There is a great deal of confusion over the “official definition” of nonverbal. Does this word apply to all children with speech delays or is it reserved for the completely mute child? Is a child still nonverbal if they use speech for identification, but not for communication? Is a child nonverbal if they mimic and mime, but do not use their own words? In short, yes!
Two of my children are classified as nonverbal and like the Autism Spectrum them are diagnosed with, they are night and day in their verbal communication abilities. However, both are still considered “nonverbal” because neither of them use spoken language to communicate with people. My twins have always been a bit of conundrum to people the first time they meet them. Not only are they fraternal, very clearly different from each other in looks and behavior, but they barely look related. They have never responded as expected and were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder very early on, at about 18 months old. Even as infants, we noticed behavior that seemed “off” and by 12 months old, I was fairly convinced they were Autistic.
One of my twins is completely nonverbal and a heavy sensory seeker. She loves to jump and crash, carry heavy things around, and generally explore her environment. Anything to fulfill that sensory need for input will be attempted at least once. She does a great deal of babbling, but uses gestures and hand over hand to communicate with us her needs. Even though she has access to an AAC device, she does not use it in a meaningful way. She only uses one word regularly and appropriately, “eat.”
Another of my twins is somewhat nonverbal and a sensory avoider. She will sing nursery rhyme songs, ABCs, count to 20, and enjoys mimicking her siblings to gain new words. However, she will not use words to communicate with people and avoids physical contact with most people. She only speaks when in her own little world and is talking largely to herself. She occasionally uses her AAC device meaningfully, but rarely. Yet, she is still considered nonverbal because she does not use verbal language to communicate.
As you can see, nonverbal can apply to a great number of children, even those with some verbal language. These differences in communication do not reflect these children’s intelligence or understanding, simply their ability to communicate with others. Their level of communication is likely to change over time, but may not. Either way, many nonverbal children do find ways to express their needs, interests, and feelings.
For more information, I have found this article by Very Well to be extremely helpful. Have any questions? Feel free to add them to the comments below.