Helping Nonverbal Kids to Communicate


By Holly Bortfeld

Some children with autism are unable to speak, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say!

There are a number of treatments available for nonverbal people with autism including medical and educational approaches. Medical approaches include diet and supplements; educational approaches include speech and behavioral therapies, as well as assistive technology devices and augmentative communication methods.


Medical Approach

The GFCFSF diet is the single most parent-reported therapy that gets children talking. The diet is merely a change of food so it’s not invasive or dangerous and it’s only as expensive as you choose to make it. Read more information about the GFCFSF diet.

There are a handful of supplements that can help spur on more verbalizations. The supplements that generally help speech production are TMG (trimethylglycine) or DMG (dimethylglycine), P-5-P (Pyridoxal 5-Phosphate, a Vitamin B-6 Metabolite), flax seed and Omegas (Essential Fatty Acids). These can be bought at a health food store or online.

Yeast Treatment
Parents report that treating yeast promotes speech in their children. Learn more about yeast.


Educational Approaches

Speech Therapy
There are many approaches of speech therapy that can help promote and initiate speech. A speech therapist will do an evaluation and choose the best methods to help the client.

Behavioral Therapies
Therapies with a behavioral approach can help children learn to use speech and language functionally.

Discrete trial training is therapy that focuses on behavior and actions. More info on Discrete trial Training

Functional communication training (FCT) is the use of positive reinforcement to motivate the child to communicate. What is Functional Communication Training?

Verbal Behavior and Mand training is the use of prompts and reinforcements of independent requests for items (referred to as mands). Video discussing ABA.

Relationship development intervention (RDI) is a trademarked treatment program that centers on the belief that individuals with autism can participate in authentic emotional relationships if they are exposed to them in a gradual, systematic way.

Auditory Integration Therapies
Therapies such as Tomatis, Berard AIT, The Listening Program and music therapy can help with speech delays.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Methods
Speech will always be the goal for people with autism, but not all will achieve it. There are many ways to communicate besides verbal language.  Remember, just because a child cannot speak, doesn’t mean he cannot understand.


What’s the difference?

Assistive Technology (AT) devices like the DynaVox, AlphaSmart or DynaWriter, are programmable devices that speak words when words are typed. There are also machines that use symbols or pictures to promote communication. These devices can be used in place of speech or to aide in the ability to gain speech. The low-tech versions include PECS, yes/no cards, wipe boards and others.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to all means and modes a person uses to communicate, including pointing, manual signing, finger spelling, eye gaze and facial expressions as well as Assistive Technology.

Assistive technology devices can be the answer to helping your child communicate with you and others. They can also be used to support academic learning in the classroom or at home. Augmentative communication does not eliminate the use of verbal speech.  Both can be worked on as goals for your child.  Make sure that different assistive technology devices are tried to find the best one for your child.

Typically a speech therapist with a specialty in AAC will evaluate your child for the need and use of an augmentative communication device. Many schools and service agencies are now using Assistive Tech Specialists for augmentative communication evaluations and trainings.

It is important that you convey your specific want when asking your school system for an “Assistive Technology Assessment." If you are primarily meaning for an Augmentative Communication evaluation you should convey this. Not all AT evaluations include AAC.

There are a number of methods commonly used to help bridge the communication gap.


Who pays for it?

School (Part B), Medicaid, Medwaiver, Private Pay

Both the evaluation and device or materials should be provided by the public school system from age 3-22. If written into the IEP properly, to be used at home and at school, the child will have access to the device or materials 24 hours a day so that generalization and continuance of program and goals can be followed through.

Medicaid also provides funding for the evaluations and devices.

Assistive Technology & Augmentative Communication Devices/Systems

There are many types of devices to choose from, these are just a few.

Sign Language

Sign Language is language of hand shapes, movements, and facial expressions (especially useful for ages 0-3).


Picture Exchange Communication System is a system using pictures to communicate.

AAC iPod Applications

There are also exciting new applications for the iPod Touch and iPhone that can be used as AAC. Each is a little different.

  • iConverse displays 6 different icons that represent a person’s most basic needs. When activated by touch, the icons give both an auditory and visual representation of the specific need or want. iConverse is $9.99
  • iPrompts provides several easy-to-use, visual prompting tools (no audio prompts or voice output) to help individuals transition from one activity to the next, understand upcoming events, make choices, and focus on the task at hand. iPrompts is $49.99
  • Proloquo2go brings natural sounding text-to-speech voices, up-to-date symbols, powerful automatic conjugations, a default vocabulary of over 7000 items, full expandability and extreme ease of use to the iPhone and iPod touch. Proloquo2Go is $149.99
  • mytalktools is a monthly subscription of $5.75 that you can cancel anytime that allows you to author personalized content.

Each requires the either an iPod Touch or an iPhone to use (not included in the costs listed above).  More applications are being developed all the time so watch the iTunes App store for new programs and updates. To date, these are not covered by insurance and I haven’t found anyone get one covered by a school, yet. But given their low prices, (some AAC device can be thousands of dollars!) hopefully schools and providers will jump at the deal.


Nintendo-based Program

TapToTalk gives a non-verbal child a voice with the tap of a picture. It turns a handheld Nintendo DSi or DS Lite into an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. Upload your own pictures and record your own voice. Prices start at $100 (Nintendo not included).

Rapid Prompting Method


Trackballs, Touch Screens and Special Keyboards

It used to be that you had to buy a special adapter to fit over a computer monitor to be used as a touch screen but today, you can buy mainstream laptops and desktop monitors with the touch screen built in available at retail stores like Best Buy and Target.

Trackballs are computer mice with varying size balls depending on the person’s ability to manipulate the mouse.  Most devices are available at retail stores like Best Buy and Target. You can see the varying types at

Specially adapted keyboards can help people with limited ability to otherwise use a standard keyboard. IntelliKeys by IntelliTools is a programmable alternative keyboard that plugs into any Macintosh or Windows computer.

Facilitated Communication

FC is a communication technique that involves a facilitator who uses physical and emotional supports to encourage the use of a keyboard with letters, words or pictures. Physical supports are gradually faded out when the communicator becomes more independent.

Software Programs

There are many choices in computer software programs to aid speech and teach skills.

As you can see, there are many approaches to promote speech and communication in people with ASD.  We hope you are able to find the approaches that work best for your child to communicate to the best of their ability.


Assistive Technology & Augmentative Communication Resources