How to Stop My Child Talking to Himself?

Information provided by: Ms. Catherine Tam (Autism Partnership Behavioral Consultant)
Self-talking is a kind of self-stimulatory behaviours that all of us would do. It can serve the functions of helping us to attend to reading tasks, retaining long information, or even reassuring our beliefs. For example, we would repeat ‘I can do it’ to ourselves when we attempt a daunting task. But for individuals with ASD, because of their lack of social awareness and self-regulatory skills, they may engage in self-talking in a social setting in which others may feel confused or even offended.

To prevent or stop a child talking to himself, probably the fastest way is to direct the child to engage in an incompatible behaviour like drinking or eating. But just like any other disruptive behaviours, the most effective and long-term solution to self-talking is to teach replacement skills.

If a child with ASD often talks to himself when he is not engaged, it is likely that the behaviour serves the function of killing boredom. The best way to manage the behaviour is to teach the child age-appropriate play skills, increase his interests to easy-to-access toys and activities, and to learn how to occupy his time independently. At a more advanced level, an individual may need to learn to be aware of the current social setting and to identify what is the more appropriate way to spend his free time. For example, in a classroom where students are engaging themselves quietly, our student should be able to notice the atmosphere and pick an activity that does not cause disturbance to the surroundings.

A child may tend to talk to himself during lessons. The active engagement in self-talk and the avoidance to participate in class or therapy suggest that he is not interested to the content being delivered, or he finds the instructions too difficult to understand and to complete. Therefore, the best strategy to deal with self-talk during lessons is to increase a child’s motivation to participate continuously, and, at the same time, making sure that he has the adequate prerequisite skills to learn what is taught.

Sometimes, a child self-talks to cope with the nervousness, anxieties or even excitement he experiences in social settings, like crowds, novel places and activities, and interaction with strangers or unfamiliar people. To help a child to cope with these challenges appropriately, they may have to go through tolerance training or a desensitisation process, acquire stress-management skills, and learn coping strategies like excusing themselves and distracting themselves appropriately, e.g. listening to preferred music in novel places.

There are always one or more reasons behind each behaviour. The best way to manage one is to replace it by teaching skills that a child needs.