Autism Spectrum Profiling Autism Plus Parent Information

Autism Spectrum Profiling 

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autism sensory strategies

Autism is often diagnosed alongside other conditions. There are also additional autistic profiles. In this post I will signpost to information on some of those conditions / profiles.

Autism Profiling Tool: An Introduction

Aspiedent CIC 2021

Autism Profiling Tool: An Introduction

by Jen Blacow Hughes

Autism Profiling: One small step for Aspiedent, one giant leap for autism. 

I have found myself talking about our ‘Autism Profiling tool’ a lot recently. This is in part because I have become excited about our plans to get it ‘online’, which involves standardising it and then scaling it so that many more people across the world can benefit from it.

It is also because we are currently trying to write a book that explains the framework of the Autism Profiling tool so that other people can apply it. The keyword here is 'trying' - Elizabeth thinks far too ‘nonlinearly’ for her to find it easy to get it on paper!

I am excited because this tool truly has the potential to change people’s lives for the better in an affordable, accessible, and quality-managed way.

But it is a work in progress.

What is the Autism Profiling Tool? 

The Autism Profiling tool is a system/framework that we use to get underneath a person’s outward symptoms of ‘neurodiversity’ (e.g. autism, ADHD), to the underlying causes of these outward symptoms.

Outward symptoms are things like:

·        Preferences - extreme likes/dislikes (environments, textures, sounds, etc.)

·        Preferred study areas/hobbies/interests (often extreme)

·        Difficulties that led to a diagnosis (e.g. poor social skills, strange ways of moving/talking, inability to keep up with the development of peers).

Underlying causes of these symptoms include:

·        How a person’s senses work (e.g. sight, touch, hearing)

·        Styles of thinking (e.g. visual, linear, 3D models, word-based)

·        How the person learns and processes information

·        Executive functioning issues (e.g. organisation, inhibition, concentration)

·        Being over-sensitive to the emotions of others and/or your own emotions.

An autism profile is created by linking the surface symptoms and underlying causes together in such a way that the resulting autism profile explains all a person’s difficulties and strengths. This depth of understanding for an individual is often life changing as it enables them to understand why things have gone wrong for them and provides a way of moving forward into the future.

For example, many autistic people struggle with change. When an assessment is currently done on such a person in school or example, the assessment only usually goes as far as “this person struggles with change, therefore this person should be given plenty of notice to manage changes”. 

However, many different reasons may underlie, (be the root cause of), their difficulty with change.

When doing an Autism Profile on somebody, we are looking for the key difficulties that explain all the surface difficulties and strengths.

It could be that the person who struggles with change has fragmented visual perception and therefore if a little change is made to their environment (such as changing rooms), their whole picture of their day changes too, causing extreme anxiety.

Or it could be because the person has slow processing issues. It could take them so long to for their brain to register that there has been a change to their schedule, that they appear to ‘ignore’ the change and continue with their previous schedule or they become so confused they are unable to continue at all.

Of course, it could be a combination of both but knowing the cause enables a programme to be put in place to enable the person to (gradually) cope better with change. Surely this is better than simply assuming that they are unable to learn to cope better with change!

Why is the Autism Profiling tool so important?

Understanding the underlying reasons for the outward issues is key to knowing what aids/intervention you would recommend for a particular person.

In the example above, the recommendation you create for the first person who struggles with change would be different from the second one, as the underlying issues are different.

For the first person, you now know that you need to put things in place to ensure that unfamiliar environments are not sprung on them, or that if this is unavoidable then there is sufficient support in place to help them adjust – such as giving them extra time to explore the new environment.

For the second, you would teach problem solving skills and explore what the person should do under certain scenarios that may occur unexpectedly. This will equip the person to deal better with sudden unexpected changes, but also to be less rigid in their thinking regarding changes that will occur within the next minutes or hours. This will also enable the person to be much less rigid in their plans and to be able to adjust their plans for the future.

To give an example, we work with someone who struggled badly with change because of very slow processing. After teaching her how to think and how to problem solve, she was able to bring forward her plans to move house quickly when better accommodation became available. This would have been virtually impossible for her before we started to help her. A side effect of this work is that this person is now able to have real conversations with people and her relationships with her family are much improved as a result.

Without understanding the underlying reasons for the issue with change, it is extremely hard to know what strategy would work best! You could spend years trying different strategies, only to find that what you are doing makes things worse.

If you have created an autism profile for a person, you can get straight to the heart of the matter and provide a helpful solution quickly and much less traumatically. It can be very traumatising being given adjustments that are not appropriate for your actual issues, and also very damaging to receive a one size fits all approaches to problems just because the outward ‘symptom’ is the same.

This is the basic concept of our Autism Profiling Tool. The above examples are fairly straightforward. However, issues can get quite complex and some will be explored in more detail in the book. 

Our idea is to share this tool so that anybody with autism or neurodiversity, or someone who is supporting somebody with autism or neurodiversity, is able to create an autism profile for themselves or others. Using the autism profile they should then be able to determine which strategies are best suited to them or an individual they are helping or caring for.

If the situation is too complex, then we will be on hand to help out (probably for a fee).

We have worked with many autistic/neurodiverse adults who have never got close to their potential in life because they have never understood exactly what their underlying difficulties are.

After an autism profile has been created for them, they are able to piece together why they have the symptoms/difficulties they have and can begin to move forward.

Ideally, people need to get an autism profile in childhood before they go out into the world of work/adult life, etc. Ideally this needs to happen at the latest before they make choices after GCSEs.

This is so that they can avoid making mistakes in terms of study and career choices, which are incompatible with their underlying difficulties (profile). Instead, they can find something they both excel at and will be able to cope with despite their autistic difficulties.

Note: they will develop from childhood over time so top-ups may be necessary.

This will save so many people so much heartache and grief further down the line when things inevitably fall over for them. It will also enable more financial security.

If we can scale it and make it more accessible, this could potentially change millions of lives. It is cutting-edge stuff.

Currently, we have to administer these profiles in person and it takes many hours of work and comes at a price. We cannot do more than perhaps four a month, at a push.

The potential benefits of scaling this tool are massive. They include:

Þ    Far quicker diagnosis of actual issues and implementation of correct interventions, than ever before.

Þ    Linked to this, having actual issues addressed as opposed to ‘trial and error’ techniques, therefore avoiding the trauma of unsuitable autism interventions.

Þ    The ability to individualise the approach to making recommendations for autistic/neurodiverse people, but on a large scale therefore it is cost-efficient.

Þ    The profile report, which is produced can be shown to teachers, employers, and even trusted and reliable peers so that the autistic person can get off to a better start when making new relationships with people in mainstream environments.

Þ    This ability to inform exactly what software is likely to help, rather than a one size fits all approach to prescribing software. For example, mind mapping is often given as a standard for everyone. This is OK for people who can see the bigger picture but inappropriate to those who work from the detail up. Currently, any ‘neurodiverse’ issue at a disability needs assessment gets met with one solution - mind mapping! This is unless the individual knows and is able to tell the assessor what their difficulties are and what they need, which they would if they had their profile to hand.

Þ    The tool can be used on everyone and will work for anyone, not just autistic people

Þ    The tool could be used first to identify whether it is worth somebody going for a diagnosis of autism, for example.

Þ    The tool can separate actual symptoms by their cause. I.e. It can separate issues to do with personality (usually trauma-related) and cognitive and sensory issues (not usually trauma-related).

Þ    For the right reasons, you could even administer it to somebody else without telling them, by answering questions based on your observations of them. This is so you can get a rough picture of how to work with them better/what might be causing someone’s difficulties. 

Where are we at with development?

The tool has been designed and used by us for some time. What we need now is to get it out of Elizabeth’s head and into a format that can be utilised by other people. 

The idea is to deliver training on how to administer the tool once it is available for people to use.

We have started developing an online system for one aspect of the autism profiling tool (the sensory checklist), which is somebody else’s work - that will be put online for free. The person who designed this is consulting with us in this process. 

View articles by Jen Blacow Hughes

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Incredible Horizons Parent Information

Profiling with Associated LearningDifficulties

The presence of more than one condition co-occurring is also referred to as co-morbid conditions. It can be challenging to distinguish between some co-existing conditions whilst others will be more obvious. Being autistic does not mean you will have any of these associated conditions but it is fairly common to see these combinations of autism and the conditions below.


Dyslexia is a learning difficulty which affects reading and writing skills. The British Dyslexia Association and Amazing Things produces this great animation on Dyslexia – See Dyslexia Differently. It seeks to pre-empt misconceptions among young audiences by shedding light on the real challenges dyslexic children face whilst also acknowledging their strengths and potential.

school transition


ADHD is a condition that involves inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. More information can be found at:


Dyspraxia is a developmental condition which affects co-ordination and planning difficulties. For more information see the Dyspraxia Foundation.


Epilepsy is a common condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures. More information is available from the Epilepsy Society and Epilepsy Action.

AUTISTICA has produced this guide to managing epilepsy in autism.


Down Syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. For more information see the Down’s Syndrome Association and their page on dual diagnosis.

More information on associated conditions can be found in this Related conditions guide from the National Autistic Society


Autism Spectrum Profiling

The following profiles are generally considered to be part of the autistic spectrum. Whilst individuals will have general autistic traits they also have an additional set of characteristics that fit the additional profile.

Some would describe them as behaviour profiles seen within individuals on the autistic spectrum whilst others believe they are separate conditions.


Hyperlexia is a self taught ability to read before the age of 5. An intense fascination with numbers and letters. Alongside significant social communication difficulties.

Learning to support my child learning to talk with autism and hyperlexia. Explaining what hyperlexia is, how we discovered our child was hyperlexic and how we amended the way we supported his journey to finding verbal language. #hyperlexia #hyperlexic #hyperlexiaandautism #learningtotalk

And Next Comes L has a great post on what is hyperlexia.

Another post on what is hyperlexia from Spanglefish may be helpful.


Pathological demand avoidance (PDA) .  PDA presents as extreme avoidance of everyday requests, demands and expectations, the behaviour is based in anxiety and a need for that individual to be in control.

The PDA Society is the best source of information on Pathological demand avoidance.

Steph’s Two Girls also has lots of helpful information on PDA. There is also some additional information on the National Autistic Society website.


Asperger’s usually presents with people having a higher level of intelligence, often without specific learning difficulties.  People with Asperger’s tend to have difficulty with social interaction and non-verbal communication. More information can be found on the National Autistic Society Website.


Autism Profiles and Diagnostic Criteria

by  The National Autistic Society

People can be puzzled by the diagnosis they or their child have been given. Over the years, different terms have been used for autism. This reflects the different autism profiles presented by individuals, and the diagnostic manuals and tools used. Misdiagnosis adds to the range of terms people hear.

