Some children on the Autistic Spectrum struggle to comprehend what is said to them, not because of any lacking in intelligence but because of the complexity of our language. Our everyday speech is full of metaphor, similes and abstract phrases which are hard enough to make sense of for typically developing children. Grasping the meaning of these utterances is especially hard for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder because of two deficits: abstract thought processing and the reading of social cues/non-verbal behaviour. When an adult says something like “Your handwriting looks like a spider crawling over the page” (This was said to me on many occasions) it can be quite tricky for the child to understand what is meant.
Because it was my English teacher who said it to me and I knew that spiders were small and black I understood what she was implying; my writing was too small and that in the next exercise I should try to write bigger. A child with any social or language development delay may not be able to make such an inference and is likely to think their teacher is strange for seeing spiders and continue to write small.
As teachers, parents and therapists it is up to use to adjust our speech to facilitate understanding and communication. It is a difficult skill to master but if you can begin to hear yourself speak as your child would you will be startled by how confusing and vague a lot of our utterances are. Try to avoid using colloquial phrases and abstract language and keep things literal, especially when you are trying to teach or to convey an instruction. For example:
Instead of “your handwriting is like a spider” say “try to write bigger”
instead of “grab your stuff we’re off” say “get your bag, its home time.”