What is Autism?

Speech-language pathology services are important for people of all ages with autism.

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. People with autism may have repetitive behavior, such as rocking or hand flapping, and a limited range of activities and interests. Autism is different for every person. Some people with autism have motor problems, such as difficulty controlling their arms, legs, or mouth muscles. And, some have problems with reasoning, learning, and other aspects of intellectual functioning. Problems may vary in severity and change over time.

Autism occurs four times more often in males than in females and is found in families of all racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds. There are several different types of disorders in the autism “spectrum”, also known as “autism spectrum disorders”.

Early signs of autism can be seen by age 12 months and diagnosis can be made as early as 24 months.

What Kinds of Communication and Social Problems Occur in People with Autism?

Children and adults with autism have different types of communication and social abilities. These are some of the problems that often occur:


  • Delayed language
  • Not speaking or very limited speech
  • Difficulty expressing basic wants and needs
  • Limited communication to share interests with another person
  • Poor vocabulary development
  • Problems following directions or finding objects that are named
  • Repeating what is said (echolalia)
  • Problems answering questions
  • Speech that sounds different (“robotic” speech or speech hat is high pitched)
  • Problems with conversation skills, such as taking turns to talk
  • Difficulty understanding nonverbal communication, such as gestures and facial expressions
  • Incorrect use of pronouns (he, she, they, it, me, mine, yours)

Social Interaction

  • Inappropriate eye contact with people or objects
  • Not paying attention to things seen or heard
  • Becoming overly focused on certain topics or objects that interest them
  • Poor play skills
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Dislike being touched or held
  • Crying, becoming angry, giggling, or laughing for no known reason or at the wrong time

Reacting to Their World

  • Rocking, hand flapping, spinning, or other movements (self-stimulating movements)
  • Problems dealing with changes in routine
  • Being very sensitive or not sensitive enough to touch, light, or sounds
  • Using objects in unusual ways
  • Unusual attachments to objects
  • No fear of real dangers
  • Feeding difficulties (Accepting only select foods, refusing certain food textures)