Autism Spectrum Disorder – How does ASD Affect Communication?


What will happen when you do not look at faces, or you do not pay attention to human voice, and if you do not tune into verbal and nonverbal feedback from other people? Well, it is going to be immensely hard for you to acquire speech and use it naturally. In addition, it will also be difficult to acquire facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal forms of communication which are the rule for our culture. Communication happens when one person sends a message to another person. This can be both verbally and non-verbally. Interaction happens when two people respond to one another i.e. two-way communication.

Sadly, communication and language issues are one of the core areas of difficulty for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).Most people with autism face difficulty in interacting with others, initiating interactions, responding, or using interaction to show people things or to be sociable. For such people understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family, school, work, and social life, can be tough. Building on this, today we aim to highlight one of the core deficit areas in Autism i.e. Deficit in non-verbal communication.

Before That – WHAT IS AUTISM?


ASD is a complex developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.  People with this condition have difficulty in understanding verbal and nonverbal communication and learning appropriate ways of relating to others and events.  While no two people with Autism are the same, there are some common behaviors associated with this condition including:

  • Delayed learning of language
  • Difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation
  • Difficulty with Executive Functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning
  • Narrow, intense interests
  • Poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities

A person with autism may have many of these behaviors or just a few of them.

While typically diagnosed in childhood, ASD is a lifelong condition thatspans every age. The most obvious signs can typically be detected between 2 to 3 years of age, but sometimes it can appear as early as 18 months. On the other hand, there may be a few cases where children don’t receive a final diagnosis until much older.A diagnosis of this condition is applied based on an examination of all behaviors and their severity.

Now, How Does ASD Affect Communication?

The word “autism” is derived from the Greek word “autos” which means “self”. Often children with ASD are seen to be self-absorbed and seem to exist in a private world which offers them limited ability to successfully communicate and interact with others. We already mentioned above, children with ASD may face difficulties in developing language skills and comprehending what others tell them. In addition, they also face difficulty communicating nonverbally, including communication through hand gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions.

The capability of children with Autism to communicate and use language hinges on their intellectual and social development. Some children may not be able to communicate using language or speech, some may have very limited speaking skills, while others may be able to talk about specific subjects in detail and may have rich vocabularies. Many children may have problems with understanding the meaning and rhythm of words and sentences. They may also not understand the meanings of different vocal tones or body language. All in all, communication is one of the biggest areas affected in ASD, and these difficulties affect the ability of children with Autism to interact with others – which in itself is alarming.

Patterns Of Language Use And Behaviors In Children With ASD

  • Repetitive or Rigid Language – Frequently, children with Autism who can speak, but constantly repeat things that have no meaning or do not relate to the conversations they are having with others.
  • Narrow Interests and Exceptional Abilities – In some cases, a child may be able to deliver an in-depth speech about a topic which holds his/her interest, even though they may not be able to carry on a two-way conversation about the same topic. Few may have exceptional ability to count and do math calculations or amazing musical talents. Approximately 10 percent of children with ASD show “savant” skills (Rimland’s (1978)), or extremely high abilities in specific areas, such as memorization, calendar calculation, music, or math.
  • IrregularLanguage Development – Some children develop some speech and language skills, but their progress is normally uneven and it doesn’t match the normal level of ability.

And …. Poor Non-Verbal Conversation Skills

According to the diagnostic criteria of Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 (World Health Organization, 1992), impairment of both gesture use and recognition of others’ gestures is one of the most significant symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These symptoms manifest themselves from infancy in difficulties with reciprocity in non-verbal communication, such as responding to a smile with a smile and pointing one’s finger in response to stimuli (Dawson, Hill, Spencer, Galpert& Watson, 2004; Vernetti et al., 2017).

Children with Autism are often unable to use gestures which is important to give meaning to their speech – like pointing out to an object. They habitually avoid eye contact, which can make them look uninterested, inattentive, or even rude. Many children with ASD become irritated in their attempts to make their feelings, thoughts, and needs recognized as they are unable to communicate with meaningful gestures and non-verbal skills which enhance oral language skills.

Below highlighted are the deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction:

  • Impairments in the use of eye contact
  • Impairment in the use and understanding of body postures (e.g. facing away from a listener)
  • Impairment in the use and understanding of gestures (e.g. pointing, waving, nodding/shaking head)
  • Abnormal volume, pitch, intonation, rate, rhythm, stress, prosody or volume in speech
  • Problems with use and understanding of affect
    • Impairment in the use of facial expressions (may be limited or exaggerated)
    • Lack of warm, joyful expressions directed at others
    • Limited communication of own affect (inability to convey a range of emotions via words, expressions, tone of voice, gestures)
    • Inability to recognize or interpret other’s nonverbal expressions
  • Lack of coordinated verbal and nonverbal communication (e.g. inability to coordinate eye contact with gestures)

When children with ASD are unable to communicate properly, they display inappropriate behaviors and other vocal outbursts – these are nothing but an outcome of their frustrations.

Supporting Communication Development – ACT EARLY


For good reason, families, teachers, and others wish to understand how they can intervene in promoting language development in non-verbal children with autism – one thing is important here – EARLY INTERVENTION.

And some good news – research has produced a number of different strategies which can be of good help. But before moving on to the tips it is important to remember that every child with autism is unique. Even with great efforts, one strategy which works with one child may not work with another. Also, even though every child with autism can learn to communicate, it may not necessarily be spoken language. Below are a few strategies for promoting language development:

  • Encourage play and social interaction – We all know children learn through play, and this includes learning languages too. When play lessons are interactive and enjoyable these are great opportunities for you and your child to communicate. Try a variety of activities and games to spot things that the child enjoys – it could be singing, reciting rhymes or gentle roughhousing.
  • Emulate your child – Replicating or mimicking the child sounds and play behaviors instigates more interaction and vocalizing. Also, it encourages the child to copy you and take turns. Try emulating how your child plays – as long as it’s a positive action it is good.
  • Be face-to-face – Being face-to-face with the child ensures you can easily observe the child and make out what he/she is interested in. Being level with them allows them to see the variety of facial expressions which are used in communication.
  • Focus on nonverbal communication–Eye-contact and gestures can build a strong foundation for language. Try exaggerating your gestures, for example, when offering a drink, gesture the action of drinking by pretending to hold a glass in one hand and bringing it your mouth.Nod/shake your head for “yes” and “no”. Wave your hand for “hello” and “goodbye”. Try using gestures which are easy for your child to imitate.
  • Try Visual Supports – Visual methods which can be used to increase understanding include picture timetables, line drawings, cue cards, and object/picture schedules.
  • Don’t Fill in Your Childs Language – it is important to leave “space” for your child to talk. It’s quite natural to feel the urge to fill in language when the child finds it difficult. But it’s so very important to give the child lots of opportunities to communicate – even when they aren’t talking.
  • Simplify your language – when you keep your language simple it’s easy for the child to follow. Also, it is easier for him/her to imitate your speech.
  • Try Assistive Devices And Visual Supports – Assistive technologies and visual supports can do more than take the place of speech. They can play a big role in fostering their development. Examples include devices and apps with pictures that your child touches to produce words. On a simpler level, visual supports can include pictures and groups of pictures that your child can use to indicate requests and thoughts.

Those who are supporting a person with an Autism need to understand that the child they care about is challenged not just in language, but in grasping what language is about- communication and connection between different minds.

In Conclusion

Communication between people with or without autism is a two-way problem. People on the spectrum may have communication challenges to address, but their typical peers and conversation partners can do more to meet them halfway by accepting differences in the way they express themselves. This is key to helping them reach their full potential.

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