Colorful bubbles with words on them float above a computer keyboard


I am nonspeaking. I am not nonverbal. In fact, I am highly verbal. I don’t use my body’s voice—my vocal chords—as my primary way of communicating. I think I will learn to talk, but I use other means to communicate because at this point it’s not easy for people to understand what I’m saying. I might look “dumb,” but I’m not. I’m just nonspeaking. Speech is assessed as not important by me because it uses a lot of my body, and I don’t have it all under control yet. For now, I like to sign and to write my ideas. I am verbal. If I weren’t, I couldn’t be writing to you right now. I have a lot to say, and I use my written language to say it. I am verbal. I can message my ideas but not say them out loud. I am verbal.

Nonspeaking doesn’t mean I have no ideas or no way to communicate them. Nonspeaking doesn’t mean I can’t learn to read or write like everyone else. But I can’t if you don’t teach me how. And calling me nonverbal is like saying I can’t learn to read and write. Sometimes I look sandy, but I’m not. (Sandy is a word I use to describe when I meditate in my mind and lose my language.) Assume you are me and you sanely learn to read and write. Not nonverbal.

Non-Speaking;Non-Verbal | Listen 2 Us – Literacy, Self-Determination, and Interdependence for Nonspeakers

Nonspeakers do not like to be called non-verbal because it is interpreted as “oh, they don’t understand any language at all” and can be treated worse as a result – people make assumptions that they don’t have the capacity to understand what is going on around them. A child who does not speak / use mouth words is mistakingly regarded as non-verbal when in fact they can communicate in other ways – and they quite possible can UNDERSTAND language. So, nonverbal discounts the child’s understanding of language.

Neurodivergent-Affirming SLT | AutisticSLT

Nonspeaking versus Nonverbal: In describing autistic people who do not utilize speech in communication, this study uses the term nonspeaking rather than nonverbal, because a lack of speech does not connote a lack of words, awareness, or intelligence.

Nonspeaking Does Not Equal Low Functioning. A prevalent assumption throughout the research literature is that autism is strongly linked with cognitive impairment. This is especially true for nonspeaking or minimally verbal autistic people, who “are considered the most cognitively impaired: it is commonplace to refer to such individuals as ‘low functioning’” (Dawson, Soulières, Gernsbacher, & Mottron, 2007, p. 657). British psychological researchers Anne Emerson and Jackie Dearden (2013) report continual underestimation of the cognitive abilities of nonspeaking and minimally verbal autistic children, and “the potentially dangerous assumption that ‘non-verbal’ equates to severe learning difficulties” (p. 242), such that some nonspeaking children are offered minimal education and minimal opportunities.

Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction

I prefer non-speaking as I understand all language. Non-verbal suggests I don’t understand language and doesn’t represent how I love language.

Matt Crittenden, On Using NonSpeaking, Minimally Speaking, Or Unreliably Speaking Over “Non-Verbal”: NonSpeakers Weigh In » NeuroClastic

I think that non-speaker tells a more accurate story about the person because that person simply uses a different way to communicate. Other non-speakers might think differently.

Mitchell Robins, On Using NonSpeaking, Minimally Speaking, Or Unreliably Speaking Over “Non-Verbal”: NonSpeakers Weigh In » NeuroClastic

I like to call myself nonspeaking because I can communicate by spelling words instead of speaking. nonverbal implies i do not understand words. how can i communicate with words if i am nonverbal?

Philip Reyes, On Using NonSpeaking, Minimally Speaking, Or Unreliably Speaking Over “Non-Verbal”: NonSpeakers Weigh In » NeuroClastic

Non-verbal brings forth a slew of assumptions about me that are entirely inaccurate – including lack of understanding language, aggressive behaviour, lack of emotional intelligence, and cognitive impairment.

I prefer non-speaking as it is a short description that encapsulates who I am more accurately. It also makes people stop and think instead of relying on what they know about me based on what they observe.

Jordyn Pallett, On Using NonSpeaking, Minimally Speaking, Or Unreliably Speaking Over “Non-Verbal”: NonSpeakers Weigh In » NeuroClastic
See Us. Hear Us. – Jordyn Zimmerman
Autastic Tom Nonspeaking Video (Episode #17)

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog with my communication partner Kelly about why we say nonspeaking instead of nonverbal. Unreliable speakers like myself have lots of speech, however, we don’t communicate our true thoughts using our speech. That must be confusing for many with the thought that only those with no speech are nonspeakers. There are some perhaps whose thought is that we make the term nonspeaker mean only those who never speak. 

I am a nonspeaker. To call me any different would suggest that my speech has intent, which it rarely does unless I am reading my own words on a screen or script. This video shows me reading a script I typed out with Kelly holding a keyboard. The words were printed out onto paper and the papers are then held up when I am filming. With no script what you are seeing would be impossible for me to do. 

I want everyone to understand that having purposeful speech is so difficult for me. I want to make that clear. I truly hope you will take the time to watch my video and really listen to the words of a nonspeaker.

Confusion in your mind about the term nonspeaking? – I-ASC

You can find a list of nonspeaking advocates to follow on NeuroClastic’s Nonspeaker Directory.

Further reading,