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 How To Differentiate A Speech Delay and Autism

 How To Differentiate A Speech Delay And Autism

You’ve noticed that your child isn’t speaking as much as their peers. It may be possible that your 2-year old has not spoken their first words yet. This begs the question: is it autism or is it a speech delay?

A speech delay may be a sign of autism. However, it is not always the case. So, how do you differentiate between the two?

At Right Start Inc., we understand that speech delays and autism spectrum disorder can both impact language development. However, there are some notable differences between the two problems.

Speech delay is a problem where a child has difficulty developing speech and language skills. In contrast, autism spectrum disorder is a neurological disorder that affects social skills, learning, communication, and behavior.

What is a Speech Delay or Delayed Speech?

 Normal speech develops from cooing and babbling to using words in complete sentences. Looking at a typical child’s speech milestones will help determine if a child has a speech delay.

According to Healthline, a typically developing two-year-old can say about 50 words. This increases to about 1,000 words by the time he turns three. A child may have trouble pronouncing words or forming the correct sounds.

This is different from a language delay, where he would have trouble understanding words and using them correctly in a sentence. 

 A speech delay can be caused by hearing loss, neurological disorders, lack of stimulation, and even a physical problem with the mouth like a tongue-tie. A speech-language pathologist can help diagnose and treat a speech delay.

They will look at what your child understands, what they can say, how clear the speech is, and their oral-motor status.

What is the difference between Speech Delay and Autism?

A language delay is different from a speech delay. A language delay may mean a child has some words, usually labels, but they don’t communicate their wants and needs to adults or use words functionally.

Children with autism spectrum disorder or autistic children often have language problems or developmental delays, and they may also have speech delay. Social communication problems can also result from speech delay and autism in children. 

 One way to assess whether a child is a late talker or has more than a speech delay is to look at their imitation skills, ability to point at objects, and whether they respond to their name.

A good tool to use is the M-CHAT. The Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers is a list of 20 questions that can help you determine if your child is showing signs of autism.

A speech delay can develop because of a lack of social interaction, though you may not notice the signs of a speech delay or autism if your child spends most of their time at home as well.

There are many strategies that you can use at home to help develop speech, including singing songs, reading books, and talking with your toddler.

Communication-related signs of autism

In addition to the items listed above, here are a few other symptoms of communication challenges that autistic children may experience. Keep in mind that autism is a complex developmental condition that affects every child differently.

There’s a common saying: If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.

  • May talk very little for their age or not at all

  • Difficulty beginning or maintaining a conversation

  • Inability or slow to respond to their name or other attempts to gain their attention

  • Trouble expressing their needs and wants–may use behaviors like temper tantrums to communicate

  • May respond to a question by repeating it rather than answering

  • Inability to combine words into meaningful phrases or sentences

  • Repeating words or phrases they just heard or that they heard days or weeks earlier (called echolalia), sometimes from their favorite show and not used in any context

  • Using a robotic speaking voice that lacks inflection or intonation

  • Challenges with reading and writing. Some autistic children may be able to read, but have difficulty comprehending the words on the pages (called hyperlexia)

Some other signs of autism that are not typically found with a speech or language delay include:

  • Compulsively labeling objects rather than commenting or requesting

  • Appearing to look through people and lacking an awareness of others

  • Has unusual reactions to sensory stimuli such as heightened sound sensitivity or refusal to eat certain textures

  • Develops unusual or repetitive hand and finger mannerisms such as hand flapping

  • Difficulty with turn taking and showing no interest in playing with family or peers

What To Remember as Parents?

No two children with autism have identical signs and symptoms. Every child is unique. Children with autism tend to experience speech and language development that is slower than neurotypical children.

Special educators and speech-language pathologists at Right Start Inc can help children with ASD to explore their true potential. It is important to note that ASD is not a psychological disorder. There is no cure for autism.

However, with the right help and guidance early in life, many children with mild to moderate ASD can manage their symptoms and become independent and functioning members of society.