Congratulations!  You are about to discover how you can take control of your
child’s communication development

As a Speech Pathologist the question that most people ask me is………

“How can I help my nonverbal child learn to communicate”?

Over the years, I have worked with many parents struggling to navigate their way through the maze of services that are supposed to help their child learn to communicate.

Many parents are frustrated with the lack of communication between services, the uncoordinated therapy sessions, and the speech therapists that come and go with barely any time to get to know their child.

Most parents want to be able to take more control of their child’s therapy, but don’t know where to start.

Frustratingly, many of the therapy services actually want you take charge of your child’s therapy, but they don’t give you the information to be able to.

The 7 Steps to Help Your Child Learn to Communicate are designed to give you the skills to take control of your child’s communication development.  It also shows you how to work more effectively with your child’s speech therapist.

You have just started a journey. You are about to begin the process of learning how to help your child. The education and knowledge you are about to gain will change the life of your child.

Soon you will be the expert and you will know what your child needs to learn to communicate. Now let’s get you started.

Q. What’s the difference between a Speech Pathologist and a Speech Therapist?

A. Nothing!  In Australia, the profession is known as Speech Pathology, and the job title is Speech Pathologist (SP).

In other countries, Speech Pathologists are known as Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), Speech Therapist (ST), and even Speech and Language Therapist (SALT)!

This is because we do more than just therapy – we educate, we consult, we give advice, and of course we also do therapy!

We also help people who have difficulty eating and drinking

To avoid confusion I have used the term ‘speech therapist’ on this website.

If you are in Australia, the person doing the speech therapy will be a Speech Pathologist.


Here Are the 7 Steps to Helping Your Child
to Learn to Communicate

Step one – Discover the Foundations of Communication

Communication is surprisingly complicated!

When you communicate, there need to be at least 2 people involved – a person to share the message, and a person to hear or see the message.

Here are the key skills your child needs to learn to communicate:

Sharing a message (Expressive Communication)

Often, the first thing that comes to mind we think about  sharing a message, is talking, but there are many other ways you communicate everyday. These include

  • Facial expressions
  • Body language
  • Gestures such as pointing and other signs like thumbs up for good
  • Writing
  • Typing

When you share a message, our brains need to find the words that we require, put them into meaningful sentences, and then send the message to the part of the body that will be sending the message.

If you are speaking verbally, that involves coordinating the many small muscles in our mouths and throats including:

  • Lungs – make sure we have enough breath to say our message
  • Voice box (Larynx) – vibrates to make the sounds as we speak
  • Tongue – moves to make each particular sound (eg a T sound by pressing behind our teeth or a G sound by pressing against the back of our throat)
  • Lips – moves to make sounds such as B and M.

If you are are communicating nonverbally, you need to move the right part of your body to get our message across, such as

  • Hands for pointing, writing or typing
  • Eyes for looking at another person or the item you are ‘talking’ about.

Receiving a Message (Receptive communication)

It’s easy to think about hearing a message with our ears, but we can also use our eyes and our other senses to receive messages.  If you are hearing a spoken message you need to:

  • Break down each sentence into individual words and sounds through your ear canal and into your brain
  • Match them up against words and phrases you already know
  • Check that the message you heard matches what is happening

You also use your eyes to ‘read’ the persons lip movements, their facial expressions and body language.  You also use your eyes to read written language.

Being able to communicate is more than just two people sharing a message.  In order to learn to be a successful communicator your child should be able to:

  • Pay attention to what is happening around them
  • Understand cause and effect. This is the understanding that our actions have an effect on the objects and people around us. When we communicate we do or say something so that another person will respond to us – hopefully in the way we wanted!
  • Object permanence. This is the understanding that something still exists even though we can’t see it. This is why young babies enjoy the game of peek a boo so much! Without understanding object permanence, you can only talk about things that you can see in front of you.
  • Imitation. In order to learn to communicate we need to be able to copy the actions, sounds and words of the people around us.

Learning to communicate is one of the most important skills your child can learn.

When your child has an effective way of communicating, they can be in control of their own life.