Autism profiles

Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways.

These differences, along with differences in diagnostic approach, have resulted in a variety of terms being used to diagnose autistic people. Terms that have been used include autism, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), autism spectrum condition (ASC), atypical autism, classic autism, Kanner autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), high-functioning autism (HFA),Asperger syndrome and pathological demand avoidance (PDA).

Because of recent and upcoming changes to the main diagnostic manuals, 'autism spectrum disorder' (ASD) is now likely to become the most commonly given diagnostic term. However, clinicians will still often use additional terms to help to describe the particular autism profile presented by an individual.

Some autistic people also have learning disabilitiesmental health issues or other conditions.

Asperger syndrome profile

A clinician might describe someone as having an Asperger syndrome profile if there has been no clinically significant delay in language or cognitive development but they still have social communication difficulties. They may also have specific delays in motor development as well as motor 'clumsiness'.

Read more about Asperger syndrome.

Demand-avoidant profile

A clinician might describe a person as having a demand-avoidant profile, or pathological demand avoidance (PDA), if they are driven to excessively avoid demands and expectations. Underpinning this avoidance is an extremely high level of anxiety about conforming to social demands and of not being in control of the situation.

Read more about pathological demand avoidance.


One of the most common mistakes made by clinicians lacking autism experience is to make a number of observations that don’t take the issues related to autism into account.

Sometimes they may observe issues such as a person's clumsiness (possible dyspraxia), reading difficulty (possible dyslexia), poor attention span (possible Attention Deficit Disorder), difficulty with social communication (semantic pragmatic disorder or social communication disorder), mental health issues, or behavioural issues and diagnose that as the main condition. They may miss the fact that autism is underlying the obvious difficulties seen on the surface.

If you don't understand, or have concerns about, the diagnosis that you or your child are given, discuss this with the professional who made the diagnosis. You can ask for a second opinion, and you have the right to complain if you're not happy about any aspect of referral, diagnosis or care that you or your child receive from an NHS service.

Diagnostic manuals

International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition (ICD-10)

The ICD-10 is the most commonly-used diagnostic manual in the UK.

It presents a number of possible autism profiles, such as childhood autism, atypical autism and Asperger syndrome. These profiles are included under the Pervasive Developmental Disorders heading, defined as "A group of disorders characterized by qualitative abnormalities in reciprocal social interactions and in patterns of communication, and by a restricted, stereotyped, repetitive repertoire of interests and activities. These qualitative abnormalities are a pervasive feature of the individual's functioning in all situations".

A revised edition (ICD-11) is expected in 2018 and is likely to closely align with the latest edition of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (DSM-5)

Although not the most commonly used manual in the UK, DSM-5 is likely to have a significant influence on the next edition of the ICD. This manual has recently been updated and is also used by diagnosticians.

The diagnostic criteria are clearer and simpler than in the previous version of the DSM, and sensory behaviours are now included. This is useful as many autistic people have sensory issueswhich affect them on a day-to-day basis. It now includes 'specifiers' to indicate support needs and other factors that impact on the diagnosis.


The manual defines autism spectrum disorder as “persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction” and “restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests” (this includes sensory behaviour), present since early childhood, to the extent that these “limit and impair everyday functioning”.

In DSM-5, the terms ‘autistic disorder’, ‘Asperger disorder’, ‘childhood disintegrative disorder’ and ‘Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)’ have been replaced by the collective term 'autism spectrum disorder'. This means that it’s likely that ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD) will become the most commonly given diagnosis. 


For many people, the term Asperger syndrome is part of their day-to-day vocabulary and identity, so it is understandable that there are concerns around the removal from DMS-5 of Asperger syndrome as a distinct category. Everyone who currently has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, including those with Asperger syndrome, will retain their diagnosis. No one will ‘lose’ their diagnosis because of the changes in DSM-5.

Research found that using the appropriate techniques, the new DSM-5 criteria correctly identified people who should receive a diagnosis of ASD across age and ability. (Kent R.G. et al, 2013)


DSM-5 has introduced specifiers to help the clinician to describe associated or additional conditions, eg intellectual impairment, language impairment, genetic conditions, behavioural disorder, catatonia.

One of the specifiers relates to the ‘severity’ of social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour. There are 3 levels: requiring support, requiring substantial support, requiring very substantial support. This can allow the clinician to give an indication of how much someone’s condition affects them and how much support an individual needs.

However, people who receive a diagnosis are not automatically eligible for support. DSM-5 explains that ‘severity’ levels may vary by context and also fluctuate over time, that the descriptive severity categories should not be used to determine eligibility for and provision of services, and that 'these can only be developed at an individual level and through discussion of personal priorities and targets'.

Find out how to get extra help in schoolsocial care and benefits.


The DSM-5 now includes a condition called 'social communication disorder', separate to 'autism spectrum disorder'. This would be given where someone exhibits social interaction and social communication difficulties and does not show restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. 

Diagnostic tools

The DSM and ICD-10 criteria create the foundation for diagnostic tools such as the DISCO(Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders), the ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview - Revised), and the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule).

These, and other diagnostic tools, are used to collect information in order to help to decide whether someone is on the autism spectrum or not. The criteria form the basis for the diagnosis, but the individual clinician’s judgement is crucial.

The DISCO diagnostic tool does not rely on the algorithms for ICD-10 and DSM-5. The approach is dimensional rather than categorical. The DISCO not only gives a diagnosis but gives an understanding of the profile and needs.

Find out more about our specialist training in the diagnosis and assessment of autism.

How to Help Kids With Working Memory Issues by Rae Jacobson

Parents Guide to ADHD Medications by Child Mind Institute

The Most Common Misdiagnoses in Children by Linda Spiro, PsyD

How to Spot Dyscalculia by Rae Jacobson

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Basics by Child Mind Institute

How to Help Anxious Kids in Social Situations by Katherine Martinelli

Anxiety in the Classroom by Rachel Ehmke

The Benefits Of Unsupervised Play Will Make You Want To Back Off Your Kids' Activities In A Big Wayby Katie McPherson

How to Avoid Passing Anxiety on to Your Kids by Brigit Katz

3 Defining Features of ADHD That Everyone Overlooks by  William Dodson, M.D.

Should emotions be taught in schools? by Grace Rubenstein




Sometimes determining the difference between ADHD and Sensory Processing can be difficult, as they look very similar. This post takes a look at the two separately.

The Seven Senses in Sensory Disorders








Now its time to hop over to my good friends at The Inspired Treehouse, where they are sharing their tips as Pediatric therapists to explain Auditory Input and why they feel it is important to the growth and development of all children.

Autism and Auditory Processing Profile

The Auditory System seems like it should be simple enough to explain. We all grew up learning about our sense of hearing. You either hear or you don’t, right? You don’t have to be familiar with Sensory Processing to be familiar with the word, Auditory. 

What we aren’t taught is the importance this system plays in our body’s ability to feel in control and centered. It is one system that continues to baffle me, especially when it relates to my own sons. It's really not whether or not they hear a sound, it's whether or not there are anomalies in how they process the sound- was overly loud to them or too soft for them to distinguish what it was? Was it a sound that they enoyed or did they shrink away or cover their ears like it hurt.

Any anomaly is worth noting in a notebook until you see patterns in their reactions. I can not stand a heavy bass sound or competing sounds they make me want to scream. I hate it when raise the spectator's cheering in a sports event on tv and blare the sportcasters comments. I have to turn it down where others cant hear it well, turn the game off or go to a different room in the house. My stress levels get so high and I get really grumpy.

Footsteps, the sound of the wind against your ears, a door creaking, a flushing toilet, even the sounds of someone giving your directions...all of those sounds require our natural body’s sense of auditory awareness to interpret the world of sound around us. We have to determine which sounds are important, which ones mean safety and which one we should ignore. All of these things have one thing in common…


Without our auditory system, we are unable to discriminate and decipher sounds that are either important or just part of the environment. Right now as I type this I can hear a plane wooshing by, the keys being pressed as I type, birds chirping outside and the dishwasher signal going off.

But if I listen closely, I also hear the whirr of the air conditioner, the cars on the street behind our house and the ticking of the clock. Sounds surround me and because of my auditory system, I am able to decipher which ones should be paid attention to and which ones should be ignored (for now).

If you are like me, you are wondering what this all means. What does this look like and why is it important?

As I mentioned before, Auditory Processing is all about interpreting sounds. All children require this awareness and input for proper development. The list of skills associated with auditory processing is long and exhaustive. Just to name a few, the auditory system is responsible for memory, sequencing, comparing and contrasting sounds, association of sounds to particular symbols such as letters/numbers/musical notes, and most importantly attention. The problem occurs when a child is either over or under responsive to receiving information from this system.

But here is where it gets tricky. Sometimes it can be very clear that a child is under or over responsive to sounds.

As an educator,  I can vividly remember the children who refused to go to music class, covered their ears during the morning announcements and the ones who cried during fire drills. It isn’t hard to see that those children were overstimulated by auditory input! You feel sorry for these children, they are outwardly showing you that they are overwhelmed. 

But what about the students who seek auditory input? The ones that constantly tap their pencil on the desk, the ones that can’t use an inside voice if their life depended on it, or the ones that seem to shout out absurdities during the middle of a quiet lesson. Those children seem “bad”, “disruptive”, “disrespectful”, right? What if I told you there could be underlying reasons they were doing those thing? What if I told you they were seeking auditory input to help their nervous system feel more “in balance.”

Oh then, theres those kids. You know the ones that NEVER seem to listen to a word you are saying. The ones that seem to never seem to respond to your requests, or seem to be daydreaming and not on task. What if I told you that many times these children are struggling with an under-responsive auditory system?

Auditory input

Honestly, the more I learn about this system, the more I could write. It is so interconnected to speech, language, reading, planning, problem solving and so much more. We interpret everything with our ears and learn to trust the world around us based on our interpretations.

From the Experts

Auditory processing is a term used to describe what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets the sounds around you. Humans hear when energy that we recognize as sound travels through the ear and is changed into electrical information that can be interpreted by the brain.

Auditory Processing represents the actual quantity of pieces of information taken in by the auditory area of the brain, not the organs themselves.  Processing is defined as how well the brain understands, interprets or categorizes information.

The “disorder” part of auditory processing disorder (APD) means that something is adversely affecting the processing or interpretation of the information.

Children with APD often do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even though the sounds themselves are loud and clear. For example, the request “Tell me how a chair and a couch are alike” may sound to a child with APD like “Tell me how a couch and a chair are alike.” It can even be understood by the child as “Tell me how a cow and a hair are alike.” These kinds of problems are more likely to occur when a person with APD is in a noisy environment or when he or she is listening to complex information.

