Teaching Idioms in Pediatric ABA Therapy

It’s raining cats and dogs. It will cost you an arm and a leg. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. There’s no use crying over spilled milk.


Many of us learned these idioms growing up and recognize that they are not intended to be taken literally. Children with autism spectrum disorder on the other hand, may have a hard time registering why you’re telling them it’s raining cats and dogs outside if there are not actually live cats and dogs coming down from the sky, or why you would need to forfeit two limbs to pay for something. Children who are on the spectrum often struggle with learning and understanding idioms. While this may not seem to be a major skill for children to learn, idioms are frequently used in the English language, oftentimes more than most of us realize. So, why are idioms such a can of worms for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Why are idioms difficult for children with autism?
Idioms can be difficult for children with autism because they involve abstract language and thinking. Children on the spectrum might struggle to understand concepts that are not concrete, cut-and-dry facts. This means that you may have to work a bit harder to illustrate these concepts. Idioms and metaphors can be an important part of language development in children.

Why are idioms important?
While you might not incorporate idioms into all of your daily conversations, there are many commonly used expressions that are idioms or figures of speech. These are typically learned by children in elementary school, after they have already acquired basic language skills. If a child with autism hears an idiom that doesn’t make sense to them in conversation, either in school or another social setting, they experience a gap in communication.

How can ABA therapy help?
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is one of the most widely used treatments for ASD, due to its scientifically proven success with both children and adults on the autism spectrum. ABA therapy is particularly helpful because this method examines the functions of behaviors and works to build socially significant behaviors. Some of these socially significant behaviors include language and communication. ABA therapy can be helpful for children with autism who struggle to understand abstract language or understanding big-picture concepts. To effectively practice these concepts, there are board games and apps that ABA therapists can use to expose children to new idioms and common expressions.


Would you like to learn more about ABA therapy and idioms?
Are you interested in ABA services for your child in the Chicago area? Contact us or call (773) 630-4400 to learn more about the range of services we provide for children who are on the autism spectrum at Chicago ABA Therapy, including applied behavior analysis therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.