If my child has speech delay does that mean they have autism?

First of all, there are VERY distinct differences between autism spectrum disorder and a child who has a speech delay.

Any professional who diagnoses your child, will know the difference and won’t just give a diagnosis to give a diagnosis. Secondly, if you are concerned about a speech delay, you should be taking your child to see a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

SLPs cannot diagnose autism; that is done by a developmental pediatrician. Learn more about how autism is diagnosed!

SLPs can, however, tell you that they are seeing signs of someone who is on the spectrum. 

From my professional experience and from what studies have shown, it is very important that if you feel like your child is showing signs/symptoms from either list, then it’s important to see the appropriate medical professionals to get an accurate diagnosis. I will, for the  purpose of this blog, go through both diagnoses and their signs/symptoms. 

Autism Signs and Symptoms

There are many signs and symptoms that could indicate a person has autism spectrum disorder. Not all adults or children with autism will have every symptom, and some adults and children without autism may display some of the same behaviors and symptoms. 

  • Delayed speech and communication skills
  • Avoiding eye contact 
  • Reliance on rules and routines (rigidity) 
  • Being upset by relatively minor changes
  • Unexpected reactions to sounds, tastes, sights, touch and smells
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s emotions
  • Focusing on or becoming obsessed by a narrow range of interests or objects
  • Engaging in repetitive behavior such as flapping hands or rocking
  • Children not responding to their name by 12 months
  • Children not pointing at distant objects by 14 months

Speech Delay Signs and Symptoms

A speech and language delay is when a child isn’t developing speech and language at an expected rate. It is a common developmental problem that affects as many as 10% of preschool children. Your child may have a speech delay if he or she isn’t able to do these things:

  • Saying simple words (such as “mama”) either clearly or unclearly by 12 to 15 months of age
  • By 12 months: isn’t using gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye
  • By 18 months: prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate
  • By 18 months: has trouble imitating sounds
  • Understanding simple words (such as “no” or “stop”) by 18 months of age.
  • Has trouble understanding simple verbal requests.
  • By 2 years: can only imitate speech or actions and doesn’t produce words or phrases spontaneously
  • By 2 years: says only some sounds or words repeatedly and can’t use oral language to communicate more than their immediate needs
  • By 2 years: can’t follow simple directions
  • By 2 years: has an unusual tone of voice (such as raspy or nasal sounding)
  • Talking in short sentences by 3 years of age
  • Telling a simple story at 4 to 5 years of age

Stacie Bennett, Speech-Language Pathologist, speech therapy

Stacie Bennett has been practicing as a Speech-Language Pathologist for the past ten years. Currently, she works full-time at a vocational high school in New Jersey and have her own private practice. Feel free to contact Stacie if you have any questions!


“My two year old had it for less than a week and he’s already saying more”

Mariah C., Mom

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