APD goes by many other names. Sometimes it is referred to as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). Other common names are auditory perception problem, auditory comprehension deficit, central auditory dysfunction, central deafness, and so-called “word deafness.”

In order for the brain to process information it must first have the ability to hold individual pieces of information together—short-term memory. To understand, categorize, and interpret the individual pieces, the brain must first arrange them into some type of order. Generally, the level of language or ability to follow directions is a reflection of the individual’s level of processing.

The “Normal” two year old understands only two-step directions (get shoes, eat dinner, go ride) and speaks in couplets (want eat, no bed). A three year old processes three (simple phrases); a four year old, four; and on up to seven year old to adults. A seven year old or older should be able to understand and remember seven bits of information. That’s one reason phone numbers are only seven digits!

Short-term memory lasts only a second. For example, someone tells you a phone number and you repeat it a billion times until you can write it down; each time you repeat the number is how long your auditory short-term memory is.  The individual above age seven who holds 3,4, or 5 pieces of information together is struggling—to learn, to behave; they may have problems with mobility or speech, even functioning in daily life.

One factor affecting opportunity is hearing itself.  If a child’s hearing is impaired, obviously that child will take in less information. The brain learns to see by seeing and to hear by hearing. Hearing loss, ear infections, and allergies or sensitivities all affect the quantity and quality of information our brain receives.


1. HYPERSENSITIVITY TO SOUNDS (auditory defensiveness):

  • distracted by sounds not normally noticed by others; i.e., humming of lights or refrigerators, fans, heaters, or clocks ticking

  • fearful of the sound of a flushing toilet (especially in public bathrooms), vacuum, hairdryer, squeaky shoes, or a dog barking

  • startled by or distracted by loud or unexpected sounds

  • bothered/distracted by background environmental sounds; i.e., lawn mowing or outside construction

  • frequently asks people to be quiet; i.e., stop making noise, talking, or singing

  • runs away, cries, and/or covers ears with loud or unexpected sounds

  • may refuse to go to movie theaters, parades, skating rinks, musical concerts etc.

  • may decide whether they like certain people by the sound of their voices


  • often does not respond to verbal cues or to name being called

  • loves excessively loud music or TV

  • appears to “make noise for noise’s sake”

  • seems to have difficulty understanding or remembering what was said

  • appears oblivious to certain sounds

  • appears confused about where a sound is coming from

  • talks self through a task, often out loud

  • had little or no vocalizing or babbling as an infant

  • needs directions repeated, says “what” frequently

The Autism & Auditory Processing Profile

By Sophie Schwartz, Ph.D. | September 17, 2020

Sophie Schwartz, Ph.D.

By Sophie Schwartz, Ph.D., post-doctoral research fellow at Boston University’s Center for Autism Research Excellence, directed by Dr. Helen Tager-Flubserg. Dr. Schwartz received a predoctoral fellowship in 2016 funded by Royal Arch Masons International and Autism Speaks.  

About CAPD: Central auditory processing disorder, or difficulty processing sounds, is common in people with autism

Key Findings:

  • People with autism and more severe language deficits listening to names in a noisy background, including other people talking, did not produce the same early brain responses as shown on brain scans as neurotypical participants, when differentiating the sound of one’s own name from another person’s name.

  • Participants with autism but with no or only minor language deficits produced early brain responses similar to neurotypical participants.

What It Means:

  • May indicate that certain people who haven’t learned language as expected by adolescence may have trouble detecting differences between speech sounds – a skill that’s fundamental for language acquisition.

Difficulties processing sounds, often described as central auditory processing disorder or auditory processing disorder (CAPD/APD), are particularly common in people with autism. The reported estimates of the incidence of CAPD in people with autism vary widely by report, in part because there is no “gold-standard” or official way of measuring these disorders. However, in several large research studies, roughly 65 percent of parents describe their child with autism as showing sensitivity to noise, while smaller studies report that up to 93 percent of people with autism display atypical responses to sounds, including problems filtering sounds.

In May 2016, Autism Speaks and Royal Arch Masons International announced funding for new fellowships to support research by young investigators to better understand central auditory processing disorders in people with and without autism. I was selected to receive one of these fellowships.

Several publications resulted from this fellowship, the most recent of which was published online in August 2020 in the journal Autism Research. It offers an update on what we’ve learned about the intersection of autism and CAPD from brain imaging research and proposes future steps that are needed to uncover even more answers.

About auditory processing in autism

Atypical reaction to sensory input, including sound, is part of one of the core criteria for diagnosing autism. Parent- and self-reports collected in multiple studies support the importance of this criteria. They describe a person with autism as having atypical perception and response to sounds, such as feeling overwhelmed by noisy environments or frequently covering one’s ears even when no abrasive noise is present. Effective auditory processing requires the ability to differentiate certain sounds from others and the ability to amplify important sounds while ignoring unimportant ones. These skills are extremely important when paying attention to, understanding and remembering spoken information, especially in noisy environments.

Past research has tended to focus on group-level analyses of auditory processing (i.e., comparing people with autism to neurotypical people) but has not looked closely enough at individual differences among people on the autism spectrum. We designed our research to identify whether-subgroups within the autism spectrum were more likely to show signs of a disrupted auditory processing system. In particular, we hypothesized that these challenges were more likely in those who, by adolescence, still had not acquired more than minimal spoken language skills.

Our current study

To expand our understanding of the brain activity patterns associated with both sound sensitivity and difficulty with language in children and young adults on the autism

spectrum, our team at Boston University’s Center for Autism Research Excellence designed a research study that could be implemented with a wide range of people with autism. We considered how people with autism not only respond to their name, but how they respond to their name in a context that requires them to filter out other people talking.

To capture their response, we used a technology called electroencephalography (EEG). With EEG, we can place a cap with small sensors on participants’ head and record their brain’s electrical activity. Using this brain imaging technology, we could capture information reflecting how a person perceived speech, directly from their brain activity, without requiring that the participant understand complex instructions or produce language.

We monitored the brain’s response to particularly meaningful sounds – ispecifically, a recording of the participant’s own name, versus unfamiliar names that would not carry the same degree of personal meaning. We also focused on a situation in which names were heard in the context of a noisy background with other people talking.

Important lessons from studying the most understudied ASD group

Studying auditory processing in those with autism, let alone those with severe language and sensory issues, is challenging. But, one of the most important lessons from this study was that these challenges are not insurmountable.

Almost 50 people diagnosed with autism sat for over 45 minutes while wearing an EEG cap to participate in our study. Participants learned to feel comfortable wearing the cap by practicing at home and in the lab with a practice EEG cap. Many times, we would begin by just having participants allow the cap to touch their head, and gradually progress to having them wear the cap for longer intervals, from 10 seconds to five minutes.

For some parents, the idea of their child sitting still for neuroimaging seemed unlikely. But with practice, it was often possible.

While this sometimes required hours more work, the results were worth it. We cannot continue to avoid researching the brains of minimally verbal people with autism – they and their families deserve information, too.

Results and new directions

In my post introducing this research in 2018, I wrote that we hoped to fill gaps in our knowledge of how people with autism perceive and process sounds, especially speech. We hoped to learn more about who is processing sounds in atypical ways and who is likely to benefit from interventions that target sound processing and language.

We found that when participants were listening to names in a noisy background with other people talking, those with autism with more severe language deficits did not produce the same early brain responses as the neurotypical participants, when differentiating the sound of one’s own name from another person’s name.

In contrast, participants with autism but with no or only minor language deficits produced early brain responses similar to neurotypical participants. These early brain responses are often considered to be indicative of low-level speech detection – think, hearing the first letter of your name (“J” in John) and noticing it as different from other names that don’t start with a “J.”

Our results provide evidence for the hypothesis that certain people who haven’t learned language as expected by adolescence have trouble detecting differences between speech sounds – a skill that’s fundamental for language acquisition.

In addition, we looked at a late brain response classically shown to look different when people hear their own name versus another person’s name, or even more generally think about themselves in comparison to another person.

We found that the degree to which this late brain response looked neurotypical significantly correlated with that person’s ability to filter important from unimportant sounds, as measured by parent perceptions of their child’s abilities and actions in the presence of different sounds.

These findings provide evidence for the hypothesis that some people with autism struggle with paying attention to important speech sounds like their own names and that this may be related to difficulty selecting important speech while filtering out unimportant sounds or information.

sensory processing auditory

I love this video from Brain Pathways about the auditory system and how the brain receives and interprets speech and language.

For great Auditory Activities, check out Sensory Activities for Kids where they have an entire section just on Auditory activities and other bloggers come to link their auditory activities as well.

For a quick list of auditory activities, I like to refer to this list of 18 Auditory Activities you can do without spending a dime from Bonnie Terry Learning.

Last, but not least, you can follow me and the Inspired Treehouse on Pinterest for the latest in Sensory Play and Sensory Resources.

If you are looking for more ideas for Sensory Processing, you can check out my favorite picks onAmazon. 

Do you know a child that seeks or avoids Auditory Input? Do you have a child with sensory needs? Has this post touched you in some way? I would love to know! Please send me a message or leave a comment. It helps when we know we are not alone. 

Remember, Sensory Processing is Complex.  It is different for every child, because every child is unique. The problems arise when a child either seeks or avoids auditory input. For your convenience, I have compiled a Auditory System Cheat Sheet Printable listing behaviors you might see if your child is with avoiding or seeking this type of input.

Auditory System Cheat Sheet

Remember how I told you this system is so interesting to me? That is because with my son it isn’t one of these behaviors we see, its all of them at different times of the day or week we might see him react to sounds in his environment in any of the ways I mentioned before.

Before I learned about Sensory Processing Disorder, I never understood why my Legoman shouted all the time. I worried that he might have hearing loss or that he had an ear infection that he wasn’t telling us about. I remember his father being so worried because despite all our attempts, he just seemed to shout everything at us. We can’t go to a Library or a store without some stranger telling my son to be quiet and use an “inside voice”. Sometimes I just want to shout back at them, HE CAN’T!

To learn more

Ask an Autistic #26 - What is Central Auditory Processing Disorder?

Autism Speaks Sensory Issues Homepage.

Noise and autism spectrum disorder in children: An exploratory survey.

Central Auditory Processing Disorders in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Resources for Parents
Autism and Hyperlexia Profiling

What Is Hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is when a child starts reading early and surprisingly beyond their expected ability. It's often accompanied by an obsessive interest in letters and numbers, which develops as an infant.

Hyperlexia is often, but not always, part of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s considered a “splinter skill,” a unique skill that doesn't have much practical application. But therapists can often use a child's hyperlexic skills as a tool for their therapy and treatment.   

Is Hyperlexia Common?

It's difficult to know exactly how common hyperlexia is, but some facts and statistics include:

  • Among children with autism, about 6% to 14% have hyperlexia.

