Tuesday Topic: How to Prepare for a Child Who is Non-Verbal

Today’s Tuesday Topic comes from Julie who wrote,

We are seeking to adopt this sweet 5 y/o boy. The latest update we got indicates that he doesn’t speak, but seems to understand what adults say. I’m wondering if there are other parents who have adopted a child who may be non-verbal, and what things they might suggest to help him. We know there may be a hearing issue that’s undetected, but either way, we want to be prepared to help him with sign language or anything else we can do for him. Thanks so much!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this question. Your comment can be specific to hearing and speech, or about adopting a child with possible, but not known, disabilities. Please take a moment to leave your thoughts or encouraging words for Julie.

I am ready for some more Tuesday Topic questions. If you have something you would like to ask, please email it to me at lisa@onethankfulmom.com. Please put “Tuesday Topic” in the subject line. All questions are welcome.

I missed all of you yesterday. On Sunday night we returned from Coeur d’Alene and there was lots of unpacking to do. Noah was in the midst of moving to the house he is renting with friends, which involved switching beds and other mild chaos.  The little boys had their first baseball practices last night, which meant finding gloves, and pulling off an early dinner. It was a good and busy day.

I hope you’ll join the conversation on this topic today.

Encourage one another,

Lisa 

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

0 Comments

  1. gwenmj
    June 4, 2013

    I think you will need to take things slow but when you are ready –
    I quite love Baby signing and most videos have great music. Just two signs – "more" and "please" will make sooo much difference!! You can find a few on youtube for free.
    I also love (and have found helpful) PECS (Picture exchange communication system) – You can find free ones on line http://www.setbc.org/pictureset/ (again this is for the future) – these are especially great for schedules and choice making.

    I hope that transition goes well and that you will find the right help for him to develop to the best of his ability.

    Reply
  2. Colista Baker Rogers
    June 4, 2013

    I hope you get lots of feedback on this one…we are adopting our sweet 5 y/o daughter and she has profound hearing impairment (deaf), and she is speaking very, very little.

    Reply
  3. Heidi McKnight
    June 4, 2013

    I wish iPads where out when I was an Autism Therapist with a non-verbal client. I used the blackline system; however, there are SO many amazing apps out there now!

    Reply
  4. Fiona
    June 4, 2013

    Hi Julie, I think you are already on the right track, thinking of all the scenarios, possibiities and becoming informed about them. We stepped out in faith to adopt a 4 year old boy in 2008. Very much God's leading, but his dossier was very bleak and the possibilities of additional unrecognized delays and problems very real. We prepared for the very worst case scenario when we accepted his referral, and went into things eyes wide open. Our son's prognosis was much better than expected. His CP milder. His potential higher. He didn't speak at all when we got him, not a word in madarin. But by the time he was enrolling for Kindergarten his expressive English tested 18 months ahead of his peers 🙂 He is just finishing regular public school 2nd grade and walking independantly with single point canes at normal speed. Be prepared and then celebrate every expectation that is exceeded!

    Reply
    1. Brianne
      June 5, 2013

      I completely agree with preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. My son was functionally nonverbal at 5 1/2 years old…he was reported to say 10-15 words in his first language. A year and a half later, he still has pretty significant language delays but he communicates in sentences, ask questions and has a huge vocabulary. The single best thing that I think we did for him was to introduce sign immediately. He was signing (and using a word approximation paired with the sign) during our first visit. Once he figured out that we wanted to communicate with him (not just at him), it really helped with the transition. I'm not sure what your son's living situation is like, but mine was rarely talked "to" and never "with." By the time he started preschool 3 months later, he had around 100 signs and 50 words. As he picked up words more quickly, we dropped the sign. I *love* signing time videos, but my kiddo didn't have the attention for them at first…we just required an attempt at communication for every single request. I would NOT try a complex AAC device until you know how quickly he will pick up language, but that's just my opinion.

      Reply
  5. Jo Anna
    June 4, 2013

    We adopted brothers from the Philippines a year ago. Luke was 28 months at the time with profound bilateral hearing loss. A regular schedule (routine) is essential to help minimize meltdowns. Frustration often ensues when the child can't convey their wants/needs and can lash out in many ways (hitting themselves or others, screaming, etc). Trying to stay calm and anticipating the need/being prepared for the unexpected helps immensely. (Example, I always carry toys, snacks, juice box if things don 't go as planned/delays.) At first we had almost no eye contact. After working on it for a year, we have seen a world of improvement. Blessings to you on this rewarding journey.

    Reply
  6. Jennifer Keown
    June 4, 2013

    Check out Rachel Coleman’s signing time and baby signing time. A great way to learn sign language and she is a mom of special needs kids, so there are special needs kids that appear in her shows.

