This post, the second in a series, is courtesy of Dr. David Jenkins, Sr., a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology and Lead for Psychological Services at Lubbock, TX. Dr. Jenkins has provided psychological services to school districts in Lubbock, Texas and surrounding school districts for over 25 years and has served on the Texas Education Agency statewide networks for autism and behavior.

Behavioral Deficits in Autism  

 In my previous post I talked about the continuum and how it applies to sensory reactions shown by children with autism. The same wide variety of characteristics, that is, the continuum, applies when we consider behavioral deficits. Every parent who suspects autism wants to know what deficits to look for. Being aware of difficulties a child may face is certainly the first step in learning to cope with them, and awareness of these deficits can reduce parental concern and anxiety. The reality is, however, that the expression of autism can vary tremendously from child to child. No two children will look the same.  

 Consider verbal ability. Deficits in verbal language skills can include not using spoken language by the time the child is two years old. Or a child around 18-24 months of age may stop using words already learned. Sometimes the child may sound like a parrot, simply repeating everything heard. Mommy says, “Do you want a drink?” and Johnny replies, “Do you want a drink?” Children may repeat songs they have heard or portions of movies they like as they are going about their day to day activities.  

 Some children acquire good vocabulary but may use odd word choices when they communicate.  My friend Jack talked about getting to ‘hack’ the turkey one Thanksgiving. While ‘hack’ can mean cut, it is not the word most people would typically use to describe carving a turkey. Some children may talk and talk and talk about their favorite topics and interests but never ask you a question about it or ask for your input. 

 Jack was an expert on 50’s and 60’s rock and roll music. He could tell me everything about it, such as who wrote the words, who wrote the music, who produced the album, what recording company was involved, what year it was written, etc. I grew up listening to that music and know a little about it.  However, during the course of providing counseling to Jack over 1½ years he never, ever asked me anything about it. Jack also loved stamps. He had multiple five-inch binders full of postage stamps from around the world, and he could tell you everything you ever wanted to know, and more, about them. But he never asked what I knew.

 I evaluated 4-year old Mary who could read everything on the label of the fire extinguisher as we passed by it in the hall on the way to the room used for testing. She couldn’t answer any questions about what she read, but she had no difficulty pronouncing any of the words she saw. Some children may be able to carry on what appears to be a conversation, but they are really just talking on and on about their favorite topic. 

 When thinking about any aspect of autism, think of the continuum. With respect to language, for instance, at one end of the continuum is the child who uses little, if any spoken words, while at the other end of the continuum is the child who uses lots of words.


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