  • Not all people with hyperlexia have autism.

  • Approximately 84% of children with hyperlexia have autism.

  • Approximately 1 in 54 children have autism spectrum disorder.

How Is Hyperlexia Diagnosed?

Hyperlexia I is not a disorder and doesn't need a diagnosis. 

Hyperlexia II is diagnosed by:   

  • Ability to read far above what's expected based on a child’s age

  • Obsession with numbers and letters

  • Learning in a rote way, such as by repeating chunks of information

  • Other behavioral problems


Hyperlexia III can be difficult to diagnose because, in addition to early reading, children often show “autistic-like” traits and behaviors. These include:

  • Remarkable ability to memorize

  • Other advanced abilities

  • Sensory sensitivity

  • Intense resistance to change

  • Phobias and fears

  • Lining/stacking behaviors

  • Pronoun reversals, such as referring to themselves as he, she, or you or by their own name

However, children with hyperlexia are often affectionate, outgoing, and interactive with their immediate family members. Their autistic-like behaviors decrease over time, and they end up being typical for their age. This needs to be diagnosed by a professional who has expertise in ASD and hyperlexia III.

How Is Hyperlexia Treated?

Children with hyperlexia I require no treatment. Those with hyperlexia II and hyperlexia III benefit from several types of treatments:

Speech and language therapy.Speech and language therapy can help improve the language and social skills of children with hyperlexia. Their advanced reading abilities are used to help develop and improve their weaknesses, which may include social interaction and understanding. Every child has their own treatment plan, which focuses on their needs, including.   

  • Social skills

  • Higher-level language skills

  • Understanding spoken language

  • Writing and speaking

Some strategies therapists use to work on these skills include.   

  • Visual methods to support understanding

  • Visual schedules and timelines

  • Association games to teach word relations

  • Social stories

  • Cause and effect predictions

  • Strategies for parents and teachers

Occupational therapy. Occupational therapy is specialized for each person, but the occupational therapist always works on any areas of difficulty, which may include.  

  • Sleeping

  • Feeding

  • Practicing self-care

  • Participating in school activities

  • Participating in social activities

  • Writing

  • Responding to sensory stimulation appropriately

Educational placement is the main difference between the strategy for children with hyperlexia II and those with hyperlexia III. Children with hyperlexia II will benefit from being a part of special education classrooms. Regular classrooms may be too stimulating for them, and they may learn better in a one-on-one situation.

Children with hyperlexia III will benefit from being in a typical classroom setting. They will have more chances for suitable social interaction with their same-age classmates.

All children with hyperlexia will benefit from learning the skills they need through the written language. This uses their strengths, builds their confidence, and eases stress while they learn. 

Wondering how to parent an autistic child? Well, hopefully you'll find this large collection of tips and autism resources for parenting an autistic child helpful!

There's no one right way to parent an autistic child. But parenting is hard some days. Autism or not. So if you're looking for some new tips and tools for your autism parenting toolbox, then you're in the right spot. Below you'll find autism book suggestions, printable resources, personal stories, strategies, and so much more!

How to parent an autistic child - autism resources and autism parenting tips

Need help supporting hyperlexic and autistic kids?

Twice a week, you'll receive tips and resources about hyperlexia and autism. Trying to download a free printable? Look for a yellow sign up form instead.

Resources for Parents


I like books and I read a lot. I'm always on the lookout for new books to read about autism and have read quite a few books about autism over the years. Here are some book lists to help you find the right autism books you and your child need.

Best books about autism

Picture books about autismBest parenting booksBooks to tell your child they have autismAutism books for autistic teens and tweensAutism fiction and chapter books featuring autistic charactersAutism book listDisability chapter books for older kidsBest books about sensory processing


These resources are meant to help you learn more about autism, become better educated, inspire you, and encourage you in your autism parenting journey.

Neurodiversity and autism acronyms you should know

Common autism special interest examplesInfodumping in autismWhat is a samefood in autism?Tips for using special interestsEncouraging special interests in autism or hyperlexiaSpecial interest vs hobbyBenefits of special interestsSpecial interests in autismAutism shutdown vs meltdownVocal and verbal stimmingAutism stimming behaviorsAutism hyperlexia therapyAutism haircut tipsWhy does my kid chew on everything?Telling family and friends your child has autismAutism sibling support tipsAutism travel tipsAutism parenting blogsAutism positive traitsExplaining to a child that they have autismExplaining autism to kidsShould I tell my kid they have autism?Why you might need to rethink who and what you support when it comes to autismAutism acceptance month ideas and activitiesAutism resourcesClothing sensory issues in children with autism or sensory processing disorderAutism groupsAutism stimmingAutism safety tipsAutism safety tipsTips to help with noise sensitivityA look at how people view autism as a negativePositivies of an autism diagnosisAutism meltdown tips for parents5 tips for how to explain disabilities to kids5 ways to help manage sensory sensitivities during the holidaysWhat is the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum?Advocacy tips for autism parentsFree IEP resources for parents15 back to school tipsSchool advocacy tips for parentsHow to help autistic children with transitionsThings to know when your child is diagnosed with autismParenting through an autism meltdownThings I want my autistic child to knowBest therapy for autism - how to choose a therapy for your child with autismAdvocacy tips for parentsAutism mythsBenefits of visual schedules for autism15 mealtime strategies for autistic kidsSleep strategies for autistic kidsList of social skillsTips for supporting your child's sensory needs during winterTips for writing social storiesHoliday tips for autism familiesHow to connect with your autistic childWhat to do while waiting for an autism diagnosisHow I got my autistic son to try something newHow to help fidgety kids at mealtimesSimple tip to help prevent wandering


Handy dandy resources to help and encourage your child, as well as their siblings. From DIY sensory hacks to free printable resources, these ideas are perfect for helping with day to day living.

Free printable social story

Free printable social storyDIY sensory hacksDIY sensory hacks for small spacesFree visual schedule printableFree printable calm down cardsFree calm down kit printablesFree visual schedule printablesHow to create a calm down corner


These resources will help with supporting your child's sensory diet at home.

Best chew necklaces

Visual sensory tools and toysOlfactory sensory tools and toysOral motor sensory tools and toysAuditory sensory tools and toysVestibular and proprioceptive sensory tools and toysAutism resources for parents - lots of great tips, printables, and resources for parenting an autistic child


Recommended ContentRecommended Content


Non-Verbal Learning Disorder- NVLD

NVLD-Non Verbal Learning Disability or Disorder. All I can say is wow! Is your child struggling with pragmatics and other issues, but you just can’t find what fits? I learned so much at a presentation I went to today.

 I thought it meant that the child was non-verbal or non-speaking. So many parents said that when they learned their child has NVLD and read about it, lingering questions had finally been answered.

Table of Contents


Chris Rock recently revealed that he was diagnosed with NVLD and is currently in several hours of therapy a week.

Read on to learn what NVLD is, NVLD symptoms plus NVLD learning and IEP accommodations.

Read: What is Pathological Demand Avoidance?

NVLD: Non-Verbal Learning Disability/Disorder

Our presenter stated that Non-Verbal Learning Disability (I’ll call it NVLD from now on) is more common and can be more dangerous than I realized. I also did not realize that it is not in the DSM (unfortunately).

There is an effort underway to get it in the next DSM, and also to create more awareness around NVLD. So, assisting in that effort to create awareness, I decided to post what I have learned.

Students with NVLD can speak, and are quite verbal. NVLD refers to the learning disability NOT being a verbal one.

First, the biggest misconception of the term “non-verbal learning disability.” Every parent there today who has a child with NVLD, has said that on many occasions, people say, “Oh so your child does not talk?”

Quite the opposite! NVLDers talk all the time! Too much, in fact.

The term means that the learning disability is NOT verbal. Think of it as a “NOT verbal learning disability.” They are verbal, what they struggle with is all the other stuff.

The main reason I wanted to share this information, is because undiagnosed and untreated, NVLD can be dangerous and sad. Generally, as younger children, kids can hold it together and their extreme talking masks their real issues.

But as academic and social demands change and intensify, the situation can quickly deteriorate. Kids with NVLD have a very high rate of depression and can become suicidal and violent. NVLD is often misdiagnosed as Aspergers or ADHD because some of the manifestations are the same.

If your child has one of those diagnoses and perhaps they still are not making progress or that diagnosis just doesn’t really fit in your opinion, you may want to pursue this. If untreated and unsupported, it can lead to extreme isolation, depression, and violence. So here is an overview of NVLD, how it manifests, how it is diagnosed and some strategies.

NVLD Symptoms

Remember, these kids are HIGHLY VERBAL, to the point of being repetitive and boring.

But their high verbal skills mask many other issues. Here is a list our presenter gave us, on NVLD symptoms.

  1. Toddlers are unable to put puzzles together

  2. Child dislikes construction toys

  3. Learning to ride a bicycle is extremely difficult-many have severe balance problems

  4. Using fine motor skills is a challenge: tying shoeswriting, using scissors

  5. The child excels at memorization tasks and uses language to talk through sequences that rely on a kinesthetic memory

  6. Boys and girls present with clinical signs of anxiety, depression, and attentional problems.

  7. Problems with interpersonal skills

  8. Unable to read the body language of others

  9. Cannot discern humor and misinterprets “teasing”

  10. Unable to understand symbolic language, are very “concrete” in speech interpretation

  11. Failure to observe space boundaries from one person to the next, “personal space”

  12. Difficulty in remembering how to get from room to room in school may become easily lost.

  13. Don’t seem to get the “Whole Picture”

  14. Performance IQ is lower than the verbal scores on the Wechsler

  15. Non-verbal reasoning as measured by the block design is weak

  16. Object Assembly, Picture Arrangement, and Coding are weak

  17. conceptual understanding and applications are a weakness

  18. great difficulty setting priorities

  19. 57% of NVLD children exhibit auditory processing disorders

  20. Difficult soothing

  21. Prone to depression

  22. Their speech has little rhythm or variation in tone and inflection; long, windy monologues are not uncommon (Gregg & Jackson, 1989) and what they talk about may seem boring.

  23. Child has trouble separating the main idea from the details when discussing a story or scenario

  24. Mathematics, computation is often stronger

  25. Focusing on details (that may be repetitive and/or irrelevant)

  26. Recently, a deficit in spatial memory has also been implicated

  27. Has trouble recognizing nonverbal cues such as a facial expressions or body language

  28. Shows poor psycho-motor coordination; clumsy

  29. Seems to be constantly “getting in the way,” bumping into people and objects

  30. Needs to verbally label everything that happens in order to comprehend circumstances, spatial orientation, directional concepts, and coordination; often lost or tardy

  31. Has difficulty coping with changes in routing and transitions

  32. Has difficulty generalizing previously learned information

  33. Has difficulty following multi-step instructions

  34. Makes very literal translations

  35. Asks too many questions, maybe repetitive and inappropriately interrupt the flow of a lesson

  36. Imparts the “illusion of competence” because of the student’s strong verbal skills

Does any of the above sound familiar to you? It is not at all uncommon for these kids to be labeled as having Autism, Aspergers, or ADHD. These kids also struggle with pragmatics and pragmatic language skills.

