Non-verbal autism is when somebody with autism is unable to speak. Some reasons for this include people having ‘apraxia of speech’ or not having ‘developed the verbal language skills to speak.’
Some differences between autism where people can talk, and non-verbal autism include autistic people who are able to talk having initial speech delay, talking about a topic of interest for a long time, having echolalia and struggling to continue a conversation with another person; and people with non-verbal autism only being able to communicate with hand gestures, sign language or PECS cards.
Another difference is that people with classic autism or Kanner’s autism are more likely to be non-verbal than those with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome.
One way to support children who have non-verbal autism is to create a picture schedule so that the non-verbal child knows what time of day it is and what activity they should be taking part in at a specific time.
Before helping a child create a picture schedule, it is worth teaching them how to associate illustrations or photographs with written words. For example, you can show the child a picture of a plate of food with cutlery and the word, “dinner,” written underneath it.
Another way to support non-verbal children is to teach them a type of sign language called Makaton, which has signs that represent ‘a core vocabulary of 450 words.’ Some good examples of videos that use Makaton include Makaton Nursery Rhymes Presented by Dave Benson Phillips (originally released on VHS in 1991, the DVD can currently be purchased from Amazon or the whole video can be viewed online on Vimeo) and clips of Mr Tumble from the CBeebies programme Something Special (2003 – 2018) on YouTube.
Children can continue to use PECS cards and Makaton into adolescence and adulthood.
A good way for both children and adults to learn Makaton is to watch videos on a YouTube channel called SingingHandsUK where the people in the videos use Makaton actions to indicate the lyrics in the songs.
Ideal recreational activities for adults with non-verbal autism include writing or illustrating a book based on a topic of their choice; learning sign language that is more complex than Makaton; play with building blocks; walking or hiking; looking at illustrated books; and playing with kinetic sand. Non-verbal children with autism may also enjoy some of these activities.
Famous people who have non-verbal autism are Indian author and poet Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, who wrote books about his experiences of living with it and had a BBC documentary made about him, and the Australian author Lucy Blackman.
Celebrities who were once non-verbal but are now able to talk are the artist Stephen Wiltshire, who was non-verbal until the age of 9, university professor Stephen Shore (not to be confused with the photographer of the same name) who was non-verbal until the age of 4, and autism activist Temple Grandin, who could not speak until she was 3 and a half years old.
One famous person who has children with non-verbal autism is comedian Paddy McGuinness, whose twin children Penelope and Leo were “pretty much non-verbal” and “had no idea what was going on” at Christmas time with the over-stimulation of ‘Christmas lights, trees, decorations and music.”
Healthline article: Understanding Nonverbal Autism: https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/nonverbal-autism
AngelSense blog post about 5 Celebrity Parents Who Are Open About Raising a Child with Autism: https://www.angelsense.com/blog/5-celebrity-parents-who-are-open-about-raising-a-child-with-autism/
Mirror article about Paddy McGuinness’s children’s autism diagnosis: https://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/paddy-mcguinness-finding-out-twins-10841137
Autism : 5 ways to support non-verbal pupils: https://www.tes.com/news/autism-5-ways-support-non-verbal-pupils
Makaton Nursery Rhymes Presented by Dave Benson Phillips on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/22511789
Makaton Nursery Rhymes Presented by Dave Benson Phillips DVD: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Makaton-Nursery-Rhymes-Benson-Phillips/dp/B000IHZ4FG
Mr Tumble’s Let’s Pretend Compilation | +21 Minutes!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOgj0JH2Ju8
The Brambles article about Activities for Nonverbal Autistic Adults: https://www.bramblesva.com/activities-for-nonverbal-autistic-adults/
SingingHandsUK YouTube video with Makaton actions to George Ezra’s Shotgun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G3shKfVnFs
Innfinity article about 70 famous people with autism: https://www.innfinity.in/limitless/famous-people-with-autism/