Foundational Skills for Non-Vocal Learners


Foundational skills for non-vocal learners

Although learning verbal communication may be an important goal for your child, many other foundational skills require no vocal response at all. We all learn ways to navigate the world before we can verbally communicate. For children who are non-vocal learners, this is their primary way of navigating their world. As clinicians and parents, we are constantly striving to adapt. ABA’s goals are commonly taught but also generalized in the naturalistic environment. This makes these skills much more essential for daily living and quality of life for individuals whose primary mode of communication is non-vocal.

common goals

There are many goals in ABA that do not require any vocal response. Having these skills allows your child to flourish without relying on verbal communication. For example, imitating and following directions are essential building blocks for more complex skills.


Think about how much we learn simply by observing. In ABA, we teach children to imitate gross motor and fine motor skills. These skills can lead to anything from learning to play catch to holding a pencil correctly. Start to teach your child to imitate by imitating them! This is also a great way to bond with your child. Oral imitation is another common goal that teaches the foundational skills for verbal communication: imitating pursing one’s lips. Imitation skills are so essential and carry over throughout one’s lifetime. If you’d like to learn more about imitation and potential interventions, read this article from the University of Washington entitled The Social Role of Imitation in Autism.

Following directions

Following directions is another common goal that is targeted in ABA. By learning how to follow directions, children can stay safe and interact appropriately in public settings. Learning to follow one-step directions leads to following multi-step directions for more complex tasks. Moreover, being a non-vocal learner does not eliminate the ability to follow directions and continue to learn. Visuals are a great tool in ABA to help aid learners. For example, a visual aid can be beneficial when following a task with multiple steps. Don’t forget to make it fun and reinforcing; your child is more likely to clap their hands if paired with a fun song or dance!

personal hygiene

Personal hygiene is another foundational skill that allows a child to feel more autonomous in their environment. Imitation skills and following directions also come into play when teaching personal hygiene. Practicing good personal hygiene leads to fewer doctor’s appointments and more independence. Client dignity is of utmost importance at SOAR, and we strive to provide our clients with as much independence as possible, whether they are vocal or non-vocal learners. There are a variety of books and videos on YouTube that can make personal hygiene more reinforcing. A tune featuring Elmo might be just the trick for getting your child to enjoy learning how to brush their teeth!

identifying personal information

Identifying personal information is another vital skill that pertains to social and academic environments and is critical in an emergency. When teaching a non-vocal learner to recognize their name, you can receptively point, match their name to a photo, and write their name without requiring any vocal response. Giving your child the ability to make friends, participate in the classroom, and potentially identify themselves to a safety officer is a priceless skill to have. Keeping your child safe is always a concern for parents, especially for parents with a non-vocal child. Prioritizing this skill can make all the difference in keeping your child safe. For people who navigate their world vocally, we take the amount of information we can exchange for granted. As clinicians and parents, it is our responsibility to give our children the tools necessary to communicate their basic needs.


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