NVLD vs. Autism

Many kids with NVLD are incorrectly identified as autistic. Many of the symptoms, traits and characteristics are the same. It is also possible to have both conditions.

  • One explanation for relatively superficial semantic knowledge is the over-reliance that these children apparently place on learning through auditory and verbal means. Perhaps many of the words of the child with NVLD are “fast mapped” rather than fully understood.

  • The most deficient domain of language in children with NVLD is reported to be language use or pragmaticsPragmatics refers to the appropriate social use of language and includes the ability to generate language to accomplish a wide variety of specific social purposes (e.g., requesting objects, requesting information, commenting, greeting, etc.) as well as the ability to manage conversations successfully (e.g., initiating interactions and introducing topics, taking turns, maintaining and building on topics, recognizing and repairing conversational breakdowns, etc.)

  • Speakers with NVLD often are characterized as verbose. Other examples of pragmatic difficulties that may occur include frequent use of stereotyped expressions such as “by the way” or “actually,” an inability to read or use facial expressions or tone of voice, difficulties in using facial expressions and gestures to express feelings, problems with appropriate speech prosody resulting in a lack of affective modulation in language, and abrupt topic shifts.

Evaluating for NVLD

Our presenter is an SLP, and this is what she provided as far as getting your child evaluated for Non-Verbal Learning Disorder. This is what she and ASHA recommend (American Speech and Hearing Association).

  • In terms of assessment, if anecdotal accounts of the language deficits associated with NVLD are correct, then pragmatic language skills present the greatest problem.

  • In addition, many of the instruments that have been developed (e.g., the Test of Pragmatic Skills, etc.) quantify pragmatic skills in relation to developmental norms rather than focusing on qualitative abnormalities in communication.

  • In order to evaluate pragmatic features of the sort that are reported to typify the population with NLD (e.g., verbosity, inappropriate content, etc.), it’s important to assess behaviors that are difficult to elicit in test situations and that may be rare, but salient, in occurrence.

  • Dorothy Bishop has developed such a tool. She calls it the Children’s Communication Checklist.

  • Diagnostic criteria for NVLD have historically included lower visuospatial reasoning compared to verbal reasoning.

Nonverbal Learning Disability Accommodations

  1. Have your child use the computer at school and at home for schoolwork.

  2. Help your child learn organizational and time management skills.

  3. Make use of your child’s verbal skills to help with social interactions and non-verbal experiences. For example, giving a verbal explanation of visual material.

  4. Teach your child about non-verbal communication (facial expressions, gestures, etc.). Help them learn how to tell from others’ reactions whether they are communicating well.

  5. Learn about social competence and how to teach it.

  6. Help your child out in group activities.

  7. Get your child into the therapies they need, such as occupational and physical therapy, psychological, or speech and language therapy

  8. The student with NLD, however, cannot avoid the need to put ideas into a  written format.

  9. The role of the special educator at this point is to put a  structure in place for the child so that he or she can see that written discourse can closely parallel verbal thought.

  10. The intervention strategy for written language begins by verbalizing and outlining what the final product will look like.

  11. The special educator begins by teaching the components of a sentence, a paragraph and then an essay.

  12. At times, using a math-like algorithm, a topic sentence + specific supporting details + a concluding sentence = a paragraph.

  13. It is important to allow the student with NVLD to understand the structure first so that, following this structure, a response can be formulated mentally.

Accommodations for Students with Non-Verbal Learning Disability

  1. Rehearse getting from place to place

  2. Minimize transitions and give several verbal cues before the transition

  3. Avoid assuming the student will automatically generalize instructions or concepts

  4. Verbally point out similarities, differences, and connections;

  5. Number and present instructions in sequence;

  6. Simplify and break down abstract concepts,

  7. Explain metaphors nuances and multiple meanings in reading material

  8. Answer the student’s questions when possible, but let them know a specific number (three vs. a few) and that you can answer three more at recess, or after school

  9. Allow the child to abstain from participating in activities at signs of overload

  10. Thoroughly prepare the child in advance for field trips, or other changes, regardless of how minimal

  11. Implement a modified schedule or creative programming

  12. Never assume a child understands something because he or she can “parrot back” what you’ve just said

  13. Offer added verbal explanations when the child seems lost or registers confusion

  14. Phonology is intact mastery of the sound system

  15. Morphology which deals with inflectional word marking is also adequate.

  16. Syntax including the formation of complete sentences and the use of various sentence types is described as age-appropriate. IT APPEARS THAT LANGUAGE STRUCTURE IS NOT AN AREA OF DYSFUNCTION FOR THESE CHILDREN.

NVLD Treatment

It’s important to note that NVLD is NOT in the DSM and it is NOT one of the 13/14 eligibility categories under IDEA. However, remember that IEPs are needs-driven, not diagnosis driven. You can still request that your child be evaluated for special education services and follow the IEP process.

How to Communicate with a Nonverbal Child

#Autism Plus

Every parent dreams of the day when their little one says their first word. For some parents, especially of children with autism, that day never comes.


My boy Pablo is a chatty 4th grader now, in spite of his autism – but he didn’t speak until he was four years old. For a long time, we weren’t sure if he would ever be able to talk at all.

Even though he couldn’t speak, Pablo was able to communicate with my husband and me, and even his sisters, through sign language. Learning basic sign language was easy – I purchased a few DVDs, and we simply started using signs whenever we spoke to the children. Eventually, even our infant twins began signing long before they were old enough to speak. One of the most touching moments I’ve ever experienced with my son was at the zoo, when he saw the giraffes – his favorite animal. He got a big grin on his face and immediately started signing, “Giraffe!” over and over.

You can imagine how being able to communicate with our son eased our frustration!

Communication is a basic human need, allowing people to connect with others, make decisions that affect their lives, express feelings and feel part of the community they live in.
People with little or no speech still have the same communication needs as the rest of us. We may just have to work a bit harder to find a communication strategy that works.

Read more about 23 Ways to Communicate with a Non-Verbal Child, courtesy of Friendship Circle Blog.

5 Speech Language Strategies To Use When Working
With Children with Autism

By Rosemarie Griffin

Working with early learners with autism and other complex communication disorders can be such a rewarding experience. It can also be quite overwhelming. I wanted to share with you today the 5 five strategies I use when working with early learners who are non-verbal or limited verbally.

Helping each student I work with find their voice is so very important!

1. Assess your student’s ability to request. Requesting
is such a powerful function of our communication.

Being able to let people know what they want throughout the day is vital to increasing our student’s ability to communicate with the world. When you are working with your student note whether they are able to independently request preferred items, places, activities, etc…

2. In conjunction with number 1, I always make a note of
what items, activities, places, people, etc.. are
preferred by my student.

Knowing this information is so very vital in helping us determine what requests we can help our students practice throughout their therapy sessions and throughout their day. If you are working with a student who seems to have a very limited amount of preferred items, activities, places, etc…., you might want to use a preference assessment.

There are very specific ways in which to gauge learner preference but a way to start with this process would be to use a preference assessment. I have linked to my favorite one here ( this can easily be read with the password you receive when signing up at

A preference assessment can help you determine what your learner enjoys and this is important when working on requesting.

3. Another very important factor that needs to be
considered is how will the learner communicate.

This is very much a team based decision and requires much discussion, thought and trial. Will the student use sign, pictures, a device, verbal speech or a combination of those? This is very individualized and needs to be discussed and probed with the student. This process can be dynamic and may change over time. Sign language can be such a great place to start and it often is not accepted as people may say ” I don’t know any sign.” A great website that can make this response form easier to understand is called Check out my tutorial on the subject here.

4. Collaboration among team members will also
be very important for our learners.

We need to make sure that all team members understand that we are working on requesting. We should provide information about why we start to work on requesting, what requesting looks like for our student and how we can embed this throughout the student’s day. If you feel comfortable sharing information you have learned about requesting with the team, this would be a great time to do that.

If your team needs more support in learning this information, taking my course Help Me Find My Voice is a wonderful option. There are individual and group options available.

5. Start work on requesting with your learner.

Make sure that you have a good understanding of what the student may be motivated to request, how they will request these items or activities and that the team is on board with these strategies. Being on the same page and working on requesting, can help our students “find their voice.” This video below ties in all of the above concepts. It is nice to include for a staff training on this very subject.

And if you prefer to take a listen to these 5 strategies discussed, take a listen to my Facebook Live on the subject.

I hope that you will join me in this journey in helping early learners with autism and other communication disorders find their voice. I have a wonderful course that covers these topics in greater detail. Check out my course Help Me Find My Voice. Get that webinar 

Therapy Ideas for a Nonverbal Toddler with Autism

Therapy Ideas for a Non-Speaking Toddler with Autism

What do you do in speech therapy with a non-verbal toddler with autism?  Speech-language pathologist Carrie Clark explores therapy ideas in this video: Click to Download the "Speech Therapy for Autism" Cheat Sheets Components of Intervention to Consider: 1.Parent Training: Teach good language modeling techniques to

Where to Start in Therapy for Non-Speaking Children – Functional Communication

Do you know a child with autism who isn't able to communicate basic wants and needs?  Does the child lack the social skills to participate in social interactions?  Do you need a guide for how to improve functional communication in a young child with autism? Well don't you worry, you've

Speech and Language Therapy Guide PLUS All-In-One Articulation Program and Materials Kit

Speech and Language Therapy Guide

Jump Start Your Late Talker

Passive Home Program for Non-Verbal Children


The Listening Program® with TLP System is a progressive neurodynamic music listening therapy system that is personalized for listeners of all ages and skill levels.

It is intended to be used throughout one’s lifespan as functions and skills develop. This custom system can be tailored to meet the needs of an individual and the entire family, or a group in a school or clinic setting. With the added convenience of one iPod touch listening device, TLP with custom playlists is designed to support improved brain performance for better communication, executive function, auditory processing, social skills, emotional regulation, stress response, motor coordination and creative expression.


 can typically be adapted to suit most listeners. It provides support to individuals experiencing challenges with;

  • Listening

  • Speech & language

  • Attention

  • Auditory processing

  • Reading & spelling

  • Dyslexia

With individualized programming the best possible outcome is optimized with options for Classical music only, or music blended with beautiful sounds of nature.

