One of the most common statements that parents of autistic children say is ‘my child is nonverbal help’. A lot of parents worry that if their child is not speaking at the age of 4, they will never be able to speak. However, there are other ways of communicating as well as talking. If, however, you are worried that your autistic child is nonverbal there are some things that you can do to help your child to communicate. Communicating vs Speaking As we have said above, some children are able to communicate without actually speaking – and your child may be in this category. They may perhaps point to a toy they want or take you by the hand and lead you to the kitchen to help them pour a drink. Autistic children who are not yet speaking, often don’t understand the function of communication although they are actually able to learn how to speak. However, the fact that they don’t understand communication can prevent them from developing speech. The Function of Speech For those children who don’t understand the function of communication or the reason why it Is important to speak, it is critical that you teach them. You can do this by showing them that they need to do something in order to get something, such as I say ‘train’ and the train is given to me and I get to play with it. Here are some ways you can help your nonverbal child to communicate: Get down to their level When you are speaking to your child make sure you are face to face with them, and down on their level. Sit in front of them and get close so that they can concentrate on you. You can’t expect your child to listen to you if you are across the room or are standing when they are sitting. It will be much harder for them to understand you. Create a learning space Many parents have found good results from having a special place in their home for their autistic child to learn and interact. Having a space that is dedicated to them, and set up in a way which makes them feel calm and comfortable will help them to concentrate and learn. It can also be a great space for them to learn how to communicate as well, especially if you use augmented alternative communication (aac) devices as well. Use toys to help your child learn language Your child is probably never going to be motivated to ask to go to bed or do their homework, but they are motivated to want to ask for their favourite toy or game. So, start by teaching them the word for their favourite thing. Each child is different – it could be their favourite thing is a train or they could love playdoh. Whatever it is, you should teach them to request that item first. Make it fun All children, whether they have autism or not, will learn better if you make the lessons fun. There are lots of free printable’s available online which will help them to follow instructions, learn colours and also learn new words as well. Engaging with your child in this way will help them to learn speech without them realising it. Use adapted sign language One technique that some parents have used to help their child to communicate is to teach them adapted sign language. Adapted sign language is based on English sign language signs but made simpler, such as teaching them signs without movement. Once your child has learnt adapted sign language and is using it to communicate, you can then pair the signs with verbal approximations then words. Once your child is using words you can then fade the signs out. Use repetition It can take a lot of time for your child to learn words and speech, and to ask for specific items and so you should keep their interest levels up by changing learning activities frequently. There are many different ways for your child to learn the same request. Games are a great way to help your child to learn the same word with a variety of different pictures. Teach your child to point Pointing is a key skill for your child to master if they want to be able to communicate successfully. You can use photos of objects, places and animals to help your child learn to point. Simply go through the pictures with your child, say one word to label each picture such as ‘dog’, ‘juice’ ‘ball’, and guide your child to point at each photo as you say the word. You can then start to reduce your guidance each time you do this activity. Decrease mouthing behaviour Mouthing behaviour includes thumb sucking, and chewing on toys. Excessive mouthing behaviour can make it difficult for your child to develop verbal skills. There are gadgets out there that can help you with decreasing mouthing behaviour in your child, but your key worker may be the best person to ask for help with this. If you are looking for apps to help my child speak, then why not use App2Vox? Developed in partnership with Autism Together, App2Vox is a free application and online system that helps give autistic people a voice. Developed with the aim of helping nonverbal children to speak, it uses a sophisticated library of cues and smart phrase builder to allow those with limited communication to interact with those people around them.