Your child will be able to:

  • Tell you that they love you
  • Tell you WHY they are upset
  • Tell you what they want to do (and what they DON’T want to do!)
  • Understand WHY they can’t have something they want (without throwing a tantrum – at least not all the time!)
  • Ask a friend to play with them
  • Participate in school – communication is fundamental to learning!

Communication is a basic human right. 

Your child deserves to develop to their full potential.  Being able to communicate gives your child more choices for their entire life.

Without communication your child may not achieve their full potential!

Being able to communicate means your child will have more choices throughout their entire life, including:

  • What to eat
  • What to wear
  • What to do
  • Where to go (and when)
  • Where to live
  • Where to work
  • How they want to spend their money
  • What they want to do each day.

Without effective communication, someone else will make all of these life decisions for your child for the rest of their life.

Unfortunately many people who are nonverbal do not get access to all of the support they deserve in order to be able to communicate effectively.

Did you know that some children with a disability who were able to communicate when they start school actually LEAVE SCHOOL 12 YEARS LATER WITH NO COMMUNICATION AT ALL!
What would you like your child to be able to communicate?


Would you like some help?

Get a complimentary “Get Clear on Communication” Strategy Session

Step 2 – Don’t leave your child’s communication
development to chance!

Your child’s ability to communicate will influence the rest of their life.  So it stands to reason that when they need help learning to talk, they receive high quality, reliable and coordinated services for as long as they need them.

Unfortunately, for many children, this doesn’t happen for a number of reasons

  1. Therapy services are underfunded, and can only offer a limited amount of therapy per child (which may be less than what they need)
  2. Many regional therapy services have vacant speech therapy positions for months and sometimes years as they struggle to hire experienced speech therapists.
  3. Speech therapists often leave after a few years to return home, or to gain a promotion
  4. When your child starts school, there are even less therapists! It is the classroom teacher’s responsibility to carry out the recommended treatment on top of their teaching responsibilities

If you leave your child’s therapy up to underfunded services, you are taking a risk that your child will not reach their full potential!

When you take control of your child’s therapy, you can

  • Make sure each therapy visit is meeting your child’s goals, so you don’t waste time in sessions that don’t make a difference
  • Quickly bring a new speech therapist up to date with everything your child has worked on, and where they are now
  • Help your speech therapist understand what is important to your family (so you don’t waste time on activities that don’t matter to you and your child)
  • Make sure that the therapy offered matches your child’s needs
  • Be confident about when it is okay for your child to have a break from therapy (without worrying you are setting them back)

Step 3 – Recognise your child’s achievements so far

The first step to developing your child’s therapy plan is to recognise how far you have already come.

It is so easy to get caught up in everyday life, and the challenges you are facing right now, and forget all of the amazing things your child has already achieved.

Take some time right now to review your child’s journey into the world, and the milestones they have achieved, regardless of how small they may be.

Reflect on the joy your child has brought into your life, and the lessons they have already taught you.

Look back on the challenges you and your child have overcome together.

You might like to look at the therapy that your child has already had, and what your child can now do.

Sometimes the therapy that you child has received may not have been right for your child, or your family at the time it was offered.

Most of all, congratulate yourself on the excellent job you have already done parenting your child.  You really are the best possible parent for your child!

Step 4 – Know what your family values are

Family values are the glue that hold families together, and make each family unique.

You values influence

  • How you raise your children,
  • What you do with your time, and
  • How you relax.

Your family values are especially important when you are raising a nonverbal child.

They even influence what types of therapy are best for your child!

Each family’s values can be broadly split into 3 main life areas:

  • Work
  • Love
  • Play


Your family’s work values are about who does what in your family

That includes

  • Paid work
  • Unpaid work
  • How much time you have for other things

Your family could value:

  • Having spaces that are clean and tidy OR
  • Spending time with one another OR
  • Having a clean house and spending time together keeping it that way!

Your family’s work values will guide you in how therapy fits into your life.  This could mean:

  • One person stays at home and coordinates all appointments and does daily therapy
  • Both parents work full time so they can afford private speech therapy sessions
  • Both parents work part time so both parents can spend time with their non-verbal child
  • Or something completely different!  What you value is unique to you.


