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Communication Delay in Children with Autism

While communication or speech delay is common in children with autism, it is also common in children with other developmental conditions as well as neurotypical children—that is, children who do not have autism or related conditions. Speech delay related to autism, however, has distinct features which distinguish it from other types of speech or communication delays.

Long before a neurotypical infant learns to speak, they begin finding ways to communicate. Even babies with speech delays who are not on the autism spectrum will babble, gesture, make eye contact, and attempts to mimic and interact with others. Neurotypical children are highly socially motivated, and naturally responsive to social cues, even at an early age.

Infants and young children with autism, however, are unlikely to be motivated by social responses, and may be delayed in nonverbal communication as well as verbal communication. Common signs of autism related to communication delay include:

  • Not responding to their name being called
  • Delays in, absence of, or inability to understand nonverbal gestures like pointing, smiling or pulling
  • Delayed speech or absence of speech
  • Repetition of single words or phrases without intent to communicate
  • Inability to maintain focus on parents or caregivers for more than a few seconds

Hearing loss, apraxia of speech, challenges related to motor skills or cognition, and other conditions can account for some of these delays individually, but if a child demonstrates several of them, evaluation for autism spectrum disorder is advised.

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