SPECTRUM is a foundational program created for younger children and adults with sensory sensitivities. SPECTRUM is typically most suited to;

  • Those on the Autism Spectrum

  • Those with a Brain Injury

  • Aged or Elderly

  • Those with Sensory sensitivity

ACHIEVE is an intermediate to experienced level program developed for older children, teens, and adults seeking changes in;

  • learning

  • communication

  • reading

  • memory

  • attention

  • concentration

ACHIEVE increases mental performance by training the brain with evidence-based music to process information more efficiently.

inTime is a dynamic, rhythm-based music program created for anyone looking for changes in;

  • focus

  • attention

  • motivation

  • organisation

  • rhythm awareness

  • coordination

  • adaptive responses to stress

 inTime provides listening training and fun movement activities, using body, drum, and voice.



More Than Just Beautiful Music

The Listening Program’s beautiful music is performed by the award-winning Arcangelos Chamber Ensemble, and has then been modified with advanced neuro-acoustic techniques to harness the brain’s natural ability to change itself, called “neuroplasticity”.

Backed by Science

The modules are engineered for your specific goals. Each 15 minute module follows our proprietary ABC Modular Design™: preparing the listener (phase “A”), providing just the right amount of stimulation (phase “B”) and restoring the listener to a state of focused relaxation (phase “C”).

Therapeutic Music That Works

The Listening Program has been used by over a million people in over 35 countries. It is used in schools, hospitals, therapy clinics, assisted living facilities, companies, athletic and music programs, in homes, and on military bases—and more. Will you be the next success story?

When it comes to mental health, now more than ever, every action counts.

The Listening Program System can be customized to meet the unique needs of each neurodivergent listener

Supportive Programs

Sleep Genius

Sound-based sleep aid with music and neurosensory sounds for sleep management Sleep Genius includes:

  • 4 Sleep Programs

  • Power Nap program

  • Relaxation Program

Sound Health Series


Specialized classical music recordings intended to support learning, brain development and well-being; from birth through adulthood. Sound Health® includes the following albums:

  • Music to De-Stress

  • Music for Thinking

  • Music for Productivity

  • Music for Motivation

  • Maximum Focus

  • Music to Relax

  • Music for Learning

  • Music for Inspiration

  • Music for Concentration

  • Peak Performance

Music for Babies

Amazon Link

Award winning Music for BabiesTM includes classical music, folk tunes, lullabies and nursery rhymes specifically arranged to enhance a baby’s brain development while providing a nurturing environment. Music for Babies includes the following albums:

  • Cheerful Baby

  • Peaceful Baby

  • Sleepy Baby

  • Playful Baby

TLP Specialized

Supplemental programs targeted to specific frequency zones to support Core programs, for headphone training, and an adjunct to therapeutic activities.

  • Full Spectrum
    - Prelude 1 Headphone
    - Prelude 2 Headphone
    - Prelude 1 Speaker
    - Prelude 2 Speaker

  • Sensory Integration
    - Classic 1 Headphone/Speaker

  • Kids 1 Headphone
    - Speech & Language
    - Classic 1 Headphone
    - Kids 1 Headphone
    - Kids 1 Speaker

  • High Spectrum
    - Classic 1 Headphone

Hearing Checklist

TLP Online Quickstart Guide

TLP Listening Activities

TLP Handbook



Sensory Communication Workbook


Fabulous and Free Autism Resources

25 Sensory Box Ideas for Your Child with Autism

21 Benefits of Sensory Play for Kids with Autism

Water Table Sensory Play

Train Sponge Painting Sensory Activity

Fake Snow Sensory Play

Monet’s Garden and 3 Monet-Inspired Sensory Projects

3 Fun Light Table Projects for Kids


15 Zoo Playdough Mats

Free Printable Fish Bowl Play Dough Mat

Free Printable Spring Tulips Playdough Mat

Free Printable Ice Cream Playdough Mat

Free Printable Colorful Socks Playdough Mat


Fish Matching Game

Fill the Fridge! Matching Game


10 Calm Down Strategies for Kids with Autism


Debunk These Myths About Autism!


Use these autism activities to help increase communication, fine motor skills, sensory play skills, interaction and more with children with autism in your home or autism classroom. For the best autism activities for parents, teachers and therapists, get my autism activities workbook bundle.

girl blowing bubbles - one of the best autism activities


All of the activities below can be used with non-verbal children on the autism spectrum. I’ve listed them specifically with children who are non-verbal, or not-yet-verbal, in mind, although they will be a joy to share with all children on the autism spectrum whether they are speaking or not.


1. Do activities from my Autism Workbooks.

2. Learn autism sign language.

Autism activities - autism sign language

3. Use a homemade Communication Binder with real photos to build language skills.


4. Use these yoga videos for kids.

5. Play a hand game.

6. Engage your child with autism in these pretend play games.

7. Build your child’s communication skills using the printable activities in my Sensory Communication Workbook.

Colorful cover of the Sensory Communication Workbook for Kids with Autism

8. Go swimming.

9. Share a snack. (Try these 18 gluten free snacks for kids with autism.)

10. Read social stories.

11. Take care of an aquarium.

12. Garden together.

13. Play in your child’s progress nook.

Autism activities - progress nook

14. Play at the park.


15. Build cutting skills with these cutting activities.

16. Trace lines in moon sand.


18. Use an autism sensory box.

Autism activities - sensory boxes

19. Play with Montessori trays.

20. Do some food stamping.

21. Play with these animal playdough mats.

22. Do these pasta crafts for kids.

23. Use these autism worksheets to build new skills.


One of my favorite sensory autism activities is play dough stamping. I love the 5 play dough stamping activities below.

24. Playdough stamping with legos from From ABCs to ACTs.

Legos are one of our favorite learning materials at my learning center. I love them and so do most of the kids that come here for sessions. Does your child love them too?

Playdough stamping is part of a collection of autism activities that will help your child learn at home. Build fine motor, communication, imitation and play skills with playdough stamping. |

25. Playdough stamping with dried pasta from Arte e Scuola.

Dried pasta is a cheap and fun educational material. You can use it for playdough stamping. You can also use it for these Autism Friendly Bow Tie Pasta Crafts for Kids.

Playdough stamping is part of a collection of autism activities that will help your child learn at home. Build fine motor, communication, imitation and play skills with playdough stamping. |

26. Playdough stamping stars with a whisk from Frugal Fun 4 Boys.

You probably have a whisk in your kitchen. What could be simpler than going to get it for these awesome autism activities? You could also use it to do a fun cooking activity with your child!

Playdough stamping is part of a collection of autism activities that will help your child learn at home. Build fine motor, communication, imitation and play skills with playdough stamping. |

27. Playdough stamping dinosaur footprints from Frugal Fun 4 Boys.

Does your child love dinosaurs? We have all kinds of dinosaurs at my learning center. The kids love playing with them in a variety of ways – to work on new sounds, imitation skills and pretend play.

Playdough stamping is part of a collection of autism activities that will help your child learn at home. Build fine motor, communication, imitation and play skills with playdough stamping. |

28. Leaf stamping with pumpkin pie playdough from Gluesticks Gumdrops.

Pumpkin pie playdough? I’m hooked! Anything that combines scent, texture and building all kinds of educational skills is a win in my book.

Playdough stamping is part of a collection of autism activities that will help your child learn at home. Build fine motor, communication, imitation and play skills with playdough stamping. |


29. Walk for autism as a family.

30. Wear blue for autism awareness in April.

31. Try communicating over an art project



I created this mega list of autism activities for you so that you can come back to them again and again. Whether you are using these activities in your home program or in your autism classroom, they will help build communication, fine motor, sensory and interaction skills with your children on the autism spectrum.


Autism Activities - build communication, fine motor, sensory skills & more!


First published January 4, 2019. Last updated April 29, 2021 with more information, additional tips, and better readability.


Educational water activities for Children with AutismFunctional activities for children with autism


30 Sensory Activities for Kids with Autism April 20, 2017In "Home programs"

30 activities for kids with autism that are not on the iPad February 6, 2018In "Home programs"

4 Fall special needs kids crafts September 30, 2016In "DIY projects & materials"

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Disability Resources for Families

The ‘Disability Resources’ category is your one-stop-shop for information and support on living with a disability.

Here, you will find a wealth of resources to help you navigate the unique challenges that come with living with a disability. From assistive technology to advocacy groups, this category provides you with the tools and resources you need to live a fulfilling and independent life.

Our expert authors share their knowledge and experiences to provide you with valuable insights, support, and encouragement. Stay informed and empowered with the latest disability resources!

In Disability Resources for Families category, you will find:

I hope you find what you need here. Thanks for stopping by.

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Inside: Learn how to use Autistic Student Strengths or Child Strengths

on an IEP, and the importance of doing so. Plus the snippet from IDEA about a child’s strengths.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in getting our kids’ needs met on an IEP, we forget to address student strengths on an IEP.

Maybe you’re getting ready for an IEP meeting, and thinking, “What are my child’s strengths?” or “How do I know my child’s strengths?” Parents, you know your kids best!

Table of Contents

Make sure your child and adolescent strengths are included as part of your parent concerns.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in getting our kids' needs met, we forget to address a Student's Strengths. What are your child's strengths? Grab these ideas for your IEP.

You know that your child has strengths, or your student has strengths. But sometimes, we need a little help to get our list of child strength examples.

1. Learn Your Child’s Strengths

IDEA is pretty clear about a student’s strengths being considered as part of IEP development. It’s even first on the list!

Our kids are strong! Sometimes we have to remind the school team.

In some sections, IDEA lists the strengths of the child as the first item. But again, we often go into IEP meetings with the mindset that the school is going to tell us “no” and we forget to address strengths or assets.

See? It’s right here. (bold mine)

(3) Development of IEP

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  • In developing each child’s IEP, the IEP Team, subject to subparagraph (C), shall consider—(i) the strengths of the child;(ii) the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child;(iii) the results of the initial evaluation or most recent evaluation of the child; and(iv) the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child.

2. What are your Child’s Strengths?

And sometimes, during a meeting, we’re put on the spot. We know our kids are great kids, with a lot of assets and qualities to offer the planet. But under stress, we draw a blank.

Well, no more! Maybe you want to jot these down for the IEP meeting. Or just swipe them for your IEP parent concerns letter.

Many of these were crowdsourced from our IEP parent group.

It’s interesting to me, that if you do an internet search, child strengths, and student strengths bring back two different lists.

This is the list of child strengths categories: creativity, literacy, study skills, communication, hygiene, cognition, language, self-confidence, and courage.

But if you look for student strengths, you get these options. And, in color!

Communication, mathematics, management (for a kid?), creativity, writing, critical thinking, study skills, problem-solving, and reading.

This is an area of the IEP that needs more focus and attention. I think that because so many IEP teams are worried about and focused on meeting the child’s needs, they forget to focus on the strengths portion of an IEP.

