Communication with a child can be difficult in the best of times, but is even more challenging with non-verbal children. Parents and caregivers must learn what alternative methods of communication their child responds best to and develop the system further so the child can communicate fully with the people and world around him. Whether your child is on the autism spectrum or has unrelated communication challengesread on for advice from the staff at Woodburn Pediatric Clinic and helpful information about non-verbal communication methods developed by families dealing with this very issue.

Developing Relationships

The lack of verbal skills in some autistic children is distressing for parents, but it’s not a total barrier to developing healthy parent/child relationships. Parents can communicate with non-verbal autistic children through sign language and body language, both of which can be used to communicate wants and needs, and affection. These other modes of communication can also be beneficial for educational purposes, too.

Dr. Steinberg of Woodburn Pediatric Clinic says that physical guidance is key: he recommends that parents sit with their child, guiding their child’s attention to appropriate activities (through pointing, directing, etc.) because children with autism often look at toys or analyze them rather than playing with and enjoying them. Parents can guide the child’s behavior to use the toy appropriately, like driving a toy truck around in circles instead of just spinning the wheels.

How Communication Therapy Can Help

Non-verbal autistic children have trouble finding the words they need to communicate with the people around them, so a communication therapist can help them develop the language skills they need. It’s advisable to begin communication therapy as soon as possible for children that have been diagnosed with autism, but the typical age for therapy begins around 18-20 months of age when language delays become apparent.

It’s important to note that non-verbal communication issues extend to written language vocabulary – children with ADHD and autism have difficulty multitasking and finding the words they need to express their thoughts, remembering capitalization and proper punctuation, and understanding/remembering proper sentence and paragraph structure.

Non-Verbal Methods of Communication

Reaching children through non-verbal methods of communication can be beneficial for them in their individual growth and development and for you, as the parent. Many children can interpret symbols on a piece of paper (like flashcards), conveying to them what part of the day/routine it is, where you will be going, or what meal you will be having for dinner. Symbols like a fork for dinner, a bed for bedtime, a bathtub for bathing, a dog or cat for chores related to their pet, a book for homework, and various weather symbols to let them know what the day looks like outside, will help them understand what they need to know about the world around them.

Non-Verbal Communication Strategies for Children

  • Sit at eye level with your child when speaking and communicating so your child can see your mouth and hand movements easier.
  • If your child only uses non-verbal communication, present her with two options, A or B, so she can make decisions and have control over her life. Ask if she wants A (point this option out with your left hand or foot) or option B (right hand or foot) to emphasize that there are two separate choices to be made.
  • If your child has non-verbal autism, it’s important to still speak around him and include him in conversations so he feels included in family time/activities; there is hope that he may eventually learn some words or understand the meaning of words spoken to him.
  • Children with non-verbal autism often express themselves best through music or dance or hand movements of their own making. Incorporate these motions, as well as art, musical instruments, banging on pots and pans, playing with finger paints, or running hands through fun textures like jars of glass beads or containers of silly putty to express emotions that are otherwise difficult without language.
  • As previously mentioned, flash cards are an excellent tool for non-verbal communication. You can buy pre-made cards online or in specialty education shops, or make your own with free images found online.

Expressing ourselves with words is not the only way to say that we love our family, that we’re happy, or that we’re hungry. Non-verbal children on the autism spectrum use different means of communication, but they still have a lot to say if we’re willing to listen. Contact us today to discuss any concerns about your child’s behavior or to schedule an evaluation.