Monday with Maureen: Nonverbal Child? 5 Simple Activities

learning challenges boyMonday with Maureen: Nonverbal Child? 5 Simple Activities to Enhance Communication

by Catherine Pascuas

Having a connection with your child is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Getting a nonverbal child, whether they are on the autism spectrum or not, to express want they want or how they are feeling can be a frustrating experience for many parents and caregivers. If you can identify with this experience, you’re not alone. Many parents feel as though they can’t have the relationship with their child that they had hoped for if their child is non-verbal.

I have worked with several children that are non-verbal and found some excellent ways that parents and educators can build communication with their children.  Here are five strategies that can help you connect with your child.

1. Create Visual Labels for Basic Feelings

Help your child to recognize basic feelings by labeling them. The more your child hears a particular label matched with a feeling like hunger, the faster they’ll understand what the word “hunger” means. Expressing basic needs and feelings like hunger, thirst, sadness, madness are essential.

If you see your child in a mad rush to the refrigerator for his favorite snack, say “You are hungry” to label the feeling. Because many children are visual learners, pair the phrase “You are hungry” with a visual of food or snacks.

Once the child begins to understand the meaning of these feelings, he or she can begin to communicate using communication apps on an iPad or Tablet. One child I worked with would only use a few buttons on the app- but he would use the app the say “I am hungry” when he wanted his snacks. These apps have made life simpler for many families.

2. Assume the Child Understands What You’re Saying

Speak to a child with the assumption that they understand what you are saying. This was a lesson I had to learn early in my work with children on the autism spectrum.

Before nonverbal children like Ido from Ido in Autismland and Carly from Carly’s Voice published their stories, many of us didn’t know (including myself) that the nonverbal children that we cared for could understand what we were talking about.

Speak to nonverbal children like you would with any other child. Assume they are competent. Make sure you tell others that care for your child to speak with a normal voice – they don’t need to yell.

Sadly, some professionals that I encounter speak extra loud when talking to nonverbal children. Please remember that these children CAN hear you – most are not deaf. They want you to speak in a normal manner.

 3. Add Visuals to Aid Communication

Include pictures, photographs, visual aids, or apps to help illustrate communication with your child.

In time, many children with autism who are not able to use speech to communicate, will use these visual aids to express themselves.

4. Teach Facial Expressions and Gestures

Unaided communication is using the facial expressions, gestures, and the body to communicate.

Use a total communication approach, including aided communication (visuals) and unaided communication. No one solely relies on speech to communicate. Non-verbal communication is used everyday by typical people to relay information to our friends and loved ones. Think of a simple facial expression your friend sends you when they are disgusted, for example. Don’t discredit this very important form of communication – sometimes it says more than you think.

5. Encourage Communication with Motivation

Many nonverbal children will not put in the effort to communicate unless they are motivated. This is why it’s important to keep track of what motivates your child. Many children have a favorite snack. For other children, they may like a specific toy or T.V. show.

Encourage the child to point to a picture when he wants to request that certain item. If you see him or her about to make a dash to the fridge to grab a snack. Open the picture book or PECS book and get the child to point to the picture before he or she is allowed to grab the snack.

Encouraging your child to communicate in various ways is important. Don’t give up. Those small moments of connection are worth all the effort.




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