January 1, 2020

Will My Non Verbal Autistic Child Ever Speak?

non verbal autistic

If your non verbal autistic child is not yet speaking, does this mean that they will never speak?

Not necessarily.

With therapy, with practice and with good reinforcement, sometimes your child will learn simple words and phrases that will help them communicate. Also the wonderful power of technology is also providing super helpful solutions and assistive devices to help families and non verbal autistic people to communicate better.

Though, it is also possible that some autistic people will never speak, will have extreme difficulty in relating to other people and will remain strictly non verbal.

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How Common Are Non Verbal Autistic Children?

While many autistic children will have delayed speech, some autistic children are unable to speak at all.

In fact there is a significant number of non verbal autistic kids who will remain completely nonverbal. Patten et al estimate that 25% to 50% of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) never develop spoken language beyond a few words or utterances.

Having a non verbal autistic child can be very difficult for parents to accept and can make life more difficult as the child becomes a teenager and an adult.

Autism develops at different rates and with different symptoms in each individual. Some children may show no signs of autism until the age of 2 or 3years old. Others may experience delayed development right from the start that may progress into adulthood.

Are There Specific Therapies That Can Help Non Verbal Autism?

Behavioural therapy and speech therapy can be very useful in helping to teach kids with autism develop some communication, speech and language skills.

Over time, some autistic children will develop some simple forms of speech.

However, sometimes autistic children will learn other methods of communication and will never speak. Visual aids or assistive technologies can be incredible tools to help non verbal autistic children communicate.

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) approaches can be used to help communication skills.

These include:

  • Picture based systems- like pictures, books and boards. This is called Picture Exchange Communication(PECS)
  • Speech generating devices (SGDs). Missouri Assistive Technology explains that these range from simple, single message devices with less than a minute of speech to highly complex, computer-based systems capable of generating virtually unlimited numbers of messages.

Some SGDs use recorded human speech(digitized).

Others use computer-generated speech (synthesized) and some of those have text-to-speech capacity (when words are typed into the device, they are then “spoken” by the device).

  • Other assistive technology such as portable word processors can help written communication

Many autistic children find that wearing noise cancelling headphones is helpful in reducing over excessive auditory stimulation.

Autism speaks suggests that through play at home and therapy, many children after the age of 4 may eventually develop language. Activities that will help include:

Engage in play and activity at the child’s eye level.

Choose fun activities like singing and nursery rhymes that blend words with actions.

Teach them gestures to communicate like clapping, pointing, nodding or shaking your head. This can take time.

Ensure you are not in a rush and do not move on too quickly to the next activity as your child might start to become passive as they will feel that their input is not needed or wanted.

However if their initial efforts are praised and encouraged, they are more likely to continue learning and trying.

Make sure you give children time and space to respond without rushing or pressure.

Children with autism need to be able to process what you have said and formulate what they want to say or communicate back to you.

Check out this family’s journey with their non verbal autistic child.

With therapy, practice and repetition, Felipe did eventually develop some simple words and phrases that helped him communicate.

As a parent talk to your child’s therapists about how to reinforce the lessons at home. Constant repetition and reinforcement is very helpful with all learning.

Sometimes family sessions are very useful so the whole family including the non autistic siblings can learn how to best communicate with their autistic sibling and help where possible.

Can Non Verbal Autistic Children Understand What I Am Saying?

Absolutely!

While every child with autism is different, most non verbal autistic children will understand perfectly what you are saying and how you feel about them. Never treat them “all the same”. Take the time to learn the common autism traits but never assume that because you know one child with autism, that they are all the same. Autism is on a vast spectrum.

While they may find it difficult to formulate a response that you understand or demonstrate behaviours like rocking or stimming, they often have high functioning minds.

Be patient and remember that not being able to communicate effectively can be extremely frustrating.

Are There Other Symptoms Of Nonverbal Autism?

Yes, non verbal autistic children may also be socially withdrawn. This is no surprise.

If a behaviour is difficult and not rewarding, we tend to do it less.

Autistic people often tend to be shy or withdrawn. Some may avoid eye contact, others may not respect personal space.

Short attention spans are very common with non verbal autistic children. They can tend to flit quickly between activities with nothing holding their attention for very long. Tools like weighted lap pads are vital in helping them focus and concentrate on one activity at a time.

weighted lap pad

What Are The Early Signs of NonVerbal Autism?

You will start to notice that your child is not reaching milestones that other children are in terms of language and interaction.

Common concerns are:

  • Not responding to their own name by the age of 1
  • Not laughing and trying to make speech sounds by age 1
  • Not making eye contact or desiring social interaction

Typically 1/3 of parents notice symptoms before the age of 1.

Most parents notice symptoms around the age of 2.

Summary

Non verbal autistic children are a very common presentation of this developmental disorder. Despite the communication challenges that an autistic child can present with, never assume that non verbal autistic kids can’t communicate, or that they will never“speak”.

Early therapy is vital in teaching speech and language skills as early as possible. In cases where the child is clearly non verbal, it is important to teach non verbal forms of communication like gestures, visual aids and assistive technologies.

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