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Language Processing Disorder: Is It Linked to Autism?

December 29, 2023

If your child is diagnosed with autism and has language processing difficulties, these may be one of the first symptoms you want to address with treatment or interventions. For parents of children diagnosed with a language processing disorder, all those moments of intense meltdowns and frustration quickly start to make sense.

According to researcher Diane Williams, your child with autism is likely to have difficulty processing language, even if they are verbal and high functioning. Studies suggest noticeable differences in the way people with autism process language compared to neurotypical individuals.

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What is a Language Processing Disorder?

So, what is a language processing disorder? To get an idea of what people with this disorder may experience, the example of arriving in a foreign country is often used. 

Imagine being in a different country, taking a language course, and managing basic communication. However, when locals speak rapidly with colloquial expressions, you might feel lost, only able to respond with a puzzled “Huh?”

For those with a language processing disorder, the frustrating experience of being unable to recall a word is a common reality. This disorder involves difficulties in:

  • understanding,
  • recognizing, and
  • expressing language.

Individuals with a language processing disorder may struggle to understand what others say (receptive language) and express themselves (expressive language).

Although their hearing, intellect, and some language aspects remain unaffected, the challenge lies in how their brain processes or interprets language.

If you think your child’s social communication challenges stem from language processing difficulties, watch for behaviors such as:

  • limited vocabulary
  • trouble learning new words
  • frustration in expressing emotions or ideas
  • the use of fillers like “uh” when struggling to find the right words
  • drawing or pointing to an object but struggling to name it

The Connection Between Autism and LPD

When seeking guidance to improve your child’s language processing and social communication, it can be challenging to differentiate between autism and a language processing disorder.

Misdiagnoses are common, such as children with language issues being mistakenly labeled with autism or those with mild autism symptoms receiving a language or auditory processing disorder diagnosis.

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A study examining the unique sensory aspects of autism suggests that individuals on the spectrum may have atypical brain activity when processing sounds.

The study highlights how behaviors like a child with autism covering their ears during harmless sounds, such as a vacuum cleaner, might be linked to unusual auditory processing.

This emphasizes the need for a professional diagnosis, considering factors like sensory behaviors. The child’s action could indicate conditions such as:

What are Auditory Processing Disorders?

Auditory processing disorder, also known as central auditory processing disorder, occurs when individuals struggle to process audible signals despite having normal hearing and intelligence.

Children with this disorder may hear well but have difficulty interpreting or processing sounds, especially in environments with background noise. For example, they may struggle to distinguish speech from other sounds in a classroom.

If parents suspect their child has difficulty processing auditory input, consulting an audiologist for diagnosis is essential. Signs may include:

  • anxiety in noisy environments,
  • trouble following verbal directions,
  • improved auditory abilities in quieter settings.

Main Differences Between LPD and APD

Differentiating between auditory processing disorder (APD) and language processing disorder (LPD) in young children can be intricate, especially as a child may have both disorders simultaneously.

It’s essential to recognize that some aspects of language processing don’t rely on auditory signals, such as nonverbal and written language processing.

Whether auditory or language-based, disorders in processing language can be diagnosed separately or together, with language processing disorders often categorized as a type of auditory processing disorder.

Additionally, language disorders are not solely connected to central auditory processing; they are commonly associated with conditions like autism.

Helping A Child with Autism and Language Processing Issues

To help autistic children with language development, it’s important to consider their unique way of thinking. Some may understand the language better through visuals rather than auditory methods, so using a visual approach can aid learning.

Try to let go of preconceived ideas, like expecting eye contact to show interest. Incorporating the child’s strengths and interests can motivate better language use.

A speech-language pathologist is best equipped to address language deficits, considering cognitive differences, while parents can create practical language learning opportunities at home.

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Q: Can you have autism and a language disorder?

A: It is possible to have both autism and a language disorder. Studies show that about 63% of children with ASD have language issues, and over half of the people with ASD also face challenges in different aspects of language, such as sounds, meaning, and grammar.

Q: What are examples of language deficits with autism?

A: Examples of language deficits in autism include difficulties in social communication, such as challenges in understanding and using nonverbal cues, limited or repetitive language patterns, and a tendency to take language too literally.

Q: Is LPD a lifelong condition? 

A: While LPD can present challenges throughout life, early intervention and consistent support can significantly improve language processing skills over time.

Q: Are there any medications to treat LPD? 

A: Currently, there are no medications specifically designed to treat LPD. Interventions typically involve speech-language therapy and tailored educational strategies.


Meta-analysis of receptive and expressive language skills in autism spectrum disorder

Auditory processing disorder in relation to developmental disorders of language, communication and attention: a review and critique

Developmental Language Disorder and Autism: Commonalities and Differences on Language

Sensory Processing in Autism: A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings

Marco, E. J., Hinkley, L. B., Hill, S. S., & Nagarajan, S. S. (2011). Sensory processing in autism: a review of neurophysiologic findings. Pediatric research, 69(5 Pt 2), 48R–54R. https://doi.org/10.1203/PDR.0b013e3182130c54

Notbohm, E. (2012). Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew: Updated and Expanded Edition. Chapter 5. (Zysk, V. Ed.) Future Horizons

Tissot, Catherine & Evans, Roy. (2003). Visual Teaching Strategies for Children with Autism. Early Child Development and Care. 173. 425-433. 10.1080/0300443032000079104.

Williams, Diane. (2012). Language Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Insights from Neuroscience. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education. 19. 98. 10.1044/lle19.3.98.

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