Happy Talk Speech & Language Therapy: Autism – A Straight Talking Guide

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Autism ~ A Straight Talking Guide

by Kirsty Henderson

What is autism?

Generally speaking, people with autism find it challenging to communicate with other people and to socialise. But, individuals with autism vary hugely in their skills, abilities and what they personally find challenging.

So, how do you spot the signs of possible autism in children? Children with autism may have difficulty in these four areas:

  • communicating with other people
  • understanding and using language
  • sensory processing
  • being flexible in play and behaviour

Autism shares common features with other conditions, so it’s important to get an expert to diagnose whether or not a child has autism. Autism is a lifelong condition, so children won’t grow out of it.

But it’s important to remember that there are positive aspects to autism, as well as the more publicised difficulties. Also, each child with autism is totally unique. So, what is true for one child may not be true for the next. This is why autism is described as a ‘spectrum’.

Not listening

What causes autism?

There is lots of on-going research in this area. There is some evidence that this condition runs in families. For example, an uncle or grandparent may also have autism and there appears to be a genetic link. Some studies are looking at whether other factors could perhaps cause autism.

What signs are there?

Remember that no two children are the same. But, of course there are some similarities too. You may spot some of the following:

Parents sometimes notice that their child is late talking, or doesn’t talk at all. A child with autism appears less sociable, though this may not be noticed until the age of three plus, when their peers are starting to play together.

Children with autism are often delayed in their play skills and can be quite ‘rigid’ in their play. Children sometimes show inflexible behaviour and may have difficulty coping with changes in routine. Some children tend to avoid eye contact too, though this is not true for all.

Positive things about autism

  • The right support can help children improve their communication, language and play skills
  • Many children with autism are good visual learners
  • Children with autism learn, change and develop new skills, just like other children
  • Structured play helps children with autism to develop their play skills
  • Around 75% of children with autism will learn to talk
  • Children with autism can be very loving, just like other children
  • Some children with autism laugh, make jokes, have friends and do well socially
  • Some children with autism will go on to higher education
  • Some adults with autism work and live independently
  • There is lots of support available for children and parents
  • The more we learn about autism, the more we can help children to achieve their full potential

Further advice and information

For advice and information on how to help a child with autism, please get in touch with Kirsty Henderson at Happy Talk.

A good website to look at for more information is www.autism.org.uk.

I’d recommend this Bristol-based support group www.bristolautismsupport.com/

There is an interesting article, written as if from a child’s point of view at


Kirsty Henderson is a qualified Speech and Language Therapist, practising in Bristol.


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Speech and Language Therapy

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