The difficulties that get overlooked when your autistic child is verbal


I am blessed with a daughter who has a large vocabulary and clear dictation. She can read fluently and make up complex sentences. She can remember accurate facts about things and repeat these readily. She can make choices, recall events and express her opinion.

As a result of all of the above it is assumed (wrongly) that her autism is mild, has limited impact on her life and something to be of little concern about.

People are too quick to assume if a child is verbal that everything is fine. 

Let me assure you that just because an autistic child can speak it does not mean their autism is mild.

Having speech does not mean a child necessarily understands what you are talking about.

Having speech does not mean there are no learning difficulties.

Being able to talk does not mean a child can effectively communicate.

Most of my autistic daughter’s speech is something called ‘complex echolalia’. She remembers sentences and phrases from things she has read or heard and uses them to allude people into thinking she is coping socially. This is a common coping mechanism in girls with autism. They become adept at hiding their difficulties by quoting from others be it from movies, books or friends. It took a highly skilled speech therapist to diagnose this in my child but once pointed out it was so obvious. When she was younger we could pick out phrases from Thomas Tank engine, or Peppa Pig or sentences from well read children’s books I would read to her at bedtime. Her vocabulary was not being used independently but more ‘cut and pasted’ from one situation to another. This is much more common with autism than people realise.

Your child may appear to be talking but is it spontaneous language or an echo of something they have heard many times before but do not actually understand?

People assume because my daughter can talk that she is socialising. ‘She chats to friends in the playground’ is a common phrase used by schools to assume a child with autism is socialising well. What in fact she is doing is listing every  ‘shopkin‘ she owns in alphabetic order or inappropriately telling another child they smell awful today! It is talking and it is to another child but it is not social reciprocal play and she is not making friends!

Many also assume because my child can speak that she can not possibly be anxious! That is a myth. Anxiety can manifest in so many ways and if asked a direct question my daughter will attempt to answer even if her anxiety is making her feel physically sick. Anxiety in verbal people with autism can actually make them say things that are considered rude or hurtful or even cause them to repeat the same phrase or question over and over. These are ‘coping mechanisms’ to help them cope with the extra stress of certain situations.

It is assumed because she is verbal that she understands emotional and intention. That is like saying because a baby can walk they can do ballet or play football! It is dangerous and worrying that even teachers assume because a child has the physical ability to speak that they are able to cognitively answer complex emotional questions like ‘why did Billy hit you? Or ‘how do you think I feel about you saying that?’ A verbal child with autism may still struggle with emotions and verbalising events that have happened. They still struggle with seeing things from other’s perspectives or being able to break down facial expressions. We need to remember they still have autism even if they can speak and not make assumptions based solely on the fact we appear to understand what they tell us.

My daughter can speak but don’t expect her to tell you if she is in pain or where. Don’t expect her to understand metaphors or euphemisms or jokes. She can not grasp double meanings and understands language completely literally. ‘The sky looks heavy today’ to her means it is about to fall down! Don’t stop her half way through her lists or even her sentence as you interrupt her echolalia and therefore her brain’s ability to decipher the world around her.

I am eternally grateful she can speak. I have a son who is entirely non verbal at 8 and I know the pain of never hearing your child talk.

However, I also know the pain of seeing my child’s difficulties ignored just because she is verbal.

We must look at autistic children individually. We need to look past the words they speak and see beyond the sounds we are able to understand. Under the surface of speech lies so many other difficulties that require ongoing support. 

If you know someone with autism who can speak never make the assumption their autism must be mild. There is so much more to autism than just being able to talk. Words hide much more than we ever think. 

186 thoughts on “The difficulties that get overlooked when your autistic child is verbal

    • Still reading this in 2018. I’m Autistic, much like your daughter, it seems. I copy/pasted this article’s link into a file I call “Snapshots for Amy”- that’s my therapist’s name. When I read this, I felt like I was reading about myself. At 40 years old, I still don’t have a formal diagnosis and will likely never try to get one, since my therapist is willing to work with me to find what works, knowing that I refuse anything like or actually ABA.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is the best explanation of verbal hfa or Asperger difficulties I have read so far. If only all teachers would read this because many of them make obtaining support so difficult due to the assumptions that you have highlighted.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on A Different Kind of Rainbow and commented:
    Brilliant explanation. N can talk and has a particularly large vocabulary but so much of his language is from movies and YouTube videos. Unless you spend a lot of time with him, this could be easily missed and you could be led to believe that his speech is completely typical and that he understands everything you say, when in fact it is very far from the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ty for sharing. My son is in the realm but able to speak and process better Than some. Due to that when he has a meltdown people assume it from lack of discipline and it is a tantrum. So frustrating.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: My Homepage