Your family’s love values are about the relationships in your family.  Your love values define

  • How the adults in your family communicate with each other and the children
  • How you want your children to interact within the family
  • How your children are taught
  • How you show respect for one another
  • How much time you spend with your relatives
  • Your special family traditions


Your families play values shape how you spend your leisure time.  When you think about your play values, consider:

  • How you relax
  • How much you like to exercise
  • What recreation activities you like to do as a family
  • How (and if!) you spend time alone

If your family’s activities do not line up with  the things that your family values, you may find that your life becomes unbalanced.  It can feel like you are on an endless treadmill going nowhere.

Many people find that they spend more time than they would like working (both paid and unpaid), and less time on their love and play values.  By understanding your values, you can make adjustments to how you spend your time so your life is a little more balanced and fun.

Understanding your family’s unique values is vital to deciding which communication techniques will suit your child and your family.


Would you like some help?

Get a complimentary “Get Clear on Communication” Strategy Session


Step 5 – See where your child’s communication
development is now

Understanding exactly what your child’s communication skills are is the next step in taking charge of your child’s communication development.  Here are some common terms that describe the different parts of language.

Expressive Communication.

Expressive communication is all of the ways your child uses to tell you something, either in words or with their body.

Children in earlier stages of development may cry and use facial expressions to tell you how they feel, while others who are at later stages of development may point, or use words.

Here are some of the ways that your child may communicate:

  • Crying
  • Facial expressions
  • Body movements
  • Pointing and other gestures
  • Shows you an actual item (eg a cup)
  • Communication book or board with pictures
  • Key word signs
  • Words

Write down how your child expresses them self.  How does your child communicate these common messages:

  • I want that
  • I don’t want that
  • I like that
  • I don’t want that
  • I feel (an emotion)
  • I’d like more
  • I’m finished

Receptive Communication

Receptive communication is how your child understands what is said to them.

It can sometimes be hard for parents to be sure if their child understands all of the spoken language around them, as children are very good at picking up other cues.

For example, if you pick up your bag and keys, it usually means that it is time to leave.  Sometimes children will try and tell you they are ready to leave by giving you your bag!

Some non verbal children can take longer than you might expect to process the words they hear.

This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with their hearing (although it can look like they are being selectively deaf!).

It means that there is a delay between the words going into their ears, and their brain making sense of what it means.  This can be worse when it is noisy, or when your child is tired or sick.

Watch your child while they are playing, and see how they respond your language.  For example you could ask them to:

  1. put a red block on top of the blue block, or to
  2. Put the teddy under the blanket.
  3. You could even ask them to do something a little silly, like sit the teddy on top of the car!

These games should be fun, and if it stops being fun for your child, then stop the game!.  It’s more important that your child has fun while learning!

Social communication

Social communication is another important part of being able to communicate well.  Understanding the rules of social communication means we can have a conversation with other people.

Having good social communication meanss:

  • Taking turns to speak
  • Staying on the same topic of conversation, and not jumping around
  • Finishing a conversation without wandering off
  • Using social ‘niceness’ such as saying please and thanks.

Observe your child when they are talking to different people. See how they interact with other people of different ages. Children often talk to younger children in different ways to children their own age, or to adults.  Pay attention to how well your child follows the rules of language.

Step 6 – Plan your intentions for your child’s
communication development

Once you have identified your family values and your child’s communication abilities, you can set your intentions for helping your child learn to communicate.

Why goals don’t work

People often try and set goals for your child to achieve.  This is problematic, as it is almost impossible to predict exactly how your child will develop.

Here are some of the problems with setting achievement goals:

  • The Goal is too hard. Your child does not achieve the set goal.
    • Setting goals that are unrealistic can make you feel as if you have failed.
    • Your child will have made gains in another area, but because we didn’t say we were going to do that, we don’t count it as a success
  • The goal was too easy. Your child wildly exceeds it.
    • At first, this can feel really great, as you can see success. But by setting goals that don’t stretch your child a little bit can start to feel boring. It means we have nothing to reach for. Your child is at risk of not achieving their full potential.

