what is non verbal autism

What is Non-Verbal Autism?

Did you know that estimates suggest that around 40% of people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have Non-Verbal Autism? It’s a large percentage and a condition worth learning more about.

Whether your child, a family member, or even a student in your class has Non-Verbal Autism, we hope you find this article helpful. As a team of passionate and dedicated Speech Language Pathologists, we work with clients across the Autism Spectrum, including those who are non-verbal.

Keep reading to learn more about non-verbal autism, including signs that someone may have non-verbal autism as well as some more information on how individuals with non-verbal autism can learn to communicate.


How Can Someone Be Diagnosed With Non-Verbal Autism?

It’s important to note that Non-Verbal Autism is not a diagnosis within itself. The phrase simply describes someone with Autism, usually with a Level 3 diagnosis, who struggles with verbal communication. Someone with Non-Verbal Autism may never develop spoken language beyond a few words or utterances.

Autism is a neurological difference that impacts how an individual interacts with the world around them. It is characterised by differences in social interaction, communication, and behaviour. Autism is defined by a spectrum because every autistic person is different, with a different range of skills, strengths, and needs. However, as mentioned, the DSM-5 places those diagnosed with Autism on one of three levels. Level 1 (Requiring Support), Level 2 (Requiring Substantial Support) and Level 3 (Requiring Very Substantial Support).

There are no conclusive findings on why some individuals on the Autism Spectrum develop Non-Verbal Autism. This is an area within the Autism Spectrum that needs more research. Although we don’t know why 40% people with ASD are Non-Verbal, it’s important to note that their lack of verbal communication is not due to a lack of intelligence.

Recent findings from a review of expressive language intervention studies found that definitions of this condition vary widely. The researchers proposed standardised definitions including preverbal (no words at <18 months), nonverbal (no words at >18 months), minimally verbal (significantly fewer words than expected for age), and limited verbal (>50 words, but expressive skills below 10th percentile). To learn more about when Non-Verbal Autism is diagnosed, read our helpful article.

Signs of Non-Verbal Autism

🛑 not responding to their name by 12 months old

🛑 not babbling or laughing by 12 months

🛑 not pointing to objects of interest by 14 months old

🛑 avoiding eye contact or preferring to be alone

🛑 not meeting developmental milestones for speech and language

🛑 flapping their hands or rocking their body for comfort

🛑 speech and language regression


What Causes Non-Verbal Autism?

Because Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex diagnosis already, there is not much information out there on what causes Non-Verbal Autism specifically.

While researchers are still exploring what causes Autism and whether certain factors may increase the chance of a child being born with ASD, there are a few potential factors that can contribute:


#1: Genetics

Researchers have identified that there are some genetic factors that appear to increase the likelihood of Autism. For example, if someone else in the family has an Autism diagnosis.

#2: Development during pregnancy and in infancy

Exposure to certain drugs during pregnancy may increase the chance of Autism.

#3: Genetic and Chromosomal Disorders

People with certain genetic or developmental disorders, such as tuberous sclerosis and fragile X syndrome, are more likely to also be autistic.


Can Someone with Non-Verbal Autism Learn to Speak?

As a parent, family member, or teacher of someone with Non-Verbal Autism you may be curious to know whether they’ll ever learn to speak and communicate verbally.

With the help of Early Intervention therapy for children with Autism, those with extreme language delays can learn to speak verbally in some cases.

A study from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders looked at 535 children diagnosed with autism between the ages of 8 to 17.  All participants experienced extreme language delays at four years old. At the age of 4, the participants’ language delays included nonverbal and only simple words or phrases.

The study found the following positive results for Non-Verbal Autistic Children:

  • 47% of the children became fluent speakers
  • 70% of the children were later able to speak in simple sentences
  • It was found that most participants had higher IQ’s than previously thought (due to the limited non-verbal intelligence testing available)


non verbal autism learn to speak


Although 70% of the children involved in the study were only able to learn to say simple phrases, this is a positive step forward for anyone with Non-Verbal Autism!

Some people with Non-Verbal Autism develop the ability to use a few words in a meaningful manner but are unable to carry on any kind of significant conversationFor example, they may say “car” to mean “let’s go for a ride,” but would not be able to answer the question “where should we go?”.

Some are able to speak but lack the ability to use language in a meaningful way. They may “echo” scripts from television or expressions they’ve been taught by Speech Therapists. Instead of using these scripts to communicate ideas or desires, they seem to use this “scripting” behaviour as a way to calm themselves.

While they may not communicate verbally, many people with Non-Verbal Autism can learn to use other communication methods like Sign Language, PODD books, and AAC devices.


Non-Verbal Autism – In Summary

Non-Verbal Autism adults and children can communicate and participate passionately in life with the help of Augmentative and Alternative Communication and tailored Speech Therapy.

At SpeechEase, we’re passionate about helping our clients to find their voice and shout to the world who they are. Our talented clinicians in Mackay, Townsville and Brisbane can help support you and your loved one with Non-Verbal Autism to communicate and thrive.

Get in touch with our friendly team for more information on how we approach Speech Therapy for adults, teenagers, and children with Non-Verbal Autism.




  1. https://speechblubs.com/blog/will-my-nonverbal-autistic-child-talk/
  2. https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-statistics-asd
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/nonverbal-autism
  4. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/4/e1128
  5. Koegel, L. K., Bryan, K. M., Su, P. L., Vaidya, M., & Camarata, S. (2020). Definitions of Nonverbal and Minimally Verbal in Research for Autism: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04402-w

Learn More About Non-Verbal Autism

when is non-verbal autism diagnosed

When is Non-Verbal Autism Diagnosed?

As a parent of a child with Autism, you may already have noticed your child isn’t reaching the communication and speech milestones for their age. This might leave you wondering when Non-Verbal Autism is diagnosed, and how to begin the process of diagnosis and early intervention.  

In this article, we’ll be exploring Non-Verbal Autism in more depth, including the signs to look out for and what the process of diagnosis looks like. We hope it helps you in your research.

examples of non-verbal communication

6 Examples of Non-Verbal Communication

The ability to communicate is what connects us with the world around us. Being able to ask for help, express our thoughts and desires, and to initiate play and conversation are all great reasons to communicate with one another.

While there are plenty of familiar examples of non-verbal communication, like waving to a friend across the street or pointing to something you’d like from the menu. Learn more about non-verbal communication methods here.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-Verbal Children Up to 6 Years of Age

Many conditions can hinder a child’s speech, including autism, cerebral palsy, dyspraxia, learning difficulties and selective mutism.

Communication is bigger than speech, though. You can help your non-verbal child communicate in many ways, using gestures, signs, assistive technology and words. Parenting a non-verbal child can be challenging and distressing but don’t give up hope – many kids do learn how to communicate more clearly and there are some key ways to help at home.