The Nonverbal Person

Communicating with a nonverbal child intimidates many people. If a child understands language, even if he is unable to speak, it is hard enough to communicate, but if a child doesn't understand language, communication becomes much more difficult as well as emotionally trying.

Alert

It is important to find the best way to communicate with your child and stick to it. Each child is a unique human being and parents will soon find out what works best for their child. They are with their son or daughter twenty-four hours a day and can help the professionals decide on the best method of communication.

And You Thought It Was Baby Talk!

When parents bring home their newborn, they begin communicating nonverbally with cooing and nonsense sounds. These are the beginnings of communication. Humming tunes to a baby is another form of communication. It is through the tone and the rhythm of the voice that messages are sent. Although a baby does not have the ability to understand complex messages, he begins to learn about communication from the sounds and their cadence.

Parents learn as well how to understand nonverbal communication. They learn to recognize when their baby cries if it is a cry of hunger, discomfort, pain, or any number of things that are being communicated. Those cries, and the subsequent response by a parent, are forms of reciprocal communication.

If only communication stayed that simple. However, as a child matures, his needs include much more than just hunger or comfort. He needs to convey emotions, complex needs, and desires, and it is very difficult to do this without language. To keep things in perspective, remember that you have already established communication with your child. Yes, it was at a very young age and, yes, it isn't a fully efficient language. But you have the basics and you know more about nonverbal communication than you realize.

Essential

Talking to a human being is different from talking to a pet. However, there are some valuable lessons here for the parent of a child with autism—body language, tone of voice, and visual cues all help to effectively communicate a message.

Trust Yourself and Pull Out the Stops

Much of the success in communication is about trust. If you believe your child will not understand, can never understand, and doesn't want to understand, you will probably find that to be true.

But if you believe he can understand much more than anyone realizes and you continue to communicate with that belief, you will find that his abilities will increase.

Never assume that your words and sentences are not understood. Your child's receptive language may not be at 100 percent, but something, somewhere, will get through and that is all you need to build on. Talk to your child as you would any child. Don't talk down to him, and don't talk over his head. Work at getting eye contact so he can see your facial expressions. Stand in front of him so he can see your body language, even if he appears to be totally oblivious of it. Consider your tone of voice and use every visual clue you can think of.

As the light begins to dawn for your child, and he realizes language is a useful tool, he will begin to attempt to understand it. It is a long and hard road for both parent and child, without a doubt. As the foundation begins with very little, and seemingly unimportant, understanding of minor words, you will realize that more complex receptive language skills can and will develop. Trust yourself.

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