Speech vs. Language

Several different posts have been bouncing around in my head but I have not been able to write them out yet. By the way, that is exactly what we are talking about when we say someone with autism is having trouble processing-they are still working on formulating the response. While you wait for me to process, here’s something Mama Be Good posted on Facebook. She says,

Pressure starts early to get autistic children to produce speech. Because Jack was in Early Intervention, when he wasn’t speaking at two years old, he started speech therapy right away. Two years old is way young, so naturally, it backfired. For one, Jack was already communicating. When we demanded that he produce certain sounds and refused to recognize his own special language, he became very frustrated and would shut down – preventing the very communication we were supposed to encourage. Secondly, my child began focusing on labels instead of conversation. And finally, he realized that we wanted a speech-produced answer promptly and, even if he wasn’t finished processing, he would give an answer – any answer – true or not. Which is a problem when you want to know what your child’s really feeling.

Autistic children have their own developmental schedule. Emphasizing speech production at two years old, or three, or four isn’t fair to autistic children. The point of development isn’t the production of speech. The point is language – having back and forth conversations – whether those conversations are verbal, non-verbal, or their own language. So anything that engages in back-and-forth conversations is valid and should be encouraged. The production of speech – sounds from the mouth – should not be the primary concern. Conversations of all sorts are possible.

What’s a way to engage in back-and-forth conversations with non-verbal or verbal kids? Those games of connection we were talking about – yay! Dual-purpose fun! These games are perfect for language.

If you’re worried that you’re ignoring an important part of development by not working on speech, remember that focusing on language and conversation with your child IS part of therapy. The production of speech itself is not the primary concern – language is. And language is both verbal AND non-verbal. As parents, it’s hard not to get stuck in “how will I ever find out what my child really thinks?” Don’t worry. You will. When your child is ready on his own developmental schedule, he will communicate with you. Sometimes we just have to make sure we don’t get in the way by insisting on a certain KIND of communication.

Instead of speech, have some fun conversations about all sorts of things. Find out what your child thinks is hilarious or interesting or scary. Click the link for some ideas. And have fun!

Mama Be Good: Games of Connection