Something I’ve learned from Working with Nonverbal Children

April 14, 2022

Working with nonverbal children teaches you many things and makes you realize that being fully present is the difference between a positive session and accomplishing nothing.

Presence is significant when you are working with someone who is nonverbal. You have to work together to find the best way to communicate. 

Of course, you should inquire about any methods a family or healthcare team is already using to communicate with the child. However, when providing therapy, your first thought might be of using the tactile sense. In actuality, we must use all of our skills to make that first connection.

Working with children diagnosed with cerebral palsy has presented numerous occasions to communicate in various ways. 

Some of my clients and patients have specific ways to move their eyes to signal, yes or no. Others can give you their version of ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down,’ while some use communication devices or a few words.

It is crucial to establish good communication when providing touch therapy.

Not only to explain a session or positioning but also to establish rapport and request permission before starting a session. To provide massage for anyone, especially a child, you must have their express consent.

Many people believe that if someone is nonverbal, you cannot communicate with them. I’m afraid I have to disagree. My work focuses on communication and finding the best way to connect with each child.

I’ve probably learned some of the most valuable lessons working with clients who speak differently.

One little boy I worked with showed me this first hand. 

During my work in orphanages in Vietnam, I entered the pediatric ward, and his eyes called to me. Immediately, I noticed him. He presented so severely contracted and lying stiff in one position. There were wear marks in the wooden slatted crib where his body touched and wore out the wood. As I lifted him from that crib, I wondered what he was thinking.

I explained to him – I was not there to harm in any way.

It was difficult, as I tried to loosen his tight muscles and frozen joints using touch therapy and some gentle range of motion. Any movement proved a challenge due to the length of time he had been in a fixed position. We spent most of our time making eye contact while I held him, rocked him, spoke, and sang to him.

It wasn’t long before he laughed. He didn’t just giggle; he laughed; it was amazing!

He understood what I was saying, the therapy I provided, the funny faces, silly songs, and stories. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same verbal language. He understood through touch therapy, eye contact, and the smile on my face.

Sometimes, it is not about using our hands to affect muscle tone, increase range of motion, and ease constipation, but instead making a connection and allowing a child to feel relaxed enough to laugh.

My dear little friend now knows someone in the world cares for him enough to treat him just like another child.

We must remember he is not different from other children.

As all children do, he just needed love, attention, and nurturing to find his childlike giggle.

That’s definitely something I’ve learned from working with nonverbal children.