1st Edition

How to Help Non-Speaking Children in the Early Years Supporting Communication through Joy and Connection

By Bryony Rust Copyright 2025
    120 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations
    by Speechmark

    120 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations
    by Speechmark

    In every setting there are children who struggle to communicate. When they’re not talking, or only using a handful of words, it can be hard to know how to help. In this book, you’ll be encouraged to spot early moments of communication and respond with clarity. You’ll find an invitation to stop doing and start noticing, to try new things and collaborate with the team around you.

    The book presents key concepts in bite-size chunks, with a wealth of real-life examples from speech therapy sessions and early years settings. It explores practical strategies to help children develop their foundational speech, language and communication skills, and includes fresh ideas to:

    ·       Build honest and supportive conversations with parents about communication needs

    ·       Value empathy and imagination as we tune in to each child’s world

    ·       Take a pro-neurodiversity lens to inform your practice

    ·       Measure progress and support professional development.

    Communication is core to our sense of wellbeing, personal agency and belonging. With a focus on fostering joyful moments of connection, this book offers a fresh perspective and a dose of encouragement for all early years practitioners, speech and language therapists, SENCOs and key people looking to support positive communication development in the children in their care.

    CHAPTER 1.  What this guide is and how it can help you.

           What we’re aiming for (Help them learn it’s worth the effort)

           Stop doing, start noticing (this is the hardest part)

           What to expect from this book


    CHAPTER 2.  Expand your definition of communication.

           Speech, language and communication

           Talking isn’t everything

           Always respond

           Understand why we bother

           Look out for opportunities

           Understand what’s going on behind the scenes


    CHAPTER 3.  Build relationships.

           Include everyone from the beginning

           Aim for a flat hierarchy

           Practise active listening

           Avoid fix-it mode

           Stay out of judgement

           Regulate to communicate

           Realise our shared humanity

           ‘Celebrate with me’


    CHAPTER 4.  Start from strength.

           Tell a story of hope

           Describe what the child can do

           Shift your language from disorder to difference

           Consider needs, not problems

           Trust in capacity


    CHAPTER 5.  Let the child lead.

           Tune in to the child’s point of interest

           Give it space

           Look for the invitations

           Directing vs. Responding

           Give attention to get attention

           Solutions for when it’s hard:

                  Allow it to look like ‘nothing’

                  Regulate to communicate

                  Allow the play to look unexpected

                  Avoid the toy trap


    CHAPTER 6.  Choose your focus.

                  Decide what’s important

                  A note on mindfulness

                  Understand where the child’s at

                  Write goals for the adults, not the child

                  Write SCRUFFY goals


    CHAPTER 7. A strategies list

           Allow yourself to do less

           Embrace the awkward silence

           Reflect the child

           Pay attention to the details

           Play with words

           Use big gestures

           Make your phrases sing

           Use sound effects

           Give, don’t quiz

           Make it easy


    CHAPTER 8.  Keep going.

           Imagine something different

           We’re in the business of relationships

           The simple version

           Share with others

           Choose one thing

           Stick with it

           Embrace everything

           It’s all in the noticing


    Useful links




    Bryony Rust, aka SaLT by the Sea, is a speech and language therapist sharing her own experiences of what works with young children, learned through years of providing therapy, training practitioners and collaborating with caregivers. Bryony is also a keynote speaker and clinical supervisor, helping others navigate the surprise delights and challenges of helping young children learn to talk. Working in close partnership with families, her focus is on valuing each child’s unique contribution, fostering personal agency and a sense of belonging. To find out more, visit saltbythesea.com

    "Bryony’s book is an absolute must-read for any parent, teacher, professional, educator or caregiver looking to better connect and communicate with children, especially non-verbal or neurodivergent kids. This wonderfully practical and accessible guide is filled with creative strategies to try, garnered from Bryony’s own practice and research. Her friendly, understanding and non-judgemental tone throughout the book helps to put you at your ease as you embark on the journey of tuning into your child's world, whether you have a verbal child, a late talker, or a child with additional needs. Bryony invites us to reflect on what makes our best interactions and relationships so special and reminds us that these sacred spaces of connection should be the core aim for speech therapy, not chasing arbitrary targets. You'll be liberated to slow down, let the child take the lead, and embrace any and all forms of communication that arise naturally through play. This book will help you to reflect on your interactions and expand your understanding of what it means to communicate meaningfully with children. I highly recommend this brilliant book - it's an investment in deepening your bond with your child in beautifully life-changing ways." - Kathy Brodie, Early Years consultant and founder of Early Years TV

    "How to Help Non-Speaking Children in the Early Years is a witty, compassionate and honest guide to nurturing communication. This book is for all non-speaking children and any person who supports them. Bryony’s strength based view of ability shines through whilst offering quality exercises and reflections to try out in practice." - Lyra Wright, Early Childhood Teacher

    "This is a glorious, gentle book that will be supportive, accepting and inspiring to parents/carers and professionals working with children and young people with communication challenges.  A book that truly encourages us to place the child at the centre of care but also that acknowledges the challenging, but oh so valuable, roll of parents and carers." - Suzanne Churcher, Speech and Language Therapist and Lecturer, University of Sheffield