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Understanding Non-Verbal Cerebral Palsy and Alternative Forms of Communication

communicating with non-verbal cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy can affect all different areas of the body, including the muscles that make up the mouth. This can make it difficult for them to speak, resulting in non-verbal cerebral palsy.

This article will explain everything you need to know about non-verbal cerebral palsy from causes to management.

Let’s get started!

What Causes Non-Verbal Cerebral Palsy?

Non-verbal cerebral palsy is caused by severe dysarthria, which is when you have difficulty controlling the muscles necessary for speaking.

Children with dysarthria also tend to experience difficulties breathing, chewing, and swallowing (dysphagia).

Dysarthria can range from mild to severe. Therefore, some people with dysarthria are able to speak with slight irregularities like breathiness or slurred speech.

Children can also develop speech impairments completely unrelated to their cerebral palsy that are caused by other forms of brain damage.

Non-Verbal Cerebral Palsy and Intelligence

non-verbal cerebral palsy management

©iStock.com/olesiabilkei

It’s important to understand that just because a child is non-verbal does not mean that they have intellectual disabilities or hearing difficulties.

Although a person with dysarthria can have cognitive or hearing difficulties caused by other sources of damage to the brain, dysarthria solely refers to the inability to speak due to oral motor impairment.

Many people with non-verbal cerebral palsy can understand everything you say and know exactly what they want to say back but are unable to because of their oral motor impairment.   

People often misunderstand that speech and language are two separate skills. Speech is the ability to produce and articulate sounds while language is the system of words that express meaning.

Those with non-verbal cerebral palsy have speech deficits, but not necessarily language deficits.

Many learn how to read and write, which allows them to use augmentative and alternative forms of communication.

Managing Non-Verbal Cerebral Palsy

Just because someone is non-verbal does not mean they can’t communicate.

Imagine knowing everything you want to say, but not being able to say it, or having no one understand and constantly having to guess.

Being non-verbal can be extremely frustrating for both parties.

If your child is demonstrating behaviors like restlessness, frowning, screaming, moaning, or holding their breath, they may be trying to tell you something.

Luckily, there are other ways for people with non-verbal cerebral palsy to communicate.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapists are trained to help people with and without disabilities improve their communication skills.

They understand that many people with dysarthria know what they want to say but have difficulties outwardly expressing it.

A comprehensive assessment by a speech-language pathologist is essential to identify your child’s specific communication problems.

It will help the speech-language pathologist better understand your child’s abilities and determine what exercises will be most effective.

Depending on the severity of your child’s dysarthria, various speech therapy methods will be used.

Children with severe dysarthria typically learn how to use augmentative and alternative forms of communication like:

  • Communication boards
  • Voice synthesizers
  • Gestures and pointing  
  • Sign language
  • Flashcards, pictures, and symbols
  • Eye movements

Technological Advancements for Non-Verbal Cerebral Palsy

non-verbal cp communication technology

©iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

High-tech tools like tablets and eye-scanning devices make it easier than ever for people with non-verbal cerebral palsy to communicate.

It takes a bit of getting used to, but once they learn how to use these technologies, they can freely voice their thoughts and needs.

Typically, these programs will display a set of commonly used words that your child can piece together to create sentences.

They also usually have keyboard options that allow you to spell any words that aren’t in the system’s vocabulary.

Cerebral palsy can make it difficult for people to control their arms enough to use tablets. For those individuals, there are technologies that can scan eye movements so that if you hold your gaze at a certain key for a few seconds, it will add that key to your queue.

Communicating with Someone Who is Non-Verbal

It’s extremely important to be patient when communicating with someone who is non-verbal.

Give your loved one enough time to generate their responses and try to refrain from speaking for them.

The more you allow your child to speak for themselves, the more empowered they will be to voice their thoughts and contribute to conversations.

This will also help them practice and develop appropriate communication skills.

That’s a wrap! Hopefully, this article helped you better understand that people with non-verbal cerebral palsy are highly capable and can learn to communicate through alternative means.

Don’t make the mistake of underestimating someone just because they are non-verbal.

Many people with dysarthria have average or above-average intelligence and have no problems understanding you. They just need the proper accommodations and chance to communicate.

Featured image: ©iStock.com/rawpixel

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