Contrary to popular belief, nonverbal autism is not exactly a type of autism. It’s a term used to describe patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who don’t know how to communicate verbally. This article dives deeply into what nonverbal autism is, what parents can do to help their children, and more. 


What Is Nonverbal Autism?

Nonverbal autism is a term used to describe patients on the spectrum who cannot communicate verbally. This symptom often occurs in people with severe or level 3 autism.

 Children with level 3 autism have trouble expressing their needs verbally and nonverbally. They have quite a limited ability to talk. When they do speak, their words may be slurred and awkward. As a result, they may struggle to interact socially and form lasting bonds with peers. 

Having nonverbal autism doesn’t necessarily mean that your child may never learn to speak. However, it will take time and treatment to get your child to a level where they can communicate well.


What Percentage of Autism Is Nonverbal?

It’s not uncommon for patients with autism to struggle with communication or speech delays. Some patients may get by with minimal professional assistance. Others may need more support than their more functional counterparts. 

About 1 in 44 children in the US alone are diagnosed with ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated 25% to 30% of these children are either minimally verbal or never develop functional speaking skills. These patients speak no more than 30 or fewer words – if at all.

 Below are some signs that a child with autism may be nonverbal.


Signs That Your Child Will Be Nonverbal

A few common signs that your child may have nonverbal autism include the following:


  • He or she didn’t mumble or make noises as a baby.
  •  He or she avoids eye contact.
  • He or she doesn’t use gestures or communicate in other nonverbal methods.
  • He or she doesn’t respond when spoken to or when their name is being called.
  •  He or she doesn’t use body language to express themselves.


Nonverbal autism isn’t so easy to identify in a patient with ASD. It’s normal for patients with ASD to struggle to communicate using conventional techniques. There’s also a possibility that your child could just be in the preverbal stage of their development – the level at which verbal language development takes place. 

A doctor may interview your child to determine their verbal state. Parents, guardians, and teachers may also help in the process by providing the doctor with insight into the patient’s language history.


How Can a Nonverbal Child Learn To Communicate?

 Raising a child with nonverbal autism can be twice as challenging. Fortunately, there are alternative ways for children with nonverbal autism to communicate their needs to their parents.

A few examples include American Sign Language (ASL), picture cards, and mobile or digital tools. 

Here’s a list of methods and techniques parents can use to help their children communicate.


Functional Communication Training (FCT)


Functional Communication Training is a treatment designed for children with nonverbal autism. It teaches children on the spectrum to find alternative ways of communicating their needs. By identifying the underlying purpose of challenging behaviors in children with ASD, FCT can help patients learn new ways of communicating that require less effort.

 For instance, your child might be upset about his favorite cereal running out but doesn’t know how to communicate his feelings. FCT can help the child learn how to ask for more cereal, either by using gestures or communication aids like flash cards or digital devices.


Encourage Play and Social Interaction 

Playing with your child provides them with various opportunities to learn and have fun. It can help them learn languages more effectively. Plus, it offers a great avenue for your child to learn how to communicate.

 Start by playing a variety of games if you don’t know what your child already likes. A few examples include singing nursery rhymes, playing dress up, or just spending some time outdoors.


Simplify Your Language

Children with autism can’t process words and phrases as fast as their typical counterparts. Simplifying your language makes it easier for your child to understand you. It also puts them in a position where they can easily imitate your words. 

Parents of nonverbal children should speak mostly using single words. Slowly increase the word count as your child gets accustomed to your speech.


Imitate Them

 Imitating your child’s speech and actions may encourage them to vocalize and interact more. Don’t worry about feeling awkward or even embarrassed the first few times you try to imitate your child.

Soon enough, you may notice your child will start to copy your actions and speech too. You can take turns copying each other’s sounds and movements.


Use Assistive Technologies and Visual Supports

 Assistive devices and visual supports can help children with autism develop functional verbal skills. Pictures and flashcards are types of visual support that can help children with ASD learn about language. 

Additionally, software and apps that teach children how to pronounce and spell words can also help children with autism develop speaking skills.


ABA Therapy and Nonverbal Autism: How It Can Help

Parents may feel disheartened or overwhelmed when they first learn that their child has nonverbal autism. After all, every parent only wants what’s best for their children. 

The good news is that the autism level that your child is initially diagnosed with is not a life sentence. Children with autism can improve their communication functions with the right assistance from evidence-based Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy

Developmental delays in language and nonverbal communication are common among children with autism. ABA helps children on the spectrum work through their developmental issues using scientifically proven therapeutic techniques.

This therapy is based on the use of rewards to reinforce desired behavior. It encourages nonverbal children to speak rather than relying on nonverbal cues.

Consider ABA therapy as an alternative option to help your children develop better communication skills. Check for available facilities in your area and select one that fits your and your child’s needs.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

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