Finding the Right Words to Say: Accommodating Nonverbal Speakers

nonverbal autistic

We take our ability to speak for granted. The ability to say exactly what is on your mind at any given time is in fact a very unique gift, one that not all people are afforded.

It’s only in the absence of this ability that people realize just how significant a role it plays throughout our day to day lives. No one knows this better than the families of nonverbal individuals.

Though autism is not always accompanied by an inability to speak, it is not wholly uncharacteristic. Nonverbality affects nearly 25% of this population. As with the disorder itself, there is no cure for this handicap, only treatment to alleviate the limitations it creates.

Families of nonverbal speakers have to work harder than most to create an environment in which the individual not only gets attention, but has their needs and desires met. For the families of Jaydan Murphy and Colton Smith, this statement could not ring more true. Through therapy, they’ve devised their own languages dependent on gestures, sounds, and eye contact. Whether the boys wish to have a certain toy in their presence or they feel some kind of discomfort that needs to be alleviated, communication requires patience as they form conversations with their parents through alternate means.

Though both boys have the option of using alternative communication devices, which essentially speak for them, they, like many others, prefer a more direct form. Over the years, their parents have had to learn what the significance of a single syllable might mean or interpret what a gesture like knee patting connotes. Bona Vista, a therapeutic program that both families use, have enabled them to do as such.

It’s important to remember that communication, while sometimes limited by autism, is not totally unattainable. The Murphys and Smiths, with the aid of Bona Vista, have been able to establish their own language, in which both parents and children are able to participate equally. It hasn’t always been an easy road, but it is a promising one: something families new to this experience must keep in mind.

Written by Sara Power, Fordham University