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Nonverbal Communication

In a 9 year old male, squealing and grunting are the only vocal sounds. Should this be discouraged? We’d appreciate any guidance on teaching him to communicate "yes/no." Are squealing and grunting forms of vocal exercise that may eventually benefit the vocal chords?

Squealing and grunting will probably improve communication possibilities between the speaker and listener more than they will benefit the vocal cords. For example, if he is squealing because he wants or likes something, the initial steps have been taken toward developing a "yes/no" form of communication. For children who are not talking, this nonverbal form of "yes/no" may be the only channel available.

A very basic procedure for caregivers of individuals who are nonverbal is to observe body language and vocal behaviors in response to a stimulus. If the caregiver sees that the child responds in a particular way such as squealing and perhaps also raising his shoulders when he likes something, the caregiver should probably touch the child's throat and shoulders and say, "I hear your voice and I see you raising your shoulders. I think you are saying, "yes, you like this." The child now knows he has communicated. The caregiver should continue identifying and reinforcing such behaviors and discover what signals occur when the child is basically saying "no."

Although very unlikely to occur in this child's situation, I should mention that squealing and grunting may actually harm the vocal cords if they are done with undue force and tension and/or if they occur too frequently. For example, individuals such as cheerleaders, teachers and ministers (and presidents!) often develop hoarse voices and sometimes nodules because they often have to use their voices too much and/or with too much force. Also, other factors such as dry air or a smoky environment can be contributing factors.

MG/TK 7-13-10



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