Non-verbal communication

"When Nick was a little boy he showed no interest in looking at my face.  He didn't look to me when I called his name.  He had no understanding of the concept of reading facial expressions and body language.  During those years I did a lot of reading and I came across all sorts of explanations for this. For example; People with autism find it scary to look at a face. People with autism don't see the whole face - only a part of it! In my personal opinion, I do believe that Nick didn't have a problem with looking at me, or any other person for that matter.  He just didn't know WHY he needed to look." My blog post, January 2011.

To help Nick understand the importance of referencing my face and body language for information, I kicked off by using non-verbal communication. I exaggerated my facial expressions. I overplayed the use of my fingers, hands, arms and shoulders. I got down to Nick's level. I gently invaded his body space (touching his knee/arm/hand to get his attention). The sounds coming from my vocal cords were guttural and I used my tongue to click and cluck! A real comedy act, yet one that worked a treat.

Going non-verbal also worked for me. I slowed down my thoughts and reactions and became far more mindful of how I communicated with Nick. I found that I paused more frequently, giving us both the opportunity to think about our responses.


I am at the kitchen counter. Nick is sitting on the sofa, facing away from me.
I gently clear my throat.
Nick gets up and wanders over.
He references my face and then looks at the apple in my hand.
I mime cutting the apple.
He picks up a knife and passes it to me.
I reference him and shake my head for "no".
I look towards the other kitchen counter.
Nick follows my eye gaze and spies the apple cutter.
He collects the cutter and gives it to me.
I place the cutter on the apple and then step back.
I reference him with a wide eye look.... and gaze to the apple, the cutter and then back to the apple.
Nick follows my gaze and then proceeds to cut the apple.
He collects a bowl, gives it to me and then walks away.
He is expecting me to put the apple in the bowl!!
I make a little noise (hmmmm). Nick looks at my face.
I raise my eyebrow, give a little smile and then gaze at the apple.
He comes racing back. :) 

It is wonderful that we can connect/engage naturally over such a simple little interaction. It's worth giving non-verbal communication a bash. It really has been a win for us.


  1. It really shows how 'communication' is way more than just verbal doesn't it? When I read posts like this or think back to when anger and tantrums were much more a communication tactic than words were and see the journey to understanding I always think how upsetting and terribly frustrating it most be for any child to not be able to communicate their needs, or to just connect. I loved reading this and hearing how Nick has progressed :) xx

    1. Yes, I look back and recall how Nick was many years ago. It was incredibly hard for him. Thank goodness for progress. xx

  2. Such a lovely read, and as always a reminder to use more non-verbal communication and slow down! It works here too xx

    1. Thank you. So pleased to hear that it works in your house as well. xx

  3. I am considering RDI for my son so I'm reading everything i find on the topic. However, my son is non-verbal. Can RDI help him to speak or do I need to rely on other types of therapy (ie, ABA, ST, OT, etc) for that? I need to know that RDI will help him speak more (he can speak, he just usually doesn't).

    1. Stephanie, I am going to post your question on our RDI facebook page ( and then get back to you with any comments.


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