Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

How Does Your Child Who is Nonverbal Communicate?

05/17/2017 | Published by: Kelly Mastin

Having a child with limited verbal skills can be challenging. Parents become skilled at interpreting for their child and understanding their desires, but there are times when parents too, are at a loss to understand. And if there are times when the parent is at a loss, imagine the challenges for a new teacher or caregiver. 

It is frustrating not to know what is upsetting a child or causing them to be anxious. It is disheartening to guess at every single thing. It makes nonverbal communication, behaviors, and body language even that much more important to understand. 

As parents, it is important for us to communicate as much as possible about our child’s communication meanings and methods with teachers and other caregivers. As parents, we can provide the most accurate information about caring for and understanding our child. When parents share as much of this information as possible, it makes life easier and more peaceful for our child. 

Below are some ideas for sharing with caregivers.

  • Create an Introduction portfolio about your child. The portfolio can include lists of your child’s likes and dislikes. Include sounds, smells, foods, and activities that your child finds particularly pleasing or upsetting. Make sure and include examples of how your child expresses happiness and how they express fear or anxiety.
  • Pay close attention to your child’s nonverbal communication for a day or two. As parents, we do things for our children without even thinking about it. Our children have certain ways of communicating their thoughts and desires. We know these so well, we may not realize it’s not a typical or clear communication to someone else. 
  • Take notes of behaviors or interactions you and your child routinely use to communicate. Why does she sometimes pick at her eyebrows? Why does he look away when offered something? Does he have a special sign or gesture when requesting milk? What does it mean when she waves to her bed? What does his little chirping sound mean? Is she happy or sad when she covers her face with her arms? What do her kissing sounds mean? Make a list of the many ways your child communicates with you throughout the day, and their meanings.
  • Make a list of everyday preferences. These are things, again, that you might not even think about but that are important to your child. Does he have a favorite cup to use at lunchtime? Does she prefer her sandwich whole, cut in half in triangles or rectangles? Is there a certain order or ritual to getting ready in the morning or going to bed at night? Are there certain jobs that she insists on doing herself?

Anything – big or small – you can share with a caregiver or teacher will help your child be better understood and cared for. And in the end, better care is really what we all desire for our child.

There is a lot of great information on this website. Two places you might start are assistive technology and using the search term nonverbal to find several articles.


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