Over a quarter of children with autism are non-verbal, yet the cause remains unknown
Globally, approximately 1 in 100 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
ASD is a complex condition caused by changes to the brain. It is characterised by difficulty adapting to the surrounding environment, resulting in behavioural and psychological challenges. The development of ASD has been associated with a variety of factors, including family history, fetal development, and genetic and chromosomal disorders. But the exact cause remains unknown.
Around 25% to 30% of people with ASD will not develop functional language or are minimally verbal. This subgroup of people with ASD who never learn to speak more than a few words have non-verbal autism.
Non-verbal autism has no known cause and is most common among people with severe ASD and high-support needs, who are rarely able to live independently and require comprehensive care. This, compounded by the fact that ASD symptoms may change over time, challenges our ability to provide high-quality care and support for people with non-verbal autism at every stage of life.
Supporting non-verbal autism into adulthood
Communication characteristics of people with ASD evolve throughout childhood. No specific factor is likely responsible for language development in people with ASD, but many non-verbal autistic children do overcome severe language delays at a young age.
The lack of understanding of the causes and permanency of non-verbal autism means that the support required must adapt over time. A variety of interventions to improve the quality of life for people with ASD and their carers have been established and can be tailored to the needs of the individual. These include psychotherapy, medication, behavioural therapies and modifications to professional and educational environments.
Being non-verbal does not prevent meaningful communication; creative, empathetic and flexible approaches are needed to ensure the best outcomes. For example, psychotherapists may notably extend their patience, clarify responses and use communication aids. Comprehensive support for people with non-verbal autism is crucial to ensure they can live as independently as possible.