What Does Nonverbal Mean?

I keep describing Logan and Abby as being nonverbal and yet I keep giving examples of how they (usually Logan) speak in appropriate ways. This confuses people. Nonverbal means they can’t speak but I keep showing that they can speak. This looks like a contradiction. What am I saying?

First of all, when I say that an autistic person is nonverbal, I am referring to how they use language not their ability to speak. I believe that Logan is fully capable of using verbal language, reality is that he generally does not. You could spend weeks with him and never hear a word you recognized other than the odd snippet from a movie he was scripting. Logan and Abby are functionally nonverbal. Their primary mode of communication is other than by verbal means.

Abby has a number of words that she does use appropriately but they are phrases that she has learned by rote not words that she understands. She will say “See you tomorrow” to say bye even if she will not see you for a long time. She will say “Bye Kate” even if (such as the case of Amanda and I) your name is not Kate. When it comes to her favourite foods, she is better at communicating verbally.

As I said, Logan is better at communication. Every once in a while, Logan seems to forget he is nonverbal and just starts talking. Then he remembers and shuts up. I believe that on the inside Logan can talk as well as anyone, but that he chooses not to. Because he chooses not to, he is considered nonverbal. Every time he talks clear and appropriately, there is another breakthrough when it comes to whatever is holding him back. I suppose it is possible that one day he will choose to stop being nonverbal and will just start talking. I have no idea.

So the bottom line is nonverbal does not mean that an autistic person cannot speak a word. Our children are nonverbal, even though they sometimes use language appropriately.

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