By Allison Espinosa
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a set of developmental disorders that presents communication, behavioral and social problems to the child or adult who is affected. Autism can be hard to properly diagnose because the symptoms do not always present themselves at the same time or in the same way for everyone who has Autism. There is a wide degree of how severe Autism can affect a person from mild to severe. A high functioning Autistic was once recognized as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. The term Asperger’s Syndrome was removed from the DSM V and those who were previously diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome have since been formally recognized as having high functioning Autism.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder learn to communicate within their native language either through not imitating the words spoken to them or through Echolalia. Echolalia occurs when a child repeats whatever someone else tells them, also known as echoing. The Autistic child may or may not echo whatever was spoken to them right away. Sometimes, Autistic children may echo something at inappropriate times. Although, not all echoes may be functional language echoing does serve it’s purpose in language acquisition and development of the Autistic child.
Autistic children who do not learn language through Echolalia experience prolonged speech delays that hinder their early language development. Echolalia is important for Autistic children because it eventually leads children to develop their own self-generated language. Although, these children may exhibit a speech delay they do eventually catch up with their peers. This means Autistic children do not have language development disorder but merely a language delay. Although the Autistic may acquire their native language skills they may still exhibit a communication delay for their entire lifetime especially in social situations.
There are many high functioning Autistics who exhibit a command of their native language yet their communication struggles go unnoticed by their peers. Just the thought of interacting with others may cause anxiety to the Autistic, especially if they still have a communication delay. Despite understanding the written and oral language, many Autistics do not understand social communication, especially body language. It is important for anyone who interacts with an Autistic person to understand how to effectively communicate with him or her. Here are a few suggestions:
1) Follow the Autistic lead in the conversation rather than directing them to focus on what you want to talk about or do with them. Some Autistics have a hard time following a conversation because they can easily become fixated on the topic of their choice. Don’t become upset if this happens while you are talking to them. Remember, the Autistic doesn’t always communicate in the manner in which normal society dictates. Once you accept that their brains operate differently you will have a better time in communicating with them.
2) Just because the Autistic doesn’t respond to your new information doesn’t always mean they don’t understand the concept. Some autistics take longer to process new information. It is not uncommon for some to respond to a conversation or get the joke hours or days after they have been told. Don’t demand a response from the Autistic. Let them come to you with the delayed response and when they do don’t criticize them for the delayed response.
3) Don’t always assume just because the Autistic isn’t on task that they need help. Autistics are overly bombarded with sensory input on a daily basis. Sometimes, these stimulations can overwhelm the Autistic person. When overwhelmed, their working process may be delayed. Obsession isn’t uncommon with Autistics, either. If an Autistic is obsessed with something it is best to let them work through whatever it is until their project is completed. If you really want to help the Autistic do something make certain you ask them once then if they do not respond ask them a few minutes later. If they say no then do not help them.
4) Help them understand what was said to them. Autistics have a hard time understanding social cues and situations. They tend to take everything literally. So if someone says one thing but means another they will not understand what was said isn’t the truth. This can often times lead the Autistic into social problems. The Autistic may think they understand the meaning of a conversation only to learn later they did not. If you are a friend, spouse, family member or someone else that cares about an Autistic make certain when you are in public they understand what is being said in any conversation but do so in private and not in a way that emotionally offends the Autistic.