What is Nonverbal Autism?
Nonverbal autism refers to an individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who doesn’t use speech to communicate.
Instead, they may use gestures or behavioral responses like grunts to indicate what they want.
This can be one of the earliest signs of autism.
Neurotypical children usually say their first words between 12 and 18 months, with some even speaking as early as 10 months.
However, children with autism may develop delayed speech as late as 36 months.
How Common is Nonverbal Autism?
Research indicates that between 25 and 30% of individuals with ASD are either nonspeaking or minimally speaking.
Neurotypical children usually say their first words between 12 and 18 months, with some even speaking as early as 10 months. However, children with autism may develop delayed speech as late as 36 months.
This doesn’t mean they can’t communicate at all, rather, these individuals may express themselves, their needs, and their wants by way of other modalities of communication.
Nonverbal Autism Causes
Much like determining the underlying cause of autism itself, it’s not yet known what specifically causes nonverbal autism.
However, researchers have found a link between verbal communication and joint attention.
The ability for children to achieve joint attention at a young age plays a major role in one’s language development, and there seems to be a significant lapse in this with kids with autism.
Researchers have found a link between verbal communication and joint attention.
Joint attention refers to a behavior in which two individuals focus on a specific event or object.
The goal is for them to interact with one another. It involves the ability to shift, maintain, and gain attention.
This is often achieved through gestures, vocalizations, and eye contact.
What Are the Signs of Nonverbal Autism?
The signs of nonverbal autism typically manifest around three years of age.
It may be difficult to notice at first, but it includes symptoms not fully allocated to speaking.
- Never smiling
- No verbal or babbling sounds
- No facial expressions
- Inability to follow objects visually
- Failure to make eye contact
As a child gets older, parents may begin to notice they don’t talk, and they don’t respond when others speak to them.
They may also repeat words they hear without fully understanding the context.
Lastly, they may appear disinterested in their surroundings and forming meaningful connections with others. Kids with nonverbal autism may find it difficult to make friends at school.
Alternative Communication for Nonverbal Autism
There are various methods to allow children with autism to communicate with those around them.
This includes low-tech alternative and augmentative communication (AAC).
This includes gestures, like pointing and nodding, as well as sign language.
Some kids may use pen and paper to write down what they want to get across.
Alternatives include gestures, like pointing and nodding, as well as sign language. Some kids may use pen and paper to write down what they want to get across.
There are also high-tech options for children with autism. There are specific apps and dedicated devices that will allow a child to state what they want.
Some kids with nonverbal autism may throw tantrums because they can’t communicate what they need, but an app can inform their parents or teachers that they’re hungry or want to play.
Some of these high-tech AAC devices can be difficult to use at first.
Parents may need to work with their children initially to show them the ins and outs of these items.
Can A Person With Nonverbal Autism Understand?
A person with nonverbal autism can still hear and understand others.
The absence of speech does not intrinsically mean a lack of understanding, and with the right support, people can communicate.
Nonverbal autism doesn’t automatically equate to intellectual disabilities.
They can still have a well-functioning mind, able to comprehend the world around them.
But they may have issues when it comes to expressing themselves.
Can Nonverbal Autism Learn to Speak?
Parents generally become aware of nonverbal autism in their children when they’re about three years old.
Therapy, including applied behavioral analysis, may help a child and their ability to communicate verbally.
In many cases, a child can still learn to talk beyond the age of three.
Some will learn to communicate verbally just fine, while others may still have limited abilities and talk in short phrases.
There is no cure for nonverbal autism, but with proper support, kids can develop other skills to express themselves.