Monday, June 13, 2011

Parents of Autistic Children - The Challenge of a Nonverbal Child

Parents of autistic children know that there are many challenges to parenting autistic children, especially nonverbal ones.

Nonverbal kids can't express their wants, dislikes, feelings, or anything else about themselves in words. They can't answer questions. It is often quite frustrating for both the parent and the child with autism to have a good relationship without the use of verbal communication.

Parents of autistic children understandably want to know what the child is thinking and feeling - are they happy? Sad? Hurt? Hungry? Lonely? How can I help them? The child wants also to communicate these things, but they can't. A lot of nonverbal autistic kids will act out from the frustration of not having any viable way to communicate. It is a difficult balancing act for all involved.

Fortunately, there are alternative communication forms that have been developed to help nonverbal autistic kids.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

One very common method is called the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). PECS is a method of getting a child to point to pictures to show their wants or needs.

Books of preprinted picture are available, or you can make your own pictures. It is important to make certain the pictures are of things your child is motivated to want to express.

What might these pictures be of? They could be their favorite activities, food they like, toys and books. Also, pictures that show words like "yes," "no," "hurts," and pictures convey emotions are important, too. You can either create your own pictures or use a library of pictures already created for this purpose in a software program like Boardmaker, which you can get at

Using a method like PECS can help an autistic child gain a basic level of functional communication. You can increase the number of pictures used as your child gets older.

Sign Language

A lot of kids who are nonverbal learn sign language in order to help them communicate. Since many autistic kids are visual learners, signing often comes more naturally to them than spoken language.

Two kinds of sign language are used in the US, American Sign Language and something called Pidgin Signed Language. An advantage to PSL is that it has a more intuitive structure, and it can be easier for autistic kids to learn.

Many parents feel that sign language is a good building block for kids to learn language. Even if this does not happen, having a little communication is always better than no communication at all.

Portable TTS (Text-To-Speech) Devices

One other option for children who are nonverbal is a device called an AlphaSmart. The AlphaSmart is used to type out what the person wants to say. It is basically a small, inexpensive battery-powered keyboard with a screen showing what is being typed. Some of these devices have speakers that will then speak the words out loud for the person. With the addition of a speaker these become portable TTS (Text-To-Speech) devices. These can work well with those who can write, but not talk.

Fortunately, there are several creative options for helping parents of autistic children whose children are nonverbal especially if these children have good motor skills.

Parents need to educate themselves on these innovative solutions and keep abreast of new developments. And a great site that has tips and suggestions for helping to raise your autistic child is the There you can sign up for their FREE newsletter with tips and info on autism.

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