Nonverbal – yet another one of those controversial words. Nonverbal, until recently, would have been the most widely used term used to describe someone who is not able to speak words including, but not exclusively, some autistic people.

However, as autistic people and their allies, are gaining more and more opportunities to contribute to discussions around neurodivergence, there is a rising tide of opinion that argues that the stigma attached to the term nonverbal is such that people assume it means that these nonspeaking people cannot communicate, or indeed understand, at all.

Verbal is related to the sound of speech, true. But I absolutely agree that if someone can’t speak, but is perfectly able to ‘verbalise their thoughts’ using other methods – flashcards or assistive technology, for instance, describing them as nonverbal could be offensive to some, hence, the term nonspeaking is widely preferred by autistic people and an increasing number of organisations – click the link to be directed to that glossary entry.

Many professionals still use the term nonverbal, as do many families of nonverbal people. It’s completely your choice, as ever, of course.

Here’s a passionately written post from a woman whose son is nonspeaking, explaining why she has chosen to make the switch from nonverbal.

Nonverbal and minimally verbal are very different to selective mutism ← click here to read that entry.