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14 Things People Should Know About My Nonverbal Kid


When someone is unable to communicate with words, it may be easy to make assumptions about that person’s capabilities. I see this all the time: a nonverbal child being ignored, treated as an infant or spoken about in their presence as if they were not capable of understanding what is said of them. This, unfortunately, happens to nonverbal adults, too.

Verbal communication is not the only type of communication, and while a lack of verbal communication presents its challenges, it is possible to interact and get to know someone who communicates in different ways.

Speech is too often associated with intellect, and what we know about disability often determines how we treat people with disabilities or others who may communicate in different ways. While my daughter with Down syndrome is verbal, her speech is quite hard to understand due to apraxia, and she is also quite self-conscious about her speech. She is also used to people talking to me or her sisters rather than speaking directly to her, even asking us questions about her rather than addressing her directly. As a parent, it’s really hard to watch your child be underestimated time and time again, especially when they haven’t learned all the tools they need to advocate for themselves (and for some of us parents, we are learning this, too). There is so much we wish people recognized about our kids.

We reached out to parents in our community who have nonverbal kids and asked them, “What is one thing you wish others knew or understood about your child?”

These were their responses:

1. “Nonverbal does not mean my son is unintelligent! He is very perceptive and loves other people. He communicates in a different way.” — Emily G.

2. “Just because [my daughter] doesn’t speak, doesn’t mean she doesn’t hear or understand your words. In fact, my child is often listening, so please speak positively.” — Jenah C.

3. “They can’t talk, but they can communicate!” — Mila T.

4. “Stop treating her like she isn’t right in front of you.” — Ashlea M.

5. “‘Nonverbal’ does not mean my child cannot learn. It does not mean he isn’t listening or understanding what you’re saying… ‘Nonverbal’ does not always mean a child has no speech at all. Many nonverbal kids have a handful of words they can say but many times need to be prompted to use them, but not in all cases. Not all nonverbal kids have the same behaviors or diagnosis.” — Shannon K.

6. “Mind what you say and how you say it.” — Melina M.

7. “[My child] can read your energy and body language.” — Becca B.

8. “[My daughter] has many ideas, thoughts and preferences. She is social and wants to be included.” — Courtney B.

9. “My daughter isn’t her body. She’s a sweet amazing little girl who communicates in her own way. And just because she doesn’t talk, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a lot to say.” — Toula P.

10. “Being nonverbal and communicating are two different things. My child can communicate through sign language, AAC device, and other simple ways like pointing, smiling, and laughing or crying. Sometimes society just needs to be patient and listen to a different kind of way to hear my child’s ‘voice.’” — Melissa O.

11. “Nonverbal does not mean ‘naughty child.’ [My child’s] shout and scream and babble is her way of telling me what she wants.” — Jodie W.

12. “[My son] has a sense of humor, and even if he doesn’t talk, he understands everything you’re saying, especially if you talk about him in front of him. He’s not a pet — he’s a small person with thoughts and feelings of his own.” — Mi M.

13. “Just because [my son] is nonverbal doesn’t mean you should underestimate his intelligence and his abilities.” — Natalie C.

14. “‘Nonverbal’ does not mean any less of a human being. It doesn’t mean he is broken or undeserving of friendship and love.” — Jessie M.

Is your child nonverbal? What is one thing you wish people knew or understood? Let us know in the comments.

Getty image by Sam Edwards