Approximately 50% of kids with Aspergers have delayed speech. While many kids grow out of this by age five, others go on to experience other language difficulties. These generally fall into one or more of the following three areas of linguistics:
Pragmatics refers to language usage and the way that context relates to meaning. Kids with Aspergers often have difficulty in holding a normal conversation where there is give and take and social interaction. While most people learn these skills by observing others, those with Aspergers may need personal coaching. Problems with pragmatics manifest in the following forms:
- does not allow the other person to talk
- does not use people’s names
- focuses exclusively on topics that interest them
- gives too much detailed information
- interrupting others
- lack of facial expression and eye contact
- lack of greeting
- oblivious to boredom in others
- oblivious to emotional reactions in others
Semantics is defined as the meaning or interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form. While many children with Aspergers are extremely intelligent and avid readers, they often struggle in this particular area. They may have problems with the following:
- difficulty in understanding jokes
- difficulty in understanding metaphors and figures of speech
- interpreting everything literally
- pedantic speech
- problems with understanding teasing
- sarcasm is not understood
Prosody refers to the tonal and rhythmic aspects of speech. Kids with Aspergers often have a strange manner of speaking. It may come across with words enunciated precisely and formally and the speed, volume and rhythm may be odd. Problem areas to look out for include the following:
- difficulties in coordinating speaking and breathing
- little or no inflection
- monotonous sound
- stilted or formal speech
- strange rhythms of speech
- talking loudly
How Parents Can Help
Aspergers kids with language problems can benefit from one-on-one training with a parent or speech therapist. The problems are often tackled individually and it takes perseverance and repetition to see lasting results. Methods vary but could include the following:
- practicing eye contact and body language
- practicing normal pronunciation and inflection
- teaching how to start a conversation
- training them not to interrupt
- use of pictures to explain figures of speech
It is never too late to seek help for speech difficulties. The key to success is often a commitment from a parent to work with the youngster for extended periods of time. Here’s how:
1. Don't force your Aspergers youngster to speak correctly and accurately at all times. Allow him to be a kid when you are not helping him with his speech trouble. Keeping on him constantly about speaking appropriately will frustrate and anger him.
2. Catch your child speaking properly and accuse her of being successful. When parents praise a youngster – even for the littlest things – it helps to build her self-esteem and makes her want to try harder to do something. Help your youngster to keep practicing her speech by telling her what a great job she is doing at sounding out words and learning her phonics. When your youngster gets a word down well, write that word down and post it somewhere such as the refrigerator. Then she can see it daily and know what a good job she has done.
3. Have your youngster evaluated by a speech therapist. Your youngster may need more help with his speech than you or any other family can offer. Whether your youngster is delaying in learning words, has trouble sounding words out, or even stutters, a speech therapist can come up with strategies to make speech easier on your youngster and help him to grow his speech skills. Also, a speech therapist can help your youngster deal with the frustrations of his speech trouble. Since a speech therapist has so much experience, she can offer ideas and exercises for relaxing your youngster and helping him stay on track to better speaking.
4. Help your youngster sound out words by encouraging him to take his time with speech. Many kids get frustrated and tire of trying to do something that is tough for them. Most have a small attention span and want to quit doing things after a few minutes of trying. Help your youngster to relax and take time in practicing his speech. Let him know that things that are worth doing well take time and practice and that he'll get it if he just stays calm and focused. Sound the words out with him slowly so that your youngster gets the importance of relaxing when practicing his speech. If you, the parent, are calm, your youngster will be as well.
5. Promote confidence in your youngster to help him deal with the social ramifications of a speech problem. Unfortunately, children can be mean, and your youngster may encounter these cruel children who will make fun of his speech trouble. Your youngster may have a difficult time dealing with this type of bullying treatment and end up not wanting to go to school, be around other children, or even leave the house. Help your youngster to feel good about himself by letting him know all his good qualities. Make a list of things your youngster does well or characteristics he possesses. Give him the list and let him see how amazing he is. Tell him to let you know immediately if any youngster picks on him for his speech trouble. Let your youngster know that this is bullying, and if it happens in school, he needs to tell his teachers.
6. Your youngster needs to see speaking as fun and enjoyable, not a task. Let him talk freely during times when you are not working on his speech with him. Chances are, you'll find him correcting himself – and that's the greatest way to instill confidence in him...allowing him to do it himself.
7. Practice, practice, and then practice some more.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook