I am not an expert on the autism spectrum disorders…..however…..I have done a lot of reading and research, have worked with many families as the speech consult on the team, have learned from many ABA special educators…..and most importantly I have learned from the children that I have evaluated and worked with.
SPEECH AND LANGUAGE CONCERNS WITH REGARD TO CHILDREN PRESENTING WITH AN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER:
Children presenting with an autism spectrum disorder, in my experience, have difficulty with regard to functional and spontaneous communication. What does that mean? Functional and spontaneous language is the words your child uses on her own….without prompting……in order to get what she wants. This means…..she comes up to you and says: “Juice Mama”…..because she wants something to drink.
Spontaneous and functional language is NOT scripted ( I will explain more below)…..and it is not words that are just randomly produced. An example would be this: a child on the autism spectrum may be able to say the word juice, however…..did not want juice. She was just randomly saying the word. And when I work with the ABA teachers…..I have learned that the spontaneous words are called Mands and the words that are produced as a label (I will talk more about labels in a second)…..the labels are called Tacts.
A word that is used as a label….is used just to identify an object…..maybe your little one sees a ball….and she says ball…..or she sees a juice…and she says juice…….the difference between functional spontaneous language that is used with meaning (as a Mand) and language that is uses as a label (Tact)…..is this….when a child is using functional and spontaneous language….they “get it”…..they get that language has meaning and that language “works”….it gets them what they want…..whether it is juice or a ball or Dora on television.
So in my experience I have found that children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder have difficulty with regard to spontaneous and functional language. I did an evaluation the other day….and the little girl was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder….and her parents told me that she had about 25 words in her vocabulary….she is 24 months old…..the concern is that she does not use any of these words with meaning to get what she wants. She can say the words if she sees an object. However, all 25 of her words were never used with meaning. Now I can not make a diagnosis….but in my past experience….I have come to learn and understand the signs that cause us to worry…and then my job is to lead the parents in the right direction so that the child gets the services she is supposed to get.
Now the other concern I often see is the limited desire to be social and engage in a reciprocal activity with a peer or caregiver. A child that presents with an Autism Spectrum Disorder…..typically…..does not have that desire to engage in a social activity…which allows them to interact in a reciprocal activity….whether it be rolling a ball back and forth……taking turns blowing bubbles……and engaging in a social activity that demonstrates reciprocity in play (the back and forth activity two people may engage in during play)……and the reciprocity of language (the back and forth language two people have when they have a conversation). So as a licensed speech and language pathologist working in the field since 1993…..when I see a child that has limited functional language and a limited desire to be social……I am concerned….and will be sure to make the right recommendations.
If you think about the word “script” I am sure you think of the words spoken in a play or a movie….the lines you have to learn…..the words you have to memorize….in a play or a movie…what an actor or an actress has to memorize…..”her script”. I have heard children with an autism spectrum disorder repeat entire television shows, memorize the words to a children’s book, repeat commercials on television, remember exactly how to answer certain questions…using the same “scripted speech” over and over again. What is limited in their abilities is this…..the ability to spontaneously and functionally use language. The natural flow of language to answer a question, initiate a conversation, maintain the conversation and use language to indicate a need. Some children may even wake in the middle of the night and repeat scripts from a show they watched on television…and say the same lines over and over again….with really no meaning though…they are not asking to watch the show….just recalling lines.