Chapter 1. Prelinguistic communication

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For children with autism, the development of intentional and symbolic communication can be a challenging process and some children remain at the prelinguistic stage of communicative development for extended periods. During this time, they rely on communicative behaviours that can be difficult for others to understand and interpret. Communicative forms can be subtle and idiosyncratic and may represent more than one communicative function. This can lead to frustration for the child and the communicative partner who may struggle to understand the meaning of the child’s behaviour. Many communication breakdowns can result and with the child’s limited skills to repair these breakdowns, behaviours can escalate to problematic forms. Research has shown that children with autism have higher rates of problem behaviour which limits opportunities for engagement and learning and for participation in the community. Improving our knowledge and understanding of prelinguistic behaviours may help to reduce problem behaviours and can inform interventions to support these children to communicate their needs and wants more effectively. This chapter explores our current understanding of the prelinguistic communicative forms and functions of children with autism and identifies gaps in our knowledge base and areas in need of further research. The author draws on her work in functional communication and prelinguistic behaviours and communicative repairs.


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