Language Communication

Language and CommunicationOne of the major challenges associated with autism spectrum disorders is impaired language and communication development. Difficulties communicating with others pose a significant obstacle for students with autism. The extent to which each individual is communication impaired depends on the severity and type of autism. Some students with autism may not use words at all. Non-verbal and minimally verbal students may benefit from the use of an alternative or augmentative communication system such as picture symbols or sign language. Other students with autism may have rich vocabularies and are able to talk about topics of interest in great depth but lack the ability to participate in a reciprocal conversation.

Students with autism may have difficulty using language expressively, and also understanding the meaning of words and sentences that they hear receptively. Most students with autism have difficulty effectively using language. They might have problems with word and sentence meaning, intonation, and rhythm. Some students with autism may exhibit echolalia, in which words and phrases are repeated and appear to be out of context.

Language and communication deficits have a significant impact on the ability of the student with autism to participate in social interactions. The degree of difficulty that students experience differs with each individual, but all students with autism experience challenges with social communication. Often students cannot understand the non-verbal information such as facial expression and body language in situations. They may not understand the unwritten social rules used to regulate behaviour and communication. Students with Asperger syndrome may do very well academically, but without specific teaching, they lack the social communication strategies to initiate and maintain social connections.

The communication difficulties described above may contribute to behaviour challenges. Students with autism may become frustrated due to their inability to make a request, or to understand instructions. Difficulty using language to explain emotions and to interact with peers can result in aggression or withdrawal from social situations. With communication impaired students, all behaviour should be viewed as communication.