Many of our children are pre-verbal.  We use the term “nonverbal” at times, but what we actually mean are that these children are verbal, but not yet verbal in the ways we are used to children making sounds and formulating words.  Some of our children make sounds, but these sounds might be different to the normal “ba-ba” or “ma-ma” sounds that we typically hear babies start making before they formulate entire words and then ultimately sentences.  

We have been trained in a variety of therapeutic modalities through the years.  As professionals we believe it’s important to find out what works for you as a therapist or mom and more importantly, what your child enjoys, understands and finds motivating.  For the purpose of this current goal I am going to return to the name and meaning of our support system and philosophy – AIMS.  It stands for Awareness, Interests, Movement and Sensory.  If you want any child to really be motivated to speak, when it might be extremely difficult for them to create sounds that are intelligible, you have to ensure that he or she is aware of an activity, yourself or a toy.  

Behavioral therapists call this a “reinforcement assessment”, but we don’t want to go through these specific rules and regulations that you “have to” follow to determine what your child enjoys.  It is a pretty simple task – or should be.  When you observe any child, you will quickly notice what he or she is drawn to (what he is aware of) – have toys out in the room, start playing with some of the toys to see if you can entice your child to join in or at least become aware.  

Then go through a variety of potential interests that you feel might be enticing – keep it fun, be silly and whatever it is that makes your child smile, do it again, a hundred times over.  Without building this positive rapport, you will go nowhere fast! Once you have gone through some of these activities and made notes on what he or she likes (and dislikes to try and avoid those things as much as possible) then try some movement activities.  

Research gives you many reasons why bringing in movement into your sessions a great idea is and why it’s actually needed – for all people, children and adults alike.  Go outside, find a play area, do some races, get in the pool (if it’s warm enough) or go and explore the forest! Movement activities can include any fun break, that should happen every 25 to 45 minutes (at least) and gets you and your child’s blood moving! 

Another fun way of finding out what your child enjoys is by including sensory activities and toys.  Think outside the box here! Some of our children love tickles, back pats and squeezes and others enjoy more deep pressure and actually craves being tightly rolled into a thick blanket, believe it or not! There are endless ideas on Pinterest or just explore these yourself and think back to your own childhood! Bring in things to squeeze, smell, touch, bounce, throw, paint with, jump on, jump in.  The list really is endless.  Again, make a list of what he or she loves and what is a no-go for the future. 

Okay, now you know what your child loves.  Now start with pairing sounds with these activities.  A few things to note here: 

  1. Choose sounds that are easier to make – think “aa”, “oo”, “mm”, “ee” and potentially “b”.  Sometimes our children make sounds that aren’t part of the primary or the easier sounds – bring these in as it shows they can already say these specific sounds! 
  2. Include all these fun activities that you determined your child loves with specific sounds.  Use the same sound for as long as your child doesn’t show signs of being irritated or frustrated.  Change the sounds up if you do a new activity and don’t keep one activity per sound – this will irritate me too! So, keep it fun and switch it around.  But don’t do 5 sounds per activity – that will confuse you and your child.  
  3. Keep track of how your child reacts to this.  If he or she shows some interest in the sounds that you are making, pause the activity and wait for him or her to try and copy it.  
  4. Another trick is to record it when your child copies the sounds and then playing it to him or her.  Usually (not always – so please determine if this should be done) our children love watching themselves doing different activities and this will present as another opportunity to imitate sounds.  
  5. Once you get some consistent sounds from your child you can start pairing the sounds together to formulate words – “u” and “p” to pick up and swing around perhaps.  This is when you can create more functional activities that actually “mean” what you are saying – up, Mama, “baba, “more”, etc.  
  6. The biggest goal is to keep activities fun, short enough to enjoy and not to force sounds from your child.  

If we respect our children by giving them the time and space to speak in the way they feel most comfortable with, they will surprise us with what they have to say.  

We can’t wait for you to explore some pairing activities with your child.  Please do send us some videos of these activities and let us know if you have any questions.  Enjoy! We know we will.