Jump to content

Communication with Non-Verbal Children

  • Please log in to reply
19 replies to this topic

#1 LambChop

Posted 14 April 2007 - 07:26 AM

Practical information & interesting articles to assist communication with non-verbal children.

Please add your experiences, links etc.

#2 TeamBlue

Posted 14 April 2007 - 08:13 AM


i just copied that from the other thread laughing2.gif

Edited by jess_gray, 14 April 2007 - 08:13 AM.

#3 LambChop

Posted 14 April 2007 - 08:35 AM

My brain dump on our experience, I hope others will add their stuff because obviously different disorders present different challenges!!  And also because we are always after new ideas from people who are actually using stuff - that's been our most helpful source so far!

Our experience is from having Austin who has severe verbal & oral dyspraxia, he was non-verbal until about 4.5 years and is still chronically delayed in speech (he'd be lucky to have the verbal skills of a 2 year old).  He was unable to mimic until he was 2 years old, and wasn't able to use pictures until he was 3 years old.

Our strategies have been to use Makaton Sign Language (started when he was 2.5yrs), PECS (started when he was just over 3yrs) and a lot of visual & situational miming.  Last year Austin was given a SpringBoard computer which is a touch screen version of PECS - we got this through the technology for people with a disabilities section and the cost was covered by a government grant.

Makaton Sign Language
Simplistically, Auslan is the language, Makaton is a way of using Auslan. The key points with Makaton (versus full blown Auslan) are
a) key words - "cat sat on the mat" becomes "cat" "sat" "mat"
b) contextual - you use your environment and 'action' the signs to help with understanding
c) you model the speech at the same time as doing the sign

The books are:

1) "The Makaton Vocabulary" Auslan Edition
2) "Key Signs: a supplement to The Makaton Vocabulary" Auslan Edition

Makaton - http://www.newcastle.edu.au/centre/sed/makaton/ - look under 'vocabulary' for the words to start using (ie, stage 1 but not things that aren't relevant to your life!!).
Auslan - http://www.auslan.org.au - has a little video stream for each sign, fantastic help!!

A good guide when to start is when your child starts to mimic (eg, wave hello/bye when you say 'bye') which was around 10 months for Gilly but wasn't until 2 years for Austin (so developmental delay could effect their readiness). Starting with basic needs is a good motivation - food related works well (more, finished, stop). Then build up slowly. You learn with them, so you don't need to panic about not knowing signs. Also, recognise any attempt but model correct yourself - small children will do things like use two hands instead of one etc. They tend to get movement, then body position, then hand shape - it's a progression rather than an immediate result.

People will say things like 'won't it stop them talking' - not the case - all children learn signs like to point in context, wave, shake/nod their head, wink etc, this is just an extension of that! Signing is a more difficult & slower form of communication - as soon as they are able, children will use words.

We use PECS for areas where we need fine detail & he can't say the word yet - so he'd sign 'hungry' then head to the PECS food board to make a selection.  We also use PECS for communicating with people who don't spend as much time with Austin.  I also use PECS for schedules & to do lists (like the school morning routine).

Austins main areas of frustration & motivation were around what food he wanted to eat and which DVD he wanted to watch - so I made a food board in the kitchen (with all PECS pictures) and a DVD book (I used a business card holder and printed out the covers). Here's a link to a picture of our food board
http://users.bigpond.com/naughty_and_stinky/FoodBoard.jpg (you can actually see our Toy Story DVD card in the middle of the board). It's just piece of short haired carpet and the pictures have the hook bit of Velcro stickers on them - easy to take on & off.

We started with 3-4 pictures and build up as he got used to it - we also did choices, something boring & something grand (depending on what he likes - for example, for Austin it was 'toast' or 'yoghurt' - he loved yoghurt) - then when he chose I'd have whatever ready and whipped it out straight away with positive reinforcement. At the start, if he came to me whiny and I asked if he was hungry (if he was he'd head to the kitchen), I'd go straight to the food board and pick the two choices then get him to take it from me, then give it back. Then I left it on the board, then I'd have him go and get it from the next room. After 2-3 months it built up to him spontaneously getting the picture of food. When he could do 50 difference pictures I added in "I want" - we always practised speech along with the picture. We use pictures mainly for scheduling & story boards now.

