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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Many Non-Verbal Autistic Children Speak--Later

This is the second in a series of posts about non-verbal autism, in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

There is a persistent myth that an autistic child who does not speak by age 5 will remain non-verbal. (Technical note: "non-verbal" in this case means not speaking at all or using only single words or short phrases without verbs).

Not so, says the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (here's a link for more information). They studied a group of 535 children aged 8-17 who had been diagnosed with non-verbal autism at age 4. They found that almost 47% became fluent speakers, and 70% could speak in simple phrases. Of course, that does also mean that over half did not become fluent and nearly a third remain functionally non-verbal. Yet, this says that patience is critical.

It turns out that what is also critical is intelligence (more is better) and social impairment (less is better).

Other studies show that use of communication aids increase verbalization attempts and social interactions. Anecdotal reports suggest that AAC accelerates quantity and quality of verbalization, which leads to improved social functioning. For example, special education teacher Joanne O'Leary had this to say about using TapToTalk to improve social functioning:

I have been having so much fun designing my student's TapToTalk. Social interaction is a big part of a child's life. I have one screen of feelings. She loves to go over and tell her friends, "I like you, you're my friend" with her TapToTalk. I also have a pic of someone getting pinched and I recorded the words, "don't pinch me it hurts." On the play screen, I have a picture of a nurse and if she chooses that it goes to all the things in the dramatic play center we have set up for our doctor's office: shot, band-aid, stethoscope, etc.

TapToTalk Mom Nicole Lynn MacNeil adds,

TapToTalk is a dream come true! I am a mother of a 9-year-old boy who has ASD. He has some speech but is not that great communicating. This is going to help him so much and it won't even point him out as different because it's a game machine that every child has. Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart for finally making my child feel average!

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