Parenthood in all aspects sure is exciting, fun and fulfilling yet at times challenging. Raising kids to the best of their abilities is the desire and goal of every parent.
For most parents, especially those who are first time in parenting, they are very giddy and enthusiastic about seeing the development of their babies so they prepare much for them to see it.
Video recorders, cameras and mobile phones become their best friends and make sure that these have enough storage to document and capture each significant milestone.
And when pictures are taken, they are immediately printed to stick them on the scrapbooks or baby books that they are making for them to have something to look back on. Other young parents would even do video blogs or vlogs, as social media calls it if they prefer to share their experiences with people all around the globe.
However, as much as some parents would want to see boxes of developmental milestones ticked off, this may not be the case for them.
Perhaps, their kids may have not acquired them at an appropriate age. Delays are slowly becoming more and more evident as the child grows older, most especially in the areas of language and speech.
The most common sign Autistic child shows is the inability to babble even at the age of 2.5 years or it could be that the child may have had the ability to babble and speak at 8 months but his/her speech slowly diminished at the age of two.
On top of that, the child exhibits minimal to no social interaction and, restricted and repetitive motor behaviors. These signs that the child is showing are actually red flags for Autism.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, including deficits in social reciprocity, nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, and skills in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships “ (APA, 2013).
In other words, children with Autism do not just have problems with speech and language, but the ability to understand social relationships and interactions.
Accompanied by it is rigidity in routines and repetitive motor behaviors such as lining up and stacking of toys, spinning wheels of toy cars and the like.
Because it is called a “spectrum,” a wide range of symptoms, abilities and levels of impairment can be seen from different people with Autism.
Approximately 25-50% of the population of people with Autism are classified as Non-Verbal. Non-Verbal Autism means that a child diagnosed with Autism may have minimal to no language used to express their thoughts, feelings and needs.
Although this term may be used by the common-folk to distinguish this population, the DSM-5 gives a more specific diagnosis for them, which is Autism Spectrum Disorder, requiring very substantial support.
But accompanying specifiers, as what DSM-5 calls them, may be added to the diagnosis (i.e. ASD, requiring very substantial support, with accompanying language impairment – no intelligible words, or – with accompanying language impairment – phrase speech [APA, 2013]). This specifier will depend on the diagnosis given by the doctor.
Communicating with Non-Verbal Autism
Certain challenges may arise in the area of communication for both the Non-Verbal Autistic kids and adults and their families. There are a lot of factors to consider when these challenges occur.
But before discussing techniques for effective communication with these individuals, listed below are some common misconceptions about the abilities of kids and adults with Non-Verbal Autism:
Misconceptions About Non-Verbal Autism
- They do not understand instructions or words being spoken to them and are of low IQs.
This is not true. This is a very common misconception among people who have not handled or interacted with Autistic people.
Although kids or adults with Non-Verbal Autism have very limited to no language use, limited use of social overtures and have some odd responses when spoken to, does not immediately equate to them being unable to understand words spoken to them.
A Non-Verbal Autistic 5-year-old may require a longer period of pause for him/her to process incoming information to perform the task being asked by the speaker.
This also does not mean that they are not intelligent or have low IQ scores. If this is the case, then it would create injustice and a bias for them.
In fact, some may be non-verbal but have exceptional skills and abilities in different fields such as the arts, literature, music, maths, sciences, etc.
- They do not understand the emotions of the people around them and do not get hurt when isolated.
Albeit their lack of social interaction skills, such as eye contact, tone of voice, gestures, etc., they still are emotional beings and long to be included in group activities despite their preference for solitary activities. They have feelings too and do get hurt when spoken negatively.
How to effectively communicate with Non-Verbal Autistic kids or adults?
There are different approaches and strategies that one could use to effectively communicate with these individuals.
- Talk with them face to face.
Even though Non-Verbal Autistic individuals have difficulty initiating and maintaining eye contact, talking with them face to face increases their awareness that they are the ones being spoken to.
- Talk slower with the appropriate tone of voice and repeat words if necessary.
Because some may have sensory processing issues when it comes to auditory stimuli, talking slowly may help them perceive the words better. Using the correct tone of voice which is not too loud and not too soft, facilitates a calming effect and increases their concentration on the words being spoken.
- Give pauses to allow adequate time to process information.
Their thought processes are unique in some way and have different sensory issues to deal with. Thus, allowing them to process auditory information for a longer time makes communication more effective, especially when conveying longer and more complex instructions.
- Use simple words as possible.
The more complicated words being used, the more they have to be repeated and this in turn increases the anxiety of these kids, thus resulting in temper tantrums. The usage of simple words, on the other hand, allows faster processing of information.
- Chunk the sentence into phrases.
If the sentence is too long, it is important to break them down into phrases. This is because Autistic individuals become overwhelmed when there is too much information presented to them.
- Use big gestures and physical prompts.
Accompanying words with physical gestures and prompts proves to be much more effective in conveying information. As they say, actions speak louder than words!
- Communicate using pictures.
Most kids with Autism heavily rely on visual cues. Thus, using pictures to communicate with them difficult concepts are very helpful.
