Chatting with Haley and Poppy is a platform to promote research on the preserved cognition of nonverbal children. Unable to be interrogated, there is a presumption that these children have nothing to say. In fact, there is research indicating people with profound disabilities have receptive vocabulary yet are unable to say those words. (Corderre et al).
These children are not atypical. There is evidence children with autism spectrum disorders are locked-in (Pines et al). They are only one of many categories of people deprived of speech due to developmental factors, accident, illness, mental health or aging.
Yet, all pose a significant problem for medical professionals and caregivers who seek information necessary for effective treatments, therapeutic interventions or social discourse. Hence, research exploring nonverbal communication is crucial to medicine and all patients deprived of speech.
In the normal course of communication, we rely not only on words but gestures, body movement, posture, tone of the utterance, physiological condition, social environment, environmental conditions, and social status to determine intent and meaning. In dealing with those with language impairments whether temporary or permanent, it is necessary to consider the full range of functional communication (Bellieni 2022).
There is evidence that “assessment of functional communication is increasingly used in large-scale randomized controlled trials as the primary outcome measure” However, “there is little knowledge about how commonly used measures of functional communication relate to each other”, (Schumacher et al). And there is even less knowledge of potential application to nonverbal children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
As is customary in science, research is specialized. Labs may specialize: this one choosing facial expression, another vocalization, another body movement and so on. Integration is necessary to provide the answers caregivers and clinicians seek. These various modalities of functional nonverbal communication are performed as a suite and their use is idiosyncratic. They are driven, not only by genetic inheritance, but culture, environment and social conditions. The permutations and interpretations are in.
Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that at some time in our life we were or will be deprived of language.