Speech and language
Language difficulties in children who have Fragile X range from mild stuttering to more severe problems with basic language skills. Basic language skills include the ability to pronounce words clearly, to speak and write using words and grammar correctly, and to communicate in meaningful ways.
Females with Fragile X rarely have severe problems with speech or language. In fact, many have vocabulary and grammar skills that are appropriate for their age, which can help them learn to read and write. However, their social anxiety and shyness may get in the way of communication. Some females with Fragile X speak in a rambling, disorganized way or often get off the subject. Most males with Fragile X have more serious problems expressing themselves. These difficulties typically include problems speaking clearly and other problems with language that can be moderate to severe. In terms of speech, males with Fragile X often have problems coordinating the structures, vocal processes (such as pitch, loudness, and tone), and movements needed for clear speech. They often have difficulty receiving and processing spoken information, such as following spoken directions, storing words and concepts for future use, and creating their own meaningful responses to questions or comments.
Males with Fragile X may stutter or leave sounds out of their words. Many repeat themselves, restart the same sentence many times, or ask the same question again and again. Some may talk too fast, mumble, or speak in a loud, high voice. Some of these difficulties may be due to sensory overload or social anxiety, rather than a problem with the parts of the brain that control speech and language.
Perhaps most importantly, males with Fragile X usually have difficulty using speech and language in social contexts. They often seem unaware of conversational “clues,” such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. As a result, they may speak out of turn, fail to answer a question, or turn away because they aren’t sure what to do. Unlike males with other developmental disorders, like autism, males with Fragile X seem to be very interested in communicating, but may experience sensory overload or social overload when they try to hold a conversation.
For some children, language problems are more severe. Many children with Fragile X begin talking later than expected. Most begin using words around age four, but some may not talk until age of six or eight.6 Most talk eventually, but some may remain nonverbal throughout life. For these nonverbal children, a wide variety of picture-based and computer-based devices may help them to communicate, which could also reduce behavior difficulties that result from not being able to talk. Pictures, sign language, and generic gestures can also be helpful for all children with Fragile X, before they start talking.
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