9 Ways to Encourage Communication with a Non Verbal Child

October 3, 2017 Published by

Here are our top tips for encouraging communication in non-verbal children 



1. Provide a need 

Children learn to communicate by needing to communicate. If we anticipate their needs and provide, children do not need to communicate and have difficulty learning the power of communication.


2. Encourage play 

Children learn many skills through play, including how to communicate. Games, role-play, small world play, singing…there are endless play opportunities to encourage communication.

3. Provide a narrative 

Verbalise what your child is doing by choosing language appropriate to them (see the ‘one-up’ rule below).  This will help your child to learn the vocabulary associated with something that interests them.

4. Mimic

Imitating your child’s sounds and positive behaviours can encourage them to copy you.  Using exaggerated gestures when communicating will make it easier for your child to mimic. 

5. Embrace silences 

We tend to not like silences and are used to a flow of communication, but when encouraging a non-verbal child it is important to give them time to respond.

Try and maintain eye-contact whilst waiting (or use mirrors if your child doesn’t like eye-contact), but resist the urge to fill the silence.  Once the child has given their response (verbal or non-verbal) make sure you respond accordingly.   

6. Adopt the “one-up” rule

It is recommended that you simplify your language and, if your child is nonverbal, try to speak mostly in single words.  If your child is speaking single words speak in short phrases – the “one-up” rule: Generally use phrases with one more word than your child is using.

7. Use actions and gestures 

We tend to think of communication as being verbal, but there are many non-verbal ways of communicating that should also be encouraged and recognised.

8. Use resources 

Give your child an opportunity to express themselves.  You could use art, music, images, computer programs, puppets, songs, photographs, flashcards, toys… there are lots of resources out there, you just need to find the best ones for your individual child.   

9. Stay calm

Autism specialist, Marci Lebowitz, explains how important a calm parent is and says that “your calmness will feel like a warm blanket to them.” With any strategy, it is important to remain calm and patient – your child will pick up on your feelings and will know if you are stressed or anxious.  


Encouraging communication in non-verbal children requires commitment, flexibility, persistence, and patience. We hope these tips have been helpful – it is important to remember that all non-verbal children are unique, and strategies that work well with one child may not work with another, so don’t be afraid of trying something different. 

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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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