  5. Another fabulous post. I’m loving your blog. I’m so sick of people thinking my son doesn’t suffer or struggle because his autism is ‘mild’

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think that my daughter is autistic, she struggles with her own emotions and the feelings of others.she would be by any other judied as rude or in sensitive. She is verbal, bright,eloquent and is very stronger willed but in some situations a spider or something at school that is more difficult she will have a complete meltdown and have to be diverted completely to calm her down,she finds it difficult to understand other peopleside needs or opinions and her way is right even if it’s not.I know something is not right but what can I do to help her?
    please

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly like my daughter she is now 23 can be very rude,bad mannered,abrupt,cruel,and I sometimes have to get her out of awkward situations because of her sharpness,people just assume she is a nasty person xx

      Like

  7. This is a great description and a very concise account of the problems that can exist with verbal autism. One thing I would add (as a VERY verbal autistic) is that people should not simply assume that verbal responses indicate that an autistic is actually communicating, or indeed, even “There”. In my own experience, I have developed a sort of “answering machine” that can deal with other people when *I* am busy with something more interesting or urgent (for me). This can function so effectively that I am often unaware that an entire “conversation” has taken place and the other person has left the room.

    I can trace the development of this “answering machine” over several decades. When I was very young all it could say was “No”. My parents though it was somehow “cute” ant that I was just being a difficult child, but then, that was back when autism was not well understood. Over time it acquired other words and phrases and with practice it has become quite adept at acquiring vocabulary and fooling people into thinking *I* am talking to them. I dont mean to suggest anything like split personality, because there is no consciousness in what it does. If you ask anything that requires actual thought (“what is your favourite food?”” or “what is 6 +3”), it shuts off, hits me over the head with a baseball bat (figuratively, but it is very jarring and can result in me being very angry when I finally do respond) and forces *me* to answer.

    Today, it can toss out all sorts of seemingly appropriate phrases to get another person to go away (Not now. OK. Sure, whatever you say. Can we discuss this later. Fine. Do what you like. Please, cant you see Im busy) . . . and though the other person assumes they are getting a response, in actual fact I am not even aware that they are in the room. Obviously this can have serious social repercussions when someone comes back later and says “But we already discussed this!!!” My long-suffering wife

    I guess the point Im trying to make is that verbal responses from an autistic person do NOT mean that they are communicating.You should take great care (especially with younger children) to verify that the responses contain sufficient logical skill and awareness to indicate that you are really getting through. Just saying “Uh-huh” or “Yeah, OK, whatever” is not necessarily a sign of communication, or even awareness for that matter.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for sharing these truths.
    My autistic, verbal son,now 22,has learned how to deal with his challenges and to accept them.
    Not easy, but it is very possible for our children to grow up and lead “normal” lives IF they are fortunate enough to embark in a career that is the focus of their individual strengths. For my son it was working on machines, specifically tractors. He works on a very profitable private farm and is loving life !

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a great way to explain to others how children with autism has hidden problems. So many times I have family and friends say they can’t see anything wrong with my diagnosed son who is in special school because he talks and plays normally in a known and controlled environment. Our son is very similar to your daughter and I Started noticing this copy and paste In my son a year ago when I would ask him why he hit someone at school again and he would guess what the correct answer was based on previous conversation. It made me realise, he may be responding to my question, but he hasn’t got a clue what I’m actually asking him.
    Thank you for sharing this x

