My youngest son is nonverbal. Joey had 30 words at one point, but over time and through regressions, he’s lost them all. Nonverbal autism is a form of autism where the individual has limited or no verbal communication. However, teachers can introduce various classroom activities for nonverbal autistic children.
These activities can go a long way to making classrooms more inclusive. In turn, the activities will also make the classroom more supportive and help improve the educational experience for many nonverbal autistic children. Let’s look at five classroom activities for nonverbal children.
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1. Sensory activities
Sensory play can often be a key motivator for nonverbal autistic children. It’s an activity that stimulates one or more of the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
While these children may lack the spoken language to communicate with teachers, they still enjoy many of the same things as neurotypical children. Sensory play can improve the child’s development.
Many tools from sensory play activities can be incorporated into the classroom. Some common activity ideas include:
- finger painting,
- play dough,
- musical instruments,
- pouring stations,
- sensory tables.
These activities can be a great tool to help children learn and improve both social skills and motor skills.
2. Communication building activities
Just because a child is nonverbal doesn’t mean the child doesn’t have communication skills. Teachers can incorporate activities that improve nonverbal communication on both sides. My son uses an augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC device.
He uses the AAC app with pictures to help him identify and ask for what he wants. While it has sometimes been a struggle, we work with him at home, and his teacher works with him at school to improve communication with this device.
Games and activities using visual cues will help build communication and interaction with a nonverbal child. Social stories can go a long way in teaching nonverbal students to communicate.
3. Visual support activities
When language skills are lacking, visual support can greatly help with communication skills. A visual schedule can help children know what’s next in the school day.
They may not respond to the teacher just telling them to move to the next activity. However, a teacher pointing out what’s next can help the nonverbal autistic child to adapt and move on.
Visual supports can also aid in sensory experiences and emotional regulation. Nonverbal children can point to where they feel on visual support to let the teacher know they are in sensory or emotional overload and need a break. This can help both the teacher and the student avoid the autism meltdown.
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4. Music and movement activities
Many nonverbal autistic children have proven to respond well to music activities. My son often uses music to calm down when he is experiencing sensory overload. His teachers have said music is his favorite part of the school day because he can bang on drums or tambourines.
These activities can also help develop fine motor skills. Teachers can also encourage nonverbal children to try to sing along.
Studies have found music can help improve:
- social interaction,
- verbal communication skills,
- nonverbal communication skills,
- social skills.
Movement activities can also help nonverbal autistic children be more active in classroom activities. These activities help the child expel some of their energy, which, in turn, can make them more receptive to other classroom activities.
Some movement activities include:
- building blocks,
- ball toss,
- building an obstacle course.
These activities will depend on the classroom size and what tools a teacher can use. Still, many of these activities will help a nonverbal autistic child be more included in the classroom.
5. Art and craft activities
These are some of the most inclusive activities that can be incorporated into the classroom. Arts and crafts allow the children to work at their own pace.
Activities like finger painting can improve hand-eye coordination and help the teacher understand how the child sees the world differently. Plus, some arts and crafts can be mixed as visual supports and sensory play activities.
For arts and crafts, teachers can set up individual and group settings. This will encourage the children to partake in the activities when they need to be alone and when the teacher tries to get the class to work together. In the end, this can help improve social interaction for the nonverbal autistic child.
Classroom activities for nonverbal autistic children
It can be tough to try to send a nonverbal autistic child to school. It’s perfectly normal and reasonable for a parent to worry about how their child’s life will be impacted. However, a teacher can build an inclusive and supportive classroom that helps the child with language development, fine motor skills, social skills, and problem-solving skills.
Teachers and parents can collaborate to ensure the best environment for the child that will make everyone involved happy.
Q: What are the best activities for nonverbal autistic children?
A: Some of the most recommended activities include visual storytelling, sensory play, music, and movement.
Q: How can I help my nonverbal autistic child in the classroom?
A: Parents can share what they use at home with their nonverbal children to help the teacher understand the best way to communicate. Consistency between home and school can make things easier for the child.
Q: How do you engage nonverbal autistic children?
A: Teachers can use simple language and interactive play to help engage autistic students. Teachers can also follow the child’s interests to keep the child engaged.
Q: What shouldn’t you do with a nonverbal autistic child?
A: Parents and teachers should not assume that a nonverbal child cannot communicate. They also shouldn’t try to force the child into an activity the child doesn’t want to do or isn’t prepared to do.
Q: What is the best therapy for nonverbal autism?
A: While speech therapy is often recommended for children with no verbal language, music therapy, and movement therapy are also recommended to help improve nonverbal communication.
Geretsegger M, Elefant C, Mössler KA, Gold C. Music therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;2014(6):CD004381. Published 2014 Jun 17.
Naturalistic Observations of Nonverbal Children with Autism: A Study of Intentional Communicative Acts in the Classroom https://downloads.hindawi.com/archive/2013/296039.pdf
Practical Teaching Strategies for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Review of the Literature https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1230708.pdf