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INSPIRING NONVERBAL CHILDREN WITH AUTISM: Communication Catalysts for Children with Verbal Challenges

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

AUTISM ACADEMY – Autism Academy, a school for children with autism, would like to emphasize the importance of how the nonverbal experience enhances challenges and adds frustration to many children with autism.

Nonverbal children are rare.

Unfortunately, because communication is the ability to exchange information, nonverbal behavior may be perceived as extreme shyness or rudeness by others.

The Autism Academy for Education and Development uses augmentative and alternative approaches to help nonverbal students communicate.

“Just because you speak and have words does not mean that you can communicate,” said AAED developmental director Shannon Mitchell. “Some kids are not able to form words and others cannot speak at all.”

They have language and they can say words, but that doesn’t mean they can effectively communicate, she explained.

Most children with autism, in some way, have language and communication challenges.

Autism is a social, emotional, and communication disorder.

“It is not necessarily a cognitive disorder,” said Mitchell.

Children with autism see patterns and numbers differently and some of them are more cognitively advanced than traditional learners.

It’s all about the way information is organized in the brain.

They have difficulties cataloging words, therefore it’s difficult for them to say them when necessary.

Some kids have language disorders, and some have apraxia.

Apraxia is a neurological condition characterized by loss of the ability to perform activities that a person is physically able and willing to do.

“Unlike mutism, nonverbal language disorders are more common amongst children with autism,” Mitchell said.

As a result, nonverbal students with autism use augmentative communication devices like iPads, Tango, Vantage and many others.

However, devices are not only used by nonverbal children.

Personal devices are tailored to help many children of all ages based on development, likes, and dislikes.

Written words are different from just talking, so educators use many different ways to help nonverbal students communicate.

In addition to writing, the Autism Academy, a school for children with autism, uses signs, pictures, and apps to aid in the communication process.

“Some kids don’t understand how to use pronouns, so they’ll call boys “she” and girls “he,” said Mitchell. “We have three speech therapists and six speech and language assistants to help them.”

Any child with language, but lacks communication abilities can be a good candidate for a device.

Some parents say, “They are never going to talk if the computer does it for them.”

Mitchell said, “It’s understandable that parents would have this concern, but research does not support this idea.”

The threshold for annoyance is much higher for children who do not feel heard or are unable to learn.

Devices help students to hear words repetitively, which enables them to audibly repeat them.

“It is amazing when we hear nonverbal kids talk for the first time,” she said.

At the Autism Academy for Education and Development, the teachers and therapists work together as a team to maximize the growth of students.
The school for children with autism aims for success in and outside the classroom.

Individual Education Plans are monitored routinely to maximize each student’s highest potential.

The program provides an intense consultation and a direct-service model for speech/language.

Students work daily on improving their speech, language, and social pragmatic skills.

The Autism Academy fosters a safe learning environment where nonverbal children with autism are able to soar amongst their verbal peers.

Seven Tips to R.E.B.U.I.L.D. Confidence in Nonverbal Children

by Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

  1. Reward progression and create a comfortable atmosphere.
  2. Eliminate pressure to talk while encouraging interaction.
  3. Build self-esteem with positive affirmations.
  4. Utilize a positive approach no matter the feedback.
  5. Inspire participation during games, rhymes, and fun.
  6. Listen to any form of communication, verbal or nonverbal.
  7. Discover art and music to inspire self-expression.

If your child with autism is nonverbal, then reach out to Autism Academy to enroll with us.