man and child communicating with sign language

Communication Tips for Parents of a Nonverbal Child with Autism

Being the parent or caregiver to a nonverbal child with autism can be challenging, but we’re here to help you meet the challenge head-on. We have information on nonverbal autism as well as communication tips for parents of nonverbal children with autism.

Nonverbal Autism: Defined

Around 25% of children with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis are considered nonverbal or minimally verbal. This means that these children do not speak at all or speak very little.

In some cases, children with nonverbal autism may speak in baby talk for the first year, until their ASD becomes more severe and they stop speaking altogether.

It’s important to visit your pediatrician when you first notice that your child is old enough to speak but is not speaking. The cause is not always autism—sometimes, a child may have hearing problems.

If your child’s reason for being nonverbal or minimally verbal is autism, however, we have a few ideas on how to communicate with a nonverbal autistic child.

communication tips for parents of a nonverbal child with autism

Sign Language and Nonverbal Communication

American Sign Language (ASL) is one of the best options for nonverbal communication, as is Makaton sign language. While ASL is the more widely used option, Makaton is easier to learn. For that reason, many therapists recommend it when communicating with children with nonverbal ASD.

Before you and your child know an official form of sign language, you can use hand gestures and body language to communicate. Exaggerate your gestures and eye contact to make it clear what you’re trying to express—big smiles and slow hand movements can go a long way.

You may also want to use objects, pictures, and flashcards to help your child understand you. If you’re looking for helpful assistive devices, we have a few we think you’ll love in our “Ability Marketplace” (accessed by selecting “Shop” in our website’s pull-down menu)!

Pay Attention to Actions

Another useful nonverbal communication strategy for autism is to keep a close eye on your child and their actions. They may not exaggerate their expressions and gestures as much as you do, so it’s important to watch closely and notice when your child is communicating, even subtly.

Don’t Stop Talking

It may feel like you should mimic your child’s nonverbal behavior, but you should actually keep talking. Narrate what you’re doing, include your child in conversations, and address your child by name. Be sure to keep your language simple and give your child time to nonverbally reply. Speech can develop later in life, so refraining from verbal communication can have negative effects in the future.

Use Imitation

Imitation goes a long way when encouraging your child to interact and vocalize more. Mimic your child’s sounds and styles of play in order to show them that those are positive behaviors. It’s important to note that you should only imitate positive behaviors—avoid imitating aggressive or harmful actions.

Now that you know these communication tips for parents of nonverbal children with autism, remember that you aren’t alone. We know how difficult caregiving can be, as do other members of our community. 

blog post graphic for "Communication tips for Parents of a Nonverbal Child with Autism" from Ability Life Solutions

If you need a place to talk about what you’re experiencing, you can post on our Facebook page or contact us for a consultation if you need a more personalized approach. Your friends at Ability Life Solutions are on your side.

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