Parents often tell me about how their child with autism does not use pronouns correctly. Individuals with autism may sometimes make pronoun reversals, where they refer to themselves as “you” rather than “I” for example. This phenomenon may be linked to the fact that some individuals with autism exhibit echolalia (Schuler & Prizant 1985), where they automatically repeat vocalizations that others make.
In order to teach a child to use pronouns correctly, it is best to start with manding (requesting). When prompting a response, it is essential that you prompt from the perspective of the child. For example, a child might say, “Can you go to the park?”, when you are sure that they are manding to go to the park themselves.
In this case, it would not be helpful to ask, “Do you mean, you want to go to the park?” , as using the “you” pronoun may confuse them more. Instead, you would prompt the correct response, “Can I go to the park?”.
Depending on the child, you may want to focus on just one set of pronouns at a time, rather than working on all of them at once. Focusing on just one set of pronouns will also make data tracking easier and likely more accurate, as the therapist/parent will only need to focus on tracking one thing.
One last thing to remember is to ensure that the child has many opportunities to practice using the pronoun as a mand, in a variety of settings, with different people, and with different items and activities. The more opportunities to practice, the sooner they will get it.
SCHULER, A. L. & PRIZANT, B. (1985) ‘Echolalia’, in E . SCHOPLER & G. B. MESIBOV
(eds) Communication Problems in Autism, pp. 163–84. New York: Pergamon.