Teaching Nonverbal Autistic Children To Talk
Still among our most popular advice posts, the following article was co-authored by Autism Speaks’s first chief science officer, Geri Dawson, who is now director of the Duke University Center for Autism and Brain Development and clinical psychologist Lauren Elder.
Researchers published the hopeful findings that, even after age 4, many nonverbal children with autism eventually develop language.
For good reason, families, teachers and others want to know how they can promote language development in nonverbal children or teenagers with autism. The good news is that research has produced a number of effective strategies.
But before we share our top tips, its important to remember that each person with autism is unique. Even with tremendous effort, a strategy that works well with one child or teenager may not work with another. And even though every person with autism can learn to communicate, its not always through spoken language. Nonverbal individuals with autism have much to contribute to society and can live fulfilling lives with the help of visual supports and assistive technologies.
What Are The Treatment Options
Nonspeaking children will likely require daily assistance as they learn to engage with others. Therapies for nonspeaking children will focus on helping them develop language and communication skills. Where possible, healthcare professionals may also try to build speech skills.
Treatment for nonspeaking autism may include:
- Educational interventions. Autistic children often respond well to highly structured and intensive sessions that teach skill-oriented behaviors. These programs help children learn social skills and language skills while also working on education and development.
- Medication. Theres no medication specifically for autism, but certain medications may be helpful for some related conditions and symptoms. This includes anxiety,depression, and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Likewise, antipsychotic medications may help with severe behavioral problems, and ADHD medications may help reduce impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity.
- Family counseling. Parents and siblings of an autistic child can benefit from one-on-one therapy. These sessions can help you learn to cope with the challenges of nonspeaking autism.
What Age Do Autistic Children Talk
Autistic children with verbal communication generally hit language milestones later than children with typical development.
While typically developing children produce their first words between 12 and 18 months old, autistic children were found to do so at an average of 36 months.Since each autistic child is unique in their development, the age when they produce their first words differs.
Until recently, parents and caregivers of children with autism were made to believe that their child would not speak ever if they did not do so by the time they turn 4 or five.
However, a recent study showed that most of the children participating in the study acquired language skills, and almost half of them became fluent speakers. More than 70% could speak in simple phrases. This indicates that language-delayed children with autism could eventually develop speech.
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What Is Nonverbal Autism
Despite the prevalence of autistic people who don’t speak, the term “nonverbal autism” has no official status, and there is no such diagnosis as “nonverbal autism.” In part, that’s because there is no clear line between verbal and nonverbal individuals with autism.
For example, some people with nonverbal autism do develop the ability to use a few words in a meaningful manner but are unable to carry on any kind of significant conversation. For example, they may say “car” to mean “let’s go for a ride,” but would not be able to answer the question “where should we go?”
Some have the ability to speak but lack the ability to use language in a meaningful way. They may “echo” scripts from television or expressions they’ve been taught by therapists. Instead of using these scripts to communicate ideas or desires, however, they seem to use “scripting” as a form of self-calming stimulation.
Quite a few nonverbal individuals can’t use spoken language effectively but are able to communicate with written or typed language, American sign language, picture cards, or digital communication devices. Once an individual is effectively communicating, even without spoken language, their ability to engage in the world expands dramatically.
The Seven Ways To Teach Kids With Non
1. Encourage play and social interaction
Research has shown that children are more successful learning language when it is done through play-based activities. When you are engaged in cooperative and interactive play, it gives fun opportunities for your child to communicate. In order for this to occur, try using a variety of different games.
These can be items you already have at home! You can also do things that involve social turn-taking, such as singing songs, reciting nursery rhymes, or just gentle rough-housing. Make sure, no matter what you are doing, that you are on the floor at eye level with the child! This way, your child can hear and see you easier, which makes engagement more fun!
2. Imitate your child
When you imitate your childs noises and play behaviors, it will encourage more productions, vocalizations, and interaction across different environments.
