Understanding and Supporting Non-Verbal Autistic Children: Practical Tips
Supporting autistic children is all about understanding their incredible abilities! Navigating communication with pre/ non-verbal autistic children requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges their unique ways of expressing themselves. I am sharing with you my three favourites that I have found extremely useful in understanding children with a diagnosis of Autism.
1. Recognize Their Understanding: A majority of pre/ non-verbal autistic children possess a keen understanding of their surroundings, even if they don't use verbal communication. Therefore, avoid underestimating their comprehension and be mindful of how you discuss them with others.
Aruna (name changed), a four-and-a-half-year-old autistic girl that I worked with lacked verbal expression but demonstrated a clear understanding of conversations. When her mother mentioned her name, she would attentively listen. If it was a positive comment about her, she would grin with pride and for a negative compliment she would look downcast. Understanding her emotional requirements, her parents remained extremely careful in how they spoke about her in her presence.
Comprehension and expression of language need not necessarily be on the same levels for autistic children. If we assume that our children can’t understand what is spoken around them, we are likely to be incorrect. Our words can make or break a child.
2. Provide Alternative Communication Systems:Empowering non-verbal autistic children with alternative communication methods is instrumental in giving them a voice. In addition to spoken words, consider introducing tools like picture boards, gestures, or assistive technologies like AVAAZ. These resources open up new avenues for self-expression and granting children greater independence in their interactions. Remember, communication must not be limited to verbal language.
3. Interpret Body Language: Words may not be the primary mode of communication for non-verbal autistic children. Often they convey their needs and emotions through body language. Children are constantly communicating! Pay attention to subtle cues like gestures, facial expressions, eye gaze and posture. For instance, a child might indicate a desire to go outdoors by directing their body towards the door and focusing their gaze on it instead of verbally saying it aloud. Professionals and parents alike should be attuned to these non-verbal signals, as they provide valuable insights into the child's emotions and intentions.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that understanding and supporting pre/non-verbal autistic children requires a multifaceted approach that values their unique forms of communication. offering our support by acknowledging their comprehension abilities, interpreting body language, and offering alternative communication systems, can create an environment where our children can thrive and express themselves confidently.
Through these strategies, we can bridge the gap between verbal and non-verbal communication, fostering a more inclusive community for all.
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Sr. Speech Langauge Pathologist & Founding Director
Dimensions Centre for Child Development