Choosing Activities for Nonverbal Children with Autism
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Between 25%-35% of autistic children are believed to be non-verbal.
Non-verbal autism isn’t a medical diagnosis. This is because there’s no definitive definition of the difference between verbal and nonverbal autistic children.
Instead, non-verbal autism remains a subgroup of children and adults under the autism spectrum disorder umbrella.
Faced with a non-verbal autism diagnosis, many parents feel confused and hopeless.
At Heartlinks, we understand that it may be difficult for parents to communicate and interact with their children. Yet some activities for non-verbal autistic children can help them foster their social skills, regulate their emotions and develop their communication skills.
What is Non-verbal Autism?
Traditionally, a non-verbal child would have limited or no communication abilities. This is not accurate.
In general, the term non-verbal indicates a child is without language. Yet, most children who don’t speak can still understand and use language.
The range of types of non-verbal communication is vast. They can include the following:
- Hand Gestures
- Body Language
- Facial Expressions
With this in mind, it’s important to remember that non-verbal communication is still a form of communication and to encourage it in your child.
How to Choose the Right Non-Verbal Activities
Factors such as sensory issues, a preference for repetitive activities, and social and communication deficiencies mean it can be difficult for parents to choose activities for non-verbal autistic children.
Yet do not let those factors make you think your child is limited in their ability to enjoy and learn from activities.
Yes, accommodations might be needed for your child to partake in their chosen activity fully. But often, the fact that your child is non-verbal might very well be an advantage.
The following is a brief list of suggestions for selecting suitable activities for non-verbal autistic children.
Watch and learn
Start the selection process by watching your child engage in play. Observe them, whether pretend play, sports, or any other activity. Observe what part of the activity brings them joy and what might bring them frustration.
Let them lead
The next time your child is participating in an activity, join them. Yet let them lead the activity, don’t force your agenda. What’s most important is engaging them and communicating with them.
Plan it out
If your child especially likes taking walks in the park, plan for this activity by checking the forecast and ensuring it’s not too hot (if they have sensory issues regarding heat). Then you can select a new route to walk to the park, or if they want to take their favorite way, let them lead you to the park.
Don’t overlook the fun! The whole point of planning and participating in activities together is that you enjoy yourselves. If at any point the experience becomes too stressful, step back. Take a moment to remember why you’re doing this.
Sensory Activities for Non-verbal Kids with Autism
While children with non-verbal autism struggle to communicate using language, they have a wonderful sense of touch and a full range of emotions. Sensory activities can help kids “feel” their feelings. For example, the texture of sandpaper might feel like “anger,” while wool might feel like “love.”
Sensory boxes or bins
A sensory box or bin is designed to stimulate some or all of their senses while they play and have fun.
Whether you purchase or build one for your child, they’re very straightforward to create. You can use a plastic or cardboard box and fill it with different materials, shapes, colors, and sizes.
Sensory cards or sensory break cards use a visual clue (i.e., a picture of someone doing jumping jacks) that your non-verbal child can use to take a break from either an activity (i.e., homework) or a situation that overwhelms them.
A quiet book is made of fabric and contains suggestions for fun educational activities. You can use it in various situations, including occupying your child’s time while traveling in a plane or car or waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
Quiet books can be bought or made.
Physical Activities for Non-verbal Autistic Children
For children, including those with non-verbal Autism, studies have indicated that vigorous physical activity for a minimum of 20 minutes or more can help decrease the number of unwanted behaviors, including physical aggression, tantrums, and hyperactivity.
Children with ASD often struggle with sensory issues. Bright lights, sounds, and strong smells may cause anxiety. But swimming is furthest from that, thanks to its repetitive and rhythmic movements, which are qualities that calm children with Autism.
Additionally, the water supports the child’s body when they swim, which can often decrease their fears of injury from physical activities.
Remember, any type of water play needs to be supervised, especially when working with a child with Autism. Whether your child can swim the entire length of the pool or needs to wear a lifejacket at all times, often water can be so comforting to a child on the spectrum they forget their limits and jump into the pool without any fear.
Dancing has always been a universal form of self-expression and communication. This is particularly important to kids with non-verbal autism because they can’t use traditional ways to express themselves.
Dance as an activity for non-verbal autistic children forces them to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.
Dance can also improve a child’s social skills, motor skills, and ability to focus.
Outdoor Activities for Non-verbal Kids with Autism
Any outside activity for a child with non-verbal autism has tremendous benefits. Not only does it provide the child with exercise, but it can lift feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. It can also force the child to make new friends and teach them various new skills.
There are more outdoor activities than space to write about them. The following is a brief list of suggestions.
- Go for a walk
- Draw using sidewalk chalk
- Play frisbee
- Ride a bike
- Play hide and seek
- Play in a sandbox
- Ride a swing
- Do a little gardening
- Blow bubbles
How Heartlinks Can Help
We have parents at Heartlinks that make the initial false assumption their child cannot participate in activities because they are non-verbal. It’s important to consider that many non-verbal children have become accomplished swimmers, artists, hikers, gardeners, and so much more!
What they need more than anything is the support of their family and caregivers to participate. When you encourage your non-verbal child to try something new or pursue an activity that brings them joy, you empower them.
To learn more about how you encourage your non-verbal child with Autism, contact us today.