Many parents of children who have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum in the past have been told that if their child is not speaking by the age of 5 then are unlikely to ever do so. However recent research has shown that this simply isn’t the case – and children who have made it to adolescence without speaking have learnt to develop language skills. This has led to many articles on how to help your nonverbal child to communicate, and so, we have decided to share our top tips with you as well. However, before we jump into our tips it is important to remember that every single person who is diagnosed with autism is unique. This means that no matter how hard you look for the signs my autistic child will talk and work on utilising the strategies outlined below, what works on one child or teenager may have no effect on another. Every person who is diagnosed with autism should be able to be taught to communicate – it won’t always be through the use of language. There are many cases of nonverbal autistic children who have grown to make valuable contributions to society and they have lived fulfilled lives with the help of assistive technologies and visual supports. So, here are our top seven strategies of how to positively promote language development in nonverbal autistic children, and teenagers who have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum as well: Encourage them through play and social interaction We regularly tell parents that children learn through play and so this is a great way to encourage them to develop language skills. Playing along with your children will also give you plenty of opportunity to communicate with your child. Try to find a variety of different games that your child enjoys and also playful activities that will encourage social interaction, such as reciting nursery rhymes, singing their favourite songs or simply roughhousing. While you are playing along with your child make sure you keep yourself in front of your child and at eye level, so that it is easy for them to see you and hear you as this will help them to pick up on your subtle clues. Use Imitation Imitating your child when they make sounds can help them to feel more confident at vocalising things. It can also encourage your child to imitate you when you make sounds and say words, and so can ease interaction. However, when you are imitating your child’s sounds and behaviour, make sure you are only imitating the positive behaviours. So, for example, if your child is playing with a car and rolling it over, you choose a car to play with and roll yours over too. However, if your child throws their car across the room, you shouldn’t imitate this behaviour. Focus on nonverbal communication The language we use on a daily basis is based largely on eye contact and facial gestures and so you should encourage your child to respond to these behaviours by modelling them for them. Use exaggerated gestures when you are talking to your child and always use both your voice and body as well – such as nodding your head vigorously when you say ‘yes’ or pointing to a particular object when you say ‘look at’. Try and ensure the gestures are easy for your child to imitate as well, such as clapping, reaching out your arms and opening your hands. You should also ensure you respond to any gesture your child makes – such as if they point to a toy take their cue for you to play with it, and also ensure you point to a toy you want before you pick it up. Leave a gap for your child to talk If you are trying to get your child’s language to improve by starting conversations with them, it can be tempting to fill in the gaps in the conversation when there are any. However, it is better to leave gaps for your child to be able to communicate, even if they don’t actually talk. If you notice that your child wants something, or you ask them a question, pause for a minute or two while making eye contact with them. If they respond with any body movement or sound, then make sure respond promptly as this will help your child to understand the importance of communication. Use Simple Language Simplifying the language you use on a daily basis is a great way to help your child to follow what you are saying more easily. If your child is nonverbal, for example, you should really simplify your language, to the point of just using one word as much as possible, so if your child is playing with a ball you could say ‘play’ or ‘roll’ or ‘ball’. Once they have grasped these words you can then add another word to the sentence such as ‘roll ball’. Once they have grasped this, then add another word such as ‘roll the ball’. And so on, and so on. Encourage their Interests Rather than forcing your child to communicate with you, focus instead on the things they are focussing on and incorporate this into your communication. Narrate what they are doing using the simple language we described above. If they are playing with shapes, for example, you could say ‘shape’ when they pick a block up, ‘in’ when they put a shape in a slot in their shape sorter, and ‘out’ when they empty the shape sorter. Consider Assistive Devices Some parents worry that assistive devices and visual supports, such as App2Vox, can take away from speech development, but actually it has the opposite effect and it can actually help to foster it. By working closely with your child and ap talks, you can encourage language development and help your child to find their voice.