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Why do they always look out for nonverbal communication when testing kids for autism?

(13 Posts)
adrianna1 Sun 02-Mar-14 22:07:38

I don't really get why this is so important when testing autism in kids.

When I was talking to my friend, who is a speech therapist, if it may be possible that may son may also have a speech disorder... ( He would most probably get diagnose with autism). She told me that if a child has a very severe delay in speech, but has very high non verbal communication, then it is most likely the child has a speech disorder.

The developmental ped also told me this too, when DS had an appointment with her.

Loads of professionals told me that it is quite unusual if a child who has a diagnosis of ASD to have very good non verbal skills.

Though, this cannot be correct as it is more than just whether a child has good non verbal skills or not. It's more about the triads of impairments.

Ineedmorepatience Sun 02-Mar-14 22:23:18

MY understanding is that non verbal communication shows a desire to communicate and develops really early in NT children.

In children with Asd it can be massively delayed or not present at all.

Of course all children with Asd are individuals and have different strengths and weaknesses even in terms of the triad.

Anyone feel free to correct me though smile

Ineedmorepatience Sun 02-Mar-14 22:24:02

Sorry not just a desire to communicate but also to interact socially smile

adrianna1 Sun 02-Mar-14 22:34:23


Exactly, yes all ASD kids are different. So I do not understand why the professionals would say it would be unusual for a child to have good non verbal skills to be diagnosed with autism.

As I understand it, two of the parts of the triad of impairments are communication and social interaction, a great deal of which is based on non-verbal communication (body language, eye contact, hand gestures, personal space etc). Therefore delay or limited development in these areas is part of the diagnostic criteria for autistic spectrum conditions.

adrianna1 Sun 02-Mar-14 23:27:49


Thanks for your explanation. I understand now.

But, when my DS got his ASD, non-verbal communication was under one heading. Basically our local ASD clinic triad of impairments are: social communication, social interaction and non verbal communication. All separate.

Anniecarrieson Sun 02-Mar-14 23:30:55

Very anecdotally, my first has ASD and although I thought he had non verbal communication when my second came along (NT) the difference in the effectiveness of the non verbal communication was staggering.

DC1 is quite high functioning but was speech delayed. He could indicate he needed something and mostly it was my gut and intuition which determined what he was after.

DC2 never left you guessing what he was after grin and was so damn persistent about it. He didn't talk til nearly three but there was never a communication problem.

The third part is to do with imagination, which manifests itself as restricted play, repetitive interests, strong need for routine, inability to understand others. All three parts overlap and interlink, lack of non-verbal communication plays a part in all three I would say, it is also a bit chicken and egg.

For example does a child have restricted interests because they do not interpret non-verbal signals from others and realise that other activities might be interesting? Or do they not pick up on non-verbal communications because their restricted interests keep them so fully occupied.

My DS has AS and it took me a long, long time to start understanding al this, but with hindsight (he is 10 now) it is all much clearer how it manifests in him.

adrianna1 Sun 02-Mar-14 23:51:47

Thanks guys for you replies.

I ask this as I am very confused about my DS and what the professionals have said about him.

He did have an ASD diagnosis...for about a month. Then they took this away and now has the diagnosis of unstable autism ( I told them to keep the autism just in case) and now he is having a reassessment for autism very soon.

They were all confused as even though my son has a very very expressive delay in speech, he has very high non verbal skills. Though he has a little bit of repetitive stimming. He has a delay in social interaction, social communication. So some of the professionals doubt he has ASD. Though some of the professionals think he does. So we are all confused.

AgnesDiPesto Mon 03-Mar-14 09:29:31

Have a look at ICAN, perhaps as it's such a complex case you can ask for an ICAN assessment to be funded? Often it's not clear if it's a pure speech disorder or autism, or both. They overlap and mimic each other especially in young children. Sometimes it's only apparent when a child is in a speech unit etc and gets intervention. Then sometimes with pure speech issues the autism symptoms improve as communication improves and the child develops.
Some speech disorders are severe, in a way it doesn't really matter whether it's autism or not, it's more about making sure the problems and symptoms are being addressed properly with intervention.
If you get good quality intervention the answer will probably become over time.

StarlightMcKingsThree Mon 03-Mar-14 20:50:30

Speech disorders are only really identified once speech has developed iyswim.

It's one of the excuses some SALT departments give for not giving non-verbal children therapy.

My ds is verbal with above average level of receptive understanding and communication but his expressive communication is on 16th percent.

I am told that his receptive understanding will sink because his inability to express and demonstrate what he understands will mean reduce their expectations of his ability. hmm

And this is from people that actually DO know what they are talking about though I don't think they should be accepting it as given quite so easily.

sleepyhorse Mon 03-Mar-14 22:18:57

It depends. If a child has a very severe speech and language disorder this can impact hugely on their social communication skills and it doesn't necessarily mean they have ASD. As my pediatrician put it, for a child whose language is so delayed/disordered, it would be like waking up in Japan and feeling totally lost. I agree with her.

adrianna1 Mon 03-Mar-14 22:54:33

@Starlight, your are absolutely right! He does get therapy, but nowhere near as much. What does iyswim stand for?

and yes sleepy horse your right too.

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