There is a movie in the theaters this month, “The King’s Speech,” which portrays the true story of King George VI of Britain (Colin Firth) and his speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). King George has a stammer, which may not seem like a huge problem to some of us, until we see him trying to deliver live speeches on air to his entire nation. The King spends endless hours of work with his speech therapist, just like many of our kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). But it is not our kid’s therapy that I want to focus on here, it is our own speech. There is a simple change you can make in your speaking style that will greatly improve your child’s ability to understand and respond to you. It is one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your communication with your child with ASD.
Colin Firth unwittingly demonstrates this speaking style in “The King’s Speech”. The climax of the movie is a speech the King delivers to his subjects imploring them to join the fight against Germany in WWII. He is able to deliver his speech without stuttering by using slow, measured phrases. His deliberate manner creates a mood of solemnity and quiet strength that holds his listeners spellbound. Each phrase has time to resonate before the next phrase is spoken and his subjects listening all over the world are deeply moved. King George spoke this way out of necessity, but it is an excellent model for how we can slow down our speech and use short phrases with our children. This is important because it allows time for our children with ASD to process what we are saying.
ASD is primarily an information processing disorder. Individuals with ASD have difficulty making sense of many different types of information simultaneously. This may manifest as sensory, language, and motor processing disorders. Fast speech exacerbates problems with information processing, causing the child to become frustrated and confused. Slowing down your speech and using short phrases, gives your child time to understand your words and reflect on how to respond to you, whether the response is words or actions. A slower pace also prevents us from having to repeat ourselves, speak louder, or increase prompts, all of which can cause anxiety in our children. King George’s slow, halting speech surprised his listeners before they became accustomed to his cadence. Speaking slower will sound awkward to you at first, too. But once you see the benefits, you will find that slow speech is fit for a king!