Autism is a developmental disability that usually shows up before age 3. Autism is part of a group of neurological disorders that may involve impaired communication as well as impaired social interaction and cognitive skills. Known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD, autism may be linked with a wide range of traits. These include:
Extreme resistance to changes in daily routines
Unusual responses to things such as touch
Inability to interact with environment
People with ASD may have major problems with both speech and nonverbal communication. They may also find it very hard to interact socially. For these reasons, speech therapy is a central part of treatment for autism. Speech therapy can address a wide range of communication problems for people with autism.
Because there aren't specific laboratory and imaging tests for autism, it's best to get a diagnosis from a physician or psychologist who specializes in developmental disabilities and has experience diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).
The diagnosis of autism is made by taking into account the child's complete medical and behavioral history, lengthy observation of the child's behavior, and ruling out other problems that may cause some of the same symptoms. It is important to distinguish autism...
Utter grunts, cries, shrieks, or throaty, harsh sounds
Hum or talk in a musical way
Babble with word-like sounds
Use foreign-sounding "words" or robotic-like speech
Parrot or often repeat what another person says (called echolalia)
Use the right phrases and sentences, but with an unexpressive tone of voice
About one out of three people with autism has trouble producing speech sounds to effectively communicate with others. The person's language, if present, is simply too hard to understand.
Communication problems. A person with autism may have one or more of these communication challenges:
Trouble with conversational skills, which include eye contact and gestures
Trouble understanding the meaning of words outside the context where they were learned
Memorization of things heard without knowing what's been said
Reliance on echolalia -- the repeating of another's words as they are being said -- as the main way to communicate
Little understanding of the meaning of words or symbols
Lack of creative language
Because of these challenges, a child with autism must do more than learn how to speak. The child also has to learn how to use language to communicate. This includes knowing how to hold a conversation. It also includes tuning into both verbal and nonverbal cues from other people -- such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.