Communication and speech is one area where almost all children diagnosed with autism will face challenges yet with early intervention and specialist services great improvements may be achieved.
There are four main speech or communication challenges identified in children diagnosed with autism;
Low non-verbal communication skills
Non-verbal communication forms a huge part of how we convey or interpret a message. Autistic children can struggle with eye contact, reading non-verbal cues and the use and interpretation of gestures. This can lead to great frustration in the child and manifest in negative behaviours. It can also lead to difficulties in how the child is perceived by others, as they may appear aloof or disinterested despite this not being the case.
Children with autism may often repeat phrases for extended periods or have ‘echolalia’ a condition where they repeat a question they have just been asked or heard. These phrases are often out of context or repeated without any meaning or obvious logic. Repetitive language can make it difficult for autistic children to maintain normal conversation (even if they have the skills) as their constant repetition makes them unable to be understood or to have them speak to the topic at hand.
Finely concentrated interests yet incredible abilities
Children with autism can display exceptional communication and speech skills in a topic they are passionate about but can also struggle with the intensity of their singular focus. They can also be unable to hold a conversation on their topic of expertise but can deliver an extensive monologue in the area. It is believed approximately 10% of autistic children show this behavior.
Disjointed language development
Autistic children can face the challenge of uneven language development that sees their skills develop at a slower or out-of-kilter rate than normal. They may have low level language skills generally yet have an expansive vocabulary in a single area of interest or they may be able to read many words at an early age yet not know the meaning of the words they can read.
Communication challenges leading to social difficulties
One of the greatest hurdles that results from the identified communication challenges is that autistic children can suffer impaired socialization. A child that cannot effectively communicate can struggle to make friendships, have emotionally un-demonstrative relationships with their parents and caregivers and face social and behavioural challenges in the classroom.
For many young children with autism improving their communication skills is a realistic goal. Children with autism have been shown to respond positively to early intervention and specialized treatment programs. Once a formal diagnosis of autism is in place it is valuable to also explore the Autism Medicare Services which includes funding of up to $12,000 over two years for early intervention services including speech and behavioural therapy. The information from the Department of Health on ‘Helping Children with Autism’ can be found here.
Communication difficulties are unfortunately a reality of an autism diagnosis however the sooner therapy is undertaken the greater the opportunity for meeting the challenges.
For more information on speech delay and communication for children on the autism spectrum you can contact Box Hill Speech Pathology Clinic