The Ability To Use Words Does Not Equal Communication Skills

Last week we visited a garden centre near us, and as we were looking around, Penguin stopped at the owl doorstops pictured in the photo below. He looked across at me to make sure he had my attention, and then he said “ow” (which for a guy who doesn’t talk, is a pretty good approximation for “owl”). As he’s nonverbal (or nonspeaking, if you prefer that term), him saying anything at all is always a happy surprise.

However, having thought about it, I would have been equally excited if he’d chosen to ‘say’ the word owl using his AAC (app on iPad). This made me think back to an Instagram post I read recently, by my friend Leah (who you can find on IG as @leahdebity), where she mentioned about occasionally having dreams in which her nonspeaking son is talking, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. And how she felt it’s funny she still has those dreams, when in her mind she’s no longer eagerly wishing for speech, but rather for communication in whatever form that may take (and her son also has an AAC device).

I commented on Leah’s post, that I too have those dreams where Penguin is talking. And it feels amazing! But I think it’s not primarily about the speech but rather the ease of communication. The joy I feel about him being able to express himself so effortlessly.

I have actually had a dream once in which he used his AAC at a much more fluent level than he does in real life, so far. And that made me very excited as well! So maybe my mind is shifting at a deeper level, too…

I’ve also had a realisation recently about something which I kind of already knew, but which has really sunk in more over the past few weeks: Using words does not equal communication skills.

I had a lightbulb moment in that regard after seeing a reel (on Instagram, again) by the lovely Claire of @garleygirls, where she pointed out that being verbal does not mean communication is easy. Autism is still, by definition, a disability with communication difficulties at its core.

We may think that ‘once they have words, it’ll be so much easier & they’ll be able to make themselves understood’ etc. But communication really is SO much more than words!

Such as for example making sure you have the attention of who you’re speaking to, before saying “ow”.


Thank you so much for reading! And as always, please feel free to share any thoughts or comments on this post below x

PS. Tomorrow is the 1 October, which means the beginning of AAC Awareness Month! I’m looking forward to seeing lots of posts about AAC on social media, blogs etc. If you’re interested, here are some of my previous posts on the subject:

AAC Apps: Who Are They For & What Is So Great About Them?

5 Important Things To Know About Learning To Use AAC!

How Pumpkin Carving Sparked A Communication Milestone For Our Nonverbal Teenager

Talking About AAC And Us, On The ‘Let’s Talk Autism’ Podcast!

4 thoughts on “The Ability To Use Words Does Not Equal Communication Skills

  1. Every time I feel insecure about my daughter future, she does samething and I become again optimistic.She s 6 now, with autism, nonverbal, she takes my hand and shows me what she wants…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They do have a habit of surprising us in beautiful ways every now and then, don’t they?
      My son does hand-leading too, it seems common in autistic children, and is a pretty efficient way to communicate about wanting things that are available around them. Does your daughter use any alternative communication for other things, such as signing or a symbol-based system of some kind? x


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