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Communication Support

Autism is a neurological disability that often impacts communication. People with autism may have apraxia of speech, dysphasia, or other issues that result in difficulty developing language skills, understanding what others say to them, or communicating nonverbally, such as through hand gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions.

Common Signs of Communication Disorders


  • not speaking/unable to form words/speaking slowly or with great difficulty
  • unusual tone of voice (sing-song or flat/robot-like)
  • struggling to find words (anomia)
  • speaking in single words or short fragments
  • omitting small words, such as articles and prepositions (telegraphic speech)
  • making grammatical errors or mixing up word order
  • substituting words or sounds
  • using nonsensical words
  • speaking fluently but without meaning


  • struggling/taking extra time to understand speech
  • giving incorrect answers to simple questions
  • having difficulty understanding complex grammar
  • having difficulty understanding fast speech
  • misinterpreting meaning (for instance, taking figurative language literally)
  • lacking awareness of errors

Non-speaking Communication/Body Language10

  • Making little or inconsistent eye contact, close their eyes or turn their back – but they hear everything you are saying
  • Appearing not to look at or listen to people who are talking or cover their ears
  • Displaying facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not match what is being said
  • Different bids for attention (noises, etc.)
  • Personal gestures (ex: walking with hard steps)

Some people with ASD may not be able to communicate using speech or language, and some may have very limited speaking skills. Others may have rich vocabularies and be able to talk about specific subjects in great detail.

Many have problems with the meaning and rhythm of words and sentences. They also may be unable to understand body language and the meanings of different vocal tones. Taken together, these difficulties often affect the ability of people with autism to interact with others.

At JoyDew, we believe that expressive communication is a basic human need, and it is critical to everything we do. For this reason, all our staff are hired and trained extensively in Total Communication.

Whether it be American Sign Language (ASL) or other forms of Alternative Communication (AC/FC), they have been able to get 100% of our members to the point of expressive communication within 4 months of joining the program, even if they never spoke a word in their entire life.

“They just need the right avenue to be able to express that, and then once they have that opened up and they know that they are being heard, or they know that they are being seen, it gives them the confidence to keep on going and learning more and improving and being in a space that no parent, especially a parent with the adult child that's non-verbal ever could imagine them being able to accomplish.”

- Monifa Boyd, parent

To “give members a voice”, there are a variety of communication tools and techniques that work well for different people. All of our members are able to read, but many have not been able to type or handwrite in the past. This is often caused by a neurological issue that affects motor planning and/or the ability to shift gaze from a keyboard to a monitor.

For these members, a tablet, or even a paper letterboard often works beautifully. One of the favorite ways for members to communicate amongst each other is via simple chat tools. For any electronic tool, a voice output device can be added for faster communication. If they have trouble steadying their hand, SPELL or Facilitated Communication techniques can assist them.

For quick communication, they often use American Sign Language (ASL), picture boards, zones of regulation, pain scales and other tools to get their point across.

Facilitated Communication is one of our member’s favorite ways to communicate if they have both verbal communication and motor planning challenges. This technique involves a staff member providing assistance in pointing to letters on a keyboard or other device to allow the member to communicate independently. It is so popular, our members have created an FC Club. Click on the picture to see what they have to say!

Finally, and most importantly, it is the “tone” with which we communicate that accounts for our unusual success. At JoyDew, we PRESUME COMPETENCE. We treat every member with dignity, respect and courtesy. We focus on the “person” and not the “disability.”

Communication Tips from our Members

  • Move from an area with distractions to a quieter area
  • Don’t pretend to understand what a person with a speech impairment says. Instead, ask them to repeat what they said and then repeat it back.
  • Ask short questions that require short answers, or a nod of the head
  • Don’t repeat your question – give them time to process and respond
  • They may not appear to be listening/understanding, but they do
  • Let the person speak for him or herself
  • Be honest – they know when you are not!
  • Be friendly ☺

10National Institute of Mental Health (2023, February 1). Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved August 22, 2023, from

12 Vandergriendt, C. (2018, September 18). What is dysphasia? Healthline.

13Patten, Elena; Ausderau, Karla K; Watson, Linda R; Baranek, Grace T (2013). "Sensory Response Patterns in Nonverbal Children with ASD". Autism Research and Treatment. 2013: 436286. doi:10.1155/2013/436286.