Why does your child with autism misuse pronouns?

Does your child with autism have difficulties with pronouns and possessive pronouns? When he wants something does he say his name instead of saying “I want a cookie”? For example, if his name is John, and he wants a turn in a game, does he say, “John’s turn,” instead of saying “My turn”?

Here are some of the most common pronoun reversals and what you can do to help:

  1. Saying he instead of she.
  2. Saying she instead of he.
  3. Saying her instead of him.
  4. Saying him instead of her.
  5. Saying your turn, instead of my turn.
  6. Saying my turn instead of your turn.
  7. Saying Child’s Name instead of mine, me, or I.


Why does this happen?

Your child is developing language. He is picking up on social nuances of conversations and he is trying to figure it all out. He also repeats what he hears. So, when people ask him what he wants and they use his name, he tends to repeat that same exact sentence just as he heard it. He is organizing all of the language that he is learning. When kids with autism show these specific communication challenges, parents should get really excited, because they can have tremendous success helping their children fix these pronoun reversals.

Why is it important to work on this with your child?

Your child is trying to communicate with you. When pronouns are reversed, his needs are often not being met. This can lead to feelings of frustration for both of you. We want to help him help himself.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  1. To help with he, she, her, and him, start looking at real-life photographs in books, online, and in magazines. Ask him, “Who is this a picture of?” If he responds, “a girl,” Say to him, “Awesome! It is a girl. What is the girl doing?” If he says, “The girl is driving a car,” say to him, “You are right. She is driving her car.” Then ask him, “What is SHE doing?” And encourage him to say, “She is driving her car.” Start helping him understand that he can say she and her instead of a girl and a woman. Use the same strategy when you are looking at boys and men in photographs.
  2. Also, to help your child identify he, she, her, and him start talking about real people in real-time. When there is a man in the room (preferably a familiar person, so as to not cause anyone to feel uncomfortable), ask your child, “Who is that?” If he says, “Daddy,” you can ask, “What is Daddy doing?” or “Is Daddy a he or a she?” You may need to verbally model the response that you are looking for.
  3. To assist your child with autism with the phrases my turn and your turn, set up a structured playtime. Get a pillowcase and place some super fun, highly motivating toys in the pillowcase. Play a game where you each get a turn to choose a toy from the bag without peeking. When it is your turn, play with the toy. Make the toy super enticing so that he wants to play with it. If he says “Johnny’s turn,” take his hand, place it on his chest and say, “My turn.” Then ask, “Whose turn?” and have him repeat, “My turn.” Then hand him the toy to play with it. When it is your turn, take your hand, place it on your chest and say, “My turn.” Keep practicing this skill over and over again, with different toys. You can also ask him, “Whose turn is it?” to help him practice my turn, and your turn. You can have him point to you and say “Your turn,” when it’s actually your turn.
  4. Play other turn-taking games like board games and sports (i.e. baseball, golf, racing, throwing the ball). Practice using language such as, “Okay, it’s my turn. Alright, it’s your turn.”
  5. To assist your child with saying “I” or “me” instead of his name when he is requesting an item, model the appropriate language for him at all times. If he wants something to drink and he says, “Jack wants juice,” say to him, “I want juice,” or you can say, “Jack, say, I want juice.” If juice is motivating, this will be a great time to have him practice this skill, because he is going to work harder for desired items.

It may feel like you are constantly correcting your child, and at first, you both may feel a little frustrated as a result. However, keep your eye on the goal. It will be worth it. Language development and picking up social cues in conversations isn’t easy for your child. However, it’s not impossible. It takes practice, modeling, and positive reinforcement.

As always, this is a change to take an obstacle and turn it into an opportunity.

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Jennifer Lingle, M.Ed.

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  • Ymkje
    Posted at 21:36h, 24 January Reply

    I am in the process of teaching my student the pronouns my, your, his, and her. This article has such good tips. Will be using them in my teaching, as it’s been challenging to help him know which pronoun to use. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Jennifer Lingle
      Posted at 07:53h, 23 February Reply

      Keep up the great work with your student Ymkje!

  • Darlene valdez
    Posted at 12:33h, 21 February Reply

    My son is 4 and talks exactly like this. I correct him when needed. He’s very smart and catches on real quick. IT took us awhile to stop talking in the 3rd person to him., and that helped alot too. His communication is comming along awesome being that he didn’t talk until about 1 year ago. Thank you or your ways to help. Definitely going to apply it.

    • Jennifer Lingle
      Posted at 07:52h, 23 February Reply

      Darlene, thank you for sharing. I love hearing about progress like this! Keep up the great work!

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