Speech delay, Communication delay: how does it differ from Autism?

Speech delays are very common among children with autism, but they are also common in children without autism. In autism often hearing is normal, but the child doesnt seem to listen.

Speech delay can often be associated with hearing deficit. Hearing deficit can be commonly due to ear infections like ASOM, CSOM, Otitis Externa, Ear wax, damage to auditory labyrinth or cortex of brain following meningitis or antibiotic use and rarely due to congenital otosclerosis,congenital absence of any crucial part of hearing apparatus. 

Speech delays can also be due to speech understanding, processing, formation and expression of speech. Various disorders of speech expression like cortical dysphasia/ aphasia and speech articulation like dysarthria and also various disorders of brain and disorders of speech apparatus manifesting as specific speech types like scanning speech, stacacto speech, explosive speech, slurred speech are also responsible for speech delay.

Communication is a two way reciprocation of interpersonal relationship. It can be non verbal or body language or expressional and verbal that is with use of language of words/ sounds/voices. 

Communication involves understanding and processing of actions/ words i.e. receptive communication and expressing by actions of various types that is expressive communication.In social and communication disorders both these may be affected.

In autism, often the socialization and social communication is primarily affected but in addition to this autism has other key features which are absent in social communication disorder.

Whatever may be the reason for speech delay; following is the course of evaluation and management for speech delay.

1. Confirm hearing is not affected: It can be confirmed by a BERA test. Although clinically many people will be able to tell hearing is affected or not; the tests will help understand severity and level of hearing affection, whether in ear: outer ear canal or middle ear; or inner year or cochlea or nervous system. Test can at times be false; and may need repeat.

2.If hearing is affected; ear examination; ear cleaning and treatment of ear infection may be needed in cases of ear wax, otitis and adenoiditis. significantly affected /damaged ears with speech delay may need hearing aids. If the hearing is affected at cochlea or at Central nervous system the child may be considered for cochlear implant or devices like hearing aid.

3. Those cases who have no major hearing deficit; and good receptive speech and understanding of speech and have difficulty in talking; these kids will need to be started with speech therapy earliest for modulations of speech apparatus.

4. Children who hear but may not listen; children who may not understand or follow speech or have central speech affection or have difficulty having age appropriate eye contact and response to commands are often likely to be autism; in which only speech therapy may get a very slow or delayed response; unless the prime symptoms of autism are tackled with medicines and occupational therapy.

At our center, most kids establish eye contact and response to commands in 1-3 months

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    Read stages of speech here

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