Why do many kids with autism not talk at all?

There is more than one reason why children with autism don’t talk at all.  Their level of functioning may interfere with them obtaining the ability to speak.  Or they have receptive language skills and clearly understand what is said but can’t verbalize themselves.  Or they may need assistive devices that help them talk and formulate words and sentences.

The psychosocial aspect of speaking is to communicate wants and needs.  It requires that we connect to others on a more personal level, and because some children with autism don’t like the sense of intimacy that creates, they will avoid it like the plague.  Other children with autism may avoid speaking because they can get their needs met through highly refined non-verbal communication.  Moms and Dads who are deeply in tune to their children can read body language like most people read a book, and therefore language becomes a secondary skill instead of a primary one.  (Please note that there’s nothing wrong with this; being able to adeptly read body language is an excellent skill to have.  It’s just that society will expect children to speak as well.)

Another possibility is that the child with autism has a hearing deficiency which prevents them from hearing others speak and therefore learning to speak themselves.  Hearing tests can be difficult because the child with autism may not know how to respond to beeps or may dislike the headphones or the animals with a drum and symbol that they are supposed to watch.  If the child is cooperative on a visit to an audiologist, another device can test the auditory nerves for reception of sound.  It may be the best thing to start with, because once the child with autism is all worked up from the other types of testing, no amount of sitting still for the auditory nerve test is going to happen.

If  the problem isn’t an auditory one, and it isn’t a level of functioning or non-verbal body language one, then the last possibility is that the child doesn’t, can’t or won’t speak without intensive therapy.  If caught early, many autistic kids can pick up some verbal skills, even if they are very limited.  Many of them are also taught sign language and it really works for them, but the goal is to move beyond that and really speak, especially if their vocal chords are healthy and can make other noises.

More Questions:
1). Why do many kids with autism repeat/echo words and phrases?
2). Why do so many autistic kids cover their eyes/face/ears with their hands?
3). Why do many kids with autism flap their hands?

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