Your child doesn’t care about the goals that you set for them!  All they really want is to be loved, and for someone to play with them!

Why your intentions matter

You have probably realised by now that it is really hard to make children do something they don’t want to do!  That’s why setting your own intentions will have the biggest impact on the way your child communicates.

How to set your intentions for your child’s development

    1. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Choose a place that you enjoy being in. You might need to leave the house, or arrange for someone else to care for your child while you do this activity.
    2. Start to imagine what you would like to be doing to help your child in the next 4 weeks. Really pay attention to how you are helping your child to communicate.
    3. Ask yourself if you can do this in the next 4 weeks. Listen to your feelings honestly. If you feel anxious, uncomfortable or overwhelmed, then keep imagining what you can do to help them communicate.
    4. When your vision aligns with your values, you will feel a positive emotion – this could feel like excitement, or relief.
    5. Now imagine what you will be doing to help your child communicate in:
      1. 3 months
      2. 6 months
      3. 12 months.


Step 7 Identify who will help you on your journey

Helping your non verbal child learn to communicate can be hard.  You don’t need to do it all on your own.

Here are some people that can help you on your journey (and what they can do – table)






Speech Pathologist Speech Pathologists are trained professionals who are experts in helping people communicate.  They can help you by:
  • Assessing your child’s communication skills
  • Developing a therapy program to help your child develop skills
  • Showing you how to help your child learn to communicate

Not all Speech Therapists are experienced in helping non verbal children learn to communicate.

Before working with a speech therapist, ask them what their experience working with non verbal children is.Early education teacher/child carerMany non verbal children attend a dedicated early intervention service or a child care centre.The professionals at these services are experienced in helping non verbal children develop to their full potential.Find out how you can continue the therapy activities at home with your child.Family/friendsFamily and friends can be a great resource for you.They can offer you valuable emotional support, as well as occasional breaks – essential for maintaining your own wellbeing!Sometimes it can be hard for friends and family to accept that your child isn’t learning to communicate at the same rate as other children.Making friends with other parents of nonverbal children is a great way to get emotional support from people who know what you are experiencing.Find out where you can find other parents of nonverbal children here (link to sign up page).

Navigating your way through the specialist systems can be really difficult. Support services that are available for nonverbal children are often scattered amongst different organisations.

For example, in my local area there is:

      1. A state government funded disability service
      2. A non-government therapy service
      3. An education department early intervention service
      4. A coordinating agency that helps people connect to services
      5. 2 children’s respite services where children can stay overnight
      6. A special needs play group
      7. A council run preschool for children with autism
      8. Several small organisations that provide in home support to families and
      9. 2 organisations specifically for children with autism and cerebral palsy

If you live in a larger city, there are even more options!

It’s not uncommon for children to go to 2 or 3 different services during the week

Your child needs to practise the SAME communication skills everywhere they go!

But too often there is very little communication between the services, and your child could be learning different things at each centre.

This makes it HARDER for your child to learn to communicate.

Having a plan for your child’s therapy means that you can easily share what your child is learning.  You can have the control of what your child learns, and it can be based on what your family values most.

Your child DESERVES to have the best possible opportunity to learn to communicate.  Do they have that opportunity?

(Don’t forget to check out my 7 essential questions you must ask your speech pathologist to tell if they are right for your child)

Would you like some help?

Get a complimentary “Get Clear on Communication” Strategy Session

If you would like to work with a qualified Speech Pathologist, who is expereinced in helping nonverbal children learn to communicate, then I invite you to click here, and learn more about how we can work together

Warmest regards,



Gail Bennell

Speech Pathologist

Raising Nonverbal Children

DISCLAIMER This information is not to replace medical advice given by your health professional. It is recommended that you consult your doctor or health professional before following any therapeutic advice, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. The author cannot take medical or legal responsibility for illness arising out of the failure to seek medical advice from a doctor.

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