As we know already, children with ASD have different sensory processing systems. Because of this, many times children with ASD are busy "processing" sensory information before they can possibly begin to process the words we are speaking to them.
So what do we do? The same thing we do for children with (C)APD. Speak slowly and give the child adequate time to respond.
The question then becomes, what should be considered an "adequate" length of time? The answer to that varies depending on the child.
Here are my 3 simple steps to determine adequate response time:
1.) Determine nonverbal response time: I monitor and track the child's ability to respond physically to simple directions from as basic as "do this" (imitation) to single step directions ("jump", "sit on the floor", "pick up the ___") to more complex (if the child can understand and follow more complex directions).
2.) Determine verbal response time: I begin this by requesting responses to familiar questions or comments (things I routinely say) and compare this to the child's response time for novel questions or comments. Keep in mind you may be waiting quietly for a very long time before a child responds. But once you know the child's response time, you can share that with his classroom teacher (keeping in mind, within a classroom or more stimulating environments, response time may increase) and other service providers.
I am working with a child now that began with a 2 minute response time. Two very long excruciating minutes! But once I realized that was his response time, it made such a difference in the number of utterances I made during a session (obviously much fewer) which in turn increased the number of his verbalizations, creating the domino affect of actually decreasing his response time! See how that works?!
3.) Track changes and improvements in response time: Tracking changes and improvements in response time can give us important information. It demonstrates how quickly the student is able to process verbal information and retrieve words in order to respond. I like to compare improvements in verbal response to nonverbal response time. As we work without our students we should see the gap between the two closing.
NOTE: When tracking verbal response time I actually don't care if the response is correct. I track the accuracy of information when focusing on other goals. Tracking response time is just that: the length of time it takes for a child to response verbally to our verbal statement. Just because I don't have higher percentage of correct responses does not mean progress is not being made. And that is why tracking response time is so important!
Also knowing the child's initial response time (baseline) is a great way to demonstrate progress to parents and insurance companies because it IS measurable!
So when in doubt...wait them out!