We use Boardmaker, downloading pictures from the net and our digital camera to make PECS cards (and a laminator).  The school has a load of COMPICS they use.

SpringBoard Touch Screen Computer
This has PECS in it - he uses it at school to communicate with his aide and the teacher when they're doing 1:1 work that needs him to provide detail (like concept work, counting etc).
I've seen some pretty cool Palm Pilot like things for older kids that allow them to actually type in words etc - as much as I hope we don't need it, it's good to know there are options that are useful & practical.  I'm hoping Austin might also be able to use the same device to have his school schedules & to do lists etc in it (part of his dyspraxia is that he struggles with organisation & planning).

All along, my goal has been to try to provide him a way of communicating while we waited to see what happens with his speech.  This has meant that Austin has been able to progress with other development stuff like comprehension & problems solving (although still obviously hampered by verbal delay as he can't ask the millions of questions 'normal' kids ask to aide with understanding concepts).


Edited by LambChop, 14 April 2007 - 08:36 AM.

#4 TeamBlue

Posted 14 April 2007 - 08:38 AM

where do you get Boardmaker biggrin.gif

#5 auntysian

Posted 14 April 2007 - 12:17 PM

You have to buy the software - from Spectronics or Novita Tech are probably the biggest Australian suppliers. Just google them and you can buy online.
Or if your child attends a special needs centre or school, most of them should have access to it. Most speech therapists should be able to access it too.
The software is not cheap. There are free downloadable symbols available on the net. They are not as good, but might be a start to see if symbols work for your child....
Hope this helps.

#6 TeamBlue

Posted 14 April 2007 - 12:22 PM

biggrin.gif thanks i will ask ds1's speech therapist on tuseday if she has it or can get hold of it i googled it and i was like  ohmy.gif at the price laughing2.gif

#7 ~MakkaPakka~

Posted 31 October 2007 - 11:14 AM

I thought I might add a link to the "hanen" program which I am currently undertaking to help communicate with my DS.


I have found it great in helping me understand what Kaeden is going though but also gives stratergies and things to look for (eg speech cues) when communicating with him.

I have only done two sessions so far and it has allready improved things for us so much original.gif

#8 MPS mummy

Posted 15 March 2008 - 10:46 AM

we started to use Makaton at the beginning of this year. the tantrums and frustration have been seriously reduced (mine and kaities) as we can now understand what she wants.

kaitie has no physiological reason why she cant talk but often kids with her disability just dont talk until they're older. kaitie has just turned 3.

in just 3 months she gone from grunting and screaming to asking for a blue bowl or a red bowl or telling us what food she wants , makaton has been easy for her to pick up as a lot of it is kind of obvious gestures.

would love to chat more with other mum's using sign.

#9 zanejay

Posted 21 July 2008 - 11:34 PM

does anybody have childern who r non verbal and vission impearment???
would love to know what kind of communication tools you are using???
Zane is 4 non verbal with developmental delay but can say very few words if pushed into it but he also has cortical vission impearment.
we r being told to use makaton but im not really convince this will help as he cant see us signing!! and also i belive zane would see signin as a easer way than having to speek because he finds it hard to use words.
also he understand everything i say to him and will respond with grunting or sayin "more" or "ahh" but he use to speek a lot more key words last year but had a lot of seziours a few mths ago and stoped.

does anybody have any ideas??
thanks heaps
keira biggrin.gif

#10 FunkyB

Posted 21 September 2008 - 10:33 PM

A great FREE site for visuals is http://www.visualaidsforlearning.com/products/index.htm  and its Australian. I use it professionally all the time. I like the pictures better than Boardmaker. The only issue is that you cant edit them as they are.

#11 LambChop

Posted 04 November 2008 - 09:58 PM

Feels like a million year ago that I wrote this post, but thought I'd update and say while Austin is talking a whole lot more, at nearly 7 he will still fall back to the signing when he's too tired to talk well/clearly.  I can't recommend signing (if possible, I know it isn't always!) more highly as a method of communication.  He just naturally falls to signing/miming or showing people what he wants - its rare for him to not be able to communicate what he wants to say in some way (unless he's trapped in the back of the car with nothing to use to help him).  I can't recommend giving alternative methods of communication more highly... so worth the time & effort!

hugs to any struggling with this, all I can say is, it does get better with time original.gif

ps, zanjay, I know this is months too late, but, he could 'feel' you signing if you take his hand and show him - children are amazing/astounding at adapting.

