Working With Non-Verbal Children Part 3: Encourage Communication

This is Part 3 in a series Working with Non-verbal children.
Before you continue, please read Part 1 and Part 2.

The best way to get your non-verbal child communicating is by giving them a reason to communicate. It is very tempting to ensure that your child has everything they need and that it is well within reach. However, if your child doesn’t have any difficulty getting what they want, then they don’t have any reason to communicate with you. Thus, you need to create situations that encourage communication.

Here are some suggestions to encourage children of all ages to communicate for a variety of reasons. Remember that not all of these communications need to be verbal. If your child communicates using sounds, gestures, facial expressions, or even pictures, then it counts as a communicative attempt. 

Help Your Child Make Requests

Here’s a video demonstrating these techniques

Place their favorite things out of reach

If you place your child’s favorite food or toy on a high shelf or countertop that they can see but cannot reach, then they are more likely to ask you for help so that they can get it. You can also place these items in a clear plastic container that is hard to open. Your child will be able to see what they want, but they will have to ask you for help to get it

Use people toys

These toys are hard to operate and encourage interaction because your child needs your help to make them work. Give your child time to look at the toy and step in when you see them becoming frustrated or when they ask for your help.

Wind-up and squeeze toys

Once you have wound up a toy or squeezed it to make it jump it will stop moving. Hand it to your child and wait for them to request that you make it move again 

Bubbles

Blow a few bubbles and then pause. Wait for your child to ask you to blow them again

Balloons

Blow up a balloon and let the air out, then put the balloon to your mouth and wait for your child to ask you to blow it up again

Music boxes

Wind up the music box and let the music play, then wait for your child to ask you to do it again once the music has stopped

Jack-in-the-box

Wind up the jack-in-the-box and let him pop out. Wait for your child to ask you to do it again

Mirrors

Mirrors are fantastic for playing peek-a-boo games and copycat games. You can play any game or sing any song in front of the mirror. Wait for your child to ask you to do any of the activities again, and encourage them to play copycat games with you

Offer things bit-by-bit

If you give your child everything they want all at once, then they won’t need to ask you for anything. By giving your child things in small amounts, you are providing them with more opportunities to communicate their needs to you. Some toys, like Lego’s, are easy to give out bit-by-bit, as are snacks like raisins and potato chips.

Give all but one

Give your child all but one of the things they need for an activity. Hold it out of their reach, but in their view, and wait for them to ask you for it 

Help Your Child Refuse or Tell You “No”

Offer their least favorite things

Offer your child food, drink, or a toy that you know they do not like so that you give them the opportunity to say “no”

Let your child end the activity

Wait until your child gets bored with an activity and then let them tell you, through whatever mode of communication they prefer, that they have had enough

Help Your Child Learn to Greet and Say “Bye”

Puppets

Use puppets or stuffed animals

Use a puppet to demonstrate greeting and saying “bye” by repeating the action several times as you make the puppet appear and disappear behind your back, encouraging your child to say it with you and then on their own

Use your window

Stand at your window when you are expecting guests and wave at them and say “hi” as they walk up to your door. Encourage your child to do the same and then eventually to do it on their own. You can do this when the guest leaves as well

Encourage Your Child to Interact or Make Comments

Create predictable routines, then present a surprise

Adding a surprise to your daily routines encourages your child to react and to hopefully want to communicate about it

Keep quiet

Look through a book whilst pointing and naming pictures, then turn a page and point to a picture but don’t say anything, let your child name the picture. Let your child help you unpack the groceries and show great interest in the items, naming them as you take them out of the bag. When you come to your child’s favorite food, wait for them to get excited and name it

Offer something different

Play with toys that use multiple pieces, like puzzles, and pass your child each piece. Then give them something completely different (like a marble) and wait for them to react

Make mistakes “accidentally”

Children love it when their parents make mistakes and do something silly. You could put their shoes on their feet the wrong way or try and put their trousers over their heads whilst getting dressed. You can wait for your child to react and then laugh about it

When all is going smoothly, make something go wrong

A good idea is when you are eating dinner or breakfast, you can “accidentally” drop your fork on the floor and wait for your child to react or let you know

Pretend you don’t know where things are

You and your child can search for things together if you act like you don’t know where they are. Exaggerate your distress and wait for your child to react 

Pretend that you’re “broken”

Set situations up so that it looks like you are experiencing difficulty doing things. You could pretend that you don’t hear the doorbell ringing which gives your child an opportunity to get your attention and tell you what is going on

Help Your Child Make Choices

Choices

Start with easy choices

The easiest choice for your child to make is between two things that they can see. One must be something they really like and the other something that they dislike. Hold the choices up in front of them and at first, offer the favorite choice last. This is because children who are first learning to make choices often choose the last object presented. Once your child is experienced in making choices, you can offer the favorite choice first

Give visual cues

Your child will need visual cues to help them make choices at first. You can hold real objects, point to real objects, or point to pictures of real objects. Present these in the same way that you did for their easy choices and then increase the level of difficulty

Yes/No choices

This is the same method that you used for helping your child make easy choices, however, you now want to encourage them to verbalize. Hold up what they don’t want and encourage them to say “no.” If your child cannot answer, respond to them to show them what they should do and then try again. Do this with the item that they want as well

Speech Blubs was built for non-verbal children.

Our app has plenty of vocabulary activities for your child to choose from, which encourages them to communicate intentionally by selecting what they would like to do and by working through the different situations in each of our “games.” By doing this, your child will learn and understand several familiar words and use them to initiate communication in new situations. 

The kids on our app prompt your child when to speak, and because of the fun nature of our “games,” you’re likely to find your child requesting to play and responding to you in no time at all!

The app supports non-verbal children by allowing them to learn initially whilst observing the kids in the app. They can then begin to imitate the kids when they’re ready.

Remember, if you are unsure about why your child may be non-verbal or if they are having difficulty communicating, you can use our free screener by downloading our app. The screener will highlight your child’s strengths and weaknesses and we’ll even give you a personalized report and actionable advice with the results. You can download the app from the App Store or Google Play

You have an ally in Speech Blubs and our biggest success is seeing your child achieve their greatest potential.

“My two year old had it for less than a week and he’s already saying more”

Mariah C., Mom

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