Helping Nonverbal Kids to Communicate

October 10th, 2015

By Holly Bortfeld

Some children with autism are unable to speak, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say!

There are a number of treatments available for nonverbal people with autism including medical and educational approaches. Medical approaches include diet and supplements; educational approaches include speech and behavioral therapies, as well as assistive technology devices and augmentative communication methods.

Medical Approach


By parent report, the GFCFSF diet is the single most effective therapy that helps children talk. The diet is merely a change of food, so it’s not invasive or dangerous and it’s only as expensive as you choose to make it. Read more information about the GFCFSF diet.


There are a handful of supplements that can help spur on more verbalizations. The supplements that generally help speech production are TMG (trimethylglycine) or DMG (dimethylglycine), P-5-P (Pyridoxal 5-Phosphate, a Vitamin B-6 Metabolite), flax seed and Omegas (Essential Fatty Acids). These can be bought at a health food store or online.

Yeast Treatment

Parents report that treating yeast promotes speech in their children. Learn more about yeast.

Educational Approaches

Speech Therapy

There are many approaches to speech therapy that can help promote and initiate speech. A speech therapist will do an evaluation and choose the best methods to help the client.

Read more about speech therapy:

Behavioral Therapies

Therapies with a behavioral approach can help children learn to use speech and language functionally.

Discrete trial training is therapy that focuses on behavior and actions.

Functional communication training (FCT) is the use of positive reinforcement to motivate the child to communicate.

Verbal Behavior and mand training is the use of prompts and reinforcements of independent requests for items (referred to as mands).s). Video.

Relationship development intervention (RDI) is a trademarked treatment program that centers on the belief that individuals with autism can participate in authentic emotional relationships if they are exposed to them in a gradual, systematic way.

Auditory Integration Therapies

Therapies such as Tomatis, Berard AIT, The Listening Program and music therapy can help with speech delays.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Methods

Speech will always be the goal for people with autism, but not all will achieve it. There are many ways to communicate besides verbal language. Remember, just because a child cannot speak, doesn’t mean the child cannot understand.

What’s the difference?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to all means and modes a person uses to communicate, including pointing, manual signing, finger spelling, eye gaze and facial expressions, as well as assistive technology.

Assistive Technology (AT) devices, like the DynaVox, AlphaSmart or DynaWriter, are programmable devices that speak words when words are typed. There are also machines that use symbols or pictures to promote communication. These devices can be used in place of speech or to aid in the development of speech.

Assistive technology devices can be the answer to helping your child communicate with you and others. They can also be used to support academic learning in the classroom or at home. Augmentative communication does not eliminate the use of verbal speech. Both can be worked on as goals for your child. Make sure that different assistive technology devices are tried to find the best one for your child.

Typically a speech therapist with a specialty in AAC will evaluate your child for the need and use of an assistive technology device. Many schools and service agencies are now using assistive technology specialists for augmentative communication evaluations and trainings.

It is important to be specific when asking your school system for an assistive technology assessment. A comprehensive assessment will consider all possible means of communication (AAC), as well as possible materials (AT).

Who pays for it?

School (Part B), Medicaid, Medwaiver, Private Pay

Both the evaluation and device or materials should be provided by the public school system from age 3-22. If written into the IEP properly, to be used at home and at school, the child will have access to the device or materials 24 hours a day to allow for generalization and continuance of program and goals.

Medicaid also provides funding for the evaluations and devices.

Assistive Technology and Augmentative Communication Devices/Systems

Sign Language

Sign Language is language of hand shapes, movements, and facial expressions (especially useful for ages 0-3).


Picture Exchange Communication System is a system using pictures to communicate.

AAC Apps

There are also exciting new applications for smartphones and tablets that can be used as AAC. Each is a little different.

  • HandHold Adaptive provides apps for speech, visual supports, and social stories.
  • Proloquo2go is available in both English and Spanish and promotes communication skills and language development.
  • mytalktools included a mobile app and a monthly subscription to their web-based workspace site, which allows users to customize content.

Watch the iTunes App store for new programs and updates.

Rapid Prompting Method


Trackballs, Touch Screens and Special Keyboards

Some laptops and desktop monitors have a touch screen built in.

Trackballs are computer mice with varying size balls depending on the person’s ability to manipulate the mouse.  Most devices are available at retail stores like Best Buy and Target. You can see the varying types at

Specially adapted keyboards can help people with limited ability to otherwise use a standard keyboard. IntelliKeys by IntelliTools is a programmable alternative keyboard that plugs into any Macintosh or Windows computer.

Facilitated Communication

FC is a communication technique that involves a facilitator who uses physical and emotional supports to encourage the use of a keyboard with letters, words or pictures. Physical supports are gradually faded out when the communicator becomes more independent.

Software Programs

There are many choices in computer software programs to aid speech and teach skills.

Assistive Technology and Augmentative Communication Resources

Autism Journey Blueprints
Parent Mentor Program
Find a TACA Chapter near you
Email or Phone

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