What is nonspeaking autism?
As nonspeaking autism is not a specific diagnosis, definitions vary.
Some people consider nonspeaking autism to mean that a person does not spontaneously speak in sentences or words that others can understand. Others consider it as having the ability to speak meaningfully at times but not being able to speak at all at other times.
Having nonspeaking autism does not mean that a person does not communicate, cannot communicate, or does not understand language.
Some nonspeaking autistic individuals write and verbally communicate in other ways, such as via typing or special communication devices. The absence of speech does not mean a lack of understanding.
People should not presume that a nonspeaking autistic person does not understand speech because they cannot speak themselves or that they are incompetent.
Nonspeaking autism affects a person’s verbal skills. Some symptoms include:
- not spontaneously initiating or responding to conversation
- using only a few words or not speaking in complete sentences
- using sounds as opposed to words to communicate — although, in some cases, parents and caregivers may understand the meaning of these sounds
- not relying on spoken language as a primary form of communication
A lack of speech does not necessarily mean that a person cannot understand language. However, there is still much that researchers do not understand about nonspeaking autism.
Autism is a complex condition. The diagnosis does not provide much information in itself, as autism causes a spectrum of symptoms.
Some potential factors in the development of autism include:
- Genetics: Researchers have identified some genetic factors that appear to increase the likelihood of autism. A person is also more likely to be autistic if a close family member is autistic.
- Genetic and chromosomal disorders: People with certain genetic or developmental disorders, such as tuberous sclerosis and fragile X syndrome, are more likely to be autistic.
- Development during pregnancy and in infancy: Exposure to certain drugs while in the womb may increase the chance of autism.
There is still no evidence Trusted Source to suggest that vaccines cause autism, even in people with an increased likelihood of having the condition.
Research indicates that no specific factor is likely responsible for language development in autistic people. However, it is likely that early intervention supports that target an autistic child’s play, attention, and imitation abilities may help increase their communication abilities.
Nonspeaking autism is not a distinct diagnosis from ASD. Instead, it is a description of a person’s symptoms. Nonspeaking autism includes a continuum of behaviors, from never speaking at all to only speaking in some situations.
No single test can diagnose autism. Instead, a healthcare professional diagnoses autism based on a person’s symptoms.
The diagnostic criteria for autism specify that a person must have ongoing difficulties with social interaction in multiple contexts. Some examples include difficulties with:
- the back-and-forth of communication
- sharing interests or emotions
- understanding or responding to social interactions
- nonverbal communication, such as the inability to understand gestures or subtle body language or make eye contact
- developing, understanding, or maintaining relationships with others
A person must also have a restricted range of interests and behaviors, which may be highly repetitive. Some examples include:
- stereotypical behaviors or movements, such as repeating things that other people say, lining up toys, flapping the arms, or using objects in atypical ways
- difficulty with change and a high need for a routine
- hyper focus on particular interests
- over- or under reactivity to sensory input, such as being very sensitive to light or sound
For a person to qualify for a diagnosis, the symptoms must:
- be present in early childhood
- cause impairments in one or more areas of daily life or functioning
- not be due to another diagnosis, such as a head injury
Certain characteristics can indicate that an infant or young child is autistic. Although these characteristics vary among individuals, a child may be autistic if they:
- have delayed language skills or language skills that appear and then disappear
- do not use gestures to communicate by 12 months
- do not understand pointing by 18 months
- are not interested in other children?
- do not engage in pretend play by 2.5 years
- do not have typical happy, sad, or angry facial expressions by 9 months
- do not respond to their name by 9 months
- are unable to maintain eye contact or actively avoid it