Nonverbal Communication in Speech Therapy

We speechies love increasing verbal output. More, more, more ways to express your thoughts, needs, and ideas are driven goals. Are we leaving out nonverbal aspects of communication? We use these gestures, facial expressions, and body language every day to communicate when we are sick, frustrated, surprised, or in need of a Snickers bar. And let’s not forget those prerequisites to communication (eye contact, joint attention, sound/word approximations).


Perhaps you have a nonverbal student who needs some extra support in connecting with others or participating in daily routines. Maybe they don’t quite have the facial expressions, gestures, or eye contact down. Guess what! There are no prerequisites to using Alternative Augmentative Communication. And, it is our duty to dispel myths that using AAC reduces verbal output or in some way delays speech development.


AAC allows your student to “speak” for themselves. If we are to reflect on our own voices, we would NOT want someone else to speak FOR us. And they shouldn’t. When we incorporate AAC into our therapy sessions, we open the door for independence and confidence for a student to meet his or her own needs. How awesome is that?


This is accompanied by a ton of instruction, modeling, and practice. I have also taken into account behaviors and motivational issues that may impact participation in AAC. However, I can assure you, there is nothing more motivating than being heard and understood.


The AAC Coach is an invaluable resource that provides information on how to make using your AAC functional and an accessible part of your student's everyday life.


Practical AAC is another source that offers new strategies each week. It also provides evidence-based methods to incorporate into your sessions WHILE being effective.


Here are some tips/tricks:


  • Verbally reference your student’s actions, and then model the communication on the AAC.
    • Ex: “I see you are pushing your plate away.” Then model [All Done] on the device.
  • Promote initiation: Treat every attempt as meaningful by responding to it.



  • We are not teaching technology, we are teaching language.
  • AAC is not an activity. It is a conversational tool around an activity.
  • Check out the AAC coach and Practical AA for tons of resources and ways to incorporate AAC into your student’s daily life.
  • Communication is NOT always making requests. (Think: making comments, participating in a narrative, asking questions about tasks


Author: Brittany Stanford, M.A., CCC-SLP

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice. The content is based on the author's personal experiences, research, and opinions. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified professional or expert before making any decisions or taking action based on the information provided in this blog.

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