Struggling to understand the difference between Language and Communication? This article will help

Do you find yourself tossing and turning in bed as you think about your child’s communication issues?


Do you often worry about your child’s language and communication?


My child keeps repeating the same words again and again


He/she knows so many words, but doesn’t know where and when to use them


She is good with nursery rhymes, but cannot talk with me


When I ask a question, sometimes he doesn’t answer or answers in monosyllables


The data sheets show a vocabulary of 200 words, but my child doesn’t use these words when we talk


My child is 9 years old. He’s non vocal. Will he talk ever?


If I give her a communication device, will she stop talking?


His tone is very flat, there are no expressions when he speaks


It’s my only wish. Please help my child to talk


I have asked these exact same questions in the past. So have thousands of other families.

I struggled with these issues too- till I came across RDI.


I still remember the early days. Mohit and me sitting across at this little white table and little chairs. Hours every day spent on discrete trials where I taught him to identify items, then name items. My data base grew. Time was spent in marking out how many items he could identify and how many he could name.
We taught him to fill in sentences such as,
My name is ______.


We taught him to answer questions.
How are you? Where did you go? (he always said ‘beach’).
How old are you? (This had to be taught every year).
The first 2 years went well. We felt we were making amazing progress.
But all of this was accompanied by aggressive behaviors such as crying, pinching, even biting.


Things became worse. After all, how many drills can you do? How long can you keep teaching repetitive stuff if it remains un mastered?


How long will you frustrate yourself and your child?
I understood communication after several years of pain and frustration.
It happened only once I got on the Relationship Development Intervention Program (RDI).
Before I go into what mindful communication is, let me share some important concepts that will help you differentiate important terms.
There is a distinction between speech, language and communication.


Speech generally refers to the action of producing speech or the act of speaking. So someone with a speech challenge may have trouble with specific sounds, patterns of words, or intelligibility
Language refers to the ability to communicate through speech by delivering and receiving meaningful messages. Correct language may include delivering or deciphering the message through reading, or hearing. A child with language challenges may not use proper sentence construction and grammar (eg “I goed to the park)
Communication is the broadest category of them all. Communication includes spoken language but also includes many other non-verbal cues which are essential for interacting and communicating with others. It is common that if a child or adult has proper speech and language, that they still struggle with communication. This could take the form of not understanding sarcasm, gestures, or facial expressions which are also cues as to the meaning of what someone is trying to communicate to them. Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often exhibit these characteristics.
This interesting image elucidates:



untitled copy 2




It’s important to note that communication is an act of transferring information to others. It involves 2 people.
Language can be thought of a way to communicate.
When I came across Dr Steven Gutstein’s work, I realized what I had been missing. It didn’t sink in immediately. But gradually, it made much more sense than anything else.


By the time typical infants are incorporating words, they have been successfully communicating for over a year, using facial expression, vocalization and gesture before relying on words. . It takes that long to build up bandwidth before words are added in this developmental process. When it does happen, words aren’t added on top of a static, quantitative accumulation of vocabulary. Instead, it incorporates into the dynamic pathway that is being built.
Unfortunately, many in the autism world have skipped an appreciation for this developmental process. In the effort to jumpstart communication, some focus on teaching words instead of understanding and developing the other channels of communication. To our detriment, we have accepted a model that teaches language in a static way and misses the point all together.


– Dr Steven Gutstein (Founder, RDI Connect)


Another explanation for Mindful Communication by RDI Consultant and Speech Language Pathologist, Amy Cameron is as follows.


Communication is more than talking. It’s more than words,just as a song is more than the lyrics. Thoughtful, reciprocal communication is essential for developing flexible minds. Through communication, people share experiences, thoughts and ideas. Thoughtful reciprocal communication enables people to pass ideas through others, gain different perspectives, and expand upon what is known beyond solitary experience. It impacts a person’s ability to self-monitor and to develop a self-identity. Thoughtful, reciprocal communication impacts the person’s ability to think, remember, and relate to others. It directly impacts initiative and motivation to interact. It is essential for survival in the dynamic world that requires interaction with other people. People with Autism can be thoughtful and reciprocal communicators. It is an essential component of the RDI® Program.
RDI Consultant- Amy Cameron
Once I got on the RDI Program, I realized what I had been doing all those years.


I had built language but not the foundations to support the language. I had taught words.
But did Mohit know where, how, when, in what context to use those words? No, he didn’t.


Since my focus was getting the ‘word correct’, I ran these drills several times a day.
What did that result in?
A teenager who was sick of being asked the same questions several times a day (by his therapists and me)


That wasn’t a respectful way of treating an individual.


I still remember the first time our then Consultant, Joyce Albu brought in a ball and started tossing it to Mohit. Wordlessly.


He looked up as she stood there, waiting for his readiness before she could throw the ball.
I remember his looking up slowly. As he did, the sunlight caught his eye lashes.
My heart was filled with joy. I remember thinking, ‘my son has beautiful eye lashes.’


You see for many years Mohit had stopped looking up at people. He looked down, as if he was carrying the weight of the all the instructional bombardment.


When Joyce engaged him in a ball activity, with no instructions from her side, he took the responsibility to look up and take action.


It was a beautiful moment in my life.

Things got better since then.


Mohit was 17 when this happened. Imagine the potential your child has. Honestly, age is no bar.

I’ve worked with students in their 20s and 30s. They have all responded favorably.

Mohit is an accomplished artist today. His paintings show the beauty of his soul.


Artwork by Mohit Lakhani

Artwork by Mohit Lakhani


Your child has tremendous potential. It’s time to look at Communication. Not language.





Note: This article is an excerpt from my new ebook- How You Can Build Mindful Communication With Your Autistic Child.


Do reach out to us at if you’d like to order this book.


Kamini Lakhani

Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>