Speech and Language Acquisition for the Autistic Learner

Speech and language are acquired through social interaction and mimicking social patters with nonverbal language in typically developing children. The learner with autism faces deficits in language acquisition largely due to social impairment, including joint attention. Children with autism prefer internal stimuli, as the prefix “aut” indicates, meaning “self”. They are not pressed to interact with others, only to communicate their basic needs and wants. This is often accomplished without a firm grasp of appropriately developed language. In order to acquire language, the learner with autism must be taught language in ways which specifically target social impairments with language deficits.

Early intervention is key to successful learning. Language development occurs in the brain at a much faster rate during the first five years in typically developing children. By age five, the child will have thousands of words in their vocabulary. By contrast, the child with autism may begin forming verbal language around age five, often only with intense instruction.

Verbal acquisition is often the very first step to language development for all learners. It is the beginning of a new set of complications for the learner with autism. Many children on the spectrum develop the ability to speak without developing the ability to functionally communicate.

Echolalia describes repetitive language. The child repeats what he or she hears, but communication is often undetectable by others. Echolalia is a normal stage of language acquisition in typically developing children. Children on the spectrum seem to get stuck at this stage of development. However, it can be used to teach communicative language with the use of prompts and reinforcement. In this type of intervention, the child is reinforced positively with appropriate phrases for prompted objects. Prompting is eventually faded and the child is only reinforced when he or she initiates appropriate communication.

Processing language is also extremely difficult for many children on the spectrum. Verbal pollution is a term used by educators and speech therapists to describe the way children with autism take in typically spoken language. For example, if the child with autism is given a direction which includes multiple steps and description words, he or she is likely to get lost in translation. This sometimes manifests as sensory overload, which can even be a cause for pain or irritation to the child. This negative reinforcement may result in a hesitation to engage in communication.

Language development is affected by multiple factors in children with autism. Social impairments, processing disorder and developmental delays inhibit or stall the successful acquisition of language. Among these, social impairments are significantly affective. Social interventions are especially imperative to helping a child with autism develop language. This can be accomplished through a variety of strategies. Social stories are especially effective for children with autism. They can be adapted to the functional capability of the child.

Language development can seem like an especially challenging feat for a child who is considered low-functioning. Some children may even be nonverbal. These children can still develop communicative language. PECS is a patented program formally known as the Picture Exchange Communication System. Using this system, the child is taught to choose pictures from a chart to represent their requests or expressions. This enables the child to access language using his or her strengths of visual processing. Sign language is also an appropriate mode of communication for nonverbal children.

Speech and language acquisition is a complicated process for children on the spectrum. Language deficits for children on the spectrum lead to opportunities for learning outside of the typical box. All children on the spectrum can learn to communicate in some capacity.

Most Related Concerns:

1). Intervention Strategies For Autism
2). Establishing Joint Attention with your Autistic Child
3). Adaptations in Autism: Social Skill Development and Stimming
4). Assistive Technology For Children With Autism

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