Communication is a basic human need, allowing us to connect with others and express our feelings. Most people think about speech when they think about communication, but there are so many different ways for us to communicate with each other; especially when it comes to those who are nonverbal.
Just because someone is nonverbal doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to say. They do – it just takes more effort on our part to communicate with them.
An estimated one-third of people with autism are nonverbal. As we focus on spreading awareness about autism, in this blog post, we will discuss ways to promote language development in nonverbal children and adolescents with autism.
Encourage Play and Social Interactions
It’s no secret that children learn through what they do and see in their environment – that’s why we are always so aware of what we say and do. Children also learn through play. Children with ASD enjoy playing, but they can find some types of play difficult.
Interactive play provides enjoyable opportunities for you and your child to be social and communicate. Interactive play gives them a chance to express themselves. Dancing, listening to music, painting, drawing, and playing games that encourage social interaction are all great options – feel free to join in!
Because talking to autistic kids can be difficult, many people take the easy way out and exclude them from conversations. Not only does it benefit your child to have conversations, even if they aren’t always successful, but it can also help other people in a way that allows them to learn how to communicate with your child and include them.
Imitate Your Child
Mimicking your child’s sounds and play behaviors will encourage them to be more vocal and interact. It also encourages your child to copy you and take turns. Only imitate their positive behavior though!
Did you know that developmental regression, such as language, affects one in five children who will go on to be diagnosed with autism and typically occurs between ages one and three?
Use Simple Language
Keep your sentences short and direct. Simplifying your language will help your child imitate your speech and understand what you’re saying more easily. If your child is nonverbal, try using single words only. For example, you can point to a ball and say “ball” or “play.” Once your child gets used to speaking and using single words, you can add another word to create a phrase, like “play ball.”
Find Nonverbal Ways to Communicate
You don’t necessarily need to talk, or even touch, in order to communicate. We can interact with nonverbal cues such as gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, and body language.
It may be helpful to use both your body language and voice while communicating and exaggerate each gesture. For example, nod your head while also saying “yes.”
When your child throws a “tantrum,” it’s most likely just their way of communicating their frustration. It’s natural for them to feel upset when they’re being misunderstood.
If you are observant, you can learn to pick up on the nonverbal cues that children with ASD use to communicate. Pay attention to the sounds they make, facial expressions, and the gestures they use when they’re tired, hungry, or want something. These expressions they use might tell you more than the words they say if you learn to interpret them correctly!
Take Their Interests into Consideration
Just like any other person, your child is going to take to certain things more than others. Maybe they enjoy playing with one specific toy or watching one movie over and over again. Obsessions are part of ASD, and an obsession means that you may have a topic to discuss that evokes joy.
Follow their lead. If they are focused when doing something they enjoy, follow along and start to incorporate simple words. If they’re playing with a toy train on train tracks, you can say “on” when they put the train on the tracks.
Pay Attention to your Child’s Sensory Sensitivities
Many children with ASD are hypersensitive to light, touch, sound, taste, and smell. Take the time to figure out what sights, smells, sounds, and movements trigger your child – and what helps elicit a positive response.
When you understand what may trigger your child, it can help you better understand the steps you must take to help them feel more comfortable and, and also help prevent these situations from occurring so often.
Leave Them Space to Communicate: Believe in Them
It may feel natural to finish your child’s sentences when it takes them a while to complete their thought, but it’s more important to give them the chance to communicate. This could help empower them and make them feel like their input matters and makes a difference – as it should.
When you ask your child a question, wait a few seconds before demanding a response from them. Look at their body language and listen for any sounds they make. When they express the emotion or request, then give them a prompt response. Doing this helps them understand better where they stand in this communication.
We understand that no two autistic individuals are the same, and what may help one may not work with the other. The purpose of us sharing this information is to help families gather more information about ASD and use these resources as they choose to.
“Not being able to speak is not the same as having nothing to say.” – Rosemary Crossley