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Four Stages of Communication in Non-Verbal Children

Author: Yasuhiro Kotera

Associate Professor at University of Nottingham

Because of my children’s autism, my wife and I took a series of online sessions focused on communication with non-verbal children, led by our nursery teachers. We are very thankful to them as they support not only our triplets but also the whole family. They are aware of the demands on us for raising triplets with medical complexities, so they have been very kindly offering extra support. For example, they didn’t have to offer this type of online lecture but they do to support families. Here are some key points about the four stages of how children learn communication.

1] Own Agenda Stage

A child at this stage seems to want to play by themselves, not interested in interacting with people around them. They don’t know they can affect other people by sending a message to them. Parents guess how they are feeling by observing their body language and facial expressions.

2] Requester Stage

At this stage, a child starts to learn their behaviours can impact others. For example, they may pull your arm to turn your attention to what they want. They also start to enjoy physical games such as tickling or peek-a-boo. If you pause during these games, they may request you to keep doing it by grabbing your hands or looking at them.

3] Early Communicator Stage

A child starts to use specific gestures or sounds to ask for what they want. For example, they make a certain sound or say a certain word to ask for juice or a cookie. Joint Attention, an important communication skill, begins to be developed around this time, where a child shares their interests with their parents by looking at something then looking at the parents, or pointing to something they want to show the parents.

4] Partner Stage

At this stage, a child can use words to request or draw their parents’ attention to something. They can also ask and answer simple questions. Having a short conversation will be possible, leading to an ability to talk about past and future events.

Of course every child is different but knowing these developmental stages is helpful. We can identify where each of our triplets is at the moment, and expect what skills to be learned next. Soon they will turn 3 years old. Born from the same parents at the same time, but each of them is growing differently at their own pace. It is fascinating to see their growth no matter how big or small that is.

More details of this developmental model can be found in the book “More Than Words: Helping promote communication and social skills in children with autistic spectrum disorder” by Fern Sussman


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