Almost every parent of a nonverbal autistc child has asked the question, “will my child ever speak?” As they progress and develop while continuing not to speak, they often wonder if it will ever be possible for them to achieve scholastically or even graduate high school. Many parents of non verbal autistic children think that automatically means they are low functioning when that couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is true that many autistic people will never speak more than a few words, evidence has shown that lack of communication does not always equal lack of cognitive ability. There are countless examples of non verbal autistic people excelling regardless of their inability to speak verbally. Many speech therapists work diligently to facilitate conversation using talk devices, sign language, PECS cards and other nonberbal means of communicating. Everyday nonverbal people work to overcome language barriers and the challenges of being non speaking in an auditory world.
An estimated 40% od autistic people are nonverbal and will never develop the ability to speak. Elizabeth Bonker, a Floria senior at Rollins University, was one of those people, often bullied due to her lack of verbal communication, Bonker went on to be unanimously voted as valedictorian by her graduating class. Bonker, who hasn’t spoken since shortly after her first birthday, unlocked a whole new world when she learned how to type. After unlocking this new skill, communicating with others became easier. The use of this device helped Bonker to overcome challenges and her Whereas not everyone knows sign language, Bonkker’s communicating device was able to be her voice. Recently she was able to use that type-to-talk device to deliver a powerful graduation speech, advocating for other nonverbal autistics, herself becoming a voice for the voiceless. .
Nonverbal UC Berkley Grads
David Tepitz and Hari Srinivaen are two recent graduates of UC Berkeley. These high achiever friends not only share a high GPA and alma mater, they also both are on the autism spectrum, diagnosed with Apraxia, a form of autism that limits communication, imitative movements and mimicking: keys to language development. Both use type-to-talk devices to augment their communication and are great examples that autism does not always impair cognition or mental acuity. David, who depends on assistance from an aide, not only graduated with a near perfect 3,875 GPA but a minor in disability studies as well. Not to be outdone, Hari graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and a fellowship at Vanderbilt University to pursue a Phd in neuroscience.
Speaking Is Not Always Linear
As demonstrated in the examples above not all forms of speaking are verbal, linear, or auditory. Advances in technology have made it easier to communicate without words, across borders and miles and subsequently across disability types. From type-to-speak apps and devices to simple words typed out in Google docs or Microsoft Word, technology has made it increasingly easier to communicate. Whereas a nonverbal person may have faced challenges without assistive technology before, today even if your nonverbal loved one never verbally speaks a word, that doesn’t mean they can’t communicate, or learn “to talk”. Many speech pathologists teach caregivers to focus on any sort of communication or language attempts, even nonverbal ones. Instead of asking IF our nonerbal autistic will ever speak, it is better to ask, HOW they will speak. Whether using signs, nonverbal cues, typing, or other ways to signal their needs, everyone will talk someday, we just have to be listening.