Ways to Communicate with Our Non-Verbal Children

I'm a writer, my husband is a preacher, and our older son loves to act. Our home is full of words—written, spoken, and performed.

But our younger son James is considered non-verbal, using about 100 words appropriately, but mostly repeating what he’s heard from shows and videos (this is called echolalia). We can’t communicate in the ways most moms and sons communicate, but we have our own special methods.

We communicate with lots of touching. James is a sensory seeker and loves physical contact.  He likes to sit together in tight spaces, like with his daddy in the recliner. He lets his big brother know he wants to ride on his back. He'll pull our hands toward his feet or tummy when he wants to be tickled. He's a sweet snuggler and we're thankful we can communicate our affection for each other in this way. 

We read his favorite books together. It's often the same books over and over, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Green Eggs and Ham, but he's heard them so often he can fill in the blanks when we pause. "Would you eat them on a boat? Would you eat them with a ____?" It's a fun way to go back and forth and hear his voice. 

We go over his schedule again and again. He likes to know what's coming and his way of asking is to say, "Time to wake up James" and we tell him what will happen when he wakes up the next morning. "Church, pizza, Grandma's house" is one of his favorites, but he also likes "school, therapy, back to school, home to play, go to bed." Since he raises a finger with each thing on his to do list, he likes to have five things.    

We tell jokes. Our jokes may not be funny to anyone else, but James thinks it's hilarious when we quote from one of his shows but change the words or descriptions. "Thomas is green," he'll say as he giggles and we respond with, "No! Thomas is blue. You're so silly!" He also thinks it's funny to tell us characters like Sid the Science Kid or Dora the Explorer are taking a bath. We keep going with anything he thinks is funny!

We sing songs. His favorite include Sweet Caroline and Don't Stop Believin', but he also loves Jesus Loves Me and Christmas carols. We'll sing along with whatever song is on his heart and mind at the time! 

It can be a challenge to communicate love, safety, and affection for our kids who can't easily communicate back, but God helps us find solutions that work for our families.  

Sandra Peoples is a pastor’s wife and mom to two boys. She’s the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family.