- At Home
Why do children with autism have difficulties with speech and communication?
I’m not going to go into all of the problems with autistics and verbal issues - especially on a professional level because I am not a professional - but children with autism generally have difficulty processing words and language.
A young with autism child will take longer to learn how to speak and process language. One problem is that a typical child will learn that many of our words may have multiple meanings. A child with autism will struggle to learn just one meaning. Then, add multiple meanings of a word and that makes their job that much harder.
Then, there’s how a word is said, the emotion behind the word. Pick a word and say it with a feeling of sadness, then with an excited-sounded emotion, then say in such a way that you feel shocked by something.
Our kids often learn a word one way and then stick to that learned way. They have trouble changing the way they learned the word. And, add in that their words are typically without emotion. They speak rote.
As a result, they often come off as being rude or uninterested because of how they sound or respond to someone. This very well may be the way your child has learned how to communicate.
What are some of the verbal issues related to autism?
One problem your child may have that is related to speech and communication is echolalia. Echolalia is the constant repeating of words or sounds that a person has heard. Those words or sounds do not have to be recent. They can be something your child remembers again and again.
Verbal autistic children often use words via echolalia because they have learned words as a speech pattern and not as spontaneous or reactionary language. Their word choices are based on patterns of speech that they have memorized.
In a stressful situation, they will pull from what they know and/or repeat what they have memorized. Sometimes, whatever that may be is appropriate but sometimes not.
Your child may also have issues with verbal repeats.
In my unprofessional opinion, I believe verbal repeats are just an extension of echolalia. The child has learned something and repeats it over and over again because in whatever stressful moment they are in, they want to say something familiar. It calms them down.
Why would a child use verbal repeats?
Verbal repeats are one way a child can try to calm their bodies and lessen their anxiety. They may also have an obsession on a certain topic that they just can’t let go. They’ll repeat something that makes them happy.
My child loves to memorize certain facts and then he likes to tell you those facts. He’s proud of his knowledge and he knows he can talk to us about things that interest him. He knows we’ll listen. We have great conversations with our child and often we learn a lot from him.
But, our child will repeat familiar information often not realizing that we don’t need to hear the same information multiple times.
Because I understand what is happening with my child, I understand what my child is doing. Our child adores information about his obsessions, and he feels confident that he’s learned something correctly.
And, trust me, I’d say ninety-five percent of the time he has learned something correctly. I have learned cool stuff about the solar system, dinosaurs, and airplanes that I never thought I’d ever know. And, most of the time, I enjoy it.
Until I’ve heard it more than…three or four times!
How can we lessen verbal repeats?
Usually, I will let the second time or even the third time our child says something slide. Even my husband and I can’t always remember if we’d told each other something.
But, if I’ve heard something the third or the fourth time, I realize that my child may be verbally repeating himself and I need to get in there and make him aware of it.
Here’s what I typically do with my child when I realize he’s repeating himself. I may use any of the following:
“You’ve already said that, buddy.”
“Only say that one time, please.”
“I’ve heard this before, haven’t I?”
“You already know that, you don’t need to repeat it.”
Are there times when verbal repeats are inappropriate?
Yes. Recently in school, our child wanted so badly to get “stickers” instead of “X’s” (a good day verses a bad day) that he kept repeating - in class - “I really want to get stickers today.”
Unfortunately, the aide did not know how to stop him from his verbal repeats. I instructed her to “snap him out of it” by using one of the phrases from above.
I can’t say that you should expect verbal-related issues with your autistic child, but in my experience they are common. We have dealt with them for years, and we’re just used to it.
But, if they begin to happen, please don’t brush them under the rug or try to ignore them. They are an important part of your autistic child’s development. Use them, if you can and/or learn how to stop them appropriately. Consult a speech therapist or a qualified professional and continue to help your child the best way you can.
To Find Kimberly Kaplan: