Over the years I’ve seen parents and professionals call a child nonverbal. They would put a lot of emphasis on augmentative communication devices but no emphasis on vocal language. I never give up on vocal language, even in “nonverbal children.” So, today I’m going to answer your questions about teaching a child with autism to talk.
When I’ve done evaluations in the past, I’ve read that a child or a teen is nonverbal, is on augmentative communication systems, and is having problem behaviors. When I inquired about whether or not a child did have any spoken language, parents would say that they could say Mom or hi. But everything else they would say using technologies and visual supports.
One particular evaluation, probably one of my last independent evaluations, was a teenager – about 16 or 17 – who was living in a residential placement and going to an approved private school. He was labeled nonverbal and was on an augmentative system, He was also having a lot of problem behaviors.
And what I found was this teen did have a little bit of vocal language. He could say Mama. He could say bead. But, it wasn’t completely clear. When I observed him, he could also sing little songs, hum music, fill in the blanks to some songs, and most of his requesting or manding was actually with his vocal language.
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Teaching a Child with Autism to Talk
One of the things I talk about right away when I see kids with any kind of babbling, sounds, or word approximations, is that we don’t want to just throw in the towel in terms of vocal language. We want to look at ways where we can improve language or help them learn to communicate because if a child can vocally mand for something, it’s just so much easier. There is less response effort for the child and it’s much easier to get a response.
So with this teen, we also looked at his ability to drink from an open cup or from a straw. Right away, I saw water spilling out of his mouth when he drank from a water bottle. It appeared that he had low muscle tone. So I asked the staff if he ever drank from a straw because a straw would be better in terms of spilling, and better in terms of improving oral motor movements. Getting him to use a straw could also help with his articulation. It turned out he was able to drink out of a straw, which was a great first step. I also pointed out that he had word approximations and spoken words that everyone could understand for several different items.
Get More Words from Your Child or Client with Autism
We need to focus more on helping a child learn vocal language. One of my online course members, Anna, bought my online course a couple of years ago when her son was 10 years old. Like this other teen that I’m talking about, her son only had a few words, and the staff was focusing on an augmentative system. With the techniques that Anna learned in my program, she was able to teach her son to say hundreds of words – with pretty good articulation. So, I would never rule out the ability to have vocal language. It’s truly possible to teach a child to communicate using vocal language.
We have another member of our online community who has a teenager – who was previously completely nonvocal – now speaking in short word approximations and words. So, I’m always a big proponent of assessing and making a plan to improve vocal speech if at all possible.
You can get more tips on teaching a child with autism to talk by downloading my new three-step guide. I know I can help you turn autism around for your child or clients.
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