#12 cbaker

Posted 20 May 2009 - 02:47 PM

We too had to learn to communicate non-verbally with our son, who at 2 was diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech, he knew what he wanted but the connection was not there between his brain and the actul movement to his mouth.  We too learnt the Makaton signing, its key words not like Auslan, just for basic words Ta, no, thank you, drink, eat, sorry. so that he could at leat communicate that way.  It did not interfere at all with his gradual learning to talk, i would recommend this as it made a huge difference to us.  You could sign holding his hand or use his hand to sign while you say the word, so he can hear it wne feel what action he needs to do.  I would say learning signing saved us, and my son talks well now at 4 & 1/2 and does not use signing at all now.

#13 lexi11

Posted 04 June 2009 - 04:16 PM

hi ladies! my name is peta, im mum to Alex. she's almost 3 and has no words. we've started learning makaton and Alex can sign more. love to chat to parents in alike situations  wink.gif

#14 LambChop

Posted 19 April 2010 - 08:41 AM

PECS iPhone Application

This looks awesome!  Austin would have loved this for when he wasn't talking.  He has an iTouch, I wonder if I can set something up for things he still needs help with...

(thanks naturally for the link)

#15 Jeneral

Posted 22 April 2010 - 09:35 PM

I have been looking at the iphone apps for non-verbal kids and have done up a quick review of what I could find and what I have tried out.

1. Tap to Talk  $99/yr (free trial on iTouch)

What it does:  Tap the Picture and get Speech!

Best feature is that it works on the Nintendo DS as well!  You can also use it directly online too!

The subscription allows for a years access to the album builder.  In the album builder you can add your own pictures and add sounds to those pictures.  The album can be as big or as small as you like, with sub-folders, and jumping to other folders allowed for in the design.  I recommend starting small and building up!

You can have more then one album as well, so different situations like home or school can have different designs and pictures based on what is important to communicate at each place.

I am finding it quite easy to use, though I am struggling with the design as I want to include too much! Pictures are automatically sized, sounds can be recorded as you go.

I will add more to this as I design the album and find what works!  But I do recommend downloading the trial app on the iPhone and checking the how-to videos out!

Works on: iPhone, iTouch, iPad, and Nintendo DS (all models)

2. Proloquo2go $249

What it does: Tap the pictures, make a sentence, get Speech.

This is the full PECS library of words and phrases, allows you to select several cards and then speak the sentence in a choice of voices.  You can save combinations and add them to catagories, you can type and convert to pictures and sound… this one has all the bells and whistles!  Australian voice is meant to be available soon (British and American currently)


All up it seems a little complicated and would be more for kids 7+ I think, to be able to utilise it fully but would love to hear from anyone who has used it successfully with younger children!

iPhone, iPad, and iTouch

3. Look to Learn $29.99

What it does: Tap the picture, combine words, get Speech

So this is more like a catalogue of pictures with sounds attached.  It looks like it allows for at least two pictures to be displayed and “i want” and then another picture.


4. iCommunicate $5.99 (+ $5.99 for audio)

Save up to 10 storyboards of 4 pictures each created from a catalogue of photos and picture.  You can add audio in by recording your own voice, but you have to pay extra for that feature.

5. iComm (free trial) US$26.99 to upgrade

iPhone only

What it does: Picture to Speech

Need up upgrade to access audio and all catagories.

Targeted to toddlers.

Very bright and colourful!

need to edit photos to fit frame


6. iTalk  $43.99 (plus ?? subscription cost to edit)

What it does: Pictures to Speech

It is meant to work as a stand alone device but they do count on you subscribing to the editing service.

Nice clear pictures.. set up like a Pecs.  Not sure on voice options but sounds robotic on the website.

for iPhone and iTouch


7. Voice4U $36.99

What it does: Pictures to Speech

Can be listed alphabetically, recent, as well in catagories. Comes with pictures and sounds and you can add your own as well.

for iPhone and iTouch.

