What is Nonverbal Autism?

January 11, 2021
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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One of the worst experiences a parent can go through is to receive a dire diagnosis regarding the health of their child. However, not all lifelong issues are the same. While some of them mean that your child will need 24/7 caregiving, others will still allow them a modicum of independence. And, when it comes to the autism spectrum, there are a lot of modalities that range from full-on meltdowns to highly functional. Where in that spectrum is nonverbal autism? What causes it? What are the signs? And, what are the options to ensure the best quality of life for your child?

Overview of Nonverbal Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a medical term that encompasses a wide array of neurodevelopmental disorders. They affect the normal development of the brain, having an impact on the child’s cognitive abilities, communication skills, and social interactions. The disorders range from mild to severe — and in the more severe end of the spectrum, children are unable to speak. When this occurs, the child is said to have nonverbal autism.

It’s typical for children with autism to also experience additional medical conditions, such as sleeping, feeding, and digestive disorders, sensory integration dysfunction, and epilepsy. That said, autism does not affect a child’s life expectancy. Although there is no cure for autism, early intervention can improve a child’s quality of life.

Causes of Autism

Autism spectrum disorders are the result of abnormalities in the structure or function of the brain. These differences are noticeable in brain scans. However, there is no known cause for the conditions. That said, autism occurs more frequently in children who have other medical conditions — including fragile X syndrome, congenital rubella syndrome, phenylketonuria (PKU), and tuberous sclerosis.

There are additional factors that are believed to increase the risk of a child developing autism. The most common ones include prenatal exposure to environmental toxins, a family history, or older parental age.

Early Signs of Nonverbal Autism

The signs of autism generally appear by the time a child is three years of age. At first, it may be difficult to notice them, because autism doesn’t cause babies and toddlers to act abnormally. Early signs to look for include:

  • Failing to make eye contact
  • Not following objects visually
  • Never smiling
  • No facial expressions
  • No babbling or verbal sounds

Signs of Nonverbal Autism

As the child gets older, there are additional signs of nonverbal autism. These include:

  • No spoken words
  • Doesn’t respond when spoken to
  • Repeating sounds over and over again (echolalia)
  • Appears disinterested or unaware of their surroundings
  • Doesn’t know how to connect with others — e.g. by playing or making friends

Other signs of nonverbal communication difficulties aren’t directly related to speech. These include:

  • Repeating the same actions or movements over and over again — such as rocking, twirling, or flapping their hands
  • Walking exclusively on tiptoes
  • Needing to follow a strict routine — and having meltdowns when there’s a change in what they’re used to
  • Spending long periods of time staring at objects

Treatment Options for Nonverbal Autism

Diagnosing nonverbal autism involves several processes. If you are concerned about any issues regarding your child’s development, the pediatrician will refer your child to a specialist who will conduct a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging scans. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the child’s treatment will involve several components:

1. Medications

Although there is no specific medication to treat autism per se, there are drugs designed to alleviate some of the complications that go hand-in-hand with ASD. These may include medications for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, or hyperactivity.

2. Educational Interventions

Nonverbal autistic children respond better to structured environments. Therefore, the different types of interventions should be completed on the same days, at the same time. These include applied behavior analysis (ABA) — designed to help them improve their focus and memory, occupational therapy to help them do functional tasks, such as feeding themselves or playing with toys, and social skills training.

3. Assistive Technology

There are devices and applications with images that your child can touch to produce words. They are known as speech-generating devices (SGDs), which have been shown to increase a nonverbal child’s communication abilities. This technology is easy to use and children often find it to be fun.

4. Getting Involved

While most of the treatment has to do with your child, there are things that as a parent or caregiver, you can do to make communication easier for a nonverbal autistic child. Using simple language, following their lead, and getting involved in interactive play are all ways to communicate better with them.

Contact Care Options for Kids For Pediatric Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.