Understanding autism as a language communication problem ranging from mild to severe is the best way to understand the disorder.
Special educators and speech and language therapists have powerful methods to promote learning and development. Now there is hope! Here is one model that looks at language along a continuum.
Stage One: Inner Language
What comes first, words or meaning? Of course meaning comes first. At a very young age, a child can make sense out of the world. He or she demonstrates the meaningfulness of experience. Some examples are: “feeding” a baby doll, using a spoon for eating, or using a crayon to scribble a shape on a paper.
The child understands the function of objects and can play. This stage is called inner language. Imagine the problems that ensue when language development is impaired at this very early stage. The function of “things” are rarely understood and play is non-existent or inappropriate. As a consequence, the child struggles to make sense out of the world and cannot seem to relate. This is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the “severe” end of the spectrum.
Stage Two: Receptive Language
The next stage is receptive language. Now the child begins to understand and master the understanding of words that represent the experience. Here are some examples: “Show me your nose.” “Turn off the light.” If there is a “gap” in the child’s ability to understand language, it could be due to either weak auditory verbal comprehension, or impairment in the development of inner language—the core deficit in Autism Spectrum Disorder at the “moderate” end of the spectrum.
Stage Three: Expressive Language
The final stage on the continuum is expressive language. This includes remembering words for purposes of recognition (comprehension), the formation of sentences (syntax) and the utterance of words (speaking). A deficit in any or all of these areas greatly affects reading and writing. Deficits in expressive language (output) is often associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the “mild” end of the spectrum.
Identifying the stage at which language development “breaks down” allows for precise planning and implementation of a language-based program that can be delivered by qualified special educators and speech and language therapists. In my opinion, education is the most effective therapy to meet the needs of children with ASD.
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How do you help children with autism at school and at home? Share your tips in the Comments section below.