What is Autism?
Autism is a neurological difference that affects how a person interacts with the world around them. It is characterized by differences in social interaction, communication, and behavior. Doctors and other professionals identify Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as having a presence of five specific disabilities: impairment in social interaction, challenges with communication, and delays in language, sensory differences, behavioral differences, and cognitive skills. The differences in these areas are usually noticeable prior to age 3. Autism is defined by a spectrum because every person with autism is different, with a different range of needs, strengths, and skills. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 44 children is identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (March 2022).
Language Differences include delayed language development, the ability to label items but not use that vocabulary in a functional manner, use of sounds, words or phrases repetitively, loss of language, and presence of echolalia (repeating others).
Social skills difficulties may include inconsistent eye contact, difficulty interacting with peers, restricted interests, decreased conversation skills, prefers to play alone, and difficulty understanding and appropriately expressing emotions.
Repetitive behaviors may include struggles with change in routine, absent purposeful play, preferred toy items or objects of interest, and extreme focus on details.
Sensory differences may include sensitivity to texture/smell/taste/look of food items, sensitivity to loud noises, participation in visual stimming such as hand flapping and jumping, and strong preference for clothing/fabric.
Is it Autism or something else?
All children develop at different rates, especially in terms of communication. While most children start using basic verbal communication within their first 1-2 years of life, some children are referred to as late talkers. There are also other developmental issues that can cause speech delays in children. The main difference between a speech/language delay and autism-related speech delays is that children who are true “late talkers” still attempt to engage and communicate/interact with others. For example, they might make sounds, gesture, lead, point, and use other types of body language to get what they want. If your child isn’t yet verbally communicating, but is actively engaging with people and communicating in these other ways, it is unlikely that their speech delay is due to autism.
Approximately two-thirds of children with ADHD have at least one co-existing condition, and autism is among those that commonly occur with ADHD. Some studies suggest that about 50% of children with autism also have ADHD. The most notable characteristics of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Autism typically includes problems with social interactions, communication, and repetitive or ritualistic behavior. While the main components of ADHD and ASD are different, some similarities exist with both. The key to differentiating between them is to determine the reason behind the behavior. For example, both ADHD and ASD can cause social challenges. For children with ADHD, the root causes may include impulsivity or the inability to attend and organize thoughts. For individuals with autism, the reasons are often different, such as not understanding nonverbal cues or delays in language skills. ADHD and autism are both diagnosed in a comprehensive manner. A combination of standardized assessments, interacting with the child or observing interactions between the child and parent or caregiver, and asking parents and caregivers questions are used to assess both ADHD and ASD.
If you have concerns regarding your child’s speech and language development, feel free to reach out!