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The Importance of Expression and Learning Engagement for Kids with Autism

"I know what he means." WHAT?! HOW?!

Every child needs a voice.

Every child.

That means for a child with autism who does not have a voice that speaks or expresses like typical peers, there needs to be an alternate form of expression available. Not everyone uses their voice as a primary means of communication!

Think about it... as humans, we have so many ways in which to interact with our world.

We speak.

We type.

We text.

We email.

We point.

We look.

We even "tiktok, Instagram, Facebook and Snap Chat" our thoughts and ideas.

If we use all of these forms of expression and engagement on a daily basis, it is equally important to offer children opportunities to engage in ways other than with their voice.

side bar: I am not a Speech and Language Pathologist, so I will focus on classroom interaction and engagement.

I have heard multiple times from teachers with whom I work and have coached, "I know what he means." with regards to a child that is not typically verbal or does not use their voice to express and engage in learning.

So I must wonder...

How do you know what he wants to say?

Is he simply responding within the parameters of what was given?

If we are determining the wants of a child with autisam within the limited confines of snack time (i.e. "Do you want goldfish or pretzels?"), we are missing hundred of opportunities every day to support productive engagement and learning.

If you "know what he means", how can you move towards engaging in meaningful learning? Are you only working on expression during snack time? We have to move beyond goldfish and pretzels...

Isn't there more to life and learning than that?!

Here's an example:

You are a 4th grade teacher, and your students are learning about how weather impacts Florida, an important topic as it is relevant and can be generalized daily, especially during hurricane season. Let's say that this lesson is focused on the effects of rain on humidity levels.

When your students are ready to show what they have learned and express their knowledge, there should be other options other than a verbal/voiced response.

  • pictures, images or illustrations depicting different kinds of rain/storm patterns that can be pointed to or sequenced

  • videos about rain and storms in Florida in which students can pause and share key details

  • an opportunity to go outside to experience a daily weather change or find an upcoming rainy weather change on a weather/radar app.

When we consider the learning outcome of a lesson on how weather impacts Florida, the outcome is not how verbal and well-spoken a child is.

The outcome is for him to show you, however that sounds or looks, what he's learned about the effects of rain on humidity levels.

The reality is... a child does not need his voice to show you what he knows. Even if his instruction is modified, he can still show you.

Show vs. tell. It's a shift in thinking, but it's needed if we ever want to move from "I know what he means" to "Guess what he showed me today!"

In supporting a child in showing what he knows, we are also presuming competence.

For support for your child with non-verbal engagement in learning and presuming competence, check out what we offer at:


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