Is late speech a sign of Autism?

May 03, 2023

Is Late Speech a Sign of Autism?

You are probably reading this as you are a parent who wants the absolute best for their child. Of course, we all want our children to grow and develop the best they can in order to achieve what they wish for in life. We also want them to develop in accordance to different milestones and make sure they are meeting these. Im sure at one point you have compared your child to a friends child, a relative, or a sibling, to determine if their development is ‘normal’ (as much as I don't like the word ‘normal’).

In order to know if our child is developing okay, we need to have an understanding of what is typical development and want might be red flags in child development. This post is going to help you with that, we will unpack the signs of Autism and also how to determine the difference between Autism and a speech/language difficulty.


What is Autism?

Lets begin with discussing, what even is Autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder which causes a difference in the brain for how people think/process, act, learn and communicate.

This is not a bad or wrong difference, it is just simply a difference. However, this difference does require different supports.

It is also important to mention, Autism is certainly not the same for everyone. It has its core characteristics, however, these characteristics present very differently in all individuals and also between males and females.

Early Signs of Autism

You might be wondering “how will I know if my child is showing any early signs of Autism?” Lets unpack what early signs might be seen.

Before we explore the signs, if you notice any of these, it is recommended that you see your local general practitioner or paediatrician for further assessment and information. A diagnosis doesn’t change who your child is, but it can provide a lot of support for both you and your child.

For children aged 6 months to 1 year, some signs may include:

  • rarely smiling or showing facial expressions
  • little or no eye contact
  • not responding to their name
  • doesn't turn their head to locate a sound
  • doesn’t babble
  • sensory sensitivities (noise, touch, feeling)

For children aged up to 24 months, some signs may include:

  • not using any words, or only a couple of words
  • walking in their toes
  • doesn’t imitate actions modelled
  • may have an intense interest in some particular items/objects. e.g., spinning wheels on a car
  • engages in repetitive activities
  • play skills might be delayed and they have difficulty playing with toys functionally. e.g., lining their toys up.

There are core characteristics which are used to assess if children are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder which is within the DSM-5, please be sure to reach out to health professional for assistance if any of the above is applicable to your child.

Speech Delays and Autism

Speech delays and communication difficulties are common among children with autism, and those without autism.

In order to determine if your child has autism, speech difficulties, or language difficulties, it is important to understand the core characteristics of each of these.

Lets begin with looking into signs and milestones within typical development in order to assist with this understanding.

If you have a young child, you will know how quickly they learn that communication is key to getting what they want. In order to get your attention, before they have words and functional language, they will do things such as babble, point, look towards, or just cry. Once they learn the words which receive these same outcomes, they will begin to use words to communicate these messages.

Below are some signs of social communication development in typically developing children.

Signs of typical social communication development:

  • Highly motivated by social responses such as smiles and hugs.
  • Naturally inclined to imitate the actions of people around them.
  • Likely to spend much more time observing people than observing things/objects.
  • Can become bored or lonely when they aren’t engaging socially.

Social development and communication for a child with Autism:

  • May be more motivated by his or her own interests than by social responses.
  • May rarely or never imitate others actions.
  • May be more interested in things/objects than people.
  • May be content when left alone to pursue their own interests.

Autism or Late Talker?

A lot of children can have communication difficulties, however, not all have Autism. Below are the characteristics of Autism vs being a Late Talker.

Late Talker: A child with a speech/language delay will typically…

  • Have less words and overall delayed language skills compared to other children their age.
  • Have good joint attention skills and enjoy to interact with others. They may use gestures and their body to communicate with you.
  • Have a good understanding of language, play skills are usually appropriate, well developed motor skills, and social skills.

Autism: An Autistic child may typically…

  • use some scripting or echolalia/repeating to communicate
  • have overall delayed language skills
  • loose words they once had
  • may or may not prefer to play alone and seek attention from others in unusual days
  • may not make much eye contact
  • may have sensory sensitivities or differences
  • may have special interests
  • may use repetitive movements such as hand flapping, looking at things closely or moving things to the corner of their eye back and forth.

To learn more about communication milestones, download our free communication checklist to see how your child is tracking.

It can be accessed here

This information is intended as a guide only to share some key information with you. If you have any concerns at all for your child, it is recommended that you reach out to your local doctor, paediatrician, or speech pathologist for guidance.

Check your child's milestones

Download our FREE communication milestone checklist.