1 Non-verbal communication

Please note: All tips in this section have been suggested by members of our community.

Video it!

Video is an invaluable tool. Our son has specific behaviours and signs of pain. We recorded this and showed to carers, school and medical staff. Most helpful and better than descriptions as they can clearly see what to look out for.

Snap it

We use photographs for visits to the dentist, barbers, doctors. They remind Mahmoud of the faces he will meet and the environment. This was especially useful when his language was more limited and a smile when he saw the photo was enough for me to know he remembered the activity.

What is he/she trying to say?

A communication chart can help to identify the communicative meaning of behaviours. You can make a table to fill out as follows - What is happening? This is where you record the circumstances where communicative behaviour occurs What the person does - here you describe the communicative behaviour. We think it means - this is best guess by those who know their person well as to the meaning of the behaviour. We should - this describes how others should respond to the behaviour.

Communication books and charts

Some children can learn to make choices by pointing to a symbol and or word in a communication book or on a communication chart. They might be able to point with a fist or a finger or they might be able to point with their eyes or with a head pointer. There are tips on making communication books and boards and a sample eye pointing board that you can print out at:

Communication passports

 A communication passport is a one-page document that the child has with him or her all of the time. It gives the people they meet basic information about how they communicate and what support they need. You can find out more about communication passports at

Word bubbles

Carrie likes cartoons. We accidentally cottoned on to the idea that we could use them. We use cartoons with speech bubbles to make information more accessible for her.

Keep it simple under stress

When upset we can all get confused by language so obviously each person will have different needs. Make some 'keyword' cards as visual supports such as home, school, park, car or whatever is important and carry them with you as re-inforcers. I do them on the computer and laminate them.

Mobile communication

You can download an app called Touch to Talk, which effectively turns your iPod into a communication device; great for those with no or limited speech. It is an American voice and not a great one, but still a useful app and you can download it for free. 

Talk about it

Eddy can’t speak and also has limited understanding but it is important to keep talking to him about what’s going on

No distractions

What isn’t distracting for us can be a problem for Toby who finds it hard to focus. We don’t just turn down the TV, we turn it off. Also we only have out one or two activities at a time.

Level it up

Playing and talking are easier if you can see each other. Sit so you are at the same level.

Make it mean something

Katie can clap her hands so we have taught her to clap when she wants to say yes.

It has meaning, it's just not obvious

We treat every non-verbal indication as a communication and try to work out what Gaby is trying to say to us.

Likes and don't likes

We think it is important to give Ashley the opportunity to say what she likes/doesn’t like. There is no right or wrong answer which makes it a fun activity. You can use smiley/sad faces as symbols for like and don't like and use them in 'real life' situations as well.


If you are running a home-based ABA programme or using symbols/photo cards, get a laminator – they come in small sizes and are brilliant for making your own sets of letters, pictures, pecs and so on.

It's not obvious

Therapists often ask you to keep eye contact with them. We (Aspies – people with Aspergers syndrome) often avoid eye contact because it helps us to focus on what someone is saying. I find it hard to process verbal information and think about signals from someone's face at the same time.


We really like they provide print off series for lots of different activities which you can use around the house such as washing hands, using the toilet and so on.


If you need a communication aid and you're having problems finding something that your son or daughter finds socially acceptable, try an iTouch with Proloquo2Go. 

Objects of reference

Objects of reference are a great way of helping people with profound learning disabilities and/or other sensory impairments to understand the world around them. Use an object to symbolise the activity they are about to participate in, such as a fork for dinner, towel for bath.


My top tip is Makaton sign language! We are so glad we taught Zoe to use Makaton. Although she can't yet say any words, signing relieves any frustration no end - she can tell us what she wants, and the signs we use help her understand what we say.

Find other means of expression

Just because a person can’t speak does not mean they have nothing to say! Give them an opportunity to express themselves. Dance, music, drawing, painting, messing with textures, running on Hampstead Heath, banging drums, shaking maracas - and ‘join in’ too. Don’t be afraid to lay down with them on the carpet and see the world from their point of view..

Do you want X or Y?

When I am out and about with my non-verbal son, I say 'do you want X' (tapping my hand in one spot) 'or Y' (tapping my hand in another). He then selects a spot. We use it for all sorts of communication now - not just choices.

Use mirrors

If looking directly into your eyes is too invasive for the person you're supporting, try using mirrors to see if they can look at you that way.

