Targeted brain therapies: Support with non-verbal children

Targeted Brain Therapies

Estimates suggest that about 25-30% of autistic people are non-verbal or minimally verbal (using fewer than 30 words or needing tools to communicate). That makes daily life very challenging. Brain-based therapies offer one way to help autistic children find their voice.

Non-verbal autism

Though it’s termed ‘non-verbal’ (meaning ‘without words’), we’re really talking about ‘non-speaking’ autism. Such a child may understand words when they hear them. They may also read or write well. They just don’t speak (or don’t speak often).

Speech delay is often one of the first signs of autism. A neurotypical child usually begins speaking around their first birthday but the average age of speech onset for autistic children is 3.

Of course, there are ways to communicate without speech. Many autistic children learn to communicate using augmentative and alternative communication methods and tailored speech therapy.

But there’s no denying that speech is easy – it’s how the rest of the world communicates, after all. For non-speaking autistic children, early intervention is important. The older a child gets without communicating through speech, the more likely they are to remain non-verbal or minimally verbal.

Brain-based therapies and non-verbal autism

In autism, we usually find that there’s delayed development in the right brain, the side that governs social and sensory development. As a result, autistic children often struggle with social interaction.

Language development, on the other hand, is a left-brain responsibility and this is often reasonably strong in autistic children – so why do some not speak?

There are a couple of possibilities.

There’s serotonin, commonly known as the feel-good hormone. There’s some evidence that autistic individuals have abnormalities in the serotonin system. When serotonin is decreased in the left hemisphere, individuals show significantly increased language impairment.

Then, there’s a functional disconnect. The two sides of the brain are unevenly balanced and not working well together. Brain-based therapies can help to restore that balance and integration.

Two case studies

The team at Neurofit Brain Centre has worked with several non-verbal autistic children and shares two de-identified case studies of recent patients.

The first was a 5-year-old boy, about to start prep. He’d never spoken to anyone outside his family. Even though he’d been in childcare for two years, he’d never spoken to the leaders and never taken part in group play.

When he first saw me, he’d cling to his mum and try to hide. So it was like treating a baby koala at first. But over our first month, he became more comfortable. After a month of treatment, he actually asked his childcare leader a question! She was astounded because she thought he didn’t know how to talk at all. That same day, he joined in with group play. The room leader called his mum and she came rushing down to watch him play with his peers.

Four months later, that child is now enrolled in a primary school prep class. He’s still finding social interaction hard but he’s getting a lot better. His words are still limited but he can talk to his prep teacher.

The second child was a 6-year-old autistic boy with ADHD who had never spoken at all. He made meaningless, repetitive sounds and was intensely hyperactive. Johnson explains that, after a month of treatment, this boy started to speak.

The thing is, when he began to speak, his articulation was very clear. He’d say things like ‘See you later’ and he even learned to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Clearly, the language area in his left brain was very strong. It just hadn’t been working well with his underdeveloped right brain. We still have a long way to go but he can say a few simple phrases now and that means a great deal to him and his family. 

What does brain-based treatment for non-speaking autism involve?

Treatment may involve:

  • Targeting the right brain stem, related to the autonomic nervous system, to reduce fear paralysis, the fight or flight response many autistic children experience when they encounter a stranger
  • Targeting the sensory areas of the right brain
  • Integrating primitive reflexes.

How do we do that? By a mix of treatments including laser therapy (which has been shown to increase serotonin levels in mice) and vibration.

How can Neurofit Brain Centre help with your non-speaking child?

At Neurofit Brain Centre, we offer a fresh way to encourage your non-speaking child to talk. By restoring brain balance and improving integration between the two sides of the brain, we’ve seen encouraging progress in non-verbal autistic patients.

If you’d like support for your child, please book an assessment.


All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Neurofit Brain Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment approach is right for you.