How We Help: Navigating Children Who Are Non-Verbal

Diagnosis autism! The diagnosis itself is is certainly a sliding scale. Your child may face varying challenges and varying degrees of those challenges depending where they land on the spectrum. We understand the difficulty of wrapping your head around the shock, especially when it pertains to someone you love! Coupled with acceptance of the diagnosis is an added layer …children who are non-verbal.

Merriam-Webster defines non-verbal behavior as communication “involving minimal use of spoken language”. One common misconception about non-verbal communication is that the person is deaf. A majority of children with autism can understand those who are verbally communicating with them, but have difficulty mirroring what they think and feel in a spoken way. There is no clear-cut formula to “cure” non-verbal tendencies, but that is where we come in. We offer a list of techniques and strategies to help teachers and parents communicate with their non-verbal kiddos in a way they understand and can mirror the communication.

Cayer Behavioral Group offers the following resources to teachers and parents who love and educate those who are non-verbal.

  • Tools to learn: Sign Language. Sign Language is a wonderful way for kids who are non-verbal to communicate their wants and needs. We provide parents and teachers with resources to learn the basics of sign-language so they and the students can communicate.

  • Tools to teach: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. AAC devices include flashcards, tablets, or computers to convey thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Pictures, interactive games, and voice help children with autism overcome barriers. These devices can rapidly increase the child’s brain stimulation by using pictures, interactive games and voice to make communication easier and fun for everyone involved! Cayer Behavioral Group assists teachers with the use of these devices and how to implement them into the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

  • Tools to implement: The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). PECS gives children who are non-verbal the opportunity to communicate using a series of pictures. Children, adolescents and adults using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. This way, the “speaker” appropriately and effectively initiates communication.

  • Apps: There are many apps available to parents and educators. The primary objective across these tools is to increase reciprocal communication between kids living with autism and those who aren’t. A few apps available to children with autism are:

  1. Bag Game: This game is a spin-off of 20 questions, but with pictures instead! It is perfect for social skills and playing with peers because each individual playing chooses  their own level of difficulty. Verbal description, auditory memory, and question-asking are a few of the many skills that this app can help improve.
  2. Learn with Rufus: This app uses a child-friendly character to teach emotion words, facial expressions associated with emotions! Using this app can help someone who communicates non-verbally to appropriately convey their emotions through expressions and understand others’ non-verbal communication.
  3. Articulation Station: Just as it’s titled, this app assists with articulation. Images are used to represent target words. Kids can practice words, phrases, sentences, and stories all in one place!
  4. Grid Player: This app allows users to create sentences and hear them spoken. Each “grid” contains a sentence starter (adjective, noun, verb, etc).  “Grids” are also animated with pictures. The animation paired with the written word allows the child or adult using the app to recognize the action or item they want to communicate, place them in contextual order, and hear it played out loud!
  5. Baby Sign and Learn: Please don’t be fooled by “baby” in the title of this app. It is fun for all ages! The app provides images that correlate with Sign Language. Then, a character in the game demonstrates the sign for that particular image. It provides a fun and easy way to learn with your non-verbal loved ones!

Verbal communication is always the primary goal as it is and will be the most preferred method of communication worldwide. However, all is definitely not lost if your little one with autism best communicates through sign, an augmentative communication device or PECS. Hang in there parents! Dreaming new dreams and finding your new normal is often an uphill battle but keep in mind: “normal” is nothing but a dryer setting. You got this! #autismawarenesseveryday