The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a “neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction and the presence of restricted, repetitive behaviors.”

Impairments in social communication and interaction may include:

  • Deficits in joint attention (e.g. difficulty orienting to people, limited frequency of shared attention, limitations considering other’s intention and perspective)
  • Difficulty initiating and responding to bids for interaction
  • Difficulty maintaining turn-taking during interaction
  • Difficulty understanding and using nonverbal gestures, facial expressions, and gaze to communicate
  • Difficulty forming peer relationships
  • Difficulty expanding on play skills to include make-believe
  • Difficulty starting or maintaining a conversation
  • Difficulty expanding expressive language and use to include a variety of pragmatic functions (e.g. label, request, question, comment)
  • Difficulty understanding and using more complex language

Impairments in behavior may include:

  • Being preoccupied with specific interest and using objects in unusual ways
  • Being inflexible and stuck on specific routines
  • Using stereotyped or repetitive motor movements (e.g. hand or finger flapping)
  • Demonstrating restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, or activities (e.g. immediate echolalia and scripted language)
  • Difficulty with self-management and emotions.

Social pragmatic deficits are often seen in individuals with ASD.  Pragmatics refers to the social use of language.  ASHA states pragmatics involve three major communication skills: using language, changing language, and following rules.

  • Using language for different purposes (e.g. greet, request, comment, question).
  • Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation (e.g. using different language with a baby than an adult, giving background information to an unfamiliar listener, and speaking differently in different environments).
  • Following rules for conversations and storytelling (e.g. taking turns in conversation, maintaining a topic, rephrasing when misunderstood, using verbal and nonverbal signals, how close to stand to someone when speaking, and how to use facial expressions and eye contact).