Autism: The Gray Area Between Being Verbal and Non Verbal

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Has anyone ever asked you if your child with autism was verbal? If your child can hold a conversation or even ask and answer questions, then you probably said that your child was verbal. If your child has no words at all, then you probably said that your child was non verbal.

My six-year old son, Angel who was diagnosed with autism at age four falls in the gray area. This is the area between verbal and nonverbal. He has very limited communication skills. When he first started early intervention at age two, it was because we were concerned that he was not speaking. Back then, we did not know that he was on the autism spectrum.

Now he scripts, sings, and can make requests for things that he wants. He asks by saying the name of what he wants or he may point to it and say: I want __________. When he is frustrated, he whines, cries, and trashes on the floor. This is life in the gray area. My son communicates through his actions when he cannot access the words he needs to express how he feels.

When people ask me if Angel is verbal, I can never give them a straight yes or no. I feel that saying yes gives them a false sense that he will meet their communication expectations. I also feel that saying no does not give Angel credit for what he can say. Calling him verbal without any explanation can be misleading.

Angel gets speech therapy at school and he has come a long way since his early intervention days. He struggles with expressing himself, but this is to be expected with his autism diagnosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, individuals with autism have different ways of communicating. “Some people can speak well. Others can’t speak at all or only very little. About 40% of children with an [autism spectrum disorder] ASD do not talk at all.”

We recently met with an assistive technology specialist to start working on how we can help Angel access more language to communicate. We intend to load and label photos of everyday objects onto his Ipad. Our goal is to give him more words to be able to communicate independently. For now, we will do our best to help him access as much language as he can.

People on the autism spectrum share a common diagnosis but their ability to be verbal, non verbal or in between can vary. My child has an autism diagnosis but his communication skills or lack thereof can’t be forced into a box.

How do you respond when people ask you if your child is verbal? Please share in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.


Miz Kp

This post previously appeared on Black and Married with Kids.