Birtenshaw Communication Guidelines


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Birtenshaw Communication Guidelines

Most people on the autism spectrum have difficulty with social interactions, whether that is responding to others when approached by them, initiating interactions, or using interaction to show people things or be sociable.

 Ways you can help support communication
  1. Use minimal spoken language

Keep your words relevant and to a minimum when communicating important information to young people.

Use key words that are specific to the situation or tasks, remember to repeat and stress them. Emphasise key works by using visual cues if possible.

Try to pause between spoken words and phrases this will provide the young person time to process what has been said as well as giving them an opportunity to think of a response.


“Get your shoes on so we can go to the park and feed the ducks. Then we can nip to Grandmas and have a drink and some cake. Then when we get back we can have tea and watch some TV.”

During this short piece of dialogue; 8 key words have been used – shoes, park, duck, grandma, drink, cake, tea and TV. This is a lot of information to process and it is likely that the only word that will be heard is “cake”.

Make sure to give extra emphasis to your key words by using a visual cue if you can. This might be a formal sign, object, photograph or symbol.

Try “chunking” the information into simple stages:

Now: Shoes on

Next: Walk to the park

Later: Go to grandmas.


  1. Keep it simple

 Use clear and simple language in short chunks.

Try to only give ONE message at a time.

If you repeat a question or direction, try to use the same words in the same word order so as not to confuse.

 “What do you want for tea tonight…?”

“So what do you want to eat…?”

“What do you fancy having for tea…?”

 It can take up to 30 seconds (and more) for a young person to hear a question, understand it and come up with an answer. This is made more difficult by changing the words used. Ask the questions, wait and avoid re-phrasing.


  1. Get their attention

 Always start by using the young person’s name when communicating with them.

Keep repeating their name throughout the conversation so as to re-focus their attention all the time.

Most young people will find it difficult to “look” and “listen” at the same time. If you know they have difficulty “looking”, get them to focus on “listening”.


  1. Use praise to reinforce communication

 Praise the young people for trying to communicate, even if their answers are incorrect.

“Well done”

“Good try”

Always reward and praise any spontaneous communication or appropriate behaviours that your child shows.

We ALL respond positively to praise. We feel good about ourselves and good that someone else thinks we are good.


  1. This is not just about their communication, it is about yours

Think about the words you are using.

Will the young person understand you?

Slow your rate of speech down. Take your time.


Do not be afraid to use no speech at all for some of the time spent with young people. There is no need to fill every pause with irrelevant language!


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