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I understand completely. My 18 yr old son is very vocal but can’t understand what play is. He will sit beside someone and copy their motions. He doesn’t follow direction at all. Thinking outside the box is one he doesn’t get. Also, no sense of humour. At 3 my brother told him Walmart had sense off humour on sale and he asked if we could go shopping. To this day he can’t manage money. In his mind he can, but reality is he can’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you so much for this post – I didn’t know about your blog but I followed a Facebook link to the post and the description of complex echolalia sounded much like my daughter. Before I read it, it never occurred to any of her family or nursery careers that she might need checking out for ASD. She has now been diagnosed as having moderate ASD, with strengths in many areas and potential to achieve a lot if she gets the special support she needs. If it hadn’t been for your blog, she might have gone for years more without diagnosis. Thanks again, and all the best for you and your twins – you are all in my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi thank you for writing. Its helps to people like me who is forever worried and noticing these symptoms but everyone thinks he is fine. My 3 year old is like this. Great vocab but finds it difficult to catch what i speak. Sometimes he is not interested. He knows what and where questions but why questions i have not even able to start. He cathes some phrases and uses appropriately. But no interest in a continous conversation. He is asking for food now. Does things intelligently. But communication is tough. Doesnt say ‘yes’ yet. Doesnt care Mostly when i speak in sentences. But he is learning new things everyday. No other obvious signs. He is in waitlist for evaluation. So what happens to this type of kids? What is their future? Can you guide me to some info? Thanks again. All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is so familiar and also the reason my son lost his PIP Payments, talking does not mean he understands what he is saying, I wish people would get this

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Tell that to opwdd. Because my son can speak and has high test scores they denied him twice. He has behavior issues, delays, needs aba therapy at home , needs self direction, has a one one aide at school and on bus yet opwdd selfishly keeps denying my son because of stupid test scores. They refuse to see the kind of help he needs. Opwdd really needs to change their ways and look at the child NOT the test scores

    Like

  15. I was talking about this with my partner the other day. Being able to speak really well doesn’t mean you can say the right thing or what you need to. He’s recently admitted to using film quotes repeatedly not only because he likes the film or quote, but mainly because he simply doesn’t know what else to say.
    One of my children has not played in the garden for several weeks and he managed to explain last week that it’s because he got a touch of sunburn on his leg and it was uncomfortable. I was able to point out the differences between June and now, and he’s back out playing. It’s so frustrating for me, it must be so much more so for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. OH MY GOODNESS YES!!! So much this!! We have a page Joshua Ryan’s Beautiful Mind. On Instagram and Facebook just for this. To help bring all parts of this spectrum to light. Your story is just like ours only Joshua is well… a boy. The school doesn’t see his needs because he’s super intelligent, verbal and asks for thigs. But yet many evaluations show his needs. Thank you for sharing this. I will be sharing on our pages for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This is so true. your little girl is a beautiful indivual who has autism. It is harder to recognisevin girls …my dughter has autism too she was finally diagnosed when she was 15 and has had 6o struggle tor many years.she is now 18 and finally happy because people now understand her difficulties .

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I am 67 and am clever distinctions at college..verbalise well and appear NORMAL yet have levels 2 and 3 autism…stuck thoughts and inability to deal with change ..been called manipulative and controlling. have multiple meltdowns and flees..semi shutdowns where I go non verbal walk in traffic make weird noises look vacant ..can hear but can’t reply or verbalise..but because I can tell people exactly what happens when not in Autism Mode I can STOP it. I know I am unsafe when told I nearly got killed by a bus. but I CANT.I can tell you what happens as I feel it and live it bit I have NO CONTROL OVER IT. being in that situation I need a 1-1 until I come out of it. I am unsafe I am AUTISTIC. I have no trigger to thirst etc but because I can say I not drunken for three days it’s assumed I can JUST DO IT as I know I not had any..I CANT. I don’t know during those three days I not had any until someone says when did u last have a drink I had a risk plan with social to keep me safer if I fled at night with overload ..as I can verbalise in between autism SYMPTOMS instead of following plan even if I out for 4 days walking nr water.traffic talking to strange men.making noises unable to speak my plan isn’t followed..I am just told you NEED TO GO HOME..you wouldn’t say that to those with a constant 1-1 in a world of their own locked in that mode why do it to me making me worse escalate more and risk more days fled with no food or drink oh yes I forgot I can verbalise I am bright and can tell them what happens in autism mode so I don’t need that same protection understanding and safeguarding as those that are that level constantly. even tho mine is more stressful to go from one extreme to another being locked there until someone understand and helps break down autism defence mode and helps me unpick the fixed thoughts that put me there probably from someone not doing or doing something in a way I CANT deal with ..I am not trying to control it is impossible for me to change my mind my brain is wired differently I am in utter trauma and fear..bought about by your lack of understanding of my NEEDS not my wants..my everyday functioning ..despite my appearance of NORMAL my ability to wash eat go out are ALL affected I struggle and do not function very well at all..just someone sitting in my seat at college due to my inability to express my needs when I need to I will start pacing and go into meltdown whereas others may say or even run out room..I go from of to meltdown…I need high support to LIVE but not interference when I am OK …I am worse than someone whose autism shows all the time.. I can tell u what happens. but I HAVE NO CONTROL OR MEANS TO KEEP MYSELF SAFE …I cannot JUST GO HOME or JUST DRINK. .even friend says IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU SIT or don’t worry about it.. just get out the road and come back inside where it’s safe IF ONLY I COULD..

