Going nonverbal refers to temporarily losing the ability or desire to speak. There are various reasons why someone may go nonverbal at times. It is often associated with autism spectrum disorders, but can happen to anyone in certain situations.
Causes of Going Nonverbal
Some of the common causes of going nonverbal include:
Too much sensory input such as loud noises, bright lights, crowds, or chaotic environments can be overstimulating. This sensory overload makes it difficult to process and respond verbally. Going nonverbal helps shutdown some of the overwhelming input.
Stress and Anxiety
High stress, anxiety, fear, or feeling overwhelmed can also lead someone to go nonverbal temporarily. The speech centers of the brain downregulate to divert focus on managing the stress response.
Going nonverbal may be a subconscious way to establish boundaries or withdraw from an unpleasant situation. It signals the need for space to shut down and prevent further stress.
Strong emotions like anger, sadness, shock, irritability, or embarrassment may also precede going nonverbal. It allows time to internally process feelings before responding verbally.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Many people with autism go nonverbal more frequently due to communication challenges. It may occur when overwhelmed by stimuli or feeling anxious. Some may be nonverbal for longer durations or all the time.
This condition causes people to be fully verbal in certain settings but not speak at all in other social situations, often at school. It stems from social anxiety but follows a specific pattern.
Brain injuries, mental health disorders like PTSD, developmental disorders, or neurodegenerative diseases can make speech difficult or impossible in some moments. The brain struggles to access language pathways.
What to Do When Nonverbal
Here are some tips for navigating situations when you or someone else has gone nonverbal:
– Provide a quiet, low stimulation space to regain the ability to speak
– Alternate communication methods like writing, typing, sign language, or pictures
– Reassure the person and avoid pressuring them to talk before ready
– Meet physical needs for water, food, rest, temperature adjustment
– Check if medical attention is necessary in case of underlying physical causes
– Be patient and allow time for the person to regain verbal abilities
– Follow typical communication preferences when the person is able to speak again
Going nonverbal does not mean that a person has lost their competence, intelligence, or communication permanently. It is often a temporary state associated with specific triggers. Paying attention to those triggers and learning coping strategies can help. Support from loved ones also makes a difference in managing intermittent challenges with verbal communication.
Is going nonverbal a sign of autism?
Going nonverbal can be a sign of autism, but also happens in people without autism. It is more common with autism but should not be assumed to mean someone is on the spectrum.
What helps someone speak again when nonverbal?
Reducing stimuli, providing a safe space, staying patient, and using alternate communication can help someone regain speech after going nonverbal. Trying to force it usually prolongs the nonverbal period.
Is elective mutism the same as going nonverbal?
Elective or selective mutism is a specific condition where people consistently do not speak in certain social settings but speak freely in others. Going nonverbal is more situational.
What should I not do if someone is nonverbal?
Avoid overstimulating the person, forcing them to talk, punishing them, or acting like they are incompetent. Recognize their need to process emotions or stimuli before speaking again.
When should I take someone going nonverbal seriously?
Seek medical advice if it happens suddenly, is out of character, in someone with no prior instances, or is accompanied by other neurological symptoms. It may indicate an underlying condition.
Going nonverbal temporarily is not uncommon and can happen due to sensory overload, high stress, significant emotions, or as part of certain disorders. Remaining patient, reducing stimuli, and allowing time to regain speech are often the best approaches. Recognizing triggers and finding alternative communication methods also help manage intermittent challenges with verbal communication.