Kids love to copy us, so this gives them a fun way to engage and see what mommy and daddy are doing! This can be done quite simply, for example, if your child builds a fort out of legos, you do the same thing. If they push a car around saying, vroom vroom, you do the same thing!
3. Focus on non-verbal communication
Many times, its the subtle non-verbal communications that are overlooked. Eye contact and gestures are a childs first steps towards communication and are the basic building blocks for language. One way to work on these areas is to exaggerate everything you are doing.
5. Simplify your language
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Accept The Child Fully
Some children with autism seem neurotypical until about age 2, and then they lose skills theyve gained. Its distressing for many adults. You saw the child a year or so ago progressing on course, and now the child seems so much different.
Dont judge the child by past behavior or development. Look for things to enjoy about the child right now. The sweet smile you love, their beautiful blue eyes, and their gentle personality may remain, even if verbal skills decline. Accept the child the way they are right now.
Enter Into Your Childs World
Using play as a way to encourage your child to communicate is one way to get into your childs world, but it isnt the only way. Get to know your childs preferred language style, their mannerisms, expressions and interests. Note where, when and how they attempt to communicate and use motivating items and people. For example, if they prefer to talk hidden under a blanket on their bed, encourage them to communicate more by sitting next to the bed or get under the blanket as well. Showing a willingness to enter their world will encourage your child to try entering yours.
It is really important to let your child set the pace and take the lead. Allowing them to choose the topic helps to ensure they do not lose focus. Follow along with whatever activity your child chooses to do and narrate what they are doing. For example, if your child is sorting shapes, say rectangle when they hold up the shape and in when they place the shape in the basket. By doing this you are allowing your child to focus on things they are interested in and encouraging them to connect their favourite activities with certain words. You may also want to choose simple words such as take and ball to start with making it easier for your child to understand and imitate. Then when your child starts to use these words you can add another word in, such as take car or roll ball. Keep on doing this and building more and more phrases until you are helping your child to convey full sentences.
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Is Sign Language Useful
Many parents dont use sign language with their non-verbal child, as they feel it will affect their speech development and this just isnt the case. It can actually provide a bridge from them not being able to communicate to being able to speak. It also does away with any frustration that they might feel from not being able to communicate. Sign language can be great for younger children, but some older children may stop using it as they have wider social networks in the school environment and not everyone in this network is able to sign. It becomes less about what way of communicating they are most comfortable with, and more about a way of communicating that the majority of people can understand.
Here Are Our Top Seven Strategies For Promoting Language Development In Nonverbal Children And Adolescents With Autism:
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Dont Assume Nonverbal Children Cant Communicate
Many children with autism don’t speak at all. But never assume that they don’t have something to say.
For children with autism, behavior is a form of communication. That includes:
- Walking away
Listen to what the child is trying to say. Ignore it, and the behavior may escalate until the child gets the point across.
Try A Picture Schedule
A picture schedule is essentially a bank of pictures to indicate what time of the day it is. At a glance, students can see that its reading time, for example, which can reduce anxiety and give a sense of independence. Show them that after each lesson or section of the day is finished, that picture needs to be put away.
Will My Child Learn To Talk
Very often, therapists use the term “preverbal” rather than “nonverbal” to describe autistic children who do not use spoken language. Quite a few autistic children with delayed speech gain the ability to communicate with spoken language. Some become quite fluent. Others, however, never gain more than a few words, if that.
According to an NIH Workshop publication on Nonverbal School-Aged Children with Autism, “…it is a very significant challenge to assess these individuals with traditional standardized instruments. Our current measurement tools have relatively low reliability and validity for this population.
“The presence of even one word, or some echolalic speech, appears to be a significant predictor for the acquisition of spoken language after 5 years of age.
“In both research and treatment planning, it is important to distinguish whether children are nonverbal , preverbal , or non-communicative .”
What Are The Symptoms Of Nonspeaking Autism
The primary symptom of nonspeaking autism is being unable to speak clearly or without interference.
