Non-Verbal Communication Strategies for Autism

One important aspect to consider among autistic individuals is nonverbal autism. This refers to a condition where individuals with autism do not develop speech and language communication skills in the same way and at the same rate as other children of the same age. 

Nonverbal autism is characterized by a significant delay or absence of spoken language. Understanding the definition and characteristics of nonverbal autism is essential for caregivers and individuals involved in supporting those with ASD.

Children with nonverbal autism may have difficulties with expressive language, receptive language, or both. They often rely on alternative means of communication, such as gestures, body language, vocalizations, or assistive communication devices, to express their thoughts, needs, and emotions.

non verbal communication strategies for autism

Statistics and Prevalence

The prevalence of nonverbal autism varies, and the exact number of children with nonspeaking or nonverbal autism is still unknown. Approximately 1 in 36 children were diagnosed with ASD, according to the CDC. Moreover, between 25% and 35% of kids with autism spectrum disorder are thought to be nonverbal or barely able to speak.

It’s important to note that speech delay is common in children with autism, with up to half of all autistic children exhibiting speech delay. However, it is crucial to remember that nonverbal autism does not imply a lack of intelligence or cognitive ability. Many individuals with nonverbal autism have rich inner lives and can learn and communicate effectively through alternative means.

Research and breakthroughs in recent years have demonstrated that nonverbal methods of communication, such as specially designed apps and assistive devices, can be used to encourage nonverbal autistic children to start using words while developing other effective communication strategies. With the right support and interventions, individuals with nonverbal autism can make significant progress in their communication skills.

Understanding nonverbal autism is a crucial step in providing appropriate support and interventions for individuals with ASD. Caregivers and professionals can help people with nonverbal autism excel and express themselves by implementing effective communication strategies and understanding the special needs and strengths of these individuals.

While each individual with nonverbal autism is unique, there are some common characteristics which are as follows:

non verbal communication strategies for autism

Strategies for Nonverbal Communication

A variety methods and approaches can be applied to support people with nonverbal autism in order to promote communication. These techniques are meant to offer alternatives for expressing needs, wants, and feelings.

In this section, we will explore three effective strategies which are as follows:

Sign Language and Makaton

Sign language is a visual language that uses hand gestures, facial expressions, and body movements to convey meaning. American Sign Language (ASL) is a widely recognized sign language, but there is also a specific sign language system called Makaton that is commonly used with nonverbal individuals, including those with autism.

Makaton is known for its simplicity and adaptability, making it easier to learn and use in various situations. It uses a combination of speech, signs, and symbols to support communication. 

Many therapists recommend Makaton for children with nonverbal autism as it can help them express their thoughts, needs, and desires effectively.

non verbal communication strategies for autism

Visual Cues and PECS

Visual cues play a significant role in facilitating communication for nonverbal individuals with autism. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a widely used technique that employs visual cues to enhance communication skills. PECS involves using picture cards or symbols to represent objects, actions, or desires.

Through PECS, nonverbal individuals learn to exchange or present these visual cues to communicate their needs and wants. This method can be highly effective in promoting independent communication and providing individuals with a means to express themselves.

AAC Systems like Text-to-Speech

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems are technological tools that assist nonverbal individuals in expressing themselves. These systems include text-to-speech apps, picture cards, and phrase builders. They provide a means for individuals to communicate through symbols, text, or synthesized speech.

Text-to-speech apps, for example, allow users to type or select words or phrases on a device that then converts the text into spoken words. Picture cards and phrase builders, on the other hand, provide pre-made visual cues that individuals can use to construct sentences and express their thoughts.

These AAC systems can be highly beneficial for nonverbal individuals, as they offer a range of options to suit different communication needs and abilities.

Interactive Activities for Communication

Engaging in interactive activities is a valuable approach to fostering communication in nonverbal individuals with autism. These activities provide opportunities for communication, social interaction, and self-expression.

Play and Social Interaction

Play and social interaction can be powerful tools for promoting communication in nonverbal individuals with autism. Engaging in activities such as dancing, music, art, and playdough allows them to communicate, express emotions, improve motor skills, interact with others, and build confidence.

During play, it is important to establish eye-level engagement, as it enhances communication and encourages connection. 

By participating in activities like sorting, matching, playing with play dough, and engaging in music, nonverbal children have the opportunity to describe their experiences using gestures that can eventually transition into words.

Parents and caregivers can actively participate in play and social interactions, providing support and encouragement. By following the child’s lead and showing genuine interest in their activities, parents can create a safe and engaging environment that promotes communication and interaction.

Imitation as a Communication Tool

Imitation can be a powerful form of communication for nonverbal children. It allows for mutual understanding without the need for words. Parents and caregivers can engage in imitation games with their children using basic toys found in any toy box.

By imitating the child’s actions and gestures, parents can create a sense of connection and encourage communication. This form of interaction promotes turn-taking, joint attention, and shared experiences. 

Through imitation, nonverbal children can express themselves and initiate communication using gestures and actions.

Imitation games can be an enjoyable and effective way to encourage communication development. Providing a supportive and interactive environment allows parents to foster engagement and promote the use of gestures.

Child-Led Communication Interactions

Allowing nonverbal children to set the pace and choose topics of interest during communication interactions is an effective strategy. By following the child’s lead, parents and caregivers can maintain focus and engagement, creating a positive and responsive communication environment.

During child-led communication interactions, parents can encourage children to connect words with their chosen activities. Starting with simple words and gradually building up to phrases and sentences, this approach supports language development and encourages the use of communication as a means of expression.

By respecting the child’s preferences and interests, parents and caregivers create an environment that promotes communication and instills confidence. This child-led approach allows for meaningful and authentic communication interactions, fostering the development of language skills over time.

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