The Difference Between Speech Delays and Autism

The Difference Between Speech Delays and Autism

Speech and language delays are far more common than you may think — they affect around 10% of preschool-aged children. Because of this, it’s important to learn how to recognize a speech delay in your child’s first few years of life, so they can get the appropriate assistance early on to help them catch up in their development.


Delayed speech in children can occur for different reasons, some more serious than others. Many who are familiar with signs of autism during childhood development are aware that speech delays are common among autistic children. However, there are differences between some speech delays and those that are directly related to autism.


Children with autism develop other developmental delays and signs that are unique to the presence of autism. Knowing how to tell the difference between speech delay and autism can help you determine what type of developmental assistance your child may require, such as early intervention for autism or speech therapy.


Speech delay vs. autism: what’s the difference?


All children develop at different rates, especially in terms of communication. While most children start using basic verbal communication within their first 1-2 years of life, some children are what’s known as late talkers. There are also other developmental issues that can cause speech delays in children.


The main difference between other speech delays and autism-related speech delays is that children who are just late talkers still attempt to engage and communicate in different ways. For example, they might make babbling sounds, point, and use other types of body language to get what they want. 


If your child isn’t yet verbally communicating, but is actively engaging with people and communicating in these other ways, it is unlikely that their speech delay is due to autism.


On the other hand, if your child isn’t speaking by the age of 2, and isn’t using other non-verbal methods to try and communicate and engage with you and others, they could possibly be experiencing an autism-related speech delay.


Other causes of speech delay in children


It’s important to note that the behaviors mentioned above don’t always signify that your child’s speech delay is caused by autism. There are other developmental reasons they might not be communicating verbally yet. These include:


  • Hearing problems
  • Apraxia of speech (speech muscle-control issues)
  • Cognitive setbacks
  • Learning disabilities

Signs of speech delay in autistic children


If your child is not speaking by the age of 18-24 months, this can be a reason to suspect a speech delay, and you should look for certain signs to determine whether or not it may be related to autism. Fortunately, these signs are fairly easy to spot, even for non professionals, so you can decide whether or not early intervention for autism may be required.


Keep in mind that verbal communication varies greatly among children with autism. Some children who have autism may start using words earlier than other children, while others remain non verbal for years or even for life. On average, however, autistic children start forming words around 3 years of age.


If you start to suspect that your child might be suffering from a speech delay, watch out for the following signs and symptoms of autism speech development problems:


  • Doesn’t respond/responds slowly to their own name or other verbal communications that should get their attention
  • Makes babbling sounds and other “baby sounds” early on in life, then stops
  • Is not developing/is slow to develop body language gestures, including pointing at and grabbing things
  • Is not imitating speech sounds by 6-12 months old
  • Is not developing a simple vocabulary by 12-18 months old
  • Does not form simple phrases by 18-24 months old
  • Communicates using pictures or sign language instead of sounds
  • Speaks only in single words or repeats certain words/phrases (which are unrelated to what’s going on around them)
  • Repeats words/phrases that they hear around them (can be from others or from television)
  • Use words that don’t make sense in the context of what the child is trying to say


If you spot any of these warning signs, you should take your child to be evaluated by a professional, who can guide you regarding the next steps and a potential treatment plan.


Autism speech development: how early intervention can help


Early intervention for autism helps diagnose autism in children early on and can treat autism-related speech delays to aid your child’s development. At ECCM, our support coordinators are trained in understanding the difference between different types of speech delays and those relating to autism.


Whether your child is experiencing autism speech development issues or a speech delay caused by something else, our early intervention services can help them overcome challenges in the following domains of early childhood development:


  • Physical skills (reaching, crawling, walking, drawing, rolling)
  • Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, and problem-solving)
  • Communication skills (talking, listening, and comprehension)
  • Self-help/adaptive skills (eating and dressing themselves)
  • Social/emotional skills (playing and interacting with other people)


The earlier your child is diagnosed with autism or another type of speech delay and assessed to be in need of early intervention, the better. We typically recommend beginning early intervention for autism or other developmental disorders around or before the age of 3. In the case of a later diagnosis, we recommend starting treatment as shortly after the diagnosis as possible.


Get support through ECCM’s services


By now you should have a better knowledge of when delayed speech is a sign of autism and when late talking may be caused by another issue. Many children with autism experience speech delays, but there are many other reasons for delayed speech in children, all of which can be treated using various early intervention and speech therapy techniques.


Our early intervention program at ECCM is available for children up to the age of 5. If you suspect that your child has a speech delay, contact our compassionate team at ECCM today. We will work hand-in-hand with you and your child to help them develop communication skills and other key physical and social skills.



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