Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can manifest a variety of symptoms, and no two cases are exactly the same, however there are a set of common symptoms that usually includes social, communication, and behavioral problems. Symptoms can manifest as early as one year old, but are usualy detectable by age 3.
It is important to remember that children with autism each fall somewhere on a broad spectrum, from mild to severe, and each child is unique in their specific needs, abilities, and responses.
- Poor nonverbal conversation skills. Children with autism often have difficulty using nonverbal gestures to communicate when conversing. They will also generally avoid eye contact and be unresponsive to hearing their name, which can lead to the assumption that they are disinterested or even rude, when in reality, they may simply be acting out in frustration as a result of not knowing how to communicate their needs properly.
- Repetitive or rigid language. When children with autism say something that seems out of context and unrelated to what's going on, it is usually the result of a process called echolalia, in which the autistic child repeats something that he or she has heard many times, or something he or she has observed in other people's behavior. Some children with ASD speak in a high-pitched or singsong voice or use robot-like speech.
- Exceptional talents and focused interests. While a child might be able to deliver a flawless 10 minute monologue on a topic that interests him, the same child would be unable to have a normal conversation about any other topic. Some autistic children excel in certain areas such as math, science, or art, sometimes showing incredible talent. Only about 10% of children with autism show 'savant' like skills, but most will have a special topic that interests them and keeps them engaged.
Arguably one of the most impactful treatments for children with autism is seeing a speech or language therapist. Teaching your child how to communicate will make an enormous difference in their care. The therapist will evaluate your child's specific needs, and tailor a treatment program to their interests.
As a parent, your goals for your child should be optimistic, but not unattainable. Every child with autism has different developmental abilities, and for some, developing proficient speaking and conversational skills may not be possible at all. For others, treatment will progress faster, and they may even reach a level in which they are comfortable and competent speaking normally to other people.
For younger children, treatment begins by developing pre-language skills, like eye contact, gesturing, and early vocalizations. This forms a strong foundation on which to begin further treatment.
For older children with more pronounced speech problems, sign language can be an effective tool for expressing oneself, and can serve as an obtainable goal for children who are unlikely to learn to communicate through speech.
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