top of page

How to Work with Non-Verbal Individuals or Those with Limited Verbal Skills: A Comprehensive Guide for Speech Therapists

Speech therapists play a vital role in helping individuals with communication difficulties, including those who are non-verbal or have limited verbal skills. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore various strategies and methods speech therapists use to work effectively with these individuals.

Chit Chat Speech Therapy: Expert Speech Therapists in Minnesota

At Chit Chat Speech Therapy, our dedicated team of speech therapists is committed to providing the best possible care for individuals with communication challenges. To schedule a consultation, please contact us either online or at 763-280-3202.

Key Strategies for Working with Non-Verbal or Limited Verbal Individuals

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)

AAC devices and systems provide non-verbal individuals or those with limited verbal abilities an alternative means to communicate. These can range from low-tech options, such as picture boards and communication books, to high-tech devices like speech-generating devices (SGDs) and tablet-based applications.

Choosing the Right AAC System

A speech therapist should carefully assess the individual's needs, abilities, and preferences to determine the most suitable AAC system. Factors to consider include the individual's cognitive, motor, and linguistic skills, as well as their environment and potential communication partners.

Visual Supports

Visual supports, such as social stories, visual schedules, and visual cues, can help individuals with limited verbal skills understand and process information more effectively. These tools can be customized to suit the individual's needs and preferences.


Implementing Visual Supports

Speech therapists should collaborate with caregivers and other professionals to create and use visual supports consistently across various settings, such as home, school, and community environments.


Building Language Skills in Non-Verbal or Limited Verbal Individuals


Developing Prelinguistic Skills

For non-verbal individuals, developing prelinguistic skills is crucial. These skills include joint attention, social interaction, and turn-taking, which are the building blocks of communication.


Strategies for Enhancing Prelinguistic Skills

Speech therapists can use play-based activities, modeling, and prompting techniques to help individuals develop these essential prelinguistic skills.

Follow the child's lead: Observe and engage in activities that the child is interested in. This encourages shared focus and makes it more likely that the child will actively participate in social interactions.

Make eye contact: Establish and maintain eye contact with the child during interactions. This promotes joint attention and helps the child understand the importance of focusing on the person they are interacting with.

Use gestures and facial expressions: Emphasize gestures and facial expressions during communication to make the interaction more engaging and help the child understand the emotions and intentions behind the words.

Create opportunities for turn-taking: Design play activities that require turn-taking, such as rolling a ball back and forth, stacking blocks together, or taking turns during a simple board game. Wait at least 10 seconds before you prompt them again, some children need a lot of wait time to process what’s happening and respond appropriately. 

Encourage joint attention during daily routines: Incorporate joint attention strategies into everyday activities, such as reading a book together and pointing at pictures, cooking, or getting dressed. Point to objects, wait until the child looks in the direction you’re pointing, name them, and encourage the toddler to do the same.

Use social games and songs: Engage the child in social games and songs that involve turn-taking and joint attention, such as "peekaboo," "pat-a-cake," or "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." This is another opportunity to practice waiting a longer time for the child to respond. With familiar songs, start singing most of it, and then wait with an expectant look on your face and point to your child to finish a familiar part. They might take a lot longer than you expect, but wait about 10 seconds before prompting them again if they don’t do anything. It takes time and practice! 

Provide praise and reinforcement: Offer positive reinforcement and praise when the toddler successfully engages in joint attention, social interaction, and turn-taking. This can include verbal praise “Good job looking!” or “you followed my eyes!”, physical touch (e.g., high-fives or hugs), or even small rewards.

Be patient and consistent: Developing joint attention, social interaction, and turn-taking skills takes time and practice. Be patient with the child and consistently implement these strategies during everyday interactions to help them develop these essential skills.



















Expanding Vocabulary and Language Concepts

For individuals with limited verbal skills, expanding vocabulary and language concepts is vital. Speech therapists can use a variety of strategies, such as targeting high-frequency words, focusing on functional vocabulary, and teaching language concepts through thematic units. We always start with things that are motivating to the child. This could be food, toys, videos, music, or turn-taking games. Opportunities to show them words like “more, help, you, me, all done, yes, no, up, down, big, little” are great words to start!


Customizing Language Goals

Language goals should be individualized, taking into account the person's strengths, needs, and interests, as well as their communication partners and daily environments.


Collaborating with Families and Other Professionals


Family-Centered Approach

Speech therapists should adopt a family-centered approach, which involves working closely with the individual's family to understand their goals, values, and priorities. This approach ensures that therapy is tailored to the unique needs of the individual and their family.


Building Strong Collaborative Relationships

Establishing strong relationships with families and other professionals, such as teachers, occupational therapists, and psychologists, is essential for providing comprehensive support for individuals with communication challenges. Speech pathologists should be tailoring vocabulary, teaching strategies, and concepts to the child’s life, meaning collaboration with parents and other familiar people in the child’s life are crucial to finding what is motivating and what is working for the child. 


Encouraging Communication in Everyday Activities


Integrating Communication Opportunities in Daily Routines

Speech therapists should work with families to identify and incorporate communication opportunities into the individual's daily routines. This can include activities such as mealtime, dressing, and playtime. By embedding communication practice into these everyday events, individuals with limited verbal skills or who are non-verbal can experience consistent and meaningful opportunities to develop their communication abilities.


Adapting Activities for Optimal Engagement

Activities should be tailored to the individual's interests, preferences, and abilities. By selecting motivating and engaging activities, speech therapists can increase the individual's participation and foster a more enjoyable learning experience. Often times this increases the child’s desire to communicate with others.

Supporting Social Interaction and Peer Relationships


Developing Social Skills

Individuals with limited verbal skills or who are non-verbal often need support to develop social skills. Speech therapists can use a variety of strategies to target these skills, such as role-playing, social stories, and video modeling.


Group Settings and Peer Interaction

Incorporating opportunities for interaction with peers can provide valuable learning experiences and help individuals with communication challenges develop social skills. Speech therapists should collaborate with families and other professionals to facilitate group settings, such as social skills groups or inclusive playdates.


Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Intervention Plans


Regular Assessments and Data Collection

Speech therapists should regularly assess the individual's progress through a combination of formal and informal assessments, as well as ongoing data collection during therapy sessions. This information can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention plan and make any necessary adjustments.


Collaborating with the Support Team

Sharing progress and assessment data with the individual's support team, including family members and other professionals, can help ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals and can make informed decisions about the individual's care.


Resources and Support for Families and Professionals


Accessing Training and Education

Families and professionals can benefit from accessing training and educational resources related to working with non-verbal individuals or those with limited verbal skills. This can include attending workshops, webinars, and conferences, as well as accessing online resources and support groups.


Connecting with Local and National Organizations

Connecting with local and national organizations dedicated to supporting individuals with communication challenges can provide valuable resources, information, and networking opportunities for both families and professionals.

Contact Chit Chat Speech Therapy for Comprehensive Support in Minnesota

If you're seeking expert speech therapists to support non-verbal individuals or those with limited verbal skills, Chit Chat Speech Therapy is your go-to resource. Our dedicated team is committed to providing personalized, high-quality care that meets the unique needs of each individual. Contact us either online or call/text us at 763-280-3202 to schedule a consultation and learn more about our services.

bottom of page