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If My Child Has a Speech Delay Do They Have Autism?

Feb 3, 2022 First of all, there are VERY distinct differences between autism spectrum disorder and a child who has a speech delay.

Any professional who examines your child will know the difference between autism and speech delay, and won’t just give a diagnosis to give a diagnosis. Secondly, if you are concerned about a speech delay or autism spectrum disorder, you should take 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 autism in your child.

Watch this video to understand the difference between speech delay and autism.

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 vs. Speech Delay

` ` Autism Spectrum Disorder vs. Language Delay Infographic

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Autism Signs and Symptoms

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

  • Delayed speech and communication skills
  • Avoids eye contact 
  • Relies on rules and routines (rigidity) 
  • Is upset by relatively minor changes
  • Reacts unexpectedly to sounds, tastes, sights, touch, and smells
  • Has difficulty understanding other people’s emotions
  • Focuses on or becomes obsessed with a narrow range of interests or objects
  • Engages in repetitive behavior such as flapping hands or rocking
  • Doesn’t respond to their names by 12 months
  • Doesn’t point at distant objects by 14 months

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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:

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

Remember, early intervention with both conditions will result in your child having a better chance at having speech that meets his/her developmental milestones. Children with autism especially need the help of a professional so their language skills allow them to communicate more effectively with more neurotypical kids.

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Comments (14)
  • my son is now 6 year old he is behaving well but has issue with expressive speech when he tried to form proper sentence , he is academically very smart what i should do to make him normal, he is very cool no any hyper action

    • Have you tried the Speech Blubs app? The app offers you a fun and engaging way to practice speech! You can try it with a 7-day free trial. Also, talk to your pediatrician about his speech development to check if he needs speech therapy.

  • my child is 2yrs of age.BT he can’t speeks properly.he speaks only mama papa Dada han hap only.

  • Hi. I just wanted to say that since autism is a spectrum that encompasses a variety of different conditions, not everyone falls into the same category. I have Asperger Syndrome and I learned to read at 2 years old, and to speak before 8 months, so you shouldn’t get carried away in case your 4-year-old doesn’t even know how to speak. It’s just a note.

    • Can’t agree more, you are on point! Parents should always consult a professional if they worry. Thank you for your comment!

  • Hi. My nephew is almost 4 and he is a late talker. He had a lot of signs of autism but he is not autistic (according to the specialist). The doc said that he has he is smarter than his age but he has some difficulties responding to comands. He knows the alphabet and numbers in English (EFL) and in his language too (also songs, colors etc since he was 2) but he won’t care if you tell him to stop doing something. He was 3 years old and he could not still ask for water, just cry for it. He did some months of ABA therapy and he is doing all the activities perfectly but they come up with things like “he is hyperactive” “he cries like a 6month old because he imitates his baby brother and that is not good” ” he jumps from heights because he wants to hurt himself”. He looks so normal to us, despite the fact that he does not talk a lot but now he is able to communicate and tell us what he wants. He is the smartest kid. He can spell words in English like a pro, sing and responds to us. If he doesn’t get what he wants he throws tantrums and everybody just stares at him. The thing is that my sister is so stressed about this situation. She wants to feel that her kid is fine and everything is going to get ok but on the other hand, the therapists are always finding something to say that she doesn’t agree with. I also have a baby and besides the fact that mine talks all day long, there is no huge difference in their behaviour. Sorry for this large text. We’re worried.
    Thank you

    • What sort of specialist did the child see? From what you are describing, in my medical opinion, I would say that he is most certainly on the autism spectrum. Children on the spectrum are very smart but have issues with social, emotional and behavioral aspects. There are varying degrees of severity and, although the doctor is saying he is smart, there are clearly behavioral issues that need to get addressed before he hurts himself or someone else accidentally. I would strongly suggest that, if he isn’t already seeing a speech pathologist, that he gets evaluated. If he isn’t following commands or directions, that will not only lead to frustration at home, but will start to impact his ability to attend and do well in school. Also, an occupational therapist is great to work with hyperactive children and can help them release energy in ways that aren’t dangerous or upsetting to others.

      In addition, if a therapist is telling you “hyperactive,” they could be gently saying that he needs to be looked at for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. To receive this diagnosis, you need to seek out a developmental pediatrician; not just a normal pediatrician. It sounds like your sister, if she is disagreeing with therapists, might be going through some denial about the situation, which is completely normal!

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • Im worried my baby is 3 years six months shes only saying few words, like mama, papa, bye, no

    Is normal or what I took her for hearing tests the results is 100%,

    • At three years old, children should be able to speak in sentences. These sentences might be incorrect as far as grammar is concerned, but they should be able to express their needs, wants, and describe simple activities. If your daughter is only saying simple words like you have described, your next step is to seek out a speech-language pathologist. The good thing is that you already got her hearing assessed and know that it’s normal so it’s one less worry for you. Once you reach out to a speech pathologist, they will schedule an evaluation with you and your child. They will ask you a bunch of questions about her developmental milestones and what you are noticing, or not noticing. They will then take your daughter and check out her expressive and receptive language skills. Depending on those results, they will recommend speech therapy, possibly several times per week. If you aren’t sure where to find a speech pathologist, you can ask your pediatrician for recommendations.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • we required suggestion my child would be now 3 years old in july so currently he speaks very little words such as Mommy, Alphabets A to Z and numbers 1 to 20 but speak very less. He shows us if he required water, food but don’t speak out.

    • It’s great that your son is already able to say his ABC’s and his numbers! That will give him a good jump start when starting preschool! As far as him not being able to express his needs and wants, although it’s good that he’s taking you to what he wants, you need to try and get him to produce sounds to accompany the gesture. For example, if he is taking you to water, make sure you point to your mouth, say the word, and ask him to repeat it three times. If after three times he still does not produce a sound or word, give him the water. Kids will become increasingly frustrated if they are asked to repeat words too much! It may also be beneficial to seek out a speech and language screening or evaluation to determine if a communication delay is present! This professional will be able to meet with you and your son to see if speech therapy would be helpful!

  • 1. Repeats the word light, light, light but only by looking at light
    2. Doesn’t point to what he wants rather he pulls us to the place and ask us to hold him and stretches his hands to grab it by himself
    3. Have excellent eye contact, socially interactive, have social smile.
    4.does not say mama or papa or doesn’t point to any body parts
    5. Have interest more on people than on toys. Especially more on mama and papa.
    6.points to things of interest
    7. Imitates sound and actions also pretend play.

    20 month old boy.
    Is he suspected for speech delay or asd?

    • Hi Karthika. Based on what you sent us, I would say that your child has a speech-language delay. At 20 months, we would like to see more words being produced and the receptive skills to point to body parts. It does not sound like he is on the spectrum, but a professional that can actually observe your child in his environment would be better to diagnose! At this point, I’d recommend getting an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist to see if they can start therapy to get those expressive language skills growing!
      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

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