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3. Student Strengths in the IEP

When adding your student strengths in an IEP, a team should approach this much like any other section of the IEP. The strengths should be identified, either through evaluations or anecdotal information from parents and teachers.

A team can also add strengths to an IEP by area or discipline. I listed examples below.

4. Child Strengths and Weaknesses Examples

This concept comes up a lot.

However, I dislike the word weaknesses. Mind you, it’s a word I use in reference to myself all the time. I’m not comfortable using it with IEP students, and here’s why.

The dictionary definition of weakness is:

a quality or feature regarded as a disadvantage or fault; plural noun: weaknesses

I prefer the term “areas of need.” I believe, on a subconscious level, that we too often associate the term weakness with the term fault.

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Fault has too much negativity attached to it. A disability is never one’s fault; it’s how they were born.

And, we don’t typically look for lists of “weaknesses” to put on an IEP. The areas of need that the student should be working on should be listed in the IEP present levels.

And, a child’s “weaknesses” should be determined by IEP evaluations.

Not some resource list you found on the internet.

And so, in the spirit of that, you will not find a list of child strengths and weaknesses examples here in this article.

5. Student Strengths Examples

Here are more child’s strengths for an IEP, not categorized.

  1. Outstanding memory in areas of interest

  2. willingness to forgive and give people second chances

  3. Persistent in reaching his desired outcome

  4. He has a strong desire for social connection and friendship

  5. He has an excellent memory and excels in completing tasks when given clear lists or flowcharts

  6. strong negotiating skills

  7. Is curious about the world around him/her

  8. Has a good sense of time, can plan

  9. Fun fashion sense as a means of expression

  10. Sensory/tactile learner, multi-sensory learner

  11. great at finding efficiencies

  12. able to recognize when work is truly necessary

  13. Eager to learn when refocused consistently

  14. When regulated M is a sweet considerate child

  15. Thinks out-of-the-box to find unconventional and creative solutions

  16. Generous and sharing

  17. exercises great emotional restraint when pushed to his limits

  18. Is empathetic toward the needs of others even if he cannot express

  19. Demonstrates an ability to learn

  20. Consistently processes information and responds, even though it is a delayed response

  21. ability to verbalize when he is upset or dysregulated

  22. may appear disinterested in class or not paying attention, but when questioned can regurgitate back the information that was just presented

  23. May be impulsive, but once regulated can usually identify the situation and trigger with great accuracy

  24. Can solve equations in his head, but may show frustration at having to show work

  25. enjoys sticking to a routine

  26. Can adapt to changes in daily schedule with proper warning and notification and explanation

  27. strong desire to do well and please others

  28. a happy, pleasant child when regulated

  29. is able to set realistic, achievable goals for herself

  30. Can follow 1/2/3 step directions

  31. Can follow directions when given clear, direct language

  32. Is able to and will ask for help when needed

  33. Can make a decision given 2/3/5 choices

  34. will interact appropriately with peers

  35. communicates appropriately to peers

  36. can initiate tasks/projects

  37. working memory has improved to where she can…….

  38. can listen intently without interrupting

  39. will raise a hand and wait patiently to be called on

  40. recognizes and respects the personal space of others

  41. can do 4/5/6 volleys in a 2-way conversation

  42. can verbalize when being teased/bullied and respond appropriately

  43. will accept unsolicited adult assistance/help without resistance

  44. good sense of balance and motor planning

  45. Learns material best when moving around, gross motor movement

  46. Likes to ride his/her bike, skateboard, and/or other self-powered personal vehicles

  47. good physical health

  48. physically strong

  49. athletic abilities (elaborate)

  50. Likes to exercise and will initiate independently

  51. good physical endurance

  52. Can follow instructions/rules for games such as (give examples)

  53. is a fair loser and winner

  54. Plays musical instruments (elaborate)

  55. participates in (community activity/sports) and elaborate

  56. Is aware and will be safe in the following setting (elaborate) and will respond appropriately

  57. Can care for the family pet (elaborate)

  58. Can act appropriately around a baby or younger child

  59. Enjoys working independently or in groups

  60. is persistent in carrying out assignments or activities

  61. Keeps a personal diary or journal

  62. Understands sarcasm, enjoys telling jokes

  63. Possesses a sense of personal responsibility

  64. Has strong opinions about controversial topics and is able to verbalize them

  65. Marches to the beat of a different drummer

  66. Handles stressful events well (e.g. is resilient)

  67. Has good character (e.g. honesty, integrity, fairness)

  68. Is able to plan for the future, describe future goals

  69. Displays good common sense and decision making

  70. Explains ideas or concepts well to others

  71. Asks relevant questions

  72. Has good listening skills, without interrupting

  73. Handles verbal feedback well

  74. Is able to effectively use non-verbal cues to communicate with others

  75. persuasive in getting someone to do something

  76. assertive skills without being pushy

  77. optimistic attitude

  78. can express how he/she is feeling

  79. Can easily pick up on the emotional state of another person

  80. Enjoys socializing with others

  81. Has at least one good friend

  82. polite and has good manners

  83. able to work out his/her own conflicts with others

  84. Volunteers his/her time

  85. friendly to others

  86. good at sharing with others

  87. good personal hygiene

  88. Trusts others without being naïve

  89. liked by his peers

  90. good organizational skills

  91. good study skills

  92. able to pay close attention to details

  93. good short-term and/or long-term memory

  94. able to become totally absorbed in an activity

  95. Has traveled to other countries

  96. tolerant of others who have cultural, ethnic, or racial differences

  97. pride in his/her own cultural, ethnic, or racial background

  98. Likes to find out about historical events around the world

  99. Enjoys learning about different cultural traditions

  100. Enjoys reading books

  101. Has good reading comprehension

  102. Enjoys doing word puzzles

  103. a good writer in one or more genres

  104. good speller

  105. large vocabulary for his/her age

  106. Enjoys listening to audiobooks or to someone telling a story or reading out loud

  107. Has a chemistry set or other science kit that he/she works with at home

  108. Enjoys logical or number games or puzzles like Rubik’s cube or Sudoku

  109. aptitude for fixing machines or mechanical things

  110. Likes to create three-dimensional structures with building materials

  111. good at doing jigsaw or other puzzles

  112. able to read maps well

  113. able to visualize images clearly, can describe

  114. Gets information more easily through pictures than words

  115. sensitive to the visual world around him/her, can express verbally and respond appropriately

  116. good handwriting

  117. good eye-hand coordination

  118. enjoys hiking and/or camping in nature

  119. Likes to spend time using a computer, tablet, or smartphone

  120. uses the internet appropriately for school and entertainment

  121. Knows how to set up audio-visual or computer equipment

  122. Likes to text on the phone

  123. Enjoys social networking (e.g. blog, website, Facebook); uses appropriately

  124. Has several his/her own favorite movies or TV shows that he/she likes to talk about and can do so without manipulating the conversation

  125. Loves learning new things; will seek out knowledge

  126. good test taker

  127. loves to run

6. Types of Strengths for Students

A student’s strengths can fit into different categories or domains.

There are many different types of student strengths, and each student may have their own unique combination of strengths.

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Some common types of student strengths include:

  1. Academic strengths: Examples of academic strengths are the ability to excel in specific subjects or areas of study, such as math, science, literature, or language.

  2. Creative strengths: Creative students have the ability to think outside the box and come up with innovative ideas, as well as their artistic and musical abilities.

  3. Social strengths: These include a student’s ability to communicate effectively (even if the communication is not verbal), work well in groups, and build positive relationships with peers and teachers.

  4. Emotional strengths: These include a student’s ability to self-regulate, appropriately deal with stress and adversity, and show empathy and kindness towards others.

  5. Physical strengths: These include a student’s athleticism, motor planning, coordination, and physical fitness.

  6. Leadership strengths: These include a student’s ability to inspire and motivate others, make decisions, and take initiative in appropriate situations.

  7. Executive functioning strengths: EF strengths include a student’s ability to manage their time, prioritize tasks, and stay organized.

  8. Critical thinking strengths: These include a student’s ability to analyze information, evaluate arguments, and solve complex problems.

Cognitive Skills or Strengths

In this area, I would include skills such as processing, communication, reasoning, and attention.

Language and Literacy Strengths

  • Has effective communication and uses it

  • Participates in discussions at home, at school, and with friends; non-speakers can follow along with discussions

  • Tells stories that have a clear beginning, middle, and end

  • Uses lots of words and likes learning new words

  • Can answer “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how” questions in conversation (or about a story)

  • Understands jokes, puns, and sarcasm

  • Understands the structure of sounds; can do tasks like rhyme

  • Can sound out unfamiliar words

  • Easily recognizes sight words

  • Can remember details and retell stories after reading them

  • Can make predictions based on what’s happened so far in a story

  • Reads with expression, like the way an actor talks on TV shows

  • Makes connections between reading material and personal experiences

Academic Skills or Strengths

Reading skills, writing skills, math or science skills, preferred subject area excellence, or study habits.

  1. Strong study skills

  2. Strong analytical skills

  3. High levels of motivation

  4. Good communication skills

  5. Ability to think critically

  6. Strong problem-solving skills

  7. Quick learning ability

  8. Ability to focus and concentrate for extended periods

  9. Strong research skills

  10. Ability to work independently

  11. Strong mathematical skills

  12. Excellent note-taking abilities

  13. Strong academic curiosity

  14. Good listening skills and processing skills

  15. Ability to interpret and analyze data and information.

  16. Has a strong number sense, like knowing which is larger and which is smaller

  17. Sees and understands patterns in nature and in numbers

  18. Remembers math facts

  19. Can do mental math

  20. Uses math concepts in the real world

  21. Understands math terms used in word problems

  22. Solves puzzles or word problems

Social Skills and Social-Emotional Strengths

Examples include being well-liked, cooperative, a problem solver, making friends easily, socializing at appropriate times during the day, having a friend pool to draw from for support, and communicating with others well.

There will be an overlap here with social skills and social-emotional. Some examples of social-emotional skills include resilience, problem solver, positivity, optimism, pleasant and easygoing, adapting easily to unexpected changes, flexible thinking, and creativity.

  • Shares, takes turns, and can compromise

  • Puts effort into making friends and keeping them

  • Is a good listener

  • Accepts differences in others

  • Asks for help when needed

  • Accepts personal responsibility for actions (good and bad)

  • Can apologize when needed

  • Has a good sense of humor

  • Is a good winner and loser

  • Self Awareness

  • Self-regulation skills

Executive Functioning and Processing Strengths

Sure, lots of kids struggle in this area, but many excel. Examples of good executive functioning skills would be the ability to stay focused/on tasks, organizational skills, time management, locker and backpack organization, and planning.