    Like

  19. Pingback: The difficulties that get overlooked when your autistic child is verbal | Creating the Future

  20. This describes exactly the condition of my 8 year old son who is now in grade 3 in a montessori elementary school. His teachers have expressed that he has been progressing commendably well but however, he is lacking in social interaction and rarely seen to be mingling with his friends at school.
    I struggle with this concern a lot and am always trying to find every opportunity I could to help him learn in this area of weakness and to manage his anxieties.
    I wish we could have more awareness in school as well but it has been hard.

    How do I connect with the author of this article please if I may?

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I read your post about a year ago and I’m so thankful I did. My now 4yo is quite similar and his autism presents very much like a girl on the spectrum. I suspect has a lot of complex echolalia as his play and speech is quite scripted. He even negotiates with me the exact same way I parent him. Word for word sometimes.

    Thank you xo

    Liked by 1 person

  22. That is so helpful, exactly like my granddaughter. She appears to be very articulate with a wide vocabulary and reads fluently but really struggles with comprehension exercises at school. Her interaction with friends are exactly as you describe. We have managed to reduce her meltdowns and anxiety with PDA strategies, but as this has happened her autistic traits have become more apparent. At the moment she is in a small class with a naturally empathetic teacher. We hope we can find the same environment for her when she moves to secondary school next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. My youngest was exactly the same! Although she was diagnosed with mild-moderate. Over the years and with both her dad and mines help she has learned banter, jokes and double meanings, she did find it upsetting at first us springing things upon her, then we’d say it’s a joke, then from there, banter which again at first she took to heart but we knew it’s a life skill she needed to be taught, now she’s quick to respond and has a great sense of humour (if a little dark!) Never give up and always give your child room to grow. No child with autism is a textbook case, as such we found the courses not too good as it encouraged mollycoddling and she’ll need to learn to survive in the world beyond the house

    Like

    • How do you get the teachers to understand the difficulties as my daughter has just started school and they’re saying her attention/listening isn’t great and also she needs to move.. I don’t want them to think that I’m against them teaching her skills but they do need to understand the difficulties however “high functioning “ she seems I already have senco involved and autism services coming into school to assess her

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Thank you for this post I also have a daughter aged four and completely understand and can relate to what you’re talking about,her teachers are like “she’s high functioning “ it sometimes these so called high functioning labels are offensive as they make light of the serious issues of autistic people!

    Like

  25. Thank is so true. That what scares me so much about later diagnosis or re-revaluation. My daughter can speak, read fluently, and have a great conversation at times; yet does many of the things mentioned in your blog. What truly scares me is that it’s time for evaluation again for the services she needs, (with the therapies she has been receiving at school to help her live with autism) has helped “mask/stereotypical” the autism characteristics above.
    I appreciate the blog, and I also plan to share it with her teacher and therapists.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Hi, as a teacher with a student on the autism spectrum this was fantastic reading and bought another excellent level of thinking to teaching. Although, I never assume anything and I’m always guided by a wealth of resources and information. One of the most valuable sources of information is a parent/s so thanks for sharing this. I’ll research this more. Kindest regards Pete

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Thank you for such a fantastic article!! Wish I could force everyone to read this! How many times I hear ‘he doesn’t look or sound autistic’ ummm how does an autistic person sound and look!? Moron!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I understand all this.
    People with autism use things as tools.
    They aren’t trying to hide anything it is just that they use what they have seen work in another situation.

    Like

  29. This has made me smile as it has made a lot of sense to me I am going through all of this at them moment with my 14yr daughter…it is so hard at times for me but very hard most of time for her as she is struggling at the minute

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s