Language Delays: How Are They Different from Autism?
That is why today I’m going to go over how to identify a language delay, the difference between language delays and autism, and how you can help your child to gain necessary language skills with or without an autism diagnosis.
Language Development Milestones
When my son Lucas was a young toddler, I remember going to the pediatrician’s office and filling out developmental screeners that went over language development milestones. When the doctor asked me how many words Lucas had, I always counted many words that he said, but in reality, he was not using language as typically as I thought.
He would fill in E I E I O sounds for Old McDonald when I sang it. Sometimes he tried to say a whole sentence he had heard before, like when we used to visit the museum and there was a sign, “please do not feed the ducks.” Lucas would say that hours later or even days later.
I didn’t realize I was counting those as the actual words Lucas was saying, even though it was actually delayed echolalia, which means he’s heard something before and now he’s repeating it or scripting it in his head. So, these aren’t real words. Sounds, fill in the blanks to songs, and definitely delayed echolalia aren’t ways we use words functionally.
Language Delays and Autism
Lucas also identified some letters. He would go up to the Friendly’s welcome sign and say egg for the letter E. Because that was on a puzzle he had seen. You can see how confusing it was for me to identify that Lucas really did have a significant language delay. He didn’t really understand language, but I didn’t know any better.
I would tell the pediatrician, yes, he could touch his head and his toes and his belly. I didn’t realize that he could only touch his body parts if I sang a song and touched my body parts in the same order every time.
Looking back, he was imitating me but also finding a routine with his words. He couldn’t just touch his belly. He couldn’t understand what I meant when I said, “touch your belly.” Lucas had a very significant language delay in his receptive ability to understand as well as in his expressive talking. But because I didn’t know the differences way back two decades ago, I didn’t know what a language delay actually was. I stayed in denial that his delays were truly significant and not actually signs of autism.
How to Tell If Your Child Has a Language Delay
The first way to tell if your child or client has a language delay – with or without autism – is to do an assessment. For instance, if you’re doing an assessment to see whether your child can touch his body parts, actually sit on your hands and say, “touch belly, touch nose, touch head.” Don’t do the same movements as part of a singsong game like I did.
You should also be aware of what typically developing milestones look like. Go to the CDC website to find out some of the milestones your child should be reaching both in terms of language as well as other areas. They could be physically delayed; they could be socially delayed, and they could be delayed with self-care tasks such as eating with utensils or still drinking from bottles/using pacifiers way too late. The other thing you could do as part of the assessment is to download a free MCHAT and watch my video blog I did on the MCHAT.
How to Help a Child with Language Delay
Remember, there are two main types of languages: expressive and receptive. Also, look at whether language is used in a functional way. Are our children asking for things, or are they just labeling numbers, letters, or colors? Are they having delayed echolalia? Or are they actually using language to ask for things and talk in some functional way?
It is super important that you act early if you suspect a language delay. Check out my blog on denial if you are in the same situation I was in. In summary, if you notice any language delay in your child, it’s recommended that you start assessing and intervening today. The more time you spend in denial, the harder it will be for your child to catch up.
Get Help Today
For more information about delayed language and autism, take a two-minute quiz at marybarbera.com/quiz. Then, watch a free workshop to get started on the right path today towards turning autism around.