Difference between speech delay and autism spectrum disorder 

Speech delays and autism spectrum disorder can both impact language development. However, there are some notable differences between the two problems. Sometimes, speech delay is temporary and may even disappear on its own or with help from family and the SLP.  

Symptoms of speech delay 

Age  Sign of speech delay 
4-6 months No babbling 
1 year Not stringing together consonant-vowel combinations (e.g., “da” or “ma”), not using gestures like pointing and waving.  
1.5 year Trouble imitating sounds; saying only a few words, not understanding what others say, and prefers to use gestures over vocalizing to communicate 
2 years Difficulty understanding simple instructions, does not combine words together, uses fewer than 50 words and has trouble playing with and interacting with other children.   
3 years Not speaking in brief, simple sentences; not using plural words or pointing out body parts.  
4 years Unable to share a simple story or form sentences 4-5 words in length. Difficulty understanding pronouns, such as “you” and “me.”  

There are different types of speech delay: 

  • Receptive Language Delay: The child will have difficulties following instructions, responding to questions, or understanding conversations due to challenges in understanding speech.  
  • Expressive Language Delay: This is the case when a child struggles with speech. This makes it difficult to ask questions, form coherent sentences, or say words. 
  • Mixed receptive-expressive language delay: A child may struggle with both expressive and receptive language development. 

Speech delay vs Autism 

 Speech Delay Autism 
Definition Speech delay is a problem where a child has difficulty developing speech and language skills.  Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological disorder that affects social skills, learning, communication, language acquisition, and behavior. 
Communication Skills A child with a speech delay tends to naturally use body language and nonverbal communication skills. They have strong joint attention, eye contact and are properly able to use gestures, facial expressions and pointing to communicate.   They have an impaired verbal and nonverbal communication skills. They have limited ability to use gestures, pointing, and facial expressions.  
Social Interaction Children with a speech delay seek out close personal relationships with their parents and peers, respond positively to attention, and mimic the behaviours of people around them. Autistic children may have trouble with social interaction, play skills, communication, behavior and may prefer to be alone. They have difficulty in forming relationships. They do not like to share and engage in social interaction.  
Atypical Behaviors Not necessarily Children with autism may exhibit stereotypical and unusual acttions or narrow special interests, repetitive movements.  
Sensory Activities Does not display significant sensory issues Frequently displays sensory skills 
Speech Children with speech delays will often have difficulty producing specific speech sounds. Difficulty in producing speech.  Autistic children may also have trouble making speech sounds, but they may also use persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia). Difficulties in understanding and producing speech.  
Social Response Typically responds to their name. Despite hearing their name, they do not respond. 

Causes of Speech Delay 

The most common factors that can cause speech delay are:  

  • Hearing loss, including children who have recurrent ear infections and those who are hearing impaired. 
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder 
  • Genetic disorders such as Down’s syndrome 
  • Intellectual disabilities 
  • Brain Injury 
  • Premature birth or low birth weight 
  • Lack of exposure to different languages and sentences 

It is important to note that children that have autism experience speech delay, but not all children with speech delay have autism.  

Goals of speech therapy for speech delay 

  • To communicate more effectively  
  • To understand and use language more correctly  
  • To be able to express themselves more clearly  
  • Improved social skills 
  • Improved self-esteem and confidence  
  • Improved eating and swallowing in different developmental phases  
  • Improved auditory processing 

Parent’s role in helping their child overcome speech delay 

You have a unique and powerful role in helping your child overcome speech delays. By spending more time with your child, you not only deepen your bond but also apply the knowledge gained from therapists in a way that’s tailored to your child’s needs. Your intimate understanding of your child means you can integrate speech development strategies into their daily routine more effectively than anyone else. When you’re actively involved, your child has a better chance of overcoming speech delays compared to when parents take a more passive role. This is especially true for children with language impairments, autism, and developmental delays. They’ve shown significant progress when you, as a parent, are engaged and participating in their journey towards better speech. Your involvement is key to their success.

Parents can get involved in the therapy by:  

  • By actively participating in your child’s speech and language development, you’re instrumental in helping them reach the milestones set by their speech and language pathologist.
  • Establishing a routine and integrating daily activities that encourage communication can significantly impact their progress.
  • Understanding and applying strategies that enhance your child’s communication skills are crucial, especially considering that their sessions with the pathologist are just a fraction of their week.

When you’re involved, your child is more likely to demonstrate improved verbal and communication skills.

We invite you to deepen your understanding and effectiveness in this role by joining our “It Takes Two To Talk” workshop in Dubai at the Talking Brains Center. This workshop is specifically designed to equip you with practical strategies and insights to support your child’s communication journey. You’ll learn how to create a nurturing environment that promotes language development, tailored to your child’s unique personality and preferences.

By sharing insights about your child’s character and likes with our team, we can collaborate more effectively, ensuring that the strategies you learn are personalized and impactful. “It Takes Two To Talk” is more than a workshop; it’s a partnership between you, your child, and our team of experts, all dedicated to unlocking your child’s communication potential.

Join us and take an active step towards enriching your child’s communication skills. Together, we can make a significant difference in their ability to express themselves and interact with the world around them.