Communication deficits are one of the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). People with ASD can be slow to begin talking, or may not learn to talk at all; others may learn to produce words and sentences but have difficulty using them effectively to accomplish social interactive goals. In this chapter we will discuss the course of the development of communication in ASD and will outline how communication deficiencies in this population are identified and treated. Before we do, however, we should be clear about three important terms we will be using, which are illustrated in Figure 4.1.
The term “communication” is the broadest of this trio. It refers to all forms of sending and receiving messages, not only with language, but in other ways, such as with gestures, body language, even the way we dress. Animals can also communicate by means of their vocalizations to alert others to danger, for example. That's why the largest circle in Figure 4.1 represents communication. Within the realm of communication, language represents a specific type, so it is enclosed within the larger circle of communication in the figure. Language involves the creation of a potentially infinite set of never-before-conveyed messages through the combination of words in rule-governed ways that allow the formation of sentences to express meaning to others.