As typical babies develop, they quickly learn that communication is the key to getting what they want. Long before they learn to use spoken language, little ones make eye contact, pull on sleeves, babble, point, and otherwise work hard to get their point across to adults and older children. In fact, according to the NIH article, "Is Baby Babbling on Schedule":
By 6 months of age, an infant usually babbles or produces repetitive syllables such as "ba-ba-ba" or "da-da-da." Babbling soon turns into a type of nonsense speech that often has the tone and rhythm of human speech but does not contain real words. By the end of their first year, most children are able to say a few simple words. Children quickly learn the power of those words as others respond to them.
By 18 months of age, most children can say 8 to 10 words. By age 2, most are putting words together into short phrases or sentences, such as "more milk." Children continue to learn that words symbolize or represent objects, actions and thoughts. They also engage in representational or pretend play. Between ages 3 and 5, a child's vocabulary increases, and he or she begins to master the rules of language, or grammar.
Children with autism often (but not always) experience delays in speech and communication skills. Not only will they often develop spoken language later (or not at all), but they are less likely to develop non-verbal communication skills such as pointing, joint attention (focusing on something with another person), or gesturing. The reasons for these delays are not entirely understood, but one possible explanation is a lack of "theory of mind" -- the knowledge that other people have thoughts that are different from our own.
Speech delays and differences are a hallmark of autism, and even those individuals who develop speech at a typical rate as toddlers may have a difficult time using spoken language effectively as they get older. Speech delays alone, however, are not an indication of autism. Speech delays and differences may be symptoms of many other disorders and delays, ranging from hearing issues to childhood apraxia of speech.Learn More About Autism Symptoms, Types of Autism and Autism Diagnosis
- Explore other symptoms of autism with the Autism Symptoms Checklist
- Learn about different Types of Autism
- Find out How Doctors Screen for and Diagnose Autism
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Article on Speech and Language. NIH Publication No. 00-4781 April 2000
National Institutes of Health. Is Baby Babbling on Schedule? Milestones in Speech and Language. NIH News in Health. September, 2007.