Autism Language Assessment: Getting a Child Talking from Nonverbal | Stuck Series Part 1

Parents and professionals working with either kids and young adults diagnosed with autism or who have signs of autism will often come to a point where they feel stuck. This could be because of a regression that child has or maybe a chronic lack of progress in any area of development. As an autism mom, BCBA, RN, and best selling author, I understand the frustrations over feeling stuck. My son Lucas, who is now 23, was diagnosed with autism at a young age. And that’s why in this week’s blog we’re talking about autism language assessment and how to get a child to start talking.


There have been times when my son was growing up that I felt stuck as a mom. And as a professional, when I used to do independent evaluations, I would sometimes feel stuck as well. 

In my two decades of experience, I have learned that there are 5 main areas that parents and professionals feel stuck. Over the next five of my blogs, I’m going to go into each area in detail. In this blog, I’m covering the first area where both parents and pros often get stuck — trying to help a child begin to talk.

Autism Language Assessment

It’s always important to start with autism language assessment. You don’t need to be a doctor or BCBA to do a professional assessment, either. You can start with a one-page assessment like what I created, which is part of my 3-step guide. You can get my free guide here:  https://www.marybarbera.com/3sg2/.

With any assessment, start with their age, medical status, any diagnosis they might already have. It’s important to rule out any medical problems, as regression could stem from any number of medical issues and imbalances. Determine where your child or client is and where they should be developmentally. Are they talking, babbling, using word approximations? Ask yourself: is my child or client falling behind?

If you think your child or client is nonvocal, take a moment to really establish that they are nonvocal. When I did home evaluations, I would come into the homes of children I was told were nonvocal, only to find out that they could say Mom or were babbling or singing. These children may not be conversational, but they are not completely nonvocal. There is hope they will be able to learn more language.

Do you want to learn some of the mistakes people make when they get stuck?
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If the child or client is regressing, don’t count what they were doing or saying a month ago or longer. It’s easy to hold onto words or sounds a child makes as proof that they are making progress. But if your child or client said “apple” two months ago and hasn’t said it since, it’s probably not a word they currently remember.

Make a New Plan

After you are done with an autism language assessment, you may need to re-evaluate your plan. What are the goals and targets you have been working toward? If they aren’t currently working, you may need to step it back to more basics. Be open to a new approach – don’t keep doing the same things over and over again with no success.

I’ve found that multiple control activities with easy materials such as wooden inset puzzles and Mr. Potato Head can really help a child go from nonverbal to talking. Multiple control activities are part mand, meaning the child or client is asking for something. They are part tact, like labeling a picture or object. Also part echoic and part receptive as you say a word and they repeat as best as they are able. This is best exemplified in my Shoebox Program. The Shoebox Program is a seven-step process that puts pictures of objects that are important to your child or client in a shoebox that you will be able to use as flashcards on a daily basis. By holding up a photo of a favorite object and saying the name out loud, you are teaching your child or client the correct word for the object and allowing them to hear you say it and then repeat.

Remember that it’s always possible to make progress with your child or client. They should be making progress, at the very least, to be safe, and as independent and happy as possible.

Get the Help You Need

I offer a free workshop that discusses some of the mistakes people make when they get stuck. In the workshop, I will also talk about my online courses and community and give you an idea if it is the right fit for your child or client.

Depending on your role and the age of your child or client, I offer three different workshops.

Turning Autism Around for Parents of children ages 1-4.

Autism ABA Help for Parents of children ages 5-21.

Autism Professionals Bundle for ABA’s, teachers, SLP’s, and more.

These workshops will help you to better help your child or client, whether they are vocal or nonvocal.

Do you want to learn some of the mistakes people make when they get stuck?
Register for a FREE Workshop Now!!