Autism is More than Just a Speech Delay

Is autism more than just a toddler speech delay that continues into childhood? See the differences between autism and speech delay to dispel misconceptions.

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.

21 thoughts on “Autism is More than Just a Speech Delay”

  1. My friend just started this really cool support group for people with autistic children. It’s been so cool to see what they’ve done.

  2. I worked with a lot of autistic children and can point out many similarities they all share. They can be tough at times but they are the most loveable kids!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this post. I have a few friends that I am going to share this with. You are so right! It is important to talk about this and support one another.

  4. I think trusting your mom gut is huge. I knew something was going on with my son and he was diagnosed with ADHD and a developmental delay.

  5. Great read. I have a niece who has Autism. She sees many things differently but she’s a bright child. There are definitely challenging times with her though. I often babysit her, so I know how to help her deal with certain things.

  6. A friend of mine from high school has an autistic daughter and she’s really a neat kid. Seeing the world through her eyes is an adventure.

  7. I actually do not know any kids who have Autism, but have read a lot about them. Thank you for sharing all of this great info.

  8. I’m convinced my niece is Autistic, she has all the signs but my sister is in denial and says shes fine

  9. Austism is such a large spectrum with no one-size-fits-all diagnosis. I always try to be supportive of others because I know how challenging it is.

  10. My daughter has speech and developmental delays, and lots of people kept telling me it was autism. Nope. Not the same. They are very different, just some of the challenges the parents will face will be the same; but the issue that is happening within the child are so different!

    We know plenty of friends who have kids with Autism so I knew it wasn’t the same, but glad I got a Dr Diagnosis to confirm and give my daughter’s therapists a direction to work towards once they knew what the issue was.

  11. When my son was not talking by the age of 15 months, we had no idea it may have been autism. We were told boys just take longer to talk lol. Turns out he did have autism!

  12. Robin (Masshole Mommy)

    Of course – they are two completely separate things. I can;t imagine why anyone would think one has anything to do with the other.

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