Expressive communication refers to the ability to communicate using verbal language and non-verbal cues, such as gesture and facial expression. Many students with autism may be pre-verbal or possess a limited vocabulary; some may be able to articulately express needs but cannot engage in fluent interactions. There are also many students who are extremely articulate and possess a wealth of vocabulary but it may only be on specific concrete topics which are familiar and of interest to them. Difficulties in communicating effectively and fluently can lead to feelings of frustration, and anxiety that they cannot make themselves understood.
How do expressive communication difficulties increase anxiety in the school environment?
A student who is pre-verbal or non-verbal may have no means of communicating needs (e.g. hunger, discomfort, pain, help) which is then likely to increase agitation.
Student may lack the language skills to fully interact with classmates, leading to feelings of frustration and isolation.
Ensure classmates understand how to use the student’s visual communication system. Provide opportunities to practice and role-play social exchanges,
Student may have extensive vocabulary on concrete subjects but cannot verbally communicate feelings and so emotions are communicated through externalised behaviours e.g. running out of a room, screaming or shouting, hitting others. Other students may sit very passively becoming increasingly anxious but unable to communicate this in any way.
Student may be very articulate on a range of preferred topics but cannot communicate on unfamiliar topics. This then leads to anxiety when trying to interact with classmates on topics which interest them.
Teacher/assistant provides the student with information on topics of interest to classmates.
Student may become very anxious if asked a question in front of others, and may then refuse to answer or give an incorrect answer.
Ask the student a ‘closed question’ which is answered with a “Yes” or “No” response.
Student may be constantly anxious in the classroom environment, due to the anticipated fear of being picked to answer a question. This constant anxiety will affect long-term emotional state and the ability to engage and learn in the classroom.
Do not ask the student unexpected questions; knowledge and understanding can be assessed through their written work instead.
Student may be extremely anxious about presenting work in front of the class.
Allow the student to present work visually using PowerPoint slides or a video.
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