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Promoting Speech-Language Development in Children with Little to No Verbal Language


Communication matters whether it's using words, gestures, body, language, tone of voice, or behaviors. Did you know that “55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken” (Thompson, 2011)? Below is a list of suggestions to encourage language development in children with little to no verbal language.

  • Do Not Anticipate Needs and Desires. Encourage him/her to use communication (eye gaze, vocalization, pointing, etc.) to communicate what he/she wants, even when you know what he/she is likely to request. You can provide choices as described below.

  • Provide Choices instead of asking open-ended questions. (i.e., “What do you want?”)

  • Hold the two items out of the child’s reach, but in plain sight (hold them near your eyes if possible), “Do you want _____ or _____?”

  • Look for some indication as to which item the child wants (eye gaze, reaching, pointing, vocalizing, etc.)

  • Then model the name of the item (single word or short phrase) as you give it to the child. “Juice, you want juice!” Do not require that he/she say the name of the item by prompting with “Say ___” or “Now you try ___” Often the child will do the opposite, which is to say nothing.

  • Model Language in short phrases of 1 to 3 words. By modeling language, you are increasing the child’s exposure to language in the world around him/her.

  • Describe what the child is doing and what you are doing. Use both action words and object labels. “Push!” or “Push the car,” or “Baby” or “Baby’s sleeping.”

  • Respond to and praise the child’s vocalizations.

  • Provide the appropriate word if you know what he/she is trying to say.

  • You can also imitate his/her sounds or tell him “Nice talking. I like your sounds/words.”

  • Do not imitate the child’s baby talk, but rather model the adult form of the word with emphasis on the target sound/word. If the child says, “wa-wa” when requesting a drink of water, you can say “Water, you want water.” Again, do not require that he/she repeat the word correctly.


Communication-matters [image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Thompson, J. (2011). Is nonverbal communication a numbers game: Is body language really over 90% of how we communicate? Retrieved

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