Signs of Nonverbal Autism in Teenagers and Children
As a parent, caregiver, or friend of someone with a suspected Autism diagnosis, you might be curious to know how to best support them. At SpeechEase Speech Therapy, we love working with children, teens, and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder to help them be their best selves, however that looks for them.
In some cases, adolescents with Autism can have what is referred to as either Nonverbal Autism or Nonspeaking Autism. While it’s not a formal diagnosis within itself, this term is used to describe someone who doesn’t use their articulators to produce speech sounds decodable by their communities, or “mouth words” as people who use alternative communication systems describe it. This does not mean that the individual has an absence of language or intent.
To learn more about the signs of Nonverbal Autism in Teenagers and older kids, keep on reading.
Understanding Nonspeaking Autism
While many individuals with Autism are diagnosed by the age of three, there are some that may have trouble getting an accurate diagnosis. This may be because there are a wide range of reasons a child or teen may not speak verbally.
A few other factors that can contribute to a child or teen not speaking include:
- Autism – A term that describes a collection of neurodevelopmental disorders marked by impaired social interactions
- Dyspraxia – A neurological disorder that affects motor skills and cognitive abilities
- Learning disability – Affecting their ability to interpret and understand language
- Non-verbal learning disorder – A neurological condition involving a range of academic and social difficulties
- Phonological disorders – A delay in speech development which can be due to physical disorders of the muscles needed for speech or the way the brain processes sound productions
- Cerebral palsy – A physical condition that affects movement
- Selective mutism – An anxiety disorder causing people to choose not to speak
It’s important to note that children and adults with these (and many other) conditions are otherwise intelligent. They just process information differently.
It’s estimated that around 25 to 30 percent of children with ASD are minimally verbal (which means they speak fewer than 30 or so words) or don’t speak at all. Language delay and communication difficulties are also a common challenge for those on the Autism Spectrum.
When an autistic person doesn’t speak, it’s known as nonspeaking autism. You may also see it described as nonverbal autism. However, the term nonverbal isn’t completely accurate, since it means “without words.” Even if an autistic person is nonspeaking, they may still use words in other ways (such as in writing).
Signs of Autism in Teenagers
If you have an older child or adolescent with suspected Autism who is yet to be diagnosed, it’s worth looking out for some common signs of ASD and noting the response to previous or current therapy approaches (if you suspect a misdiagnosis).
Older autistic children and teenagers might:
- have trouble reading nonverbal cues, like body language or tone of voice, to guess how someone else is feeling – for example, they might not understand when adults are angry based on their tone of voice, or they might not be able to tell when someone is teasing them or using sarcasm
- make less eye contact than others, or not use eye contact when they’re spoken to
- express few emotions on their faces, or not be able to read other people’s facial expressions – for example, they might not be able to tell whether someone is sad
- use very few gestures to express themselves.
Older autistic children and teenagers might:
- prefer to spend time on their own, rather than with their peers
- have trouble understanding the social rules of friendship
- have difficulty making friends and have few or no real friends
- invade personal space by getting too close to people.
Teenagers with autism might:
- be easily upset by change and like to follow routines – for example, they might like to sit in the same seat for every meal or have a special order for getting ready in the morning
- repeat body movements or have unusual body movements, like hand-flapping or rocking
- make repetitive noises – for example, grunts, throat-clearing or squealing
- be sensitive to sensory experiences – for example, they might be easily upset by certain sounds or uncomfortable clothes, or eat only foods with a certain texture
- seek sensory stimulation – for example, they might like deep pressure, seek vibrating objects like washing machines, or flutter fingers to the sides of their eyes to watch the light flicker
- be less responsive to pain than other children.
How to Correctly Diagnose Autism in Teenagers
While the correct diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder generally involves an interdisciplinary team, Speech Pathologists like us play a big role in this! Speech Pathologists are professionals with the ability to assess, diagnose, and treat communication and swallowing disorders. For more information on how the team at SpeechEase Speech Therapy can support Adults and Children with Autism, click through to read more about our approach.
Can Teenagers with Nonspeaking Autism Learn to Speak?
Development of language skills and expressive communication are possible for people with Autism; however this expression of language and communication will most likely take place through the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools like high-tech devices or low-tech ALS boards or PODD books.
As Speech Pathologists, our goal is always to support our clients in expressing their thoughts, feelings, and needs to those around them. We work with our clients with nonspeaking Autism to find a suitable AAC approach that enables them to express themselves and engage in conversation with those around them. The sooner we’re able to support our clients in finding a suitable AAC method, the better.
If you are based in Queensland and are interested in seeking out the support of a Speech Pathologist, get in touch with our friendly team today. We have private practice clinics in Mackay, Townsville, and Brisbane that can help you and your teenager to achieve meaningful Speech Therapy goals.
*Please note this information is general in nature.