Teaching Children with Autism to Talk, Part 1: HAWK

Author: Lisa “Luna” DeCurtis, M.A., CCC-SLP


Speech and language deficits are often the first sign of autism.  Some people with autism never learn to speak, or speak only in rote phrases that they have hear thousands of times.  Understandably, this inability to communicate causes panic and alarm, and parents are anxious for speech therapists to teach their autistic child words.  But, speech and language begins well before words come out.  Before anyone can learn to speak, they must master non-verbal communication and inferencing.  Using the acronym HAWK, we can describe these necessary building blocks for talking. How to pay for speech therapy? Get health insurance for children now.

.  Read more about typical language development for ages 0 to 18 months,  and typical language development for ages 18 months to 3 years.

What is inferencing in relationship to talking?  Hearing, Attending, Watching, and Knowing (HAWK) – and all of these things happen for most people naturally long before they speak.  But, a person with a true delay in speech and language is not naturally doing one or all of these things.  So they need to practice.  First stop and hear noises, then attend or recognize the noise, watch to see what happens from the noise and then draw conclusions.  A child hears a key in the door.  What is that noise?  Stop listen, attend to the noise.  Watch the door, what will happen next?  Daddy will come through the door.  Health insurance agents in California can help you pick family health insurance plans to meet your child’s needs.

When a child has practiced paying attention to various noises, identifying them and knowing what they mean, the child can graduate to the next stage of language development.  In part 2, we address the importance of body language in inferencing and interpreting speech.  In part 3, we build on inferencing by integrating expressive language for the child to infer what a speaker means by moving from concrete to more abstract language and by using indirect language, such as indirect commands for the child to tune into, understand, and act upon.

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