How to communicate with non-verbal children

February 17, 2024

I wish people understood that human connection is the most important aspect of any communication and looks different for any pair of people, including those who are non-verbal.

Very Special Kids mum, Shelley Brown

Last year, our volunteers and staff gained valuable insights from an interactive presentation on how to communicate with non-verbal children.

The session was held by May Anderson and Shelley Brown. Two very special mums who have a personal connection to Very Special Kids.

May and Shelley’s respective daughters, Patricia and Kiah, both graduated from Very Special Kids a few years ago, and are now 21 and 20.

During the interactive class, May and Shelley shared their first-hand knowledge of Augmentative and Alternate Communication (AAC) tools and devices.


Shelley shares, “May and I have previously held drop-in sessions at our daughters’ school. Our aim was to demystify AAC and provide a comfortable environment where parents were able to ask ANY questions without a therapist around!”


During the session, attending volunteers were given a chance to put theory into practice, communicating and listening with quick reference picture cards and more complex communication books.


“Improvement comes from trying. Have a go, make mistakes, laugh at yourself, see the child as the expert of their own communication method and try again.”


Feedback from the session was resoundingly positive, with many volunteers feeling a sense of enthusiasm and confidence to try using a communication book next time a non-verbal young person visited the hospice.

May and Shelley have kindly shared some quick tips that can help anyone improve their communication skills with non-verbal children and young people.

May and Shelley’s quick tips

  • Assume competence even when you have no clue what is being said
  • Respect their ability and method; don’t make them use yours
  • Ask them to demonstrate their ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses
  • ‘Ummm’ can mean time to think and time to construct an answer
  • Every attempt is treasured in demonstrating you see them as a valued person
  • Communication books are often young people’s ‘voice’ and therefore it is always important to ask permission to use their book first

How to start

If you are at the beginning of your AAC communication journey it can be helpful to simply use the book in one way to begin with. Ask the child in your care if you can use their communication book to chat about your day. Use the image pathways as best you can (with the book visible to the child) and describe something you have done or are interested in.


This can take reading the child’s responses out of the equation and can help you familiarise yourself with their book. It also can give the child such a boost that you are trying to speak their language. If you would like to gain some deeper insight, you can watch Shelley and her daughter Kiah’s detailed interview with Supernal Magazine Australia.


If you are a Very Special Kids volunteer who would be interested in attending a future session, please express your interest at