Language First

Language processing disorders are not exclusive to autism however; they are undeniable in the educating and equipping of those with ASD. The way the autism brain processes language affects the way a person with ASD learns and produces spoken language.

Language processing is the cognitive processing of spoken or written language. This ranges from the construction of spoken or written messages to the abstract meaning of language. The ability of those with ASD to aquire language is impacted by the way their brain processes language.

So you cannot change the way the brain of a person with autism processes language and therefor you cannot change the way the person with autism learns and produces language.

Understanding how individuals with autism aquire language is critical to the implementation of language building program. Communication challenges are synonymous with autism. The most important component is to understand the source of these challenges. Note that while this is an area in which much research is on-going, we do know this:

Language delays in autism are due to differences in language processing.

Language delays are divided into two fundamental categories:

  • Receptive: the process of understanding what is being said (comprehending the input).
  • Expressive language refers to the use of words to communicate what we think, need or want (formulating and executing the output)

Both expressive and receptive language processes are interdependent in order for a person to communicate.

In autism there are always unique profiles in these processes. The unique profile is marked when testing language skills which show the scores in receptive and expressive language are unequal meaning:

State the test that identifies this discrepancy.

A person can have more receptive language than expressive and vice versa. They can also be deficient in both which will result in great difficulty speaking. This is so incredibly important because language is the foundation to learning. You must know what you are dealing with in order to formulate a strategy and effectively teach.

This article is titled Language First because accessing the extent of the language delay is imperative and indispensable in formulating a treatment plan for speech therapy.

Most parents focus primarily, if not exclusively on speech development and this iseven not possible without language development. The language delay in autism is a result of language processing disorder. Speech is independent from language in that you can have a speech delay but not be delayed in language. You are just unable to produce the sounds for speech. For those with autism, its starts in the brain in their ability to acquire the language that leads to the speech.

In the case of Asperger’s the language profile is disproportionate on the side of receptive language. My daughters ability to express herself is incredible, however, her understanding of language and what is being said is highly impaired.

Tool Box

So – LANGUAGE BUILDING IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. In fact it is everything in the process of educating and equipping those with ASD.

  1. 1Your educational treatment plan must have language building as the foundation to all teaching for without language there is no learning.
  2. 2Never assume that because there is strong expressive language the receptive language is equal.
  3. 3Never assume that because there is no expressive language there is noreceptive language.

Number 3 leads us to a VERY critical detail overlooked by many parents. Just because I don’t have speech does not mean that you should not speak to me, THAT I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY, or can’t learn. Show me language and help me speak. In addition, assuming that a child has low receptive language skills and constantly talking about the child as if they are not there can negatively impact the child’s self esteem and result behavioral issues. If you are often discussing what they child cannot do in front of the child, stop it NOW. Imagine how you would feel if people talked about you and your problems right in front of you as if you were not even there. Until proven, otherwise, ASSUME that your child understands every word coming out of your mouth, because they very well may. Many parents are surprised to learn that the simple act of talking to their child like a normal person can bring huge benefits. Non-verbal does not mean non-thinking, and many non-verbal children have great receptive language skills.

Short Story:

In one particular family with a non-verbal ASD child, the parents were constantly discussing the child’s shortcomings, potty accidents, behavioral incidents, things that happened at school, and everyday life. They took it for granted that the child had no idea what they were saying, but it slowly dawned on the parents that despite all outward appearance, this child had GREAT receptive language skills. So, they immediately stopped all discussions that remotely included anything negative about the child. They spoke to her with the assumption that she understood AND SHE DID. They even let the child think she was eavesdropping on private mommy/daddy conversations that included much praise and phrases like “did you see how great she did at cleaning up her room; I bet she will be making her bed on her own before we know it.” And guess what?Without ever directly saying anything to the child, she started trying to make up her bed. The receptive language was there ALL ALONG!

Our children with ASD will often rise to the level of our own expectations. ASSUME NOTHING AND TEACH! If there is no speech then give them a voice through a speaking device, which will help them building receptive and expressive language. Get an iPod touch and/or an iPad with a speech and AAC communication software.

Resources – Information Tool Box

www.asha.org: find the following article on this site

Diane L. Williams & Nancy J. Minshew. (2010) How the Brain Thinks in Autism: Implications for Language Intervention. The ASHA Leader, feature.