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Communication with Children who are non-verbal Workshop Summary

Jemma Swales has developed this workshop organised by SHINE for Autism with the intention of educating parents about Communication with children who are non-verbal.


First of all, Jemma started by asking parents why they think we need to communicate, in which way we communicate and how do we feel when we realise we are not being understood through that attempt of communication.  The main word that appeared throughout this workshop was the word FRUSTATION.  Jemma showed how the frustration a neuro-typical person feels when they are not being understood as the parallelism with an autistic person in the same situation and also being unable to express on his/her own.

As parents, we start a “guessing game” trying to provide our children with all the possibilities of words or actions to try to guess what they really want.  Most of the times in our attempt to help we end up doing exactly the opposite and adding to their frustration.  This increases the individuals level of anxiety and that frustration may lead to a meltdown.

Jemma emphasised that once the meltdown has begun to bear in mind that our role then is to keep the individual safe but not by trying to “fix” the situation.

Another important point that was mentioned was to understand our children as much as we can.  What currently works for our children and what we can avoid so as not to increase the levels of anxiety.  To have a list of potential triggers is another very good piece of advice Jemma gave us.  As our children are unable to communicate that list would be a great tool to help them.

Jemma advised keeping a “Record chart” based on the word STAR to make it easier to remember.

  • S:  Start (day, date, time)

  • T: Trigger

  • A: Actions (what happened)

  • R: Result (e.g. flapping, screaming, throwing things)



Once a meltdown starts Do Not Talk.  This will help the individual to reduce their anxiety and high level of frustration.

Another piece of advice was to check for “patterns of behaviour”.  What could have caused the frustration and even paying attention to any internal pain the person may be feeling by the impossibility of being able to communicate.

A key suggestion that was also provided by Jemma was to be consistent with our children.  Jemma assured us that once the individual sees a break in our behaviour towards them they can begin to push boundaries.  As parents we need to learn how to set boundaries, very clear ones and to stick to them.  Jemma considers this as the key for communication with non-verbal children.

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