Instant mobile photos

Don't forget to make best use of your telephone if it has a camera - your mobile is always with you and a fabulous instant device to use as a photo communication tool.


My son has a diagnosis of severe athetoid quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is non-verbal. We established his yes/no response by using Communi-bands - tap/wave/lift/move arm with green "yes" wristband or arm with red "no" wristband. This makes it clear for everyone to understand. Communi-bands are available from

Tapping for life

I recently read a book by Janet Thomson called Tapping for life. It is about eliminating negative thoughts and emotions by tapping on different parts of the body. Our son can be very anxious in certain situations, such as being shaved. We did the sequence of tapping on him for anxiety before shaving him and it worked. Our daughter cannot tolerate people talking around her and will scream if you talk. We did the sequence of tapping on her and she let us talk. We have used this therapy on ourselves for anxiety and sleeping problems and found it helpful.

Intensive interaction

I have two children on the spectrum, aged 7 and 5. My youngest was the most obvious from the start, and Intensive Interaction helped me stay sane and unlocked the barriers so I could communicate with him. We have made such progress he is now functioning in mainstream school.

Learn other ways to communicate

I think it is very important to teach people signing or Makaton when they are young, even if they do have speech, because it can deteriorate through age or illness. It is really frustrating for people who were once able to communicate, not to be able to do so. 

Puppets and singing

Often children on the autistic spectrum do not communicate with other people or make eye contact. Often children can, and do, communicate and often verbally with a puppet or even their pets. Some children find singing a delight and can sing wonderfully even though they use very little verbal communication.

Carry a surprise card

If you have a child with Autism or Asperger's, it's worth carrying a 'surprise' card with you for unplanned situations (like unannounced fire drills). On the card, have a surprise symbol (an exclamation mark) and 'surprise! we are going to x, y, z' (your child's favourite place).

Make flash cards

Take photos of a non-verbal person's favourite toys, family members, objects such as cup or biscuit. Choose the most motivating items to begin with. Print and laminate them postcard size. Giving a choice of no more than three cards at a time, encourage them to choose by pointing or touching.


I really recommend Makaton for people who are non-verbal, but can say some words. It's like sign language. Ask at your nursery or school, or Sure Start or even your health visitor about it.

Show and go stories

Show and Go are personalised books which are created online by parents and carers of people with autism spectrum disorders and related communication problems. They're not social stories, although you can use them to create social stories. Seem like a really good idea to me.

NAS social stories guide

The National Autistic Society has produced a useful guide to writing social stories, with lots of links to other resources and references. 

Create social stories

I have been creating my own social stories using pictures of my son and clip art pictures. You can find images of most things through Microsoft Office and easily type up your own personalised stories. Don't know why I did not think of this before!

Eye contact

I put stickers on my forehead as a target for my son to look at. This helped him to look at people's faces and people feel more like he is engaging with them, despite him still struggling with eye contact.

Include the response

When you ask a question, include the response, ‘Give me a thumbs up if you want to watch TV’ rather than ‘Do you want to watch TV?’ My daughter has some motor planning issues and finds it too hard to think of a physical response while considering the question.

Teaching letters

When teaching children their letters if you make a fist with both hands and stand up your thumbs, the right one looks like a 'b' and the left a 'd'. Tip them upside down and the right becomes a 'p' and the left a 'q'. Also holding your left hand out flat and extending your thumb outwards, the letter 'L' is formed - this also makes L for Left.

Listening ears

I say "listening ears" to my son (age 4) and touch my ear as I say it. I find he does respond well to that and is attentive.

Have a staring contest

Encourage eye contact by making it a contest with you. This can challenge some kids (especially if they have a competitive streak).

On the swings

Try making eye contact as your child swings on a swing. Make a game of it where the child tries to reach you with their feet. The sensory input may be calming and allow them to focus more on you. Compliment them on how nice it was to have them.

Teach hospital language

If you are taking someone who is non-verbal into hospital, provide alternative communication that is hospital-relevant so they can express themselves to the best of their ability. If you choose to make your own medical communication boards, you can find lots of visual symbols online by searching for "medical clip-art”.

Say it with an emoji

Sometimes my brother, who has autism, can find it hard to explain how he is feeling – but he likes choosing an emoji icon on the phone or tablet to represent an emotion.

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Using these tips

These tips have been contributed by members of our online community. We hope they will give you some ideas to try, but if you need further help why not post a question to the community or talk to one of our community advisors. If you have any concerns about your health or the wellbeing of someone you are caring for, please consult a doctor or qualified professional.

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