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What Is The Difference Between Speech Delay And Autism

Other than the first walking steps, every parent is eager to witness their newborn's first words. But there could be delays, a condition totally without your control as a parent. However, that doesn't mean you should conclude that your child has Autism. For example, delay in speaking can sometimes be nothing more than what it is – speech delay.

According to several studies into the matter, delay in a toddler's first words doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem. The child may just be developing at a slower pace. Moreover, several other reasons could be responsible for speech delay. Hence, there’s no need to panic.

What all these ‘mays’ infer is; you can’t be too sure of what’s wrong with a child until proper diagnosis. Movies, blogs, and real-life experiences may have emphasized communication impediments as a symptom of Autism. However, speech delay differs from Autism, and this article explores those core differences.


Speech delay is a somewhat common condition, which about 10% of preschool children face. As the condition's name suggests, it reflects a delay in the rate at which a child develops language and speech skills.

While it's a consensus that every child develops at their own pace, you should expect your child to start saying a few words at two years old. At two years old, your child should be able to speak about 50 words. At age 3, about 1000 words should be in your child’s vocabulary. Also, as a sign of proper development, your child should be able to string sentences of three to four words per time.

If your child isn’t hitting this milestone, seek a professional consult even after a couple more years.

Now, it’s essential to understand that speech delay is not unilaterally the same as language delay. Speech delay involves a delay in the sound production process, while language delay refers to a delay in knowing and understanding language.

Speech delays can occur naturally; hence, you may not need to pursue any treatment. But the condition can also result from impediments to the anatomy of your child. For instance, speech motor disorder. Owing to this, it’s best to stay on the safer and assured side by consulting with a specialist.


Medically, autism is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The word spectrum infers that the condition is characterized by several developmental anomalies in each other's company. On the Autism disorder spectrum, the patient experiences characteristic difficulty in social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and impediments to all primary forms of communication.

1 in 54 children in the United States suffers from this condition. And it’s worthy of note that this medical condition occurs in varying severity. Some are more social than others; some find communication easier than others. A whole spectrum of symptoms characterizes Autism, causing children with the same condition to behave differently.


Being knowledgeable about children's developmental patterns is vital. You should be able to monitor your child's developmental process and report any abnormality to your pediatrician.

Communication issues, which commonly manifest as speech delay, can be a sign of Autism. However, speech delay may also not have anything to do with Autism. Hence, it would be best if you didn't consider the symptom in isolation. Before assuming that your child may have Autism, it's essential to consider other signs of Autism.

During your observation, take communication out of the equation. Examine other traits like:

  • Autistic children avoid others and prefer staying on their own

  • Autistic children are more interested in inanimate objects than people

  • Autistic children are comfortable when you leave them alone to their ventures

Combined with other environmental variables, the characteristics above result in varying behavior in these children.


Speech delay and Autism are conditions no parent wishes on their children. However, when either occurs, helping the child as best as possible should be your priority. Because of this, you should take the first step towards assisting the child in – understanding the condition. While observing what's wrong, understanding the peculiarities will help you.

The Cause

The significant difference between speech delays and Autism is what causes them. From an observatory standpoint, it may not be easy to determine what’s causing the condition. However, as a parent, this should indicate that you should pay attention to other things.

For instance, speech delay in some children can be due to language delay. They are unable to comprehend language properly and its use; hence, they aren't speaking. You can try to communicate in some higher-level language, then watch the child's response.

Hearing loss can also cause speech delay. Children pick up most words they use from parents and other people around. If they can't hear what people are saying, it may be hard to communicate in such a language. More often than not, you'll only detect the hearing problem when it has resulted in speech delay.

Problems with the mouth can also make it difficult for a child to speak. Hence, it's essential to check the tongue, palate, and other parts of the mouth. For instance, a tongue-tie may discourage a child from speaking.

For Autism, speech disorder is one of the symptoms. However, the condition, in this case, is most likely of a neurological root. Neurological and cognitive issues can cause speech delay, which mainly occurs in autistic children.

Social Interaction

Speech delay only makes it difficult for children to talk to others; it doesn't make them avoid other people. Hence, children suffering from speech delay can still afford social interactions. On the other hand, autistic children find social interactions uncomfortable and stressful.


For children suffering from speech delay, the condition can wane with time. However, with autistic children, there’s the need for supportive measures from both family and physician. The support needed will take a while


Speech delay and Autism are different conditions, though the former can be a symptom of the latter. When you notice either of these conditions, even when you're unsure what the problem is, it's better to see a specialist promptly. With therapy and care, improvement is possible for both speech delay and autism-induced communication disorder.

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