    Reply
  7. Susie
    June 4, 2013

    My daughter's play therapist had a sign language app on her phone so that she could learn new signs/baby signs to help her clients who had speech delay. I wish I could remember the name! I would suggest maybe taking photos of things like a toilet (or finding on line) and foods, etc so that you could make an easy little flip chart to carry and use with him to begin with and to use to teach signs that you may need right away. Think about saftey, too-maybe pictures for stayng close or holding hands, no running.

    Reply
  8. Karen NumberTwo Hannaford
    June 4, 2013

    Our son was non verbal. He has autism. No iPad back then so we used PECS (picture exchange communication system). I would use it again. It gives a child a way to communicate without having to speak. Basically if they want something, they give you the picture of what they want. It canbe far more complicated than that, making full sentences etc.
    I really think the most important thing is to give this child SOME way to communicate their needs and wants. Without that ability you could end up with a very angry frustrated child. Choose what works for you. Just remember it needs to be portable and fit your lifestyle. Nothing will be perfect,
    By the way, I think it’s awesome to be willing to take in a child that you know has problems before you even start! Lucky kid to find such amazing people!

    Reply
  9. Janee
    June 4, 2013

    My daughter is 4.5 and non verbal. We were told this when we adopted her over 2 years ago. Everyone said she would flourish and start talking after we got her home. She is flourishing in many ways but still isn't even close to speech. She does use ASL and this has been incredibly helpful.

    I would start exploring the services available in your local area. Your school district should provide speech therapy, and many people are able to get additional services through medical insurance. Our daughter currently receives 2.5 hours a week of speech.

    Also, the Signing Times series has been wonderful. They have an annual $10 sale that is going on right now. These are definitely a very worthy investment.

    Our daughter also wears an I.D. bracelet. She is a "bolter" so this is essential for her safety.

    Reply
  10. Julie
    June 4, 2013

    Thanks to everyone for the encouraging and insightful responses! Speaking of baseball…when I was at my six y/o son's baseball practice recently, I was overwhelmed with this thought: there is a little boy in an orphanage bed who has never walked, much less played baseball, and if God makes him a part of our family, he could have the opportunity to run and play baseball too! I'm excited to see how your boys have grown in so many ways! Thanks again for the responses!! 🙂

    Reply
  11. hmsnyder
    June 4, 2013

    We took in a foster son at almost 3 who we were told was "non-verbal". He talked a week later and almost a year later can carry on complete conversations. We started w/ very basic signs like "more" and "all done" and "please" and "thank you". We also learned that he had learned to just take things instead of ask. So we would show him that we had a snack for him but wouldn't give it to him until he signed "eat" or "please". We still do that if he refuses to communicate (which he sometimes does). I wouldn't be too stressed at learning a whole new language. Be willing to learn with your child and take it slow. If he's never been forced to communicate then he will need the very very basics. And spend LOTS of time talking to him, even if he won't talk back.

    Reply
  12. Sammie Fick
    June 4, 2013

    My comment was way to long and it would not post, I have emailed it to you so you can pass it on to this mom. I have adopted two boys who are deaf. Lots of great information for her so far, its great you are asking this for her.

    Reply
  13. Becky
    June 4, 2013

    It is such wonderful, amazing news that such a sweet child will finally have a family! So happy for all of you! I agree with all the comments above, and would just add that you will probably need to start at the beginning, and expect that he will fast forward, stumbling often, through infant and early childhood milestones, it seems like he had been "stuck" in infancy, and will need lots of close nurturing to get unstuck. I would also be on the lookout for self soothing and orphanage coping skills, such as rocking or sucking or hitting his head, and be creative about helping hm learn new soothing routines. Our daughter, adopted at 15 months, used to rock her head violently back and forth to help her get to sleep. Two years later we still rock her to sleep, and she no longer thrashes. God Bless!

    Reply
  14. Julie
    June 4, 2013

    What a wonderful day to find out that our waiver was accepted by CCCWA and we can proceed with adoption of this sweet boy! Your comments have been a huge encouragement to me! Thanks again!

    Reply
  15. Cathy
    June 5, 2013

    Check this blog out: http://www.niederfamily.blogspot.com for ideas about alternative communication. Dana is an amazing mom who has moved mountains for her nonverbal child, and has great ideas about different strategies to try.

    Reply
  16. Sammie Fick
    June 5, 2013

    I just stumbled on this blog, her daughter is non verbal and they are using a variety of ways to communicate. Good information on adaptive communication devices. Plus this post about hearing loss and audiograms, it helps to explain how even a mild loss can impact speech. http://niederfamily.blogspot.com/search/label/hea

    Reply
  17. Patrick Hospes
    August 8, 2013

    Very interesting breakdown, indeed. It’s nice to have such information available in one location and some ideas for new and different directions to take to help one stand out.

    Reply

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