To the degree language does appear to have been acquired, the autistic child falls into repetitive speech patterns (echolalia) or otherwise fails to sustain an effective track of verbal or nonverbal communication (APA, DSM-IV, 1994). Asperger's syndrome is the name given to a less severe autism of communication and delayed language acquisition. Autistics who fail to acquire language by the age of six are unlikely to do so at any time during life, and those who acquire words but not sentences during that period are likely never to develop linguistic communication skills (Williams, 1990). Although symptoms of autism, such as impaired language, may decline or disappear as the child gets older, social impairments such as failure to communicate effectively may not necessarily disappear (LeCouteur & Others, 1996).
Autistic children are not necessarily retarded, their cognitive capabilities are severely limited. However, Tager Flusberg (1992) observed marked similarities in cognition and word choices between autistics and children with Down's syndrome who were asked questions meant to elicit conceptions of abstractions such as emotion and desire. In a comparative study of normal preschoolers and adolescent autistics, it was found the former group could better track a conversation and pay attention to the people talking than the latter. Indeed, the autistic adolescents did not even appear to understand the concept of a conversation or adopt a consciously observant attitude toward the emotional content of conversation (Roth & Leslie, 1991). Similarly, those who have language-acquisition difficulties per se in early childhood may have difficulty processing complex language uses, such as metaphor, as they get older (Nippold & Fey, 1984).
Symptoms of autism have been studied and treated in a variety of settings. The complete absence of language acquisition in autism is referred to as mutism, though this is not necessarily permanent. In this re...
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