Non-verbal autism


Autism is a developmental disorder that affects 8,000 children each year. Despite this large number, each child is different. There are several types of autism, with different levels of severity and different vulnerabilities.

Autism can manifest itself with communication difficulties that can go as far as not being able to communicate verbally. In this case we speak of a non-verbal child. If a child cannot communicate verbally, it does not mean that he or she cannot communicate at all. You just have to find the right tool and adapt the environment to his needs.

Autism often affects several skills in the development of a child. It is therefore important to have a general vision in order to better support the child’s development.

Autistic children - Coco EN

The non-verbal child

When a child has a severe communication disorder, it is referred to as a non-verbal child, as in the case of some children with autism. The communication disorder may manifest itself in a reduced vocabulary, difficulty in composing complex sentences or inability to use oral language.

The child may not speak at all or may say only a few words to express himself. If they have difficulties with verbal language, they will mainly use non-verbal language. They will use their body, facial expressions or gestures.

Verbal difficulties can also affect other areas of the child’s development, such as social and academic areas.

It is therefore important to intervene early, giving the child solutions, alternatives and strategies to overcome his or her difficulties. With the right tools, the child can learn to act and communicate in everyday life.


How to communicate with a non-verbal child?

Before looking at how to create a dialogue with a non-verbal child, it should be remembered that an autistic child can also have difficulties in relationships and in expressing their needs. These difficulties are specific to autism and are not related to the ability or lack of ability to speak. It is therefore important to take into account the relational aspects when communicating with children with autism.

We have just seen that a non-verbal child with autism can communicate. Communication can take place through different channels, so it is important to find out which channel the child wants to use. All children will use facial expressions to express themselves. Facial expressions are universal and everyone can give them meaning. In this case, it is important to exaggerate the expressions to make them more obvious to the child as well.

It should be remembered that for children with autism it can be difficult to recognize emotions, theirs and ones of others. You can use books or games to help them learn to recognize it. For example, in the COCO THINKS and COCO MOVES app, you can find the game “Mime an emotion”. The child can learn to recognize emotions on himself and on others through pictures and descriptive audios He will, therefore, be able to match what he leard with his emotions and the emotions of others.


Here are some emotions children can learn in the COCO THINKS and COCO MOVES app:







Another solution is to use pictures.

Pictures can help the child to expand his or her vocabulary if it is small, or they can substitute for communication. Pictures are easy for children to recognize and use.

There are different types of alternative communication for autistic children. In this case, it is important that the child is followed up by a speech therapist who can teach the child and the parents how to use this type of communication. Learning to use these tools is not easy and it takes time as it is like learning a new language. You have to be patient and help your child. It will be important to integrate this tool also at school to enable the child to communicate in every situation.

When you talk to your child try to speak softly and give the child time to respond. Also, when it is the child who wants to communicate something, either with a word or by pointing to a picture, give them time to express themselves.
Once the child has finished, you can make the sentence more complex. For example, if the child has said the word “water” or pointed to the picture of water, you can say “Do you want me to give you some water? Yes, here is the water.”. This way the child will be happy to be understood, but will also have a more complex sentence pattern and will be able to improve their communication.


Speech therapy for non-verbal children

The speech therapist supports children with language or communication disorders. For children with autism, it is therefore important to be followed by a speech therapist.

If the child does not use verbal language, it does not mean that he or she does not communicate at all. The speech and language therapist can therefore help the child to find the best way to communicate according to his or her skills. The speech and language therapist can also help families by suggesting activities to do at home.

Finding the best solution and tools to enable a child to communicate is essential to help them interact with their environment, family and friends.


Non-verbal children and school

A child with a communication disorder may have difficulties in school. He or she may have difficulty interacting with others, understanding exercises or doing tests.

If the child has already started to use others means to communicate, such as pictures, apps, sign language and so on, the child should be able to use them at school. Teachers need to be informed and trained in the use of this communication modality in order to be able to interact with the child but also to enable other children to learn to communicate with these tools as well.

The activities and exams should follow and adapt to the child’s communication modality. If the child uses images to communicate, it will be useless to give him/her exercises with texts inside. For the child, this mode of communication becomes his or her own language and we must try to “translate” all activities into this language.

educational and physical games

The COCO THINKS and COCO MOVES is an app that offers more than 30 educational and physical games. Each game has three levels of difficulty and an audio description to adapt it to all children.

With Coco you can stimulate all cognitive functions such as attention, memory, logic and language.

The Musical Ear


In this game, the child has to listen to and recognise the sounds of objects, animals and musical instruments.

With this game, you can stimulate listening to the other, which is essential in communication. You can also stimulate vocabulary when the child has to find the right answer, but also language if you ask the child to reproduce the sound he has just heard.


Coco Cooks

In this game, the child has to remember the ingredients of a recipe. Each ingredient is represented by a picture so it will be easy for the children to recognise all the ingredients and associate the words with the objects.

You can stimulate language by asking the child the name of an ingredient or alternatively by asking them to point to it. For children who use pictures for communication, it is important to practice pointing to pictures to communicate.


In the COCO THINKS and COCO MOVES app you can find several games so every child can find something to play. Remember that every child is different and that’s fine! You should try to adapt the environment to the child’s needs and use the child’s own skills to overcome difficulties.


The sports break

This break is very useful for non-verbal children because there is no need to communicate orally. Communication can be done through the body, movements and facial expressions. Sport and physical activities remove the language barriers that may exist between children.

COCO THINKS and COCO MOVES, the education and physical app

The COCO app imposes a sports break after 15 minutes of screen time. This allows them to air their brains, and then to be more focused! 

Note that it is also possible to use the app only with sports activities, to adapt the games to the child. Personalize his experience and teach him to focus.





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My son is 8 years old and has autism. He has difficulties in relating to his peers and he doesn’t use language. When he was small, my husband and I were confused because we couldn’t communicate with our own child.

Our son’s speech therapist advised us to use pictures to communicate and indeed we managed to create little shared moments. We started to use pictures for everything: brushing his teeth, cooking, getting dressed… The pictures help us in the routines (picture of putting the toothpaste on the toothbrush, picture with the toothbrush in the mouth, picture of the child washing his mouth), but also to ask our child what he wanted.

Through the pictures we learned a lot about our son and improved our relationship. The only problem was that we couldn’t bring the pictures everywhere and our son would get upset when he couldn’t communicate. Notre orthophoniste nous a donc conseillé l’application Mon Dico et depuis notre fils peut communiquer avec facilité. Les images sont organisées et on peut rajouter plein d’images, toutes regroupées dans la tablette, prête à être l’emploi.

Notre fils a commencé à l’utiliser aussi à l’école, et le fait d’avoir une tablette a attiré l’attention de ces camarades. Au début, ce n’était pas facile, mais maintenant, quand les enseignants me disent que mon fils a partagé des moments avec ses camarades, je suis très heureuse.


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