Autistic people may have difficulty talking to or carrying on a conversation with another person, but those who are nonspeaking do not speak at all.
There are several reasons for this. It may be because they have , a disorder that affects certain brain pathways. It can interfere with a persons ability to say what they want correctly.
It may also be because they have not developed verbal communication skills. Some children may lose verbal skills as symptoms of the condition worsen and become more noticeable.
Some autistic kids may also have echolalia, which causes them to repeat words or phrases over and over. It can make communication difficult.
Symptoms of autism often improve with age. As children grow older, symptoms may become less severe and disruptive. Your child may also become verbal with intervention and therapy.
Researchers do not yet know what causes autism. However, they do have a better understanding of some factors that may play a role.
Vaccines do not cause autism.
In 1998, a controversial study proposed a link between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. However, additional research debunked that report. In fact, the researchers behind the 1998 study retracted it in 2010.
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Allow Your Child To Learn How To Talk At Their Own Pace
When building language skills, its important your child sets the tone of communication by letting them choose the pace. This helps relieve the pressure and provides an opportunity to build language skills. These tactics can reduce their anxieties associated with communicating:
- Simplifying language . Keeping it simple allows your child to absorb each word better. If your child uses one word, then you can try adding another .
- Following your childs lead to keep their interest at a comfortable pace. For example, its important to keep in mind children with ASD often prefer to look at and analyze toys rather than play with them, so if your child points to a specific toy, try to follow their line of thought rather than push playing with it.
- Preparing your child for changes that will occur when it comes time to shift activities.
- Offering two options for decision-making. For instance, if your child cannot use words, present both options and ask their preference they can point or use the left vs. right hand. The key is to emphasize there are two choices involved. More than two options could overwhelm them. Offering no options, so they have to come up with their own choice, is asking way too much of them.
Eventually, your child may have an easier time following simple sentences if you let them set the pace of learning. Dont try to push too much at once because this could lead to overstimulation and have the opposite effect of what you want.
Dont Insist On Eye Contact
Adults look one another in the eye when they speak. For children with autism, this is a difficult task. Some children learn to look near your eyes through practice, but some never pick up this skill.
Never force a child to look into your eyes. Dont bow down to try to meet the childs eyes, and dont point to your own eyes to make the child follow along. Accept the childs behavior.
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The Difference Between Communication And Language
We communicate in many different ways and for different purposes. We might use words to communicate or we might use other tools like facial expressions or body language. We might blow a kiss to demonstrate affection, pull a face to express our dislike of cabbage soup, make eye contact to share a private joke, or point to indicate a certain place.
Language, on the other hand, relies on words, whether theyre spoken, written down or signed. Your child may learn how to use some spoken language. Many children with non-verbal autism, for example, do prove capable of speech. One study of over 500 children aged 8-17 with severe language delays due to autism found that nearly half became fluent speakers and two-thirds learned how to speak in simple phrases.
Even if your child doesnt gain language skills, they can still be helped to communicate using . This might be aided by software or objects, or might be unaided, relying on tools like eye contact, facial expression, signs and gestures.
What To Do If They Get Frustrated
As with other children, autistic children can get frustrated if they feel they are not being understood, and their emotions can escalate ending up with them becoming exasperated. We have all experienced situations where we could not make ourselves understood, perhaps because we did not know the language of a place we were visiting, and it is extremely frustrating. As a parent you are probably pretty good at identifying when your autistic child is becoming frustrated with their communication difficulties, but there may be some clues that you still miss. For example, it could be that your child starts to rock before they are going to start banging their head which you are aware of, but you may have missed the fact that they started to clap before they rocked.
If you are missing these cues it is through no fault of your own. You could be too close to the situation in hand or may be busy doing something else at the time. It happens. This is where a therapist could come in useful as they can help to pinpoint certain behaviours and help you to understand ways to deal with it.
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