Autism Myths and Truths Part 2

‘There are no simple speech delays. Most speech delays are caused by autism.

Because of the fear of autism, “simple speech delay” is the first thing that pops into a parent’s head when a child has a speech problem.  However, language delay is not a medical condition.

Here’s an example. You go to the doctor with a headache and ask, “What’s wrong?” and the doctor says, “Headache.” then you may feel like the doctor is being a jerk. Naturally, the doctor will say, “You must have a headache for some reason.” And they will order tests or ask questions to find out why. The doctor will write down “headache of unknown cause.” In other words, the cause of the headache is the diagnosis. A brain tumor can cause a headache, a cold can cause a headache, and a digestive disorder can cause a headache. It’s only when you describe the symptoms of the cause that it becomes a diagnosis.

So, let’s think about this. If you go to the doctor because your child’s speech is delayed, and the doctor says “speech delay” is the diagnosis, isn’t that funny? When a doctor says “speech delay,” it’s in the same vein as saying “headache.”  It would be more accurate to say “speech delay of unknown etiology.” We need to discuss the cause of the speech delay to make a precise diagnosis and understand the situation. There are two leading causes of speech delay.

One is from a physical abnormality, so it’s a hardware problem. For example, hearing impairment or an anomaly in the jaw, intraoral motility, or tongue motility can cause a speech delay, which is almost always treatable early on. Hence, it’s not a problem. The other is a software problem, a mental developmental problem that causes a speech disorder or a delay, and it’s almost always one of two things. It’s either intellectual disability tendencies or autism tendencies.

It’s not hard to distinguish between the two because language delays due to intellectual disability tend to be slightly slower, but they tend to develop steadily. If there is a prolonged period of non-verbalization, it should be assumed that it is just an autistic disorder. Developmental stagnation or regression, a slow or stagnant process during normal development, is also present in autistic tendencies. Therefore, it is correct to assume that a person with a speech delay with a significant decrease in curiosity about people also has an autistic tendency.

All in all, if you have a language delay and a delay in social development, you can almost always be sure you have ASD. There’s a research paper that proves this, where they looked at children who had a simple language delay and they went through speech therapy. Their language later came back into the normal range, and when they were followed up over the long term, their language returned to the normal range. However, they still had social and learning developmental delays, so they didn’t have a simple language delay.

In terms of a child’s development, not all problems disappear when a speech problem is solved: even a simple speech delay requires careful attention to its causes, which can eventually lead to delays in social development and learning difficulties.   It’s also worth bearing in mind that there may be mild autistic tendencies latent in the child and that only early intervention and integrated treatment can overcome any developmental issues.

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