Autism: Is Speech the Most Important Focus?

Dynamic communication requires a high neurological bandwidth that allows us to integrate multiple modalities of information into one single packet of meaning. As we develop, we are integrating more and more channels of communication on a simultaneous basis.

By the time typical infants are incorporating words, they have been successfully communicating for over a year, using facial expression, vocalization and gesture. are relying on words. It takes that long to build up bandwidth before words are added in this developmental process. When it does happen, words aren’t added on top of a static, quantitative accumulation of vocabulary. Instead, it incorporates into the dynamic pathway that is being built.

Unfortunately, many in the autism world have skipped an appreciation for this developmental process. In the effort to jumpstart communication, some focus on teaching words instead of understanding and developing the other channels of communication. To our detriment, we have accepted a model that teaches language in a static way and misses the point all together.

Related: Sifting Truth from Myth in Autism Land

Often when I meet new parents that say, “at least my child can speak”, I want to understand what they mean by that statement. 99 times out of 100 the thing they want is for their child to be able to communicate how they feel. Speech is really just a symbol for what parents crave: communication that brings real connection

So if we start with words and only focus on words…what is the result?

The person for whom speech is the only communication channel is, in many ways, cut off. While everyone else’s brain is using facial expression, vocal tone, gesture, clothing and context, intentions, shared history and posture to communicate, this person only knows one piece.

How will this person be successful?

RDI programs are focused on helping obtain a better quality of life, so we won’t ignore what it takes to get a real result by substituting a quick fix. Instead, we help parents and individuals work to rebuild communication skills from the bottom up.


  1. Soma Roychowdhury

    Some Speech Therapist think that OPT is not required for ASD children….please guide me whether the statement is true or not..

  2. Rachelle Sheely

    Dear Soma. I believe we always have to make sure the work we do with children on the spectrum is focused to meet a need they have.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This