  • Working Memory Skills:  Working memory is for both long-term and short-term memory. It’s the ability to recall knowledge and use it appropriately. A child with a great memory is often able to remember instructions, people’s names, and previous learning experiences easily. This child may do well in school and remember content for tests easily. A child with strong short-term memory skills is often able to remember things for a short period of time, such as a list of items or a set of instructions.

  • Sustained attention:  A child who can sustain their attention is able to focus on a task for a long period of time.

  • Selective attention:  A child with selective attention skills is able to filter out distractions and focus on one task.

  • Joint and Divided attention:  A child who is able to divide their attention is able to focus on two tasks at the same time. Joint attention is the ability to attend to what you’re told, with another person. Such as, if you are reading a book to your child, are they looking and reading along with you?

  • Logic skills:  A child with strong logic skills is often able to see the connections between things. It’s the ability to connect the dots, as they say.

  • Reasoning:  A child who is good at reasoning is often able to understand and think through complex problems.

  • Visual processing: A child with strong visual processing skills is often able to easily understand and remember information that is presented visually.

  • Auditory processing: A child with strong auditory processing skills is often able to easily understand and remember information that is presented verbally.

  • Processing speed:  A child with fast processing speed is often able to quickly understand, complete tasks, and remember new information.

  • Critical Thinking:   A child who is good at critical thinking is often able to see different sides of an issue and make logical decisions.

7. Character Strengths in a Child

Some of the other online resources that you’ve found, similar to this list of child strength examples, may include Character Strengths in a child.

Admittedly, we all look for people of strong character–in our spouses, friends, employers, and so on.

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But, one concept of this really bothers me. And, it’s the concept of honesty.

I have another article about children who chronically lie or are liars. As I state in that article, I was a liar as a child. But, it was not because I am of low moral character. It was self-preservation, and I’m an enabler (raised by alcoholics). Lying is what I did to survive.

So if you are going to make note of a child’s honesty, or lack thereof, please make sure you are doing a Deep Dive on that concept to determine what is really the issue for the child. I hate seeing kids punished for this, or for it to be treated as a character flaw.

My lying was treated as a character flaw, and it took me many years to realize that I am a good person. I just needed better coping mechanisms, which no one taught me.

Here are some other “character strengths” that I found on another site, and my commentary behind them.

  • Is honest and trustworthy (already addressed this above)

  • Is caring, kind, and empathetic (it’s very rare to find a child who truly does not care or empathize with others; they often lack the traditional ways to show it)

  • Helps others (do they have the skill sets to help others, to explain things, and be of assistance?)

  • Shows loyalty (I don’t even know what this means, for students, loyal? really?)

  • Works hard (IEP/504 students are some of the most hardworking students ever; they have to work twice as hard to get half as far; are you judging them based on the progress they’ve made, and is that really fair?)

  • Is resilient (again, disabled students have to put up with much more than non disabled students)

  • Shows independence (seriously? the ability to be independent is a character trait?)

  • Cooperates (an ableist society tells us that the disabled child must always concede to the abled child; rarely is the abled child thought of as ‘non-cooperative’ if he/she does not want to go along with the disabled child)

8. Student Strengths Checklist

Here is the above list in a PDF.

Infographic with student strengths and child strengths on it

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A Guideline for Autism with Gastrointestional Issues

Jeannette | Posted on September 1, 2022

autism gastrointestinal

In the United States, ASD is more likely to develop in children; 1 in 68 children have autism spectrum disorders. This neurodevelopmental disease, which is characterized by social impairments and frequently comes with repeated behaviors, is riddled with unanswered questions. Despite the frequency of ASD and the abundance of study, the reasons remain poorly understood.

Although ASD predominantly affects the brain, connections with other systems have emerged in recent years. In particular, gastrointestinal (GI) problems and ASD are directly proportional that appear to affect people with ASD more frequently than the general population. According to one study, children with ASD were six to eight times more likely to experience GI symptoms such bloating, constipation, and diarrhea than children who were normally developing.

According to the experts, people with ASD who have GI issues are more likely to develop ASD symptoms that are more severe. Additionally, addressing the GI problems might occasionally alleviate the social and behavioral symptoms of ASD. To assist you in considering a nutritious diet for ASD related GI issues, you may choose to discuss with a nutritionist. Many people cut out gluten and casein from their diets, but it is crucial to switch out these items with nutritious ones, especially fruits and vegetables. You may also opt for a nutritional supplement, but it is considered more crucial to sustain good eating habits, which frequently calls for a behavior therapist's help.

Understanding the correlation of ASD and GI issues:

Clinicians often identify autism as a developmental disorder based on behavioral and academic abnormalities observed in young children. There are related conditions that may be causally connected when the condition is explored further. In comparison to the general population, people with autism are more likely to experience digestive and gastrointestinal issues. Also, people with autism spectrum disorders have between 9% and 70% greater gastrointestinal problems than neurotypical individuals.

There is a higher likelihood of gastrointestinal issues in people with autism, such as;

  • Celiac illness.

  • Colitis.

  • Crohn's illness.

  • Esophagitis

  • Stomach acid reflux disease

  • Gastritis

  • Inflammation of the colon.

Moreover, according to the experts, 23% of 340 autistic children reported feeling queasy, while 23% of children with autism reported having diarrhea. 65% of autistic children reported constipation. This is to note that people with autism are more prone to have the following symptoms of various conditions:

  • Abdominal discomfort

  • recurring belching

  • Bloating

  • Bloating or diarrhea

  • A lot of flatulence

  • Nausea and other digestive issues.

  • Reflux

Having a doctor's assistance is necessary to manage ASD and GI symptoms. Medications, whether over-the-counter or prescribed, they frequently contribute in the treatment of pain and bloating of GI issues.

Prior to the diagnosis of gastrointestinal distress, those who struggle with it may exhibit irritability, aggressiveness, difficulty sleeping, hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and eating issues, such as food rejection or aversion. Even when a person is receiving the proper behavior treatment, internalizing and externalizing issue behaviors might both indicate that they are distressed and require medical intervention.

Signs that indicate you may be suffering from GI issues alongside ASD:

It is crucial to comprehend how gastrointestinal issues influence your behavior. Children on the autistic spectrum who also experienced nausea found to be 11% more likely to engage in violent behaviors. Additionally, it was discovered that upper gastrointestinal problems were more likely to cause aggressive behaviors. Between the ages of 6 and 18, people were more likely to have lower gastrointestinal pain like constipation or diarrhea as a result of anxiety.

There are multiple studies evaluating frequency of gastrointestinal disturbance and autistic symptom severity. Compared to people with autism who did not experience these symptoms, experts discovered that stomach discomfort, bloating and gas, constipation, diarrhea, and pain during bowel movements were connected with greater irritability, social disengagement, stereotypy, and hyperactivity.

People possess autistic spectrum who may find it confusing to express their pain or discomfort, or children who may have trouble forming complex words, or who may not be able to speak at all, may have trouble communicating their suffering. In that case, having digestive issues but is unable to recognize with certainty, look for the following signs:

  • Excessive coughing

  • Rubbing their face or chin.

  • They put pressure on their stomach.

Blended treatment approach for GI issues with ASD:

Your may acquire the diagnosis that required so that you can start therapy by working with your physician and behavior therapist. One strategy that many parents use is to change diet, frequently by eliminating casein (a dairy protein) and gluten (a wheat protein), which are frequently included in common diet, especially when it comes to a child. Changing the diet should enable you to encourage them to consume a larger range of healthful foods, specifically fruits and vegetables.

Some people supplement their diets to ensure that they receive the proper nutrition; however it is more crucial to work with a behavior therapist to treat food aversion so that you and your children can consume a larger range of nutritious foods.

In ASD in relation to GI issues, if young people suffer from a more critical underlying condition, such as diverticulitis or Crohn's disease, it may be necessary to use prescription drugs or perhaps outpatient surgery. Working with your physician ensures that they receive the correct diagnosis. Elimination diets might be useful in identifying dietary sensitivities. Working with a behavior therapist to handle these transitions is crucial for them who struggle with eating and mealtimes.

Continues monitoring of ASD along with GI symptoms:

More research is required to comprehend the gut-brain connection in the context of ASD along with GI disorders, how it affects the symptoms of inflammatory or digestive conditions, and how the two interact. Food digestion issues may exacerbate the symptoms of other illnesses that co-occur with autism, such as allergies, immune system issues, difficulties falling asleep, and mood disorders. Clinicians should be aware that people with autism are more likely to develop these digestive disorders, so screening for issues like constipation or diarrhea, mood disorders, and sleep difficulties, can help them receive treatment on an early basis.

See Also: Gastrointestinal and Stomach Issues After Covid-19: What to Know and Expect.

Behavior therapy is the most effective treatment for autism, so your behavior therapist may see changes in your symptoms and formulate the treatment plan accordingly. Discussing new symptoms will help you determine which therapeutic modalities are effective and which are not. By continuous observation and maintaining of medical record, you may adjust your approach to digestive issues related with ASD in the same manner that you modify your approach to behavioral challenges.

Why Choose Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism


Autism Spectrum Evaluation Team (A.S.E.T.)Interdisciplinary Evaluation Clinic

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which impacts communication, socialization, and behavior. Some children display signs of autism at a very early age. We will see children at the age of first concerns; children who show developmental delays and symptoms characteristic of an autism spectrum disorder.

We conduct interdisciplinary evaluations, utilizing evidence based measures, allowing for multiple providers to spend time with the family and patient. This in turn allows us to provide a comprehensive evaluation of overall development and medical needs and offer families extensive treatment recommendations and guidance.

Interdisciplinary teams may include a medical provider, psychologist, speech and language pathologist, and other professionals depending on patient needs. Evaluations consist of:

  • Diagnostic interview with psychologist

  • ADOS (social/play based assessment)

  • Speech and language evaluation

  • Consult with needed medical providers

  • Feedback and recommendations

A comprehensive evaluation report which includes treatment recommendations and referrals to community resources.

Arrange an EvaluationTo arrange an evaluation, please contact the Center for Autism at 216.448.6440.

Outpatient Therapy

Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism offers multiple outpatient therapies across our three locations and in-home. All our therapists are trained in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and use behavioral techniques in therapy.

Clinical Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Services

Individualized ABA treatment (behavior therapy) is provided to children with ASD with a strong component of parent training. Focused ABA treatment plans target the development of specific skills across areas including socialization, play, adaptive behavior and language, with an emphasis on communication skills. Services will be provided using a tiered delivery model. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will design and supervise treatment goals and oversee Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) in working directly with the client.

Outpatient Speech/Language Therapy

The Center for Autism’s outpatient speech department specializes in providing children with ASD speech/language evaluations, individual therapy and small group therapy. All speech/language pathologists are trained in the principles of ABA.

Available locations:

More Information

For more information about outpatient services at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism, 216.448.6440.