For many people, toddler speech delays immediately bring to mind the possibility of autism. In fact, the other day, we did a whole discussion on that subject: Is it a Speech Delay or Autism? For those who have little to no experience with either, it’s understandable how they can draw conclusions. Autism is so misunderstood that many people really do think it’s little more than a speech delay or language disorder. So today, we want to clear up some of those misconceptions about both toddler speech delays and autism.
Autism is More than Just a Toddler Speech Delay
What does “autism spectrum disorders” even mean? It is an umbrella term that covers everything from Asperger’s syndrome to the other end with severe autism. Characteristics include issues interacting socially as well as repetitive behaviors. At the heart of autism is speech, language and communication.
How do you know if your child has a toddler speech delay and possibly autism? A red flag to watch for is a speech delay in your child when she is 12 to 18 months old. Around that time toddlers should be beginning to say words. It may be just a speech delay and not autism. What else do you look for in your child?
You might even notice in your infant, before his first year, that he is different than other babies. He might not make eye contact with you like he should or he might be overly focused on one or certain objects. Just because you may not notice these signs in your toddler, does not mean he may not ‘develop’ them in a few years. By no means am I saying you should be looking for signs of autism in your child, just giving you some pointers on red flags. Just because your child may have a delay in speech does not mean he will be diagnosed with autism.
Not every child is the same, comparing your child to your friend’s child will do you no good and lead to unnecessary worrying on your part. Although, this may be when you start to notice that your child might not be developing like his friends. What might you notice? Other than his delay in speech, he might prefer to play by himself. You might find him on the playground, away from the other kids, hiding out on his own. He isn’t sad or mad, but more content to be alone. My friend and I brought the kids to an indoor play area, and we found her son perfectly content sitting by himself inside of a bouncy house, for a long time.
I discovered for the first time that same day (although she knew this about him) that he was avoiding her because he knew she would tell him it was time to leave soon and he didn’t want to. He walked right by her, and when she tried to stop him, he kept going. It might sound as if any kids would do this, but his behavior was different. He avoided eye contact, because he knew she would want him to leave and he wasn’t ready.
Of course, if you feel concerned for your child’s speech development and are concerned about a possible autism diagnosis, discuss with your child’s pediatrician. And do what you are doing now, which is your own research. Every child is different. Trust your mom gut. If you feel your child is not developing as he should be, then ask questions and have appropriate testing done. There is no shame in getting your child the help he needs to succeed in life and social situations.
Do you love a child with autism? What sort of red flags did you see before you knew for sure? How did you handle a toddler speech delay? Share your stories with everyone, we all need to be supportive and help one another.