Ask Sarah: Interacting with non-verbal people with autism

Sarah Stup

Hello Sarah,

I work with individuals with disabilities to be independent in any way they are wanting to be, and I have a lot of students who are on the autism spectrum. They are each so unique and I wouldn’t change my job for the world. My question to you is, for the ones who are non-verbal, what is the best way to communicate with them?

Thank you for your blog postings as well. I have started reading them and those alone have been very helpful to me and my consumers.

Megan Latter

From Sarah:

Thank you for helping silent, but very real, people with autism to find their voices. Below are suggestions I have to help find your friends who are inside bodies that simply work differently.

Suggestions for interacting with non-verbal people with autism

1. Smile, say “hello,” but don’t try to make eye contact.

2. Try sitting next to them, rather than across from them, to talk.

3. Do not shout. They likely can hear too well.

4. Be not afraid of how they act or react. Stay calm.

5. Place them as real people and assume they understand.

6. Quit finding fault. Do you want to spend time with a critic?

7. Reason with them, but don’t boss them around.

8. Do ask questions to show your interest even if they cannot answer.

9. Use many methods–verbal, signing, pictures, print, offer them typing devices, etc.

10. Allow them to write/draw with pens. Try covering their hand with yours, but allow them to move their hands where they wish.

11. Write them notes.

12. Share lots of information.

13. Read, read, read great books to them.

14. When they listen to music, share if you are enjoying it.

15. Have them join you to hear the news of our Country.

16. Use closed captions on TV.

17. Trust them to be good friends worth knowing!

Sarah Stup, a non-verbal writer with autism who types to speak. Sarah has published several books for both adults and children. She also maintains a blog at

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