Autism spectrum disorder covers a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders. This may include communication and speech delays and difficulty articulating or understanding language. These difficulties with receptive language, the ability to understand spoken words may result in self-isolation or atypical verbal behavior at a young age.
Every learner on the autism spectrum presents different strengths and challenges with verbal and non-verbal communication. Signs and patterns of strengths and challenges often present within a child’s first 24 months of age, which may include a lack of mirroring, pointing to objects, or making eye contact with parents and caregivers. In fact, nearly forty percent of children with autism spectrum disorder are nonverbal. These young learners may struggle with receptive identification tasks, such as following instructions or identifying objects around them. As a parent or teacher, it can be difficult to understand how to meet a non-verbal child’s needs and foster other forms of communication without frustration, worry, and isolation.
Symptoms of Non-Verbal Autism
While the primary sign of non-verbal autism is whether or not someone can speak clearly or avoids speaking entirely, symptoms may include the following:
Difficulty with Social Interaction
This may present as self-isolation, shyness, avoiding eye contact, or not responding to one’s name.
Extreme Need for Routine
This may include frustration when a daily schedule is interrupted or the need to fixate on a single project. Likewise, one may have trouble concentrating and move from project to project very quickly.
Early signs of autism may include a child not responding to their name by age 1, avoiding eye contact, and not pointing to objects by 14 months.
Tools for Verbal Behavior Training
Because symptoms of non-verbal autism are specific to each learner’s needs and experience, tools for improving speech behavior are often tailored for a child’s needs. Practices may include:
Receptive Language Programs
The use of cards or video images helps learners identify objects to improve their receptive identification skills.
Respond to Tasks
Learners are given verbal cues for tasks both in and out of context. This may range from playing games like “red light, green light” to self-care tasks or simple cooking instructions.
Like all children, non-verbal learners respond to their parents’ and caretakers’ examples. This may include demonstrating body language, practicing short phrases, using sign language, and promoting the learning to imitate speech.
A speech pathologist can work with a child to strengthen muscles in the tongue, mouth, and neck to improve word articulation and practice singing to encourage tone and resonance of speech.
ABA Materials Matter
While a great number of children on the autism spectrum struggle with speech and may present as non-verbal learners, tools like the Verbal Matrix® allow practice in receptive identification, modeling, and play can encourage both verbal and non-verbal communication starting at a young age. Learners may see shifts in verbal behavior through routine practice with the support of family, doctors, therapists, BCBAs, and educators. Any learner with autism spectrum disorder can see improvement in communication in time, leading to a more connected, enriching life.
Register for aba|tools for More Information
The aba|tools app provides parents with applied behavioral analysis tools to meet their child’s needs from the comfort of home. Our digital language development content library serves parents, teachers, and therapists with clinician-developed tools to help meet each child on the autism spectrum’s language learning needs. Founded by a BCBA, aba|tools is a convenient, adaptable autism software focused on verbal behavior. To begin applied behavioral analysis therapy for non-verbal learners, register today to start using aba|tools.