Worried that your child with autism may be nonverbal? Perhaps you're wondering if they can ever learn how to speak.
Either way, you're in the right place. After you read this article, you will know what nonspeaking autism is, its early signs, and how you can help your child get comfortable with talking.
What is nonverbal autism?
If your son or daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and they haven't spoken their first words by the time they turned 4 years old, they are considered to have nonverbal autism also known as nonspeaking autism.
To put it another way, children with nonspeaking autism don't use verbs or words when they interact with others.
Some of them will make sounds or noises (instead of speaking) to communicate what they think or how they feel.
Since a few of the symptoms of nonverbal autism are similar to the signs that accompany other physical problems, you want to take your child to the doctor to make sure that they don't have any serious or major medical conditions.
At the appointment, the doctor may conduct blood tests and physical and imaging exams before they give you a diagnosis.
Keep in mind that nonspeaking autism is somewhat common.
What percentage of autism is nonverbal?
In the past, it was believed that about 40% of autistic children were nonverbal. However, according to a 2013 study of nonverbal autism, the figure is now closer to 25%.
This is because the autism diagnosis criteria has expanded in recent years to include those with mild forms of ASD.
Additionally, new and advanced treatment methods are allowing children to get diagnosed with nonspeaking autism at an early stage. In turn, they can address their symptoms and begin to learn how to speak while they're still very young.
Signs That Your Child Will Be Nonverbal
Your son or daughter may be nonverbal if they display the following autism spectrum disorder communication problems as a baby or toddler:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Not knowing how to gesture, wave, or communicate in other non-verbal ways
- Ignoring nearby sounds or their name being called
- Not mumbling or making noises as a baby
- Failing to use body language to express themselves
If your child shows any of these symptoms, you need to remember that the quicker you get them treated, the sooner that they will learn how to speak.
After all, a study revealed that 47% of boys and girls that had nonverbal autism language delays when they were 4 years old went on to be fluent speakers.
Moreover, 70% of them were eventually capable of using short phrases and sentences.
How to Diagnose Nonverbal Autism
- Diagnosing nonspeaking autism can be a complex process because it requires careful observation of a child's behavior and development. Here are the general steps a healthcare provider might take:
- Developmental Screening: During regular check-ups, a doctor may ask about a child's behaviors and skills. They may use a questionnaire or checklist to assess how the child plays, learns, speaks, behaves, and moves CDC.Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation: If the screening indicates potential signs of autism, the next step is a comprehensive evaluation. This thorough review may include observing the child, conducting parent interviews, and using standardized tests to assess the child's cognitive level and language abilities.Behavioral Assessment: In cases of nonverbal children, it's especially important to observe a child's behavior over time. The child's ability to interact with others, respond to stimuli, and engage in play can provide important clues.Speech and Language Evaluation: A speech-language pathologist can conduct a detailed evaluation to determine a child's communication abilities. Even if a child does not speak, they may communicate in other ways, such as through gestures, facial expressions, or alternative communication devices.Occupational and Physical Therapy Evaluations: These assessments can identify challenges with motor skills, coordination, and sensory processing that often accompany nonspeaking autism.Medical Testing: Although there's no medical test to diagnose autism, certain tests can rule out other conditions that might cause similar symptoms, such as hearing loss or neurological disorders.Psychological Evaluation: A psychologist can perform tests to evaluate a child's social-emotional functioning and intellectual abilities.Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS): This is a standardized diagnostic tool for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It uses simple activities and questions to elicit behaviors associated with ASD.
How can a nonverbal child learn to communicate?
There are various scientifically-proven ways to help your child with nonspeaking autism speak and verbal communication.
Here are some of the most noteworthy ones:
Encourage Play and Social Interaction
When your child is encouraged to play games that they enjoy and interact with others, they will get more comfortable with communicating, even if they do so non verbally.
Over time, this makes it easier for them to start using their words and orally express themselves.
Simplify Your Language
Complex words and long sentences are difficult to imitate. Instead, say simple words and phrases when you speak to them.
Once your son or daughter starts to mimic you, you can move on to longer words and sentences.
When you playfully copy the sounds and noises that your boy or girl is making, you are encouraging them to start mimicking the words and phrases that you say.
Use Assistive Technologies and Visual Supports
There are certain apps that are designed to teach children words when they press on a visual or image. For example, if your nonverbal kid touches a picture of an apple on the device's screen, they will hear the word "apple".
Alternatively, you may have your child use physical pictures to express what they think and how they feel.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is currently the most prevalent therapeutic approach for autism symptoms, in general.
When you take your nonverbal boy or girl to see an ABA therapist, this is what you can expect:
- The therapist evaluates your child's condition, development, and communication skills.
- They identify the problematic environmental and sensory triggers that your kid is struggling with. For example, your child may have difficulty communicating when the TV volume is turned up or a family member talks loudly.
- The therapist eliminates these triggers and puts together a treatment plan for teaching your son or daughter how to speak.
How PECS can help children with nonspeaking autism spectrum disorder
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a form of alternative communication developed to support nonverbal children with autism, particularly those who struggle to use verbal language or gestures to express their needs and desires.
PECS teaches children to communicate by exchanging pictures. It was first used at the Delaware Autistic Program with the goal of teaching children with autism a fast, self-initiating, functional communication system.
The effects of PECS on children with autism have been studied and it has been found that it leads to improvements in communication. Specifically, it helps children who have difficulty approaching another person initiate communication.
Therapeutic intervention to help a child master PECS is important because it can aid in achieving their communication goals. The PECS system, in particular, helps children and youth with autism spectrum disorders and communication difficulties learn to communicate effectively.
However, it's important to note that while PECS can be beneficial, its effectiveness may vary from child to child, and it's crucial to tailor the approach to the individual needs of each child.
If ABA therapy seems like a suitable option for you and your child, you can rely on the experts at Hidden Talents ABA to provide you with all that you need and more.
Our trained and licensed therapists specialize in working with children with ASD on overcoming different types of difficulties and challenges.
Above all, we accept insurance plans from a wide range of carriers, and we work with Medicaid patients, too!
With Hidden Talents ABA's expert care and guidance, not only will your nonverbal kid learn how to communicate and talk, but your child can achieve more than what you thought was possible.