May Is Better Hearing and Speech Month

For those of you who follow this blog, you may recall that I am a speech and language pathologist.  Since May is Better Hearing and Speech Month and ASHA or the American Speech and Hearing Association focuses on autism during the second week of the month, I thought I would share some information with you.

According to the organization, Autism Speaks, autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.  These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.  They include autistic disorder (sometimes referred to as “classic autism”), Rett Syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder–not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.  ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination, and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math, and art.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that autism spectrum disorders are the fastest growing developmental childhood disability:  a research study from 2000 indicated that 1/150 children were diagnosed with autism, and more recently, 1/68 children were identified with this developmental disorder.  Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls.  An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. ASD is estimated to affect more than 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide.

So, what causes autism?  Not long ago, the answer to this question would have been “we have no idea.” Research is now delivering the answers.  First and foremost, we now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism.  Over the past five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism.  Research has also identified more than a hundred autism risk genes.  In around 15 percent of cases, a specific genetic cause of a person’s autism can be identified.  However, most cases involve a complex and variable combination of genetic risk and environmental factors that influence early brain development.

Though autism cannot be definitively diagnosed until around 18 to 24 months, research shows that children as young as 8 to 12 months may exhibit early signs.  Parents should look for symptoms such as no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by 9 months; no babbling or back-and-forth gestures (e.g. pointing) by 12 months; or any loss of babbling, speech, or social skills at any age.  If you suspect something is wrong with your child, don’t wait.  Talk to your doctor or contact your state’s Early Intervention Services department about getting your child screened for autism.  Research has consistently shown that early diagnosis and intervention offer the best chance for improving function and maximizing a child’s progress and outcomes.

As a speech and language pathologist, I mainly work with children.  Many of these children have developmental disorders, including ASD.  The following post is about a very special student I had the privilege of working with a number of years ago.  It’s because of my experiences with these wonderful children that I was inspired and moved to write the following children’s book and therapy tool, Clementine: The Communi-CAT–A Guide for Teaching Social Communication Skills (2014).


Clementine: The Communi-CAT, A Guide for Teaching Social Communication Skills is my first children’s book.  It’s a story, a communication lesson, and a social communication activity book all in one.  It features a tricolor cat as well as two young children who demonstrate different facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice through photographs and descriptions.  The descriptive text and humorous, colorful photographs of Clementine engage children between the ages of 4-8 in a manner that creates interest, joint attention, and an increased understanding of social language skills.

This book provides a basic lesson in social language skill development that is helpful to all children; however, it also addresses a need in a growing population of children who have autism spectrum disorders and significant difficulty with interpersonal communication skills.

The concept of this book is based in research indicating that “animals encourage social interaction.“  According to a recent study by researcher Marguerite E. O’Haire and colleagues from the University of Queensland, Australia, “the presence of animals appears to encourage social interaction among children with autism.  Including an animal in children’s playtime or home activities may be an effective way to encourage socialization with other children as well as adults.”

Clementine: The Communi-CAT is an educational tool that provides a basic lesson in social communication with follow-up activities that would benefit all children, but especially children who have special needs.  It’s my hope that this book will empower parents to advocate for their children by encouraging them to have better interpersonal communication skills, important skills that would help a child to make friends or participate in group activities more confidently.  Strong interpersonal communication skills are fundamental for building relationships and are directly related to a child’s success in school, both academically and socially.

Clementine:  The Communi-CAT is on sale locally at Little Dickens Bookstore in Lynchburg, Virginia and is also available on-line with Barnes & Noble Booksellers as well as

Clementine: The Communi-CAT is currently available through the following website:




I would also like to share a beautiful and moving book called Truestory by Scottish writer, Catherine Simpson.  This wonderful debut novel was inspired by Ms. Simpson’s eldest daughter’s autism, and a mother’s lonely, often despairing struggle to cope with a child suffering from undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome.  Ms. Simpson received the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award for the opening chapters of her poignant, yet humorous novel.  I absolutely loved this book and had a difficult time putting it down. It’s definitely worth reading.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting and helpful.  Thank you for taking the time to read it.


  1. This was an informative post, Tonya and what you have done is astounding! Reaching out and making people understand through different mediums is important to actually get the sensitivity of these children. Thank you for being such a wonderful inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was interesting, and I’m sure helpful to many parents. Personally, I’m intrigued by the various types, not to mention the genetics. I came to love my first autistic child when my girlfriend bore her third boy. We knew something wasn’t quite typical with him just after a year. Specifically, his lack of curiosity and unbelievable contentment when playing in my floor for hours and hours. She said it was the same at home. Most kids that age pretty much have to be pinned in and chased 😉 Around 18 months, she had him evaluated. The therapies he had, including speech, were amazing. Those are gifted, gifted teachers. I will never forget the day he ran up to me, made eye contact, hoisted his shiny new toy up and said, “Look Joey, it’s my truck!” I cried, I did. It was amazing. He’s still amazing.
    Thank you for your work with children. I only wish there were more of you. More programs, more funding, more help for what is obviously a booming need.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment and sharing the story of your friend’s son. I’m so happy that he made such wonderful progress! It’s truly amazing when a child has a breakthrough that will enrich their lives in a profound way.
      I agree. More resources would definitely be welcomed. Unfortunately, the need seems to be growing. That’s why I think increasing awareness of ASD is a worthwhile endeavor.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the work you do and for this post, Tonya. Whilst the leaps forward in finding the keys to what causes Autism are heartening it is even more so that there are amazing people like you who are helping those effected. And sharing this with the wide-world is SO important. For Autism is certainly on the rise and people need to have awareness to even begin to be able to switch on their human kindness. I will certainly order Ms. Simpson’s book and read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for highlighting autism, Tonya. Many people still don’t understand it all that well, myself included despite my daughter being on the autistic spectrum.
    I enjoyed your book immensly, it is a fantastic learning tool too, and it is wonderful that there are people like you that care enough to want to help. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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