15 – 30% will have a learning disability or ‘global developmental delay’ alongside their autism.
Children with autism may also be later learning language than their neurotypical peers.
Sensory differences, interactional differences and the individual’s environment can also impact on speaking ability.
A complex combination of any or all of these is also possible.
Situational mutism (also known as selective mutism) is the term used to refer to the condition affecting people who can speak, but find themselves unable to in certain situations. Find out more here.
Anecdotally the number of autistic people experiencing this characteristic may be even higher than previously thought. Some people use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) as a back up form of communication.
Some autistic people will communicate using pictures, or symbols, or electronic means such as texting, emailing, or using a communication aid. Some people may use these forms of communication all the time, or some of the time.
Stimming can also be seen as a form of communication. Stimming, or self-stimulating behaviour, involves the repetitive performance of certain sensory-seeking actions or vocalisations. It is thought to fulfil a variety of functions including calming, expressions of feelings and communication.
When autistic people communicate using spoken language, these are some of the possible differences:-
- Repeating words or phrases they hear or have heard (this is called echolalia)
- Using made-up words or using words in an unusual way
- Differences in conversational skills such as taking turns, changing the subject quickly, or giving lots of information about a specialist subject
- Having unusual intonation or rate of speech
- Taking things literally – more abstract language such as jokes, sarcasm, metaphors can be difficult for an autistic person to understand
- Needing longer to process information or answer questions
- Understanding and using non-verbal communication such as gesture, facial expression, tone of voice.
My teenage son has significant struggles with his social communication. He doesn’t enjoy socialising to any level. This may change in the future but in a neurotypical world, this can create real difficulties. There are expectations, he plays rugby and the social expectations around this cause him huge anxiety. He can even get anxious over answering the door for a pizza delivery order that he’s been looking forward to… read more
Autistic people often find it easier to interact socially with other autistic people, rather than interacting with neurotypicals (Crompton, 2020). This is due to differences in social interaction styles. Breakdowns in interaction between autistic individuals and neurotypicals can impact on friendships and getting on with each other. Autistic friendships are often built around shared interests rather than small talk!
Some autistic people find it easier to spend time in their own company, or they can prefer to interact in alternative ways such as through social media or online gaming. These channels are not as intense as face-to-face interaction, which can very tiring and result in a “social hangover”.
Autistic people can appear very sociable but will often need “downtime” after a social occasion to recuperate. Lots of autistic people use “masking” behaviours. They will attempt to interact in public, in order to “fit in” with neurotypical social expectations, but then choose to be much less interactive when they feel more comfortable such as when they are at home.
Masking is exhausting – try pretending you are someone else for a day!
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