Language Delays in Autism: 3 Language Struggles and How Therapy Can Help

Language Delays in Autism: 3 Language Struggles and How Therapy Can Help

Why is language complex for autism?

Language delays in autism are a common but complex issue. Many children on the spectrum manifest difficulties in understanding verbal and written information, as well as expressing their thoughts. Challenges in acquiring communication skills can have adverse effects on various aspects of learning and development, such as academic progress and socialization with peers, which can be a significant source of worry for parents and caregivers.

Why is language complex for autism? Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) frequently encounter challenges when it comes to developing language skills and comprehending spoken and nonverbal communication. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reveals that these difficulties can encompass both verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as interpreting various vocal tones and understanding body language. The ability to communicate effectively largely depends on each child’s individual intellectual and social development.

Children with ASD face challenges in their relationships with peers, as verbal cues are critical for engaging in play and following directions. In this context, understanding and addressing language delays in autism becomes even more critical. With this blog by ABA Centers of America, we want to provide this guide about language delays in autism and how therapy can offer help.

How Does Language Delays in Autism Look Like?

According to Indiana University Bloomington, children with autism reflect some patterns in their behavior that are related to the use of language.

In children with ASD, rigid or repetitive speech manifests when they say things that are meaningless or unrelated to the conversation. Examples include counting from 1 to 5 randomly in a conversation or echolalia, which can be delayed (continuous repetition of past words) or immediate (repetition of words heard at the moment, including answering questions by repeating them). Some use a high-pitched voice, a sing-songy tone, or robot speech. Others initiate conversations with standard phrases, such as “My name is Leo,” even with friends or relatives, and repeat phrases they heard on the TV.

Children with autism may exhibit exceptional abilities and interests in certain areas, which they can discuss in great detail with immense enthusiasm. However, they may find it challenging to engage in reciprocal conversations about the same topic. Individuals with autism can also be highly talented in music and math and display exceptional abilities in areas like memorization and calculation.

In many children with ASD, experts have observed uneven language development, where they acquire some speech and language skills but at lower than average levels, with irregular progress. For example, they may rapidly develop a strong vocabulary in a specific area of interest and read words before the age of five, but they need help understanding the content. Sometimes, they do not respond to the speech of others or their name.

Finally, limitations in nonverbal communication skills are common in children with ASD. They often struggle to use gestures, like pointing, to convey meaning in their speech. In addition, they tend to avoid eye contact. The absence of practical nonverbal skills exacerbates the challenge of expressing feelings, thoughts, and needs, leading to frustration, which can manifest in vocal outbursts or problematic behaviors.

Types of Language Delays in Autism

  1. Receptive Language Disorder – Delayed receptive language impacts the understanding of words and concepts. In the initial assessment, the therapist gauges comprehension and devises an intervention plan.

    Children with autism often experience receptive language disorder, affecting their understanding of spoken language. Receptive language disorder may manifest as difficulty following directions, answering questions, or identifying objects, and can also impact reading comprehension.

    Speech-language therapy aims to enhance the child’s receptive language. Through targeted strategies, the speech-language pathologist (S-LP) addresses areas of need, working on comprehension expansion, instruction following, and more. Progress in therapy leads to increased independence and participation in daily activities.

  2. Expressive Language Disorder– Many children with autism find it hard to communicate their thoughts and feelings through language. In fact, their ability to comprehend and interpret language is often better than their ability to articulate themselves. To help these children, a speech-language pathologist works on improving their ability to produce sounds and words, often incorporating visual aids to aid in the learning process. During the initial assessment, the therapist evaluates the child’s spoken language and non-verbal communication to identify areas of weakness and create an intervention plan to address those areas.

    Children with expressive language disorders in autism may struggle to communicate wants and needs, such as expressing hunger or indicating the need to use the toilet. Challenges include gestures, facial expressions, word choice, and asking questions.
    At therapy, the S-LP targets expressive language using strategies to teach the child effective communication of wants and needs, progressing to expressing more complex thoughts and ideas. In addition, the therapist can use augmentative and alternative communication systems (ACC) or sign language to enhance the expression of thoughts and feelings during therapy.

  3. Mixed Receptive and Expressive Language Disorder: Language delays in autism may result in mixed receptive and expressive language disorder, affecting both understanding and expression. Early intervention by a speech-language pathologist addressing both areas enhances communication progress. Parents play a crucial role in leveraging the brain’s neuroplasticity in the first two years of life. Patience is vital in development, employing prompts, step-by-step instructions, and allowing time for responses. Visual supports aid in overcoming challenges and fostering long-term communication.

Unlocking Potential through Speech, Language, and ABA Therapy

Speech therapy is a powerful tool that primarily focuses on enhancing the clarity and pronunciation of speech sounds. It aims to improve fluency while addressing various factors such as pitch, volume, and voice quality.

In addition to these aspects, speech therapy also focuses on strengthening oral and written language comprehension. Speech therapy seeks to develop the ability to express thoughts and ideas articulately through words.

ABA therapy is an essential approach to autism treatment supported by years of research in the field. This method revolves around teaching a variety of skills, including communication, social interaction, play, reading, and writing. The goal of ABA therapy is to improve the quality of life and foster independence among individuals with autism.

When it comes to overcoming language delays in autism, adopting a comprehensive approach is crucial. The combined power of speech, language therapy, and ABA therapy can bring about transformative changes in individuals with autism. These therapeutic interventions work in synergy to unlock the full potential of children with ASD who are grappling with language challenges, foster progress, and enhance communication skills.

ABA Centers of America and ABA Therapy

At ABA Centers of America, we understand that receiving a diagnosis of autism can involve additional challenges, such as language delays, and we encourage parents to seek and provide comprehensive support for their children.

We offer services in New Hampshire and Massachusetts for the autism community looking to supplement the care of their loved ones with autism through ABA therapy or early intervention. Our ABA professionals are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and specialize in working with individuals on the autism spectrum, enhancing communication and social skills, and, more essential, life skills. Call us at (844) 923-4222 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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