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Nonverbal Communication Skills and Autism

Posted on September 22, 2019



If your child struggles with nonverbal communication, you are not alone. Difficulty with nonverbal communication is common in those with autism and is considered a criterion for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Many parents on MyAutismTeam discuss ways to improve their children’s nonverbal communication skills, both to facilitate their daily lives and as a step toward verbal communication.

Sign language is a frequent topic. Parents wonder when to start teaching sign language and ask whether it might delay speech if they begin too soon. “We did it as soon as we could with all of ours,” replied a parent in one conversation. “It actually seemed to help them not to get frustrated. I suggest sign language. It helped us a ton! Saved a lot of meltdowns in public!” Other parents weighed in to agree that sign language helped prevent frustration and anger in their nonverbal children.

Some MyAutismTeam parents report success when introducing their children on the spectrum to technology such as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices and apps on tablets. “We used autism apps/games/flashcards on the iPad,” said one parent. “He absolutely loved it and soaked up the alphabet, shapes, colors, nouns... Within five months he was no longer nonverbal.”

Parents share recommendations for specific devices and software. “Do any of your nonverbal children use an AAC device? Have you had experience with either Lamp or Proloque2Go?” asked one parent. “My son has an AAC device,” another parent replied. “He has NovaChat 8. It has been so wonderful for him because he can use it to tell me anything.” In another conversation, a MyAutismTeam member asked whether anyone had experience with the Gemiini system. Another parent reported that Gemiini had encouraged their child to mouth along with words, make eye contact, and watch mouths. “So overall his awareness and nonverbal responses have increased and improved,” explained the respondent. “This is a great step towards talking.”

Many parents use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), in which the nonverbal person exchanges a card with a picture for the food, drink, item, or activity displayed on the card. PECS consists of several phases, and its goal is to teach functional communication. “My son has been working on phase 4 of PECS,” said one parent. “Even though he has an iPad with Proloquo2Go, it has been clear that him being socially outgoing required more support than just a voice. He needed some help on regulating/communicating simultaneously!In another conversation about nonverbal communication, a parent wrote, “We are also working on PECS, and my son has just learned to hand us the card with the pic of the food he wants. It took a while, but it is sooo worth the wait!”

Some parents find that music is a way to encourage nonverbal communication and hopefully move from singing to speaking. “He hums and loves music, sings away but is nonverbal with almost no understanding of speech,” said one parent of her son. Another described her experiences with her daughter. “She loves music. A big thing that I believe helped was singing her favorite songs and leaving out an easy word or two and having her fill them in. Before I knew it, she was singing with me, then singing by herself. Your son will get there! Keep talking to him and try singing and dancing to his favorite songs!”

Every child with autism is different, and a method that leads to progress in nonverbal communication in one child may not work for another. In one question-and-answer thread, a parent wondered whether there was hope their child’s communication would ever improve. Other parents shared support and encouragement. One MyAutismTeam member wrote, “Hope NEVER fades. The sooner you learn to go at your child’s pace and not some cookie-cutter ‘expected’ milestone pace and relax, the better.” Another agreed, “Keep giving him speech and read to him. He will surprise you one day.”

Here are some conversations about nonverbal communication:
 

 

Here are some question-and-answer threads about nonverbal communication:
 

 

Does your child use nonverbal communication skills? What has been most helpful for them in learning alternative ways to communicate? Comment below or share on MyAutismTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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