Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month.  Individuals around the country are working hard to spread awareness for kids and adults on the autism spectrum.  As a speech-language pathologist and Special Olympics swim coach, I get the opportunity to work with individuals on the spectrum almost every day.  To do my part to help promote education and understanding, I decided to put together a little dictionary of terms that parents might be exposed to as they begin the speech journey with their child.  I also hope that anyone who stumbles upon this post will learn a little something that will deepen his or her understanding of individuals on the spectrum.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder:  a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and social interactions and the presence of restrictive, repetitive behaviors.  (definition by the American Speech and Hearing Association as taken from the DSM-5).
  • Joint Attention:  an early developing social communication skill where two individuals share focus on an item or actions (e.g. “are you seeing this!?”).
  • Social Reciprocity:   the back-and-forth flow of social communication.  This is most commonly seen as turn-taking within verbal conversation; however, this back-and-forth nature of communication is very important to our children’s understanding of what communication is, even before they are verbal.
  • Nonverbal Communication:  the transfer of information through visual, auditory, or tactile means (e.g. thumbs up means ‘good’, a frown means ‘sad or mad’, peeking at the clock during a conversation means ‘bored’ or ‘I need to leave the conversation’).
  • Emotional Regulation:  an individual’s ability to respond to an ever changing environment in order to control or maintain appropriate behavioral responses.
  • Echolalia:  the repeating of sounds, words, or phrases.  Individuals using echolalia may appear to be communicating using multi-word, seemingly age-level sentences to communicate, but are not able to effectively share their own thoughts.
  • Scripting:  repetition of words, phrases, or longer passages with consistent intonation to the original source (e.g. a communication partner, video, game, etc.).  Scripting is considered a type of echolalia.
  • Receptive Language:  all language being received by an individual, whether it be in the form of directions, vocabulary, a story, reading comprehension, etc.
  • Expressive Language:  verbal or written use of words to communicate including vocabulary, sentence building skills, grammar, etc.
  • Developmental Pediatrician:  a board-accredited pediatrician who has also received specialty training and certification in developmental-behavioral pediatrics.  A developmental pediatrician can provide an autism spectrum diagnosis.
  • Pediatric Neurologist:  doctor who specializes in treating children who have problems with their nervous system (e.g. seizures, headaches, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, etc.).  A pediatric neurologist can provide an autism spectrum diagnosis.
  • Child Psychologist:  an individual who studies the psychological processes of children and how they develop from birth to the end of adolescence.  A child psychologist can provide an autism spectrum diagnosis.
  • Child Psychiatrist:  a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating behavioral and thought disorders in children.  They are able to create treatment plans and may include medication as a part of their plan for a child.  A child psychiatrist can provide an autism spectrum diagnosis.
  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA):  a therapy type based on the science of learning and behaviors with the goal of increasing behaviors that are helpful and decreasing behaviors that are harmful or impacting an individual’s ability to learn.  Goals are determined on a very individual basis.   This is a therapy type that has become increasingly popular for kiddos on the spectrum in the past 10 years.

For more information on autism and its relationship to the world of speech-language pathology, please visit:  https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/clinical-topics/autism/

For information and resources on autism, please visit:  https://www.autismspeaks.org