8. Grace $45.95

What it does: Pictures to Sentences

Set up much like the PECS system – only difference is lack of audio

9. iConverse $12.99


This only appears to have 6 buttons but you can customize them.  It does have audio as well.  Would be great for toddlers just starting to communicate!

Okay, well that is all I could find.  I have only tried the full TaptoTalk so the rest is based on what I could find on the internet.  I have provided web links where possible!

#16 LambChop

Posted 26 July 2010 - 12:34 AM

Came across this great blog with a comprehensive list of software apps Special Needs SW for iTouch/iPhone

Theres a whole section on speech oriented things, plus some PECS scheduling and stuff.  And most are a lot cheaper now original.gif

#17 Em1982

Posted 28 November 2010 - 01:24 PM

Alright a quick overview on our non verbal coping stratergies......

DS is now 4.5 and we have done the makaton and it was fantastic we learnt the signs we needed to know through early intervention.

At 4yrs we moved onto pecs and this was also fantastic as everyone understood the pictures but with an increase in demand for more words came the need for more pictures and our poor little folder started to bulge.

We are now using PROLOQUO2GO on itouch and a protective speaker case that is user friendly as I am not too great with computers and even I found it easy enough to pick up the programing side. We have had nothing but positive reactions with the itouch every one that we have come across comments on what a fantastic idea it is. (from sales staff to other family members)

Even though we have the itouch we still use the pecs folder from time to time.

Hope this helps.

DS2 ex32wkr PDD HFA Speech delay.

#18 9ferals

Posted 03 March 2011 - 04:02 PM

Hi everyone,  this looks like a great new resource about AAC (alternate and augmentative communication) options for children who have difficulty with speech:

Rocky Bay has developed a free resource for teams working with school-aged children who use augmentative and alternative communication – particularly communication devices.
The kit includes evidence-based information sheets and templates to assist parents, teachers and others involved in selecting, trialling and using communication devices with school-aged children.  They are designed to be used within a team model as a basis for further discussion and planning.
Get your copy by downloading from:  

#19 adl

Posted 06 July 2013 - 09:11 AM

I came in to find some more ideas on dyspraxia and help...oral & verbal...and noticed a post about Hanen, we have just started the " It takes two to Talk" program, cannot recommend enough, its been so helpful even just after 3 sessions on communicating, with initiating and responding..

Because my DS when it's too hard shuts down,   He refuses to learn basic signs, it is more about teaching me how to get it going...

NSW health is doing some research to show how effective it is, to get funding so maybe if interested you can check with your local community health centres?

#20 Empress NG

Posted 21 July 2016 - 10:33 AM

My interest in this topic is in how to talk to my friend's son who is non-verbal (and non-mobile) and a teenager.  I tend to address him directly but as he can't answer me, his parents will usually answer for him or get out his communication book so he can answer me himself.  I am also keen to educate my children on how they should talk to him as I feel they are a little awkward around him and don't always know what to say.  We live in a different city to this family so that kind of compounds the awkwardness as we don't really see them often enough for the kids to become really comfortable with one another.  My friends son is always excited to see my kids though and they really like him, just hard keeping the interaction going sometimes.  Would love some tips from parents of non-verbal children or from non-verbal people themselves.

0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Top 5 Viewed Articles

Essential Baby and Essential Kids is the place to find parenting information and parenting support relating to conception, pregnancy, birth, babies, toddlers, kids, maternity, family budgeting, family travel, nutrition and wellbeing, family entertainment, kids entertainment, tips for the family home, child-friendly recipes and parenting. Try our pregnancy due date calculator to determine your due date, or our ovulation calculator to predict ovulation and your fertile period. Our pregnancy week by week guide shows your baby's stages of development. Access our very active mum's discussion groups in the Essential Baby forums or the Essential Kids forums to talk to mums about conception, pregnancy, birth, babies, toddlers, kids and parenting lifestyle. Essential Baby also offers a baby names database of more than 22,000 baby names, popular baby names, boys' names, girls' names and baby names advice in our baby names forum. Essential Kids features a range of free printable worksheets for kids from preschool years through to primary school years. For the latest baby clothes, maternity clothes, maternity accessories, toddler products, kids toys and kids clothing, breastfeeding and other parenting resources, check out Essential Baby and Essential Kids.