Is Delayed Speech a Sign of Autism?

Are you worried about your child’s speech development? Not sure if you should pursue an autism screening?

Early diagnosis is always ideal because it allows for early intervention. Children who receive autism treatment at an early age are far better equipped to manage autism symptoms (Source). Let’s explore the correlation between speech delay and autism spectrum disorder, as well as other influences that hinder speech development.

Speech Delays Are a Potential Sign of Autism, BUT…

Delayed speech could be an early sign of autism. Many parents pursue autism testing as early as 18 months old because they are concerned about their child’s speech development.

However, there are many other potential reasons for speech delay, not just autism. Your child may have a learning disability or hearing disorder. They may simply need more time to learn. It would be wise to pursue testing, but do not assume your child has autism because he or she has delayed speech development.

What Is Considered Delayed Speech?

Speech and language development involves a series of milestones. These milestones may not happen in a linear order. Some children pick up on certain elements easier than others. Here are some basic milestones outlined by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

  • 0-3 months old: Reacts started to loud sounds, makes different sounds for happy/sad emotions, and recognizes your voice
  • 4-6 months old: Turns to hear sounds, repeats vowel noises, and babbles back when spoken to
  • 7-11 months old: Babbles basic words like “dada” or “mama,” attempts to mimic words, and responds to their name
  • 12-17 months old: Speaks in small sets of words, follows one-step commands, enjoys being read to, and understands simple phrases
  • 18-23 months old: Points to body parts when asked, answers yes or no questions, asks for foods by name, understands big/little, and understands action words
  • 2-3 years old: Understands plural nouns, speaks in 3-4 word sentences, answers simple questions, uses inflection for questions, and knows you/me pronouns
  • 3-4 years old: Uses “ing” verbs, speaks in full sentences, categorizes similar objects together, expresses feelings vocally, and pronounces consonants in the middle of words
  • 4-5 years old: Understands complex questions, speaks clearly for all known words, understands abstract spatial references, and describes how to do things
  • 5+ years old: Follows multi-step directions, describes objects, expresses imagination, speaks in long sentences and back-and-forth conversations, and understands rhyming words

How to Diagnose Autism, Delayed Speech, and Other Conditions

The diagnostic process for delayed speech can happen through a few different sources. You may start with your child’s pediatrician, who will then refer you to a speech therapist or clinical psychologist. A speech therapist can help your child overcome specific obstacles, like pronouncing “r” sounds. A psychologist may diagnose underlying issues, such as autism, learning disabilities, or auditory processing disorder.

If you’re concerned about your child’s speech development, talk to a trusted professional in your area. CNLD Testing & Therapy offers autism screenings and other psychological testing services for children. Our office is in Ann Arbor, MI, but we work with children from many surrounding communities. Contact us at (734) 994-9466 if you’d like to schedule a consultation.