Exploring Language Difficulties in Neurodiverse Children

Aug 29, 2022

By Ms Caitlin Snowden & Ms Hayley Sheppard, Speech Pathologists at Minds & Hearts

Does your child have difficulty following directions?

Does your child get stuck on topics?

Does your child have difficulty reading a room?

Does your child misinterpret what is said by others?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your child may benefit from seeing a speech pathologist.

A speech pathologist can support your child’s speech and language development, including how they use these skills to communicate (i.e., social communication skills). Social communication involves:

  • understanding how others think and feel (i.e., recognising and understanding other’s perspectives, or Theory of Mind)
  • understanding and using non-verbal communication skills (e.g., body language, tone of voice)
  • knowing how to “read the room” (i.e., understand social rules)
  • making predictions in social situations (i.e., social inferencing)

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to differences in the way many people experience and interact with the world. The term neurodiversity refers to the diversity of ALL people but is often used to describe people with an autism spectrum condition, as well as other neurodevelopmental conditions such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world differently. These differences in thinking, learning, behaving, and relating to others are not viewed as deficits, but rather natural variations in a person’s neurology which should be respected and celebrated. These differences are uniquely expressed by everyone, meaning each and every person has a unique combination of strengths, abilities and needs.

How does neurodiversity affect communication?

Communication is key to understanding and connecting with others. Feeling heard and understood by others contributes to feeling safe, valued, and cared for. Neurodivergent individuals, particularly those who present with an autism spectrum condition, often experience differences in their communication, learning, socialisation, and behaviour. These differences will be expressed differently by all people, depending on their individual strengths and challenges.

Theory of Mind refers to the ability to understand the desires, intentions and beliefs of others, and is a skill that typically develops between 3 and 5 years of age. Neurodiverse individuals develop their Theory of Mind differently to others. The development of these skills can be challenging for some neurodiverse people, particularly those on the autism spectrum.

Difficulties with theory of mind can contribute to difficulties in areas such as:

  • Taking things literally
  • Misinterpreting the intents of others and responding in an unexpected way
  • Responding appropriately to the emotional states of others
  • Understanding the expected social rules and behaviours across person and environment
  • Difficulties compromising and understanding the needs of others
  • Missing the ‘bigger picture’ and getting stuck on specific details within social conflicts

Does my child need support?

Differences in your child’s communication may contribute to difficulties forming and maintaining meaningful peer relationships, engaging in the school curriculum (e.g., participating in group work), communicating their needs and advocating for themself.

If you have concerns about your child’s communication and social development, please reach out to info@mindsandhearts.net to book an initial consult with a speech pathologist.