Just because you can’t talk doesn’t mean you don’t have something to say.
Michael is a six-year-old , nonverbal boy, with autism. He wants to watch Sponge Bob while sitting in his favorite chair, but there’s a pillow on it, and the TV is out of reach.
Living in a fearful world of confusing consequences, Michael screams and throws the pillows, the chair, and bangs his head on the floor.
His mother has no idea why.
Michael has never been taught how to communicate.
Shouldn’t this be the first skill schools focus on? Don’t nonverbal children have a right to learn how to communicate their needs and desires?
One-size-fits-all special needs preschools are the norm in the United States. Very few school systems offer early intervention programs that target the unique needs of autistic kids or nonverbal kids. Failure to teach a child to communicate when they are young is robbing the child and their family of quality of life. If children are delayed in speech, there are some simple things schools can do to help nonverbal kids communicate, but some are complicated and will cost money, too. Sadly, if we follow the money, we may discover why the following principles aren’t provided for all nonverbal autistic preschoolers in the United States.
In order to effectively serve autistic preschoolers, every school should:
- Require all special education teachers to learn sign language (such as Signing Exact English) and learn how to use picture communication systems.
- Require every special education teacher to communicate with nonverbal students using Signing Exact English and picture communication systems.
- Require that speech pathologists/therapists learn sign language and how to use picture communication systems (it’s mind-blowing that some don’t!).
- Require para-professionals to attend workshops put on by the special education teachers on how to communicate via sign language and picture systems.
- Provide every nonverbal child the right to learn sign language or how to use pictures or technology to communicate.
- Offer every nonverbal child the right to a picture schedule.
- Make educators aware that picture schedules help all preschoolers, not just nonverbal ones.
Teaching a child to communicate will reward the parent and teacher with a calmer child, and a child less prone to behavioral disruptions. More importantly, the child will be given the invitation to emerge from the isolation of autism or other disorders affecting speech and join others in his community.
What do you think? Do you think nonverbal kids have a right to communicate? Are we asking too much of special education teachers and therapists? Weigh in.