Speech Development Symptoms and the Autistic Child

Usually by the time a child has reached the age of 3, the normal child will have passed thru very predictable language learning steps; one of the earliest of these is babbling. By the child's first birthday, the normal will be saying words, will turn when they hear their name, will point when they want something, and if offered something they do not like, will make it their opinion very clear.  It should also be mentioned however, that late language development does occur in a small percentage of neurotypical children.

Autism speech development in autistic people usually takes different paths from the majority of neurotypical children. Some will remain mute throughout their lives with various degrees of literacy.  It may be more natural for them to learn to communicate in other ways such as; sign language, visual clues, images, or using a keyboard.

Kanner-Type Autism

Approximately one third of people diagnosed with Kanner-type autism will develop what is often viewed as dysfunctional verbal language, relying on previously memorized phrases, songs, jingles and advertisements, often with no clear understanding of their meaning. Those with the autism spectrum condition of Semantic Pragmatic Disorder fall into this group.

Those autistics who do learn speech skills will often times use language in unusual ways, by using the features found in the earlier stages of language development for longer periods, or even throughout their lives. Some autistics will only speak using single words, while others might repeat a memorized phrase over and over. Some autism patients will just repeat what they hear, a condition which is called echolalia. Singing songs repetitively has a calming effect for many autistic adults. Many people with autism will have a strong tonal sense, and will often understand at the very least some degree of spoken language, while others will have an extensive vocabulary and will be able to understand language fluently.

Many autistic children will show only minor delays in language development.  While other autistic children will seem to have developed a precocious appetite for language, and develop unusually large vocabularies, but still have many problems carrying on typical conversations. The normal "give and take" of the non-autistic conversation is difficult for them, although they will often carry on a monologue one of their favorite subjects, offering no one else the chance to comment.

Parallel Monologue

When the autistic person is given the chance to converse with other autistics, they comfortably do so in "parallel monologue" often taking turns expressing views, and exchanging information. Just as "neurotypicals" (people without autism) have trouble understanding autistic body languages, vocal tones, or phraseology, people with autism similarly have trouble with such things in people without autism. Autistic language abilities often tend to be highly literal, and people without autism will many times inappropriately try to attribute hidden meaning to what people with autism say, or will expect the person with autism to sense such unstated meaning in their own speech.

Many people with High Functioning Autism can prove to be extremely intelligent, and also have an extensive vocabulary, but their social skills can still be very low, or even nonexistent at times. Some infants who later show signs of autism coo and babble during the first few months of life, but stop soon afterwards. Others may be delayed, developing language as late as the teenage years. The inability to speak does not mean that people with autism are unintelligent or unaware. Once given the necessary accommodations, some will enjoy conversing for hours, and will often be found in online chat rooms, forums, or searching the web, and even using communication devices at autism-community social events such as Autreat.

The Body Language of People with Autism

Many times the body language of people with autism can be hard for the non-autistic person to understand. Facial expressions, gestures, and movements, may be easily understood by other autistics, but they do not coincide with those used by other people. Also, the autistics tone of voice has a much more subtle inflection to it when expressing their feelings, and the auditory system of a person without autism many times is unable to sense these fluctuations. What seems to non-autistic people like odd prosody ; things like a high-pitched, sing-song, or flat, robot-like voice may be common in autistic children and some will have combinations of these prosody issues. Many autistic children with generally good language skills will speak like little adults, rather than speaking at what is considered normal for their current age level.  This is something that has the potential of leading to many other problems.

Since most non-autistic people are often unfamiliar with the distinctive body language of the autistic person, and since speech may not be the natural language for the autistic, the autistic person will often have great difficulty letting other people know what they need. As anybody else might do in such a frustrating situation, they may scream out in frustration or panic, maybe resorting to grabbing whatever it is they want. While they are waiting for non-autistic people to learn their language, in order to communicate with them, people with autism are forced to do whatever they can to their needs known to them.

The speech difficulties caused by autism may in the long run contribute to autistic people becoming even more socially anxious, or depressed, or even prone to self-inflicted behaviour. Recently, with the growing awareness that those suffering with autism can actually have more than one medical condition. a large percentage of people with autism are being re-evaluated with co-morbid mood, anxiety and compulsive disorders which may also contribute to behavioural and functioning challenges for the autistic individual.

For more information about autism and the autistic community be sure to check out the resources available at answers-about-autism.

Click here to add this page to your favorites