Love is such a strong emotion that brings much joy to our hearts. At the same time, love can be more challenging to understand or express compared to other more direct, observable emotions such as happiness or anger. Children with autism may be confused about ways to show and receive affection when they have loving and caring thoughts. You can help your child explore the many aspects of the “language of love” in daily life with the following verbal (using language) and nonverbal (body language) suggestions:
Gratitude and Appreciation
Beyond a routine “Thank you”, you can model deeper language like, “Johnny, that was so nice of you to throw out the garbage while I’m cooking because I can’t do it myself.” After receiving a response of “You’re welcome” from your child, you can direct him further with, “Johnny, say, ‘You’re welcome, Mom. I like to help you.’”
When your child is working intensely on her homework, suggest lightening the load by using descriptive language such as, “I know you have worked a long time on this math homework, and I know it’s very hard. Take a break, and then we will work on it together.” You can model, “Sam say, ‘Thanks for caring about my feelings, Mom.’”
Your descriptive consideration can translate into thoughtfulness in your child. Point out a problem someone has through describing his nonverbal body language and how your child can help. “Aw, Tina, look at your poor brother. He is trying to open the door, but he can’t because his hands are full of books.” If your child doesn’t open the door automatically, you can lead her to the door and turn the doorknob together hand-over-hand. Then say, “That is so wonderful that you thought about what your brother needs.”
Give your child many grapes or crackers while a sibling (or you) has none. If your child doesn’t share instinctively, you can direct him by saying, “Oh, no. Look at your sister. She is hungry, but she has no food. You have so much food.” If needed, guide your child hand-over-hand to give some food to the other child while modeling, “Robert, say, ‘Lisa, I have so much. Here – take some.’”
Extend this idea of love beyond your household by helping others with charitable gestures:
Tell your child to gather toys, coats, or shoes that she doesn’t use anymore. At the drop-off site, model language that your child can express to the clerk. You can say, “Sarah, tell the clerk, ‘I don’t use these anymore, so I want to be nice and give them other kids who need them.’”
Inspire your child’s love for the environment by volunteering to clean up litter or recycle in your community. Model explanatory statements like, “Nature takes care of us by giving us beautiful trees to look at, clean air to breathe, and delicious food to eat. This is terrific that we are taking care of nature by cleaning it up/recycling.”
Explain how simple everyday acts of kindness helps others, including animals, to feel good:
While at the park, tell your child, “Aww, look at that cute puppy. Let’s ask the owner if we can pet the puppy to make him feel special.” Model compliments for your child like, “You’re such a cute puppy. I love your soft fur.”
Model supportive reassurance for your child, like “Your brother just lost a soccer game that he practiced very hard for. Tell him, ‘You played a great game today. You’ll have another chance to win next time.’”
Telling about your day
Through simple conversation or phone calls, tell your child, “Grandma loves you. She doesn’t talk to you every day, so she wants to know about what you have been doing. Let’s give her a call.”
Nonverbal gestures like winking, smiling, hugs, kisses, handshakes, thumbs-up, and high-fives can be sprinkled throughout the day for that extra-special touch.
With your own love and guidance, your child will understand and express the true meaning of love while growing stronger social bonds with family and people everywhere.
About the author:
Karen Kabaki-Sisto, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Applied Behavior Analysis instructor. For over 20 years, Karen has been helping people with autism improve their communication abilities within schools and at-home settings. After a decade of technological experimentation, she invented “I Can Have Conversations With You!™”, a life-changing therapy program for iPad to help people with autism enhance their social and language skills like never before. To learn more, please visit www.iCanForAutism.com.