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 part 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 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. Fascinating post, such children have always been on the edges of my experience as a classroom teacher, with so little time to really understand them. I hope all autistic children with speech problems are lucky enough to encounter an expert like you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind comment. Children who have autism spectrum disorders are unique. Although the diagnosis may be similar, every child may express the characteristics of the disorder differently, and that can definitely be challenging for classroom teachers. Plus, these children often benefit and need one-on-one attention, which isn’t something a regular education teacher can offer easily—especially with a classroom of twenty children.

      Liked by 2 people

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