Home > Got Questions?, Science > My child is nonverbal – what are some intervention methods that might help my child communicate better?

My child is nonverbal – what are some intervention methods that might help my child communicate better?

“Got Questions?” is a new weekly feature on our blog to address the desire for scientific understanding in our community.  We received over 3000 responses when we asked what science questions were on your mind. We answered a few here and will address the other themes we received in this weekly post.

Many individuals with autism do not use spoken language to communicate.  It is estimated that approximately 25% of individuals with ASD are nonverbal.  Despite early traditional approaches such as speech, occupational and behavioral therapy, some children still remain unable to communicate their wants and needs.  A recent study found that some children with ASD do not develop spoken language until after the age 5 years.  On-going speech and language intervention can promote the development of speech in nonverbal children who are of school age.  In addition, there exist specific intervention approaches that can be helpful for some individuals, such as PROMPT, an intervention approach especially designed for children with motor-speech disorders.

Speech and language specialists recommend a variety of alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) devices for individuals who are nonverbal.  A commonly used system is the PECS picture exchange system (PECS).   PECS has been used with individuals with ASD of all ages.  One advantage is that it doesn’t require expensive materials, relying on a set of picture symbols that can be used to make simple or complex requests and other statements.  The symbols are typically placed in a communication book.  After the child or adult learned to make spontaneous requests.  The individual can then learn to construct sentences.  . Other AAC methods include the following:

  • Gestures and sign language
  • Pencil and paper
  • Communication books or boards
  • Keyboards and other electronic devices

The iPhone and iPad are being used as ACC devices. These new interactive technologies have invited a wave of new applications to benefit individuals on the spectrum, especially those who are nonverbal.  Many of these applications incorporate the advantages of the PECS system of offering a stock of visual images as well as the ability to personalize using one’s own images.  Two of the most popular programs are Proloquo2go and iPrompts.

Although the use of these devices have not been tested in rigorous clinical trials, those trials are underway and early anecdotal reports are positive.  Connie Kasari, PhD. (UCLA) leads an Autism Speaks’ funded clinical trial comparing two different interventions for young nonverbal individuals.  Having previously used traditional keyboarding devices, Dr. Kasari has found that the iPad with speech generating software offers a great alternative to expensive AAC speech generating devices.  However Dr. Kasari also adds, that these devices “Work best in therapy sessions with a child who has not yet figured out that they can surf the web with it, too!”

Of course, this potential distraction is also an advantage. These new applications  are hosted on the multifunctional iPhone and iPad platforms.  HandHoldAdaptive, the creators of iPrompts, have launched AutismTrack, a new portable journaling tool that enables caregivers to track therapies, medication and behavior.  Developers continue to create new apps to address the challenges of those on the spectrum, making these new tools even more powerful for managing the everyday needs and desires for individuals on the spectrum.

Read a blog from Dr. Kasari about nonverbal autism and more information about Autism Speaks investments in nonverbal autism.   For more information about ACC, the following websites may be useful:

ACC Institute:   http://www.aacinstitute.org/

International Society for Augmentative and Alternate Communication

To locate a speech-language pathologist, visit http://www.asha.org/findpro/default.htm

  1. melissa
    October 29, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    my question is what kind of intervention can i do for throwing my 6 yr old gets upset and throws everything

  2. Tammy
    October 29, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    How is the term “educably autistic” defined? A medical diagnosis is not enough for our daughter to receive services – she must be deemed “educably autistic” as well. But I can’t find any guidelines or a definition of this term? Can anybody help? Thanks – Tammy Karn

  3. Mercy Pena
    October 29, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Done all of the above, and my 20 year old, non-verbal son still does not talk. However, he’s come a long way in receptive language.

  4. erica
    October 30, 2010 at 8:45 am

    we have recently purchased an ipad…we are still getting use to it and learning about the different aps. not sure which ones are better than others yet…
    thanks for this article. anyone had any success with PROMPT therapy?

  5. Christina Sigler
    October 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    My name is Christina. Looking for amicus friend of the court letters for my little boy w/ autism in an appeal. Child suffers sexual abuse, strangling, beatings,emotional abuse- pets killed and forced to watch them rot, denial of services at school. His batterer and Judge refuse him any medical care. I have written Bazelon, Autism Speaks and FL NOW so far. So far no response. This child is in a life threatening situation. Any information or help is appreciated. We are appealing to get him back in my care, get medical care and services and there is a school specific to his needs just amazing right here by me. Please let me know any one who can help. He is one of 58,000 children court ordered to medical neglect (and other abuses)into the custody of their batterer while tying the hands of the protective parent. (I am a pediatric registered nurse) 70% of batterers win custody and this is the man that strangled me and shook this child as a baby they gave custody to and it is mind boggling unless you go through it.

    The letter I seek from autism speaks is primarily regarding autism and treatment he needs and his human right and civil rights to medical care. Dr. Karin Huffer is my advocate and would be happy to contact and help get letters if you know anyone that can help.

    Thanks Christina

  6. nancy noyb
    October 31, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    please explain how the hepatitis B vaccine damages the mitochondria,and what medications can be used to treat it.

  7. Barbara Thacker
    October 31, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    I could tell tales on this topic. I have 2 sons, both on the Autistic Spectrum. They are grown now (19 1/2 and 23). Where oh where was all this info when mine were coming up??? I could have used it and so could have the school districts my boys were victim of. They are doing fairly well now in spite of all they struggle with.

    • Gail Stewart
      February 23, 2011 at 11:16 pm

      Thinking of sons your age, I suggest checking out the award-winning film “God’s Ears” (www.godsears.com) where the main character is a young autistic man. It’s uplifting. (You can also download it on the hulu website, which features independent films.) I hope you enjoy it.

  8. Katie Wright
    November 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I have done all of the above and much, much, much more.

    It is hugely frustrating and sad when a child just stops talking. Christian was a real chatter until his regression. I have not heard him speak spontaneously in 7 years. PROMPT was excellent at helping him form sounds and 2-3 word sentences but we have to elicit every word.

    I wish I could give every parent of a nonverbal kid the IPad. The autism apps are tremendous. forget that 7k dynavox?- this is SO much better.

    Finally this post should have mentioned biomedical interventions. So many ASD kids improve with the right help. Autism is not just a genes/ brain disorder, it is a brain body disorder/ disease. Check out Autism Research Institute for all the interventions, NAA or Generation Rescue offers parent to parent mentoring for issues such as these.

  9. Sarah
    November 4, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Can we please pre-screen all infants for mtDNA defects?

    1 in 200 children carry a hidden mitochondrial DNA mutation or defect that pre-disposes them to diseases like autism, bipolar, schizophrenia.. why aren’t docs pre-screening babies for these MtDNA defects at birth. It should be done prior to vaccinating since we know that vaccines could aggravate the underlying defects triggering manifestation of a disease.

    Large reservoir of mitochondrial DNA mutations identified in humans
    August 11, 2008

    “Researchers at the University of Newcastle, England, and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech in the United States have revealed a large reservoir of mitochondrial DNA mutations present in the general population. Clinical analysis of blood samples from almost 3,000 infants born in north Cumbria, England, showed that at least 1 in 200 individuals in the general public harbor mitochondrial DNA mutations that may lead to disease.”


  10. Carol
    January 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    What are the best “free” games for the iPad for a 9 year old boy with Autism?

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