Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) present in so many ways with varying levels of severity. Though it is not an official diagnosis, some people with autism may not speak at all. According to the NIH, it is estimated that around 25 to 30% of children with autism spectrum disorder may have nonverbal autism.
Though it may be scary as a parent, it is important to know that early interventions for your child can help their communication. In this post, we’ll explore what speech therapy is and how it can be used to help those with nonverbal autism. Below, we’ll provide examples and key benefits of speech therapy for nonverbal autism.
What is nonverbal autism?
Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder can present in many ways. One presentation, known as nonspeaking or nonverbal autism, is a specific set of symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. People with nonverbal autism may not speak at all or will speak very minimally (a few words).
Nonverbal autism is not a specific diagnosis. Rather, it is a description of a person’s presentation of autism. Although a person with nonverbal autism may have issues with speech, this does not mean that they don’t understand language or communication in other ways.
Nonverbal autism presents as issues with verbal skills and communication. You may notice your child using only a few words or not speaking in full sentences. Perhaps they may use sounds to communicate instead of words or rely on another means for communication than speech. A child with nonverbal autism may not initiate or respond to conversation.
It may not always be possible to recognize the signs of nonspeaking autism. However, some early signs of nonverbal autism may include:
- No laughing or babbling by age 1
- Lack of pretend play by age 2
- Not responding to their name by age 1
- Avoidance of eye contact
It is important to remember that nonverbal autism can look differently in each child. If you suspect your child may be struggling with communication, evaluation by a speech therapist can help.
Why Won’t My Child Speak?
Doctors and researchers do not fully understand nonverbal autism. Each child on the autism spectrum disorder presents differently. This may be a result of genetics or chromosomal disorders or may be caused by issues throughout the development process in pregnancy or infant.
No matter what the reason for your child’s delays, supporting them as soon as you notice symptoms can help improve their success. Targeted approaches such as speech therapy have a promising outlook to help support your child’s communication.
What is speech therapy?
Speech therapy includes assessment and treatment of communication problems, with efforts targeted to improve communication and speech. Often, speech therapy is done by professionals known as Speech Therapists. Speech therapy can be used to improve language skills, voice and sound production, expression, communication, and much more!
While speech therapy can be done at any age, early intervention shows the most promising results. Children who show signs of language disorders, speech, or voice disorders can show great improvement by using speech therapy sessions.
Speech therapy is targeted based on the individual needs of each person. At The Therapy Place, our team understands the unique needs of every child we serve. Our therapists conduct in-depth evaluations to help identify strengths and areas of improvement, allowing them to target their approach to help individualize a plan for nonverbal autism speech therapy.
The goal of speech therapy for nonverbal autism is to support an individual’s communication skills through various targeted approaches. Below, we will explore the many ways speech therapy can help improve your child’s communication.
How can speech therapy help nonverbal autism?
Speech therapy for nonverbal autism is an important intervention to help support your child. Although there is no cure for nonverbal autism, speech therapy is one of many behavior therapies used to treat autism. Speech therapy can help support your child in acquiring language skills.
Encourage Social Interactions
To begin with, speech therapy for nonverbal autism can help support and encourage social interactions. This is done through age-appropriate methods that encourage play-based therapy. In some cases, this helps encourage children to speak and enhance their communication.
Enhance Understanding of Spoken Language
Speech therapy for nonverbal autism can also help enhance and support your child’s understanding of language. This applies in situations where the child is struggling to understand spoken language. Through speech therapy sessions, your child will work on enhancing their understanding of verbal communication.
Strengthen other Forms of Communication
Speech Therapy can also help encourage your child to strengthen other forms of communication. While speech therapy can help some children speak, others may speak only in simple phrases. Most children do go on to acquire some language skills, but not all children will become fluent speakers.
As such, these children will rely on other forms of communication to interact with the world around them. This may include pointing, gesturing, or drawing as alternative forms of communication. Children may communicate using written messages, symbols, voice-output devices, body language, gesturing, and other forms of nonverbal communication.
Build Communication Skills
Speech therapy for nonverbal autism also focuses on verbal communication too. In some cases, verbal communication may or may not be possible for your child. Your child’s Speech Pathologist will have them imitate sounds or simple words to assess their capabilities. If they can produce basic sounds, the approach will be to help support further their speech development.
Speech Therapy for Non-Verbal Autism Focus Areas
Speech therapy for non-verbal autism focuses on building the foundation of communication skills your child needs. This includes activities that focus on and support engagement, and listening, Furthermore, nonverbal autism speech therapy focuses on understanding and responding to language. This includes following directions and comprehension.
Speech therapy will also focus on building the skills required for your child to express their needs. These types of activities can vary but will focus on expressing feelings, commenting on the world around them, and responding to questions. Forms of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) may be used to help support your child too.
Speech therapy sessions will be fun for your child too! Developing play skills for children is essential, with or without nonverbal autism. As such, the therapists at The Therapy Place focus on enhancing cognitive and social development to support a child’s social interactions.
Examples of Speech Therapy Exercises for Nonverbal Autism
Your child’s Speech-Language Pathologist will help create fun, engaging, and age-appropriate activities and exercises designed to enhance their communication skills. In addition, they may provide other activities which you can help your child with at home (in between their therapy sessions).
Below are some examples of speech therapy exercises used for nonverbal autism:
Non-verbal children can benefit greatly from using journals. Whether they draw a picture or write, this encourages each child to communicate in a way they feel comfortable with. Your child’s Speech-Language Pathologist may encourage them to write down answers to specific prompts, like what is your favorite food? to allow them to see how the child expresses
Often, children with nonverbal autism may not respond to their names. Playing various types of name games is used to help children identify the sound of their name and respond when it is said.
Activities such as face puzzles can help support your child in expressing their emotions in ways other than verbal communication. Using a face puzzle, your child can show what or how they’re feeling by using other forms of nonverbal communication.
As a parent, recognizing the signs of nonverbal autism can be difficult. Nonverbal autism may cause your child to speak minimally or not at all. If you’ve noticed your child struggling to speak, speech therapy for nonverbal autism may be a great option to support their development.
Think your child may benefit from speech therapy for nonverbal autism? Our team at The Therapy Place can help! Through our trusted three-step method, we will pinpoint where your child needs assistance, practice, and produce progress that will help them!
Speech therapy takes time and patience. However, many parents have seen tremendous benefits from speech therapy sessions.
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