The Opposite of Anxiety is not Calm

We all face stressors in our lives.

Some of us are lucky enough to be equipped with a well-developed prefrontal cortex which can support us in managing or regulating our emotional responses to these stressors.

Young children require the assistance and support of trusted adults in their lives at times when their emotions are in overdrive.

Children do not have well developed areas of their brain that allow them to reason, problem solve and reflect upon their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

As the school holidays are now here in Australia, it is timely to remind ourselves that many children but particularly those with Autism are vulnerable to increased stress and anxiety when faced with

Uncertainty or a lack of Predictability.


The school holidays involve much uncertainty.  Routines are changed as are environments, people and food.  Large family and other gatherings take place.

Whilst most of us enjoy a holiday…Not many of us enjoy uncertainty or a lack of predictability in our lives.

Young children who are yet to fully develop their reasoning and emotional regulatory abilities are more vulnerable than adults to feeling stressed by a lack of certainty and predictability in their lives.  They may respond well however to trusted adults in their lives supporting them during these moments.

The key word in that last sentence = TRUST.

Let’s remind ourselves that children who are autistic are at particular risk of experiencing stress and overwhelm when their world feels uncertain.   They can be left in a state of hyper-caution.

In order to feel emotionally well regulated, one most first feel trust and safety.  It can be so difficult for children to develop trust in people, activities and experiences when they are in a state of confusion and hyper-vigilance.

At these times, when we observe children to be shutting down, melting down, or engaging in repetitive behaviours, we do well to first chase the ‘why’ ….

Why is the child behaving in this way?  What emotion might be driving the behaviour we are seeing the child exhibit.  What triggers might be causing that emotion to arise? What can we do that will best support the child in this moment?

By taking that moment to reflect before we respond, we can better understand where a child’s behaviour is truly coming from. Then we can respond in a manner that supports the child to feel safe.

Our children will only respond to our efforts to support them if they trust us.


Barry Prizant (Speech Language Pathologist and author of my favourite text on ASD ‘Uniquely Human’) some terrific tips that I often refer to.   I have summarised them for you below from an old article her penned for the Autism Spectrum Quarterly (2009).  Still as helpful today as it was then.  I hope these tips help you, a family friend or a colleague to better understand and support our children who face challenges associated with Autism:

Acknowledge Communicative Attempts

A core element of a trusting relationship is the feeling that others ‘hear’ or ‘get’ you.  It can sometimes be tricky to decipher the non-conventional […]


Is your child a Gestalt Language Learner?

Gestalt Language Processors

Despite what this term sounds like; it is NOT a term to describe the newest piece of technology on the market!

Several of the children we work with at Learn2Communicate are Gestalt Language Learners. This means that they learn language in ‘chunks’ much easier than they do single words.  Instead of learning single words and then gradually combining these words into short phrases and eventually, sentences, Gestalt Language Learners often start speaking in complete phrases.  It can seem to carers and educators that they have ‘skipped’ the single word stage when in fact they acquire language differently to other children.

Gestalt Language Learners may also, but not always, be diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum.

Some are also hyperlexic; showing a strong interest in the the alphabet and reading well before their school years.

Yes, these children are fascinating!  They are often late to start speaking but then start speaking  in complete phrases before single words have even been acquired.  If this sounds like your child or a child you educate, there is so much you can do to support language to grow.

What is Echolalia?

Echolalia is a term that is used to describe when a child uses ‘copy cat’ speech i.e. words and phrases that they have heard elsewhere.  Sometimes a child will copy a line from a favourite TV show or song.  At other times they might imitate the question you have asked instead of answering the question.  You might notice that your child imitates words and phrases immediately or that these phrases are used at other times of the day.  Often children will repeat the words and phrases in the same intonation each time.

Echolalia is very commonly noted for Gestalt Language Learners.

How to respond to Echolalia

The most helpful way to respond when you notice that your child is using Echolalia is to do your best to first understand the intent of the message.

Is your child trying to convey an emotion?  Happy, Sad, Excited, Frustrated…..

Perhaps your child is trying to comment on something that is happening.

Remember that using spontaneous language can be tricky for these children when they are first learning to use language.  In these early stages you will need to act like a detective.  Look for the ‘clues’ in the scripts that your child is using to help understand what your child is trying to communicate.

Advocate for your child.  Let others who care for and educate your child understand what your child’s most commonly used scripts mean.  This is where our previously discussed idea of developing a Personal Communication Dictionary may be helpful.

Understand the Intent

What is your child trying to communicate?

Interpret the Intent ‘as he/she would if he/she could’

Using simple language with a sing – song voice (as gestalt language learners are often drawn to pitch and intonation patterns in speech), interpret your child’s gestalt / echolalic phrase / script.  Where possible, reduce your use of questions.  Comments that match your child’s intent e.g.  “Oh….feeling […]



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