Will my Non-Verbal Autistic child ever speak?
Several kids have been diagnosed with Non-Verbal Autism who learned how to speak at a later age.
Some were diagnosed as early as the age of 2 and were given early intervention services. Early intervention has proven to be successful in improving speech and as well as in helping the child achieve other developmental milestones.
These services are provided by multiple professionals, namely, Occupational Therapists (OT), Special Education Teachers, Speech and Language Pathologists (SLP), etc. They provide holistic and meaningful services to these kids specifically through play.
Once these children received these services, they showed great improvement which started as babbling then progresses to utter single words then start speaking phrases and eventually speak sentences. This gradual progression may take longer than expected as well.
However, there are those kids with Non-Verbal Autism who had received all these services intensively, yet they remained Non-Verbal. For these kids, a different approach is used for them to communicate.
There are a number of Alternative and Augmentative Communication Devices that are available for them to use. Speech Tablets iPads, laptop computers, phones and Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) are some examples of AAC devices.
Some highly recommended Augmentative Communication Devices
Non-Verbal Autism Apps
Apps such as AACORN, Choiceworks and Proloquo2Go can be downloaded in their iPads and tablets as well. The kids or adults with Non-Verbal Autism, along with their significant others, can be taught and trained by their respective SLPs in using them.
Allow them to explore these Non-Verbal Autism apps and see magnificent results in their communicative abilities.
Through the use of these Non-Verbal Autism apps, these individuals can now speak their hearts out. In fact, a woman diagnosed with severe Non-Verbal Autism, named Carly Fleischmann, found the beauty of using a computer at the age of 10. Her first words were “HELP TEETH HURT” and from then on, she started typing words to communicate to her family and therapists. She even published a book entitled “Carly’s Voice” with the help of her father, Arthur Fleischmann (Fleischmann, 2012).
Signs of Non Verbal autism
How does one know if his/her child has Non-Verbal Autism? Listed below are signs or red flags that a child may have non-verbal Autism.
- The child is already 2 years old and has not produced babbling sounds.
- The child has a limited vocabulary for his/her age.
- Echolalia is present. This means that the child often repeats the word spoken by another person as if doing an echo.
- Single word utterances are still being used despite his/her age.
- Failure to produce syllables though crying and giggling sounds can be noted.
- Uses hand leading and/or pointing to indicate wants and needs.
- Failure to communicate using speech.
- May memorize and sing songs but unable to communicate when asked to.
In addition to these signs, here are other red flags for Autism:
Red Flag for Autism
- Inability to make eye-contact.
- Rigid in his/her routines.
- Fixation with certain objects.
- Self-stimulatory behaviors are observed such as spinning, lining up and stacking of toys, etc.
- Exhibits sensory processing issues (i.e. hypersensitivity to sound or touch or clothing textures, high tolerance to pain, difficulty in coordinating bodily movements and the like).
- Prefers solitary activities and distances himself/herself from a group. Often plays alone and does not like crowded areas.
- Delays in motor skills.
- Delays in self-help skills.
- Delayed social smile.
If these signs or red flags are being observed, it is best to go to your child’s pediatrician first they may refer you to a developmental pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, child psychologist or child psychiatrist so that a thorough evaluation may be done.
After this evaluation, a diagnosis will be given to your child and the doctor may refer you to occupational therapy, speech therapy, social worker or other professionals who specialize and are trained in handling kids with special needs.
These professionals will be the ones to arrange and make intervention plans necessary to help your child achieve his/her highest level of function.
Non-Verbal Autism Recovery
As stated earlier, being non-verbal does not automatically mean that he/she will remain non-verbal throughout his/her lifespan.
There are those who have overcome this stage in their lives and have learned to speak. As long as they are given early intervention, supportive family environment and faithful carry-over of tasks at home, their language development increases over time.
To point out a prominent figure who was once thought of as non-verbal is Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Temple Grandin is currently a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.
She only started talking at the age of 3.5 years old wherein she had received early intervention services, specifically, speech therapy (Temple Grandin, 2012).
Although this type of disorder persists throughout a lifetime, symptoms can be lessened and coping strategies may be taught for them to be able to effectively integrate themselves in the community.
Various support groups can be found throughout social media and the internet to be able to connect with others who have the same diagnosis.
Living with Non-Verbal Autism sure is not easy. Modifications, intensive therapy and a whole lot of patience are required. They are easily misunderstood individuals by society for their “odd” behavior and inability to verbally voice out their thoughts.
Their lack of speech does not signify their lack of ability or understanding. But thanks to the help of the AACs and applications, they can creatively share their thoughts and inspire others with their lives.
Those who are able to speak must also learn to adjust and find ways to make these people with Autism heard. May they be advocates and lend them a helping hand.
Having Autism is not a curse, but a gift to the world that love may be shown and shared. Being diagnosed is not the end; it is only the beginning of something new and great.
A lifetime full of endless possibilities and excitement is ahead of them as well as milestones and goals waiting to be achieved.
People with Autism have greatly impacted the world not just in the area of literature, sciences and the like, but in making the world understand that being different is not always a negative thing. Rather, diversity brings unity.
Sharing is Caring!
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