Language in Autistic Children

By age 3, neurotypical children have passed predictable milestones on the path in learning language; one of the earliest is babbling. By the first birthday, a typical toddler says words, turns when he hears his name, points when he wants a toy, and when offered something distasteful they answer ―no‖.

Speech development in autistic children takes a different path developmentally than in neurotypical children. Some autistic children remain mute throughout their lives. 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.

Inability to speak does not mean that autistic children are unintelligent or unaware (, accessed at 16 May 2007). Carrol (1985: 390) states that autistic children typically show very little interest in social interaction; to the contrary, they usually avoid eye contact with others. Basically, autistic children are more interested in an object than people, and will play for hours a time their mechanical toys.
The autistic children dislike other people to disturb the common condition of their surroundings. Additionally, the autistic children are in panic when the surroundings or the environments change from their daily routines. Difficulties in areas of communication are the core of autism. Now a new brain imaging study shows that autistic boys who have language problems have structural differences compared with autistic children with normal language skills (Hitti, 2004).

Autism is a developmental disorder affecting social interaction, and verbal and nonverbal communication skills. In addition autistic children usually respond differently to their surrounding. They typically do not follow the usual patterns of childhood development and the condition usually can be detected before age 3, but not all cases are diagnosed that early.

The language characteristics of autistic children can be classified as follows: verbal, nonverbal, delayed verbal, and echolalia. Autistic children, classified as verbal, tend to give elaborate explanations and refuse to change the topic despite cues given by the other communicator. Since children are being diagnosed younger and intervention is being implemented earlier, there has been a considerable reduction in those children who are classified as nonverbal. Those children, classified as delayed verbal, have problems in areas such as phonology, syntax, and semantics. Even when autistic children use language, their language differs both in the number of utterances and reasons for communicating from that used by typically developing children (Wetherby and Prutting, 1984). For example, autistic children used communication most frequently for questing objects, actions, or protesting.

While typically developing children used communication most frequently for labeling. Additionally, autistic children exhibited fewer social responses than typically developing children. Two reasons account for this discrepancy in social responses; one is that autistic children are likely to be involved in fewer social interactions due to the limited number of utterances that they emit.

And, the second reason is that autistic children tend to use language to meet their needs (i.e. requesting and protesting), instead of using language to socialize with others. Lastly, those children exhibiting immediate echolalia are able to repeat all or part of the utterance just heard. This repetition most often occurs when the child does not seem to know an appropriate response to the previous utterance or question (Carr, Schreibman, and Lovaas, 1975).

It has been found that some children who are later diagnosed with autism appear to have normal language development, but later regress in their communication abilities (Robert, 2004).

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