Think about the ways you talk without using words; you might point to an object, widen your eyes when you’re excited or do a victory dance when you win a game. Difficulty communicating seems to be a hallmark characteristic of autism, but your non-verbal autistic toddler can use these same gestures you use to “speak.” Practicing a few techniques for communication helps take much of the frustration away, for both you and your toddler.
Use dramatic faces and gestures. Just because your toddler doesn’t speak does not mean he can’t hear and understand what you say. Help him realize you’re excited about him playing with a toy by pointing at it and smiling, all while saying, “Nice work rolling the car!” Through repetition, your toddler will begin to pair these dramatic expressions with your words and will understand the association.
Recognize your toddler’s emotions. Just as you want your toddler to understand your words and the gestures you use with them, you need to realize how your toddler feels and reacts. He won’t use words to say, “I’m tired,” but he will rub his eyes or yawn. You need to recognize these cues and say, “I can see you’re tired. Let’s go have a nap.”
Use sign language, which is a more sophisticated form of gesturing. Help your toddler learn important words like “I want,” “please,” “more” or “I’m hurt.” Pair these gestures with words so your toddler will again realize their associations.
Try assistive technology (AT) devices or programs, which “speak” a word when typed. Other similar programs use pictures that your toddler can touch, and the device will announce the word. These tools can be effective for communication; for example, you toddler can tap a picture of a banana to say he is hungry and wants to eat a banana.
Utilize a tablet or similar mobile technology device. Many AT programs are available for tablets and are more affordable than traditional AT devices. Tablets also have games and therapeutic applications that can help teach your non-verbal toddler communication tricks while also providing entertainment.