Autism Spectrum Disorder and Communication Development

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It’s World Autism Awareness Day! April 2nd each year is the day we celebrate our little friends who have ASD, and all of the amazing things they have accomplished. It’s also a chance to spread awareness of ASD. In this spirit, I thought I’d put together a list of some of the common communication difficulties children with ASD experience.

While not all children with ASD will experience communication difficulties, the majority will at some point in their lives. For many parents, these difficulties can be one of the earliest signs that a child’s development is not following the expected pattern. The communication skills and development of children with ASD range greatly from non-verbal to completely typical, and the particular difficulties experienced will differ from child to child. Despite how varied communication difficulties can be for these little ones, there are some areas of strengths and weaknesses that are often closely linked with ASD.

Social Skills

Social difficulties are one of the hallmarks of communication difficulties in children with ASD, and are actually one of the diagnostic criteria for an ASD diagnosis. Children with ASD may have a range of different social difficulties, which can include:

  • Giving attention to people
  • Giving eye contact
  • Sharing joint attention
  • Understanding another person’s perspective
  • Understanding and following the rules of conversations
  • Engaging in turn-taking
  • Engaging in cooperative play
  • Staying on topic
  • Understanding non-verbal or context clues

Echolalia

Echolalia is when a child imitates back what they hear. Not all children with ASD will have echolalia, but it is occurs at a much higher rate than with any other diagnosis. Often, children who are echolalic will imitate what another person has said to them. They may also repeat long and complex chunks of dialogue they’ve picked up from movies and TV.

Difficulty with figurative language

Children with ASD tend to be very literal in their comprehension of language, and can find it difficult to decode figurative language with an unspoken message. As a result they may not understand idioms (e.g “it’s a piece of cake”), similes (e.g. “she swims like a fish”), metaphors (e.g. “this is a recipe for disaster) and/or irony.

Generalisation

The generalisation of a skill involves the ability to use that skill within any context or situation. Children with ASD often find it difficult to learn a skill and then use it in a new situation. This has a significant impact on therapy, and is an important consideration.

Splinter Skills

A splinter skill is a very specific area or ability in which a child excels significantly, while other skills are within or below average. Some examples of common splinter skills seen in children with ASD include learning to read very young (hyperliteracy), learning to count at a young age (hypernumeracy), learning colours early, exceptional memory, and exceptional talent in art or music. While not all children with ASD will experience splinter skills, parents of these little ones often describe how their child almost seemed to have taught themselves, or picked up the skill out of nowhere.