Activities for Kids: Activities for Nonverbal Children

Activities for Kids: Activities for Nonverbal Children

Communication is key for all relationships, and the lack of speech can hinder the way children interact with their peers and caregivers.  Being nonverbal is often associated with autism, although this condition can occur in children with other special needs.  Finding adaptive ways to communicate and play with your nonverbal children can help possibly stimulate speech or facilitate cognitive growth.

Communication for nonverbal children is a struggle.  When a child cannot verbalize his basic needs or wants, it can be frustrating for both the parent and child.  Typical motor communication involves reaching for an object or taking a person to an object.  Practice these motor communication skills by placing food in a clear jar and putting it within reach of your nonverbal child.  Watch how your child communicates; he might tap the jar or put your hand on the jar to say he wants the food.  Reinforce the motor behavior by giving your child the food.

Instead of pointing to an object in the distance, actually touch the object to make it more concrete for a nonverbal child.  Pair pointing with a verbal statement with an exaggerated tone; the nonverbal child is much more likely to pick up on this communication.  In general, use more visual stimuli, as visual communication is more meaningful and motivating to children with autism.  Other means of providing visual cues include using communication apps or picture books that show images of a given object.  Encourage nonverbal children to tap on the picture or point to it if it is something they need or want. 

Play is important for all children, including those who are nonverbal.  Create opportunities for tactile experiences, such as playing with play dough; use a variety of colors and review the color names as your child plays.  When engaging in play time, stay close to your child (about 2 to 4 feet away) to help him stay focused.  Use balls as a means of playing with others, and encourage sharing and tossing the balls to each other. 

In general, you can use toys suitable for babies and toddlers even for older nonverbal children who might be lower functioning.  Use rattles or maracas to teach cause-and-effect (the sound is the effect of shaking the instrument).  Use drawing and puzzles to encourage fine motor skills, and use construction sets to encourage putting things together as well as bilateral grasp and crossing the midline.

In general, give your nonverbal child a mixture of play objects and ideas to prevent them from self-stimulating or fixating on one object.  Use a variety of toys, including balls, bean bags, Legos, dolls, drawing tools, hula hoops, marbles, water beads, musical toys, puppets, swings, slides, water tables, silly putty, sensory boxes, blocks, play dough, and books.  Encourage imitation, which is a type of social play that is less socially complicated for children with autism.  Cause and effect toys are particularly useful because nonverbal children with autism can understand the purpose of the toy and makes play more successful because children are motivated to cause the effect.  Toys that are not cause and effect, such as cars and blocks, are also important because they teach children that they can manipulate objects.

Other great activities for play with a nonverbal child include sorting and matching.  These activities coordinate visual and motor skills, and it teaches more complex cognitive skills such as placing objects in certain places or areas.  Make these activities simple and so that there is little or no room for mistakes.  For example, make an opening in a box in the shape of a triangle, so your child cannot put in a square block; this activity helps children differentiate objects from one another.  Encourage sorting of very different objects, such as balls and spoons, as its easier to see their differences but also see the objects that are the same.  Match pictures, colors, letters, and numbers as well.  Practice matching objects to pictures of that object; this activity helps nonverbal children because they can learn to find a picture of something they want and point or tap on it as a way to communicate.

Sorting and matching plays to the visual strengths of nonverbal children, and they can gradually learn more complicated cognitive associations.  Academic concepts can be taught through sorting and matching.  You can always give a verbal label to the visual stimuli as well, so children begin to associate words and vocabulary with objects.  Use simple words (i.e., “ball” is easier to remember than “tennis ball”) and keep it consistent.

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Written by: Candice Evans See other articles by Candice Evans
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