Reasons why your child might not use speech (mouthwords) to communicate⁠ sometimes, or always

by Adina Levy

Here are some reasons why your child might not use speech (mouthwords) to communicate⁠ ⁠sometimes, or all the time:

1️⃣ Speech skills are hard for them (motor skills or motor planning)⁠ – the physical act of producing speech is incredibly complicated, and many people have difficulty with all different aspects of it

2️⃣ Language skills are hard for them⁠ – Understanding concepts, learning vocabulary, putting phrases together, telling stories – Language is HARD and huge! It takes time to build language skills and everyone learns at a different pace

3️⃣ Content of language is complex in that situation⁠ – Every situation has different language demands. Your child might need to use new concepts or combine information in a way that is different to what they’re familiar with

4️⃣ Emotions are heightened⁠ – we all can relate to the feeling of being so frazzled that words and thoughts just don’t come out right. If your child is tired, hungry, hangry, excited, frustrated… access to their regular ‘best’ communication skills won’t come as easily

5️⃣ Sensory dysregulation⁠ – If your child’s sensory system is out of balance, it’s going to be really hard for them to communicate in the way they generally do. For example if your child is very sensitive to sounds and they’re in a loud place (it might even be hard for you to notice the noise, but it can still be having a big effect on your child!) they’re likely to find it hard to focus on communicating with you

6️⃣ Situation is new – New situations bring new language needs, and also new sensory and cognitive demands. Your child’s attention might well be split many ways in a new situation, and sometimes just the newness alone is enough to make someone feel ‘off’ or challenged. Change can be so hard!

7️⃣ Situation is less preferred⁠ – Kids are more engaged when they’re doing activities they love, that fit their sensory preferences. They’re less likely to engage and communicate when the topic or activity isn’t their favourite. Perhaps we can all relate to this – how much do you feel like communicating if you have to go to a meeting that is boring, hard work, and not motivating for you?

8️⃣ Other people around aren’t familiar, connected or trusted⁠ – Communication is ALL about connection. If your child feels connected to you, or to the other people they’re expected to communicate with, they will be much more relaxed and motivated to share messages. Communication partners can earn your child’s trust by deeply and truly listening to them – not just to the words they say but to all the communication that they share with you

9️⃣ No reason needed!⁠ ⁠ ALL COMMUNICATION IS VALID!⁠ ⁠Every way that your child communicates with you is valid and worthy of your attention and your responses. Sometimes you might not be sure what your child is trying to communicate, and then your job is to interpret their message. Have a guess.


If you’re wondering about how you can help your autistic preschooler communicate with you, whether by speech or non-speech or a combination, I’m here to help! ⁠

I’m a neurodivergent speech therapist. I have spent years coaching parents to understand and support their children and I’m inviting YOU to the next round of my live, 6-week parent course – Connect & Grow!⁠ ⁠

This 6 week online course is live, interactive, affordable and it’s for you if you’re a curious parent of an autistic child, or a child who might be autistic. You get immediate access to videos, info and resources in my Community Hub when you register.


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