The Many Ways to Have A Voice
By Laura Ironman, MS, CCC-SLP
Often when I'm asked about speech therapy, the conversation gears towards how to get a child to communicate with their voices. This makes sense because generally, this is the typical way we know to communicate. The truth is there are a lot of ways to communicate without ever using spoken words.
For our clients who aren't using words, we look to Preverbal skills which are foundational language skills that happen before words are ever spoken. These skills give us a better idea of how a child communicates. Before babies use words, they will point or reach for items or look back and forth from an item to their guardian, communicating what they want while using zero words. Toddlers and babies can demonstrate their understanding non-verbally as well, walking towards the bathroom when a parent mentions "bath time" or finding their toy pig when they see a picture of a pig in their storybook. Preverbal skills are the stepping stones to communication.
But what about older children who still don't verbalize?
Having no verbal language does not mean a child does not have communication skills. Some examples of communication include having a child communicate with picture cards they can point to or hand to others to request their wants/needs. Others use ASL or gestures they develop to socialize. Body language, facial expressions, and vocal tone also set the stage for communication. When our voice turns on, we may not be making words- think crying/shouting versus laughing or cooing.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is the term that is all of the ways we share our ideas and feelings without talking. This includes the aforementioned gestures and picture cards as well as alternative voice-generating devices. A common misconception with AAC is that it is the only method of communication once a child starts using it. This is not necessarily the case, and technology has come a long way in supporting children who may have more difficulty with verbal communication. Please refer to the American Speech and Hearing Association for more information regarding AAC.
What to do if my kid isn't talking?
Utilizing no-tech AAC such as signs or picture symbols so your child can use functional words/phrases such as "help" "I want" "more" "drink" "eat" can encourage them to gain more independence. Offer your child choices at snack time or bedtime by showing two items and having them point/express which one they will want. By encouraging their participation, you are encouraging communication!
If your child is not reaching these milestones according to the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), please seek a speech therapy consult/evaluation to discuss the potential of using AAC or other strategies to encourage communication!