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Understanding Non-Verbal Autism

Autism is a broad range of conditions that cause challenges in social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and communication.Non-verbal autism is a form of autism where the affected person does not speak. While in some cases children with autism may start speaking as they grow, in others they may remain nonverbal.

It has been found that 30% people with autism spectrum disorder have nonverbal autism. Some people are able to speak a few words while others are completely nonverbal. Those who can speak a few words still find it hard to carry out a conversation and speak in single words and not sentences.


There is very little research done on this condition and the information is sparse about its causes.Some researchers believe that ability of children with autism to achieve joint attention at an early age could be a sign of speech issues.

Joint attention is a factor that helps us communicate and involves two people being interested in what the other is communicating or pointing at. The mutual interest helps children to learn language or speech. Lapses in joint attention or lack of response to external stimuli affects the ability to talk.


Every child with autism is different and may show varied symptoms. Below are some common signs that can be observed in children.

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Facial expressions not matching speech
  • Not able to understand people's facial expressions, tone and gestures
  • Using few gestures
  • Unusual responses and sensitivity to sights, smells, textures, sounds.
  • Abnormal posture, body language
Children with nonverbal autism are unable to hold a two way communication like others.

"Children with ASD are often misunderstood and not treated fairly by teachers, peers and society. Creating awareness and talking about the symptoms can help people understand the needs of children with ASD", says Caroline Jega, parent and member of SCAN, a parent support group in Chennai.


It has been observed that many children with nonverbal autism may develop their speech after reaching the age of 4 years. They can be encouraged through therapy and interaction by family and friends to learn and use verbal communication.

In case of non-verbal autism a person cannot share his/her emotions, physical, thinking and thought to the listener through verbal mode of communication. This causes emotional frustrations which can turn into self-harm or the harm to the others. Their brain finds solitaire in the world of communication. Children can be helped through parental awareness for the high risk babies, early intervention, monitoring hearing and speech milestones. - Saugandh Pratap Singh, Audiologist & Speech Therapist, Praangan.

People with nonverbal autism can use other means of communications depending on their condition. They can be taught to communicate through signs, gestures, and written conversations.

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