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Friday, September 25, 2020

Autism and Delayed Speech: Are All Late Talkers Autistic?

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In April every year, there is always news and reports on the topic of Autism because April is the world autism month. So last April, I saw a story on autism on TV, and my cousins’ son came to mind.

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My cousin’s son is six-years-old but still hasn’t sent his first interpretable word. While the boy was younger, a lot of us thought he was just a hyperactive child and loved to shout a lot without saying the real word. Now we know better, the young had is autistic.

Most parent reports suspected autism to their child’s paediatrician when they notice delayed speech development. Although it is difficult to diagnose ASD in toddlers, it is essential to make a report as soon as you start feeling your child has autism so you can get a proper diagnosis and required treatment as early as possible.

So when a child isn’t speaking or making attempts to vocalise words, parents are allowed to get worried and seek all the information available on the possible causes of delayed speech.

For a lot of kids, their first words come at 12 months and sometimes a little earlier. But for many other children, they don’t get to say mommy or daddy even after their first birthday celebration.

So, is it safe to conclude that all kids who have delayed speech have a form of autism? The answer is No. Assuming that all toddlers who can’t speak have a form of ASD is a dangerous generalisation because there are other reasons why a child might have delayed speech development. Delayed speaking can be a sign of speech disorder, language disorder, hearing loss, or intellectual disability.

Most importantly, the delayed speech might be a simple passing developmental stage that has no long-term adverse effect on your child. This brings us to the understanding that there is less than a 50-50 chance that the cause of your child’s delayed speech is related to ASD.

Studies have shown that about 70% of children who don’t talk at the age of one year, fourteen months, and even eighteen months have no developmental problem. That would mean that the remaining 30% do have ASD or other speech development problems, but a parent will never know whether to worry or not if they do not see a doctor when immediately they notice the delay in speech.

It is dangerous for a parent to assume their child will outgrow a talking disorder if they haven’t consulted a paediatrician and language pathologist to rule out the possibilities of their child having ASD or other medical conditions.

If you get a referral for an autism test from your doctor, it is imperative to make sure that the assessment doesn’t just determine whether your child exhibits some symptoms of autism but provide a diagnosis.

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The reason for this is because many toddlers throw tantrums, refuse to respond to questions, and even ignore their parent but do not have ASD. Thus no child deserves to be diagnosed with autism just because they didn’t start speaking early.

If your kid is diagnosed with autism, it is advisable that you make inquiries about why the diagnosis was made and try to get all the information about the diagnosis and available treatment options.

The reason for this is that there sometimes are chances of misdiagnosis and if you treat a child who is just experiencing a harmless speech delay for autism, you may be unknowingly hindering the child’s development.

Different treatment options are not scientifically proven to help. The use of some special vitamins, detox, mouth and tongue exercises, weighted vest wearing. All these remedies are rather like punishments for children who should be allowed to learn while playing.

Children, learn better when playing, and given freedom of creativity. Autistic kids can get better without all the stress of forcing them to do mouth exercises or listening to metronomes.

Studies have shown that autistic children who watch cartoons and other fun learning videos start to talk on their own with time. Yes, it may seem like common sense to teach a child who is three and above and isn’t talking how to talk, but most of the time parents spend a lot of money on ineffective yet expensive treatment options when they can have it a little easier.

Something to be happy about though is that there are skilled clinicians who are willing and available to help your late talker. These professionals are good with kids and have a way of teaching them that talking can be fun and a great way to communicate and let people know about all the things that they love.

If your child is a late speaker, ask your family doctor or paediatrician for the contact of one of these clinicians and get the right answers to all the questions on your mind. Hope is a valuable asset at this time for parents of kids who have delayed speech, so we appeal that you don’t lose hope. Your child will talk with time.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.
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