Many with Autism Have Pragmatic Language Impairment, But What Is It Exactly?

How is pragmatic language impairment diagnosed?

The screening and assessment process for pragmatic language impairment is very similar to the process used to diagnose autism, and patients may learn about their pragmatic language impairment at the same time as their autism diagnosis. This may not always be the case, however.

Generally, a hearing test is done first to rule out a hearing problem as the cause of pragmatic language impairment. Then the patient’s speech and language will be evaluated, and a comprehensive assessment will be completed to identify other potential contributing factors, such as comorbid disorders, health conditions, muscle weakness or other physical impairments, and more personal contextual factors.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Rafael Ben-Ari
Photo: Adobe Stock/Rafael Ben-Ari

Why does pragmatic language impairment need to be treated?

There’s really nothing inherently “wrong” with a person who has pragmatic language impairment, but the issue can make socializing more difficult, which in turn can make the person feel ostracized. As already mentioned, pragmatic language is also important at school and in the workplace, so treating this impairment can go a long way to helping a person with autism find and keep meaningful employment or get the education they deserve.

If a person with this impairment is comfortable with their ability to communicate, fulfilled in their state of life, and happy with the friendships and relationships they’ve been able to make, then not treating their pragmatic language impairment is a legitimate decision. However, for a person who struggles to make friends, often feels left out, or cannot find employment, treating pragmatic language is important to the person’s emotional and social well-being.

In young children who cannot make this decision on their own, parents may opt to take a wait-and-see approach, but it is perhaps best to seek therapy options while the child is still young.

Photo: Adobe Stock/galitskaya
Photo: Adobe Stock/galitskaya

What treatment options are available for pragmatic language impairment?

As mentioned above, pragmatic language impairment does not absolutely need to be treated in every individual, especially in those people who are capable of forming strong friendships and are happy with their social lives. However, there are some options out there to help people whose pragmatic language impairment negatively affects their lives.

Some pragmatic language skills may be able to be developed at home with the help of parents or other family members. Click here to learn more about some tactics you can employ to help a loved one learn pragmatic language skills.

Photo: Adobe Stock/dtiberio
Photo: Adobe Stock/dtiberio

Treatment may be teacher-led or clinician-led and may involve one-on-one practice or group participation (or both). It may consist of games and structured dialogues and a variety of other activities for dynamic learning. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), computer-based instruction, or video instruction may be implemented to aid the person in learning pragmatic language skills.

Even if a clinician is handling treatment, it’s important for families to get involved as well and provide plenty of opportunities for practicing new pragmatic language skills.

Do you or someone you know struggle with pragmatic language impairment? Do you have tips for overcoming this social difficulty? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

Elizabeth Nelson

Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?

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