The Nature of the Linguistic and Communication Difficulties of Children with Autism
Problems with language development have always been regarded as one of the key defining features of autism (Kanner, 1943; Rutter, 1978) and a considerable proportion of individuals with autism remain mute (Rutter, 1970). However, it is clear that autism is not a language disorder as such, in that structural aspects of language may remain intact (in the 10 per cent of individuals with autism who have no additional handicaps). And regardless of the degree of language competence, there are always communication difficulties, affecting how language is used and understood, and including difficulties with non-verbal communication such as body posture, gesture and facial expression. Thus it is the nature of the linguistic difficulties rather than their severity that marks them out as ‘autistic’. Since autism is also characterised by severe social impairment and rigidity of thought (with no imagination or pretend play), the language development of individuals with autism provides valuable data on the role of social and cognitive factors in language acquisition.
KeywordsLanguage Development Sign Language Language Acquisition Communicative Function Pretend Play
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