the confusion for your child.
  • Apply the show-and-tell technique. In other words, show them what you want them to do. You can point towards the object multiple times before reaching out and grabbing it. 
  • If nothing seems to work, try taking the child’s hand in yours. Slowly extend their finger and point towards the object. 
  • Point out things on a daily basis, and not only when you are teaching them to point. For instance, you can point to pictures in a book if you are reading a story. 
  • Some children respond better to smaller objects. You can use this in your favor to teach your child to point. For example, before you start pointing to bigger objects, like a real car, try pointing to a toy car. 

These are a few helpful techniques that you can use to teach your autistic child to point. Find what works for your child the best. Keep in mind that teaching an autistic child to point is easier said than done. The child is likely to get frustrated, especially in the beginning. If you see them getting aggravated or frustrated, it is advisable to take a break. 

Step#3 Repeat and Encourage 

Repetition is the key to success regardless of what you may be teaching your autistic child. Children with autism learn at their own pace. So, it may be a while before your child starts to point independently as a way of communicating. So repeat the process as frequently as possible (without frustrating the child). 

Also, incorporate pointing into their daily routine. Don’t get fazed by the resistance. Instead, keep a strong resolve and keep repeating until your child learns to point. Don’t forget to encourage them and offer praise every time they manage to point towards an object. A little appreciation can go a long away!   

Step#4 Reinforce 

Positive reinforcement is one of the best behavior management strategies. A great time to reinforce pointing for your autistic child is when they want something from you. For instance, if your child wants a cookie and is dragging you towards the jar, stop to point at the cookie and say, “COOKIE.” Take their hand and help them point at the cookie. Offer them the cookie only when they have pointed towards it successfully, even if it was with your help.    

Children with autism also strive towards routine. So, when you are trying to teach them something new, like to point, it is a good idea to incorporate it into their routine. In this way, they will know what to expect and what to do. Set a certain time to practice pointing daily but don’t stop there. You can also take advantage of other routine activities like mealtime and playtime to reinforce the habit of pointing.  

Good to Know

Research suggests the ability to point may be an indicator of communication development in children. According to a study that examines the relationship between gestures and vocabulary in children with autism at different language stages:

“gestures show different developmental features at different stages of language development in children with ASD. The findings show that declarative deictic gestures and conventional/pantomime gestures may play a significant role in vocabulary development in children with ASD.”

Learning to point can help your autistic child communicate in a better way, thus reducing frustration and anxiety. So, now that you know how to teach an autistic child to point, make sure you take the time to teach this essential skill to your child. It’ll improve their communication skills, social interaction, and overall quality of life!

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Vincenza De Falco is an Autism & Learning Disabilities (LD) specialist coach with extensive experience working with young people with various needs in different settings. Her passion for Autism & LD started as a volunteer at a multi-functional provision for Autism while studying for a BA in Theatre, Education, and Deaf Studies

Throughout her career, Vincenza continues her professional development alongside working within numerous support and leadership roles in education and charities. Having gained Level 3 in Speech and Language Support, HLTA qualification, Level 3 Award in Education and Training, and Level 3 CMI Coaching qualification, Vincenza has furthered her expertise within Autism & LD.

Entering the Third Sector as a Project Manager developing and delivering a specialist NEET program, she subsequently joined ThinkForward’s newest venture DFN MoveForward, supporting young people with Autism & LD to successfully transition from education into paid employment. Through 1:1 coaching, family support, and training employers to become disability confident, Vincenza builds bespoke programs for young people with the end goal of work readiness and employment. Through Vincenza’s passion for creating systemic change in Disability and employment, she forms part of the successful partnership running the DFN Project Search Supported Internship at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

References 

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