How to get a child with autism to talk (even if you’ve been told he never will)

Over the years I’ve seen parents and professionals calling a child nonverbal, with a lot of emphasis on augmentative communication devices, and no emphasis on vocal language. And today, I’m going to talk about how I never give up on vocal language.

When I’ve done evaluations in the past, I read that a child or a teen is nonverbal, and on augmentative communication systems, and are having problem behaviors. And when I inquire about whether or not the child does have any spoken language, I get things like, “Oh yeah, he can say Mom, or he can say Mama, or he can say hi,” but everything else is pretty much on his device, or on some kind of augmentative communication system.

One particular evaluation, probably one of my last independent evaluations, was a teenager who was living in a residential placement and going to an approved private school. He was 16 or 17 years of age, and he was labeled nonverbal. He’s on an augmentative system, and obviously having a lot of problem behaviors if he’s in a residential placement. I’m was called in to do an independent evaluation.

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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.

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, because if a child can vocally mand for something, it’s just so much easier. There is less response effort for the child and much more speedy 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 him drinking from a water bottle, and water’s just spilling out of his mouth. It appeared that he had low muscle tone, so I asked the staff, “Does he ever drink out of a straw?” Which would be also better in terms of spilling, but also better in terms of improving oral motor movements, and just maybe the ability to shape up his articulation a little bit more. He was able to drink out of a straw, which was a great first step, and I pointed out that he had word approximations and spoken words that everyone could understand for several different items.

I do believe that we need to focus more on 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 Nick to say hundreds of words, with pretty good articulation. So, I would never rule out the ability to have vocal language.

We have another member of our online community who is getting a teenager, who was previously completely nonvocal, 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 and my brand-new three-step guide by download my new three-step guide to help you turn autism around, for a toddler or a teen with autism, and I hope that you will leave me a comment, download my free guide and I will see you next week.

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