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7 Signs Your Autistic Child Will Talk

June 5, 2024

Every parent waits for their child’s first words, but when verbal milestones are missed, parents may want to talk to the pediatrician. Early intervention is essential for improving communication.

Yet, once a child has been diagnosed, what signs should a parent look for that their autistic child will talk?

Here are seven behaviors that parents should look for as they work to help their child with speech.

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1. They’re using gestures and other forms of nonverbal communication

A child with autism may have difficulty gesturing and pointing. However, studies have shown that ASD people have low gesture rates. Therefore, it shouldn’t be alarming if a child with autism is not gesturing a lot.

However, a nonverbal child may tap a chair, walk over to you, and touch your hand. They may be indicating they want you to sit there. They may bring you to their favorite toy.

For each incident, you might say, “Do you want me to sit in this chair?” or “Do you want to play with this toy?” Show that you are trying to understand by responding.

Imitating or copying is also nonverbal communication. Children may imitate movements that their parents or others do. Copying specific motor skills, like clapping or stomping, is engaging.

Even though your child is not speaking to you, they are still communicating.

2. They’re mimicking different sounds

Some children with autism may make sounds for different reasons. If they are stimming or repeating a sound, they may do that to feel calm. 

They may also copy a sound they hear, like the teakettle or a large truck rumbling down the road. This could be that they are experimenting with making sounds with their voices.

In some cases, however, they might make a “Woo” sound whenever they want to play with their trains. In that case, they may be trying to communicate with you.

You might say, “You really sounded like that big truck,” or “Are you asking for this train?” if you recognize the repeated sound. Express how proud you are that they let you know what they wanted. 

Pay attention to the sounds they are making, and be sure to encourage them each time. You may notice the noises are less random and, therefore, may be more of a precursor to verbal communication.

3. They’re babbling and humming tunes

A nonverbal autistic child may babble or hum. This could mean they are experimenting with sounds, using their voices to prepare for vocalization.

One study found children might experience delays if parents didn’t respond to their child’s babbling, thinking it wasn’t considered vocalizing.

Mom playing with a baby who's babbling https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/signs-autistic-child-will-talk/

If your child babbles or hums, you can imitate the sounds or respond. You might say, “Were you looking at this book, too? I really like this.” Answer as if they are having a conversation with you. 

You can respond positively to the sounds. “That was great!” “Listen to all the sounds you’re making!” “I really love that song you’re humming!” Encouraging them to make more sounds may lead to actual talking.

4. They’re engaging in pretend play

Many children with autism don’t engage in pretend play often. Studies show that pretend play enhances language and understanding as well as social skills.

Your child might be moving a car along a track and making motor sounds. Maybe your child is putting a bowl in front of their stuffed dog and babbling. They might even move a figure, making them “walk” to a doll house and knock on the door.

Each action is pretending, which may indicate that your child is linguistically or cognitively improving. Encourage them by talking to them about what they are doing. Praise how nicely they feed their dog or ask if the car is driving fast.

By engaging with the inanimate objects and with you as you show interest in their play, they are pretending and developing social skills.

5. They respond to their name

When a child responds to their name, they are showing an awareness of the person who is calling to them. Their response might be to make eye contact or look in the person’s direction. This shows that they are receptive to an interaction.

Encourage your child when this happens. “Julia, I’m so glad you heard me.” You can smile and blow a kiss.

React positively and use their name in a variety of activities. “Here comes the teddy bear to Colin.” “Rebecca, I love how you move the train along the tracks.” They may respond to you with a sound or a smile. Either way, they are interacting.

6. Their eye contact has improved

Many children with autism have difficulty making eye contact. If this has improved, it could be a sign that their social skills and communication are developing. Help them continue along this trajectory.


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You might hold their favorite toy by your face so they look up toward your eyes. As you snuggle them, look into their face and express that you love them. Pretend to take their picture, get their attention, then give them a big smile. 

While making eye contact might be difficult for someone with autism, the fact that they are looking in your direction means they are making a connection, however small.

7. They engage in turn-taking

When people engage in conversation, one speaks, and one listens in a verbal exchange. Taking turns during an activity helps children understand the dynamics involved with conversing. 

You might hand your nonverbal child a toy and say, “Now you hold the bunny.” See if they make a noise or a giggle. Then say, “Now I hold the bunny,” and have them hand it to you. Make the same noise they did.

Talking through the turn-taking helps them see how to wait and share, as well as how conversation happens. 

Don’t miss the signs your autistic child will talk

Your nonverbal child gestures and reacts to you. Maybe they mimic sounds, babble, or hum. They may engage in pretend play while taking turns. Or they may look up at you if you call their name. Each of these skills is important for language and social development, and they may be heading toward speech.

Praise them for each step forward, and engage them further to increase the momentum. Together, you’re communicating.

FAQs

Q: At what age do autistic children talk?

A: Many children with ASD have issues with language and communication skills, with one-fourth remaining non-verbal their whole lives. Those who verbally communicate usually do so later, around age 3.

Q: How do you teach an autistic child to talk?

A: While a child is non-verbal, responding immediately to any form of communication is essential. For a child under three, the caregivers and family are their primary source of socializing, so actively communicating is crucial. Goals for a non-verbal child include initiating and improving simple communication awareness and prompting pronunciation. Interventions and behavior strategies should be implemented as well.

Q: At what age is a child considered nonverbal?

A: Studies have shown that the goal for better social functioning is to have “useful speech” by the time a child is five years old, so increasing their spoken language before that age is imperative. 

Q: Can autism get better with age?

A: One study has shown that a child diagnosed with autism at an early age may have a decline in their symptoms, but it is believed that with comprehensive therapy, all children on the spectrum can make some progress. 

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Tenenbaum EJ, Carpenter KLH, Sabatos-DeVito M, Hashemi J, Vermeer S, Sapiro G, Dawson G. A Six-Minute Measure of Vocalizations in Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Res. 2020 Aug;13(8):1373-1382. doi: 10.1002/aur.2293. Epub 2020 Mar 25. PMID: 32212384; PMCID: PMC7881362. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7881362/

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