Teacher Tips: What Is Self Talk and Why It Affects Your Student With Autism

By Kathy Foust

There may need to be a type of intervention when an autistic student talks to himself. Below are some ideas and things to know when developing such an intervention. As the student learns these self-help techniques, he will be able to initiate them himself when necessary.

What Is Self Talk?

As the teacher, you need to be prepared to initiate an intervention when an autistic student talks to him- or herself. He needs to learn positive coping skills that are aimed at making his condition more tolerable without creating new issues. In order to create this intervention, you need to understand what self talk is all about.

Autism often comes with an intense set of sensory issues. That means that some senses may be more in tune than others, while other sense may be a bit delayed. When the student with autism becomes over-stimulated because of the way that the environment is impacting his or her senses, she needs to remove some of that stimulation. If the child is unable to get away from the stimulation or is upset about something else, like a change in schedule, the result may be self talk. This is one way the student with autism has of narrowing down her world. As she talks to herself, she may be calming herself down and placing her focus on the words she is speaking rather than what's going on around her.

Potential interventions

Before you create an intervention when an autistic student talks to himself, you need to ask yourself why he is doing it. If you can learn about the specific triggers that cause the student to retreat into his own world, you may be able to prevent it the next time, and you may be able to teach the student some effective coping skills so that he can learn how to handle such situations in a more appropriate manner. Some triggers may include loud, high pitched or repetitive noises, a change in schedule, the presence of something that frightens him, or adverse peer interactions--just to name a few.

To stop the self talk, you might first consider removing the child from all stimulation. Use tried-and-true calming techniques that have been developed to fit the need of the child. One great technique is a time-out. There should be a time-out area created just for the purpose of calming the student down. This might also be known as a sensory area where the student can use sensory methods that help himself to calm down. The idea is not to punish the child, but to give him a chance to calm down in a removed situation.

As part of the intervention, the autistic child may need help understanding what happened or what caused her to do this activity. That's why it's important for you as the teacher to record such events and use them later in discussions and story boards so that you and the child can review what happened and why. Use the story board to discuss the specific events and alternatives to self talk. Develop signals or other methods so that the student can express to you that she is being over-stimulated or upset.

The main idea is to make the intervention a productive one. As time goes on and coping skills are developed, the use of those coping skills that replace self talk should be rewarded while self talk is discouraged. Keep in mind that these coping skills may take a while to develop and should be encouraged every step of the way so that, eventually, intervention when an autistic student talks to himself is no longer necessary.