Ways to Help Nonverbal Child with Autism Speak

by Team Stamurai

According to the CDC, around 1 in 44 children received an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) diagnosis in 2018. Between 25% and 35% of children with autism spectrum disorder are minimally verbal or non-verbal. The exact number of children with nonspeaking or nonverbal autism is still unknown.

Children with nonverbal autism do not speak at all. In many cases, they babble like any other child and say their first words around 12 months of age. However, they regress as the symptoms of ASD become more severe.

If your child is old enough to speak but doesn't, you should first consult your pediatrician to get their hearing checked. The pediatrician may run a panel of tests to rule out other possibilities.

They may also refer you to a child psychologist and an SLP who works with children with ASD. They may work together to rule out other possibilities, such as non-verbal learning disabilities and childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) before confirming an ASD diagnosis.

What should you know about communicating with children with nonverbal ASD?

Things to remember as a parent of a child with nonverbal autism spectrum disorder –

  • Language and communication don't always involve speaking.
  • Your child may be using other forms of communication, such as crying, grunting, and sighing.
  • Each child with ASD is different. Therefore, every child responds differently to various communication efforts. You need to find a form of communication that works best for both of you.
  • If your child is a part of any special education program, speak to their teachers, and therapists about the various strategies they are using to communicate with your child.

How to Help Your Nonspeaking Child with ASD Communicate?

A 2013 study shows that nonspeaking children older than 4-years may also acquire speaking skills later in life. So, these strategies & techniques to encourage communication apply to nonspeaking children of all ages.

Here are some techniques and strategies to foster communication with a nonverbal or nonspeaking child –

1. Learn and Use Sign Language

You can learn the American Sign Language (ASL) and use the signs to communicate with your child. You may also use the Makaton sign language. It is easy and commonly used with nonverbal children. Since the latter is easier to learn and adapt in different situations, most therapists use and recommend it for children with nonverbal ASD.

2. Pay Attention

When you are around a nonverbal or nonspeaking child, it’s crucial to pay attention to them and their actions.

Children can communicate in several ways other than spoken language. Your child may be communicating their needs, wants, and desires in ways that are not as conventional as spoken language.

3. Keep Talking

Just because your child isn’t talking, doesn’t mean you should stop talking to them.

Address children with nonverbal autism by their name. Greet them (say, ‘good morning,’ ‘hi,’ and ‘bye’) and keep narrating your tasks to them.

Do not talk about them in the third person when they are around. Do not express your concerns about their speech and language skills or learning abilities in front of them. Include them in conversations whenever they are around.

4. Use Child-Friendly Language

Whenever you are talking to them or narrating, use small words and short sentences. Keep your language child-friendly.

Give them one-step instructions and see if they can follow them. For example, ask them to hand you "the yellow ball" and see if they can follow through.

Once they are comfortable, move on to two-step instructions.

5. Sit In Their Line Of Sight

While communicating with your child, sit at their eye level. It will help them see your eyes, mouth movements, and facial expressions.

Just because your child has received an ASD diagnosis doesn't mean they cannot understand or benefit from following your speech and body language.

6. Use Visual Cues

You can seek help from your child’s speech therapist for this one. Learn and use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to communicate efficiently.

If your child's speech therapist is already using PECS, see if you can also learn the techniques.

7. Give Playtime

Children with ASD typically play parallelly with other children. They don’t engage in playing with others, but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate playtime.

Set up playtime or group time with other children. Choose toys they like and pick activities that encourage social interaction.

We know it can be tricky to find a playgroup suitable for children with nonverbal ASD. So, designate a time when you can play with your child.

8. Imitate Behavior

When playing and interacting with your child, imitate their actions and sounds. Research shows that imitating behavior can help your child –

  • Understand turn-taking
  • Share emotions
  • Understand facial expressions
  • Increase attention toward the caregiver

9. Share Your Child’s Interest

When you pay close attention to your child, you will find out which toys they like more or which games they play more frequently.

Try to spend time and show interest in these activities. Narrate what they are doing and provide encouragement. For example, when they are playing with shape-sorters, you can say "shapes." Say, "blue," "yellow," or "red," depending upon which colors they pick.

Even if your child isn't talking, this exercise will help them learn associated vocabulary.

To learn more about the early signs of autism spectrum disorder, click here.

To find out how speech therapy can help a nonverbal child with ASD, keep reading.

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