Autism Speech Development Symptoms
Usually when a child has reached the age of 3, a typical child will have passed predictable language
learning milestones; one of the earliest is babbling. By the first birthday, a typical toddler says words, turns
when he or she hears his or her name, points when he or she wants a toy, and when offered something distasteful,
makes it clear that the answer is "no." It should be noted, however, that late language development does occur in a
minority of neurotypical children.
Autism speech development in autistic people usually takes different paths to the majority of neurotypical
children. Some remain mute throughout their lives with varying degrees of literacy; communication in other
ways—images, visual clues, sign language, and typing may be far more natural to them. Contrary to the prevailing
traditional stereotype of mute people with Kanner-type autism, around one third of people diagnosed with this type
of autism will develop what is often viewed as dysfunctional verbal language, relying on rote learned stored
phrases, songs, jingles and advertisements. Those with the autism spectrum condition of Semantic Pragmatic Disorder
fall into this group.
Those who do speak sometimes use language in unusual ways, retaining features of earlier stages of language
development for long periods or throughout their lives. Some speak only single words, while others repeat a
mimicked phrase over and over. Some repeat what they hear, a condition called echolalia. Sing-song repetitions in
particular are a calming, joyous activity that many autistic adults engage in. Many people with autism have a
strong tonal sense, and can often understand at least some spoken language whilst others can understand language
Some children may exhibit only slight delays in language, or even seem to have precocious language and unusually
large vocabularies, but have great difficulty in sustaining typical conversations. The "give and take" of
non-autistic conversation is hard for them, although they often carry on a monologue on a favorite subject, giving
no one else an opportunity to comment. When given the chance to converse with other autistics, they comfortably do
so in "parallel monologue"—taking turns expressing views and 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. In particular, autistic language abilities tend
to be highly literal; people without autism often inappropriately attribute hidden meaning to what people with
autism say or expect the person with autism to sense such unstated meaning in their own words.
Some people with high functioning Autism can be extremely brilliant and have great vocabulary, but their social
skills can be very low, 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. Still, inability to speak does not mean that people with autism are unintelligent or unaware.
Once given appropriate accommodations, some will happily converse for hours, and can often be found in online chat
rooms, discussion boards or websites and even using communication devices at autism-community social events such as
Sometimes, the body language of people with autism can be difficult for other people to understand. Facial
expressions, movements, and gestures may be easily understood by some other people with autism, but do not match
those used by other people. Also, their tone of voice has a much more subtle inflection in reflecting their
feelings, and the auditory system of a person without autism often cannot sense the 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. Some autistic children with
relatively good language skills speak like little adults, rather than communicating at their current age level,
which is one of the things that can lead to problems.
Since non-autistic people are often unfamiliar with the autistic body language, and since autistic natural
language may not tend towards speech, autistic people often struggle to let other people know what they need. As
anybody might do in such a situation, they may scream in frustration or resort to grabbing what they want. While
waiting for non-autistic people to learn to communicate with them, people with autism do whatever they can to get
through to them.
Austism speech difficulties may contribute to autistic people becoming socially anxious or depressed or prone to
self-injurious behaviours. Recently, with the awareness that those with autism can have more than one condition a
significant percentage of people with autism are being diagnosed with co-morbid mood, anxiety and compulsive
disorders which may also contribute to behavioural and functioning challenges.
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