What Does Nonverbal Autism Mean? Everything You Should Know

Posted by Krystie Yeo on

Roughly 1 in every 54 children in the US has been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

There is a connection between autism and nonverbal communication. However, understanding exactly what is going on developmentally with your child if they aren't communicating can be quite complicated.

Are you interested in learning more about nonverbal autism?

Let's take a look at everything you need to know.

What Does Nonverbal Autism Mean?

Nonverbal autism is a type of autism where an individual doesn't learn how to speak. Out of all of the children that are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, it is estimated that somewhere between 25% and 50% of the children never develop spoken language skills beyond a few utterances or words.

There is not necessarily a clear line between nonverbal and verbal autism. Autism spectrum disorder is complicated, and nonverbal autism is just as complicated.

Not all children with nonverbal autism communicate in the same ways. Some of the children might be able to say simple words that are reflective of what they want. However, the same children might not be able to answer follow-up questions after they have communicated those simple words.

On the other hand, other children with nonverbal autism might be able to use words that are more complex. However, they are not necessarily communicating anything specifically meaningful. For example, they might be repeating lines that they've heard in a movie.

It is common for children with nonverbal autism to use digital devices, sign language, or flashcards in order to communicate what they need and what they want.

Are you wondering about the difference between nonverbal learning disorder vs autism? This, too, is a bit complicated. Often confused with ASD and ADHD, as there are some overlaps between these disorders, not all children with nonverbal learning disorder have either of these other disorders.

What Are the Symptoms of Nonverbal Autism?

People with autism spectrum disorder can commonly have difficulty carrying on conversations with other people or talking to other people. However, people with nonverbal autism are not able to speak at all beyond maybe a few utterances or words.

In addition to not being able to speak, individuals with nonverbal autism may also have difficulties with social interaction. They might be both withdrawn and shy, and they might avoid eye contact. Some individuals with this disorder might not respect the personal space of others or they might be resistant to any physical contact.

The social difficulties of children with nonverbal autism can lead them to feel isolated. These feelings of isolation can lead to depression and anxiety.

There are also some behavioral symptoms of nonverbal autism. For many autistic people, having a daily routine is very important, and disruption to that routine can cause them to become upset or aggravated. Some of these individuals also have a tendency to have obsessive interests in certain topics.

The behavioral symptoms of each autistic person can differ greatly. While some individuals might develop a fixation and focus on one thing for many hours, others might have a very short attention span.

Lastly, there are some developmental symptoms of nonverbal autism. Some of these individuals might have delayed development starting from a young age, while others might develop at a more common pace and then experience delayed development when they are 2 or 3 years old.

The symptoms of mild or severe nonverbal autism tend to improve with age. Nonverbal autism speech therapy and other interventions might help them become verbal overtime.

How Is Nonverbal Autism Diagnosed?

There are a number of different phases to a diagnosis of nonverbal autism. It is common for parents to notice that the child has not started speaking and they will then talk to their doctor about their concerns. On the other hand, the pediatrician of the child might notice sometimes that lead them to consider autism spectrum disorder.

There are a number of tests that can be run to ensure that there are not other causes leading the child to not speak. These might include blood tests, a physical exam, and imaging tests like a CT scan or an MRI.

It is possible that your pediatrician might refer your child to a specialist known as a developmental behavioral pediatrician. They also might request additional information, including the parents and the child's full medical history along with other reports and tests.

A pediatrician or a specialist might also autism-specific tests in order to confirm a diagnosis of nonverbal autism.

Early Signs of Autism

If you are worried about your child and think that they might have autism and nonverbal communication issues, there are a number of things you can look out for. Some of the common early signs of autism include:

  • Referring to be alone or avoiding eye contact
  • Not responding to their own name by the time they are one year old
  • Not pointing to objects they are interested in by the time they are 14 months old
  • Not laughing along with parents or babbling by the time they are one year old
  • Not meeting developmental milestones for language and speech
  • Not playing pretend by the time they are 18 months old
  • Being upset by minor schedule changes
  • Repeating the same words or phrases over and over
  • Rocking their body or flapping their hands for comfort

Nearly 80 to 90% of parents of children with an ASD noticed issues by the time that they were 24 months old. Roughly one-third to one-half of these parents noticed a problem before their child turned one.

Are You Looking For More Nonverbal Autism and Special Needs Resources?

If your child has nonverbal autism, it can feel like there are so many questions left unanswered regarding your child's development. These disorders are complicated and each child will develop differently. If you are looking for a place to find resources for your special needs child, you've come to the right place.

At AdaptEd, we have a large library of books specifically written for children with special needs. Check out our selection of social narrative books here.

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