Non-verbal, Pre-verbal, Minimally Communicative: What does it all mean?

Dip your toe into the autism world, and you may not notice a lot of the varied terms being used. But jump in with both feet and you sure will! A while ago I joined a facebook for homeschooling “Minimally Communicative” children. I started noticing a bunch of different terms being used and only recently did I ask for clarification. So here it is all laid out so you don’t have to risk looking foolish, too.

Non-verbal: does not speak with their mouth. May use AAC.

AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This covers a range of options. It could be the person uses a tablet with pictures or types in words to communicate. It could refer to PECS cards, using sign language, or a “Facilitated Communication Board.” (Facilitated Communication, also known as Rapid Prompting Method, has a disreputable past where facilitators thought they were helping the person communicate and they reported false allegations of abuse.)

PECS: Picture Exchange Communication System. Basically non-verbal kiddo gives you the card with the word/picture on it and you give them that thing. Can be expanded upon to build full sentences. Often paired with ABA, but the basic concept can be done respectfully without the ABA flavor. There are a ton of free printables on Pinterest if you search for “PECS”.

Pre-Verbal: this is one that confused me the most. It’s the exact same thing as non-verbal. The only difference is the parent is still anticipating eventual mouth speech and is usually reluctant to use AAC as they fear giving the person an alternative way to communicate will mean they will never talk with their mouth.
Edited later to add: It has been pointed out to me on facebook that pre-verbal can also mean making letter sounds but not words.

Scripting: using memorized lines as opposed to spontaneous speech that the child put the words together themselves. Lady Bug’s primary communication is using scripts like, “Okay, a [noun]” which is how she asks for the thing she wants. (The “okay” at the beginning is her way of saying how she wants to be answered.) Another example of scripting is repeating memorized lines from a tv show or movie; sometimes for play/stim fun, sometimes for communication. This can be built on and used for engagement if you know the lines, too.

Echolalia: repeating of words or phrases for the pleasure of the sounds as a form of verbal stimming, or as a way to process the information. For a more in-depth explanation, Amythest Schaber’s video on it is what I recommend. Early Bird often will get stuck repeating a word over and over in the middle of a sentence. My opinion is that his brain and his mouth are not synced up and saying the word over and over is his way of trying to prompt his brain to remember what comes next. I am not sure if this is a form of echolalia or not. I do know that it is involuntary for him.

Edited later to add: Musings of an Aspie has an excellent and through post on Echolalia, different types and examples of the different types, including what I call scripting. Check it out, it’s really good.

Minimally Communicative: has some mouth speech but is not fluent. Right now that’s where Lady Bug is. She almost never answers questions, has a good vocabulary but rarely uses the majority of it, has some scripts that are her go-to for communicating needs/wants, and seems to struggle with putting two or three words together on her own.


Have I forgotten a speech related term that you think should be included? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.


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