What is Semantic-Pragmatic Disorder, High Functioning Autism.  Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information.  www.brighttots.com
Print this page
Semantic Pragmatic Disorder
A Language Disorder first introduced by Rapin and Allen in 1983, which describes a group of children who present mild
Autistic features and specific semantic pragmatic language and communication impairments.
SPD is separated into two groups:
receptive and expressive language. Mainly characterized by poor conversational skills with inappropriate use of language.
Receptive language becomes difficult because comprehension of words is unclear.

Validity of semantic-pragmatic as a developmental language disorder or as a distinct from of high-functioning autism has been
questioned since its introduction. Given the similarities between semantic-pragmatic syndrome and autism. For example, three
major characteristics are, a cognitive deficit, poor social skills and utilization of non-verbal communication. They also share the
same specific characteristics within the autism spectrum.

Definition of Semantic Pragmatic

Semantic - Memory for the meaning of words, interpretation behind a word.

Pragmatic - Concerned with the facts, or actual occurrence.


Many of these children babble or use jargon speech much longer than children of the same age. Their first words are late and
learning language is difficult. Problems are usually first identified between 18 months and 2 years when the child has little
speech and trouble with communication. At times one wonders if perhaps the child is deaf because they do not appear to
respond to his or her name. These children ignore their names in the early years yet react to the ring of telephone or the door
bell. Early on in their lives, Semantic-Pragmatic Disordered children are found to have problems following instructions, and
they “shut down” when taken out of the normal routine.

Children who find it difficult to extract any kind of meaning will find it even more difficult to generalize and grasp the meaning
of new situations. They will insist on to keeping situations predictable. Maintaining sameness, by following routines, will eat
certain foods or wearing particular clothing and develop obsessional interests are characteristics of children with

These children have difficulty extracting meaning both orally and visually, the more stimulating the environment it becomes
difficult processing information. Children with
SPD can often respond to instructions without difficulty. They are better at
visible cues that are occurring at the time. The objects are in sight and they have very little difficulty understanding visible
concepts like size, shape and color.

Early Signs of Ages 0-4

• Quiet baby, content most of the time.

• Likes playing alone repetitively.

• Difficult toddler with no sense of danger.

• Does not respond to name, at times appears deaf.

• Late talker, does not babble.

• Speaks out of context, memorizing phrases of favorite tv shows.

• Inconsistent eye contact.

• Late pointer, unable to express wants.

• Fussy eater, refuse to eat certain textures.

• A loner, prefers to play alone then with peers of the same age.

• Late in recognizing self in pictures or mirror.

• Unable to initiate play with other children but will interact with in rough tumble play.

• Difficulty sharing, tantrums persist.

• Good with jigsaw puzzles, numbers, letters, shapes & colors.

• Prefers helping in real activities like washing up, or operating a computer.

• Repeats like a parrot.

• Obsessional interests.

• Very independent, does not ask for help.

• Inappropriate response to sensory stimuli like touch, pain, sound.

• Difficulty in following rules.

SPD children are skilled at the following:

• Using long sentences

• Speaking clearly

• Learning new vocabulary, in specific interests areas

• Using familiar phrases and terms

• Love music and have a good memory for tunes.

• Good rote skills in math and computers.

• High IQ’s

Today research shows that children with Semantic-Pragmatic Disorder have difficulty in speaking and understanding speech.
It’s believed that the issue with SPD kids may be the way their brain processes the information, they are not able to understand
the meaning instead focus details. For example if your are speaking to an SPD toddler, they will hear without understanding.

Sensory Problems:

• Some children have a heightened awareness of loud noise. Others ignore loud noise and focus on peripheral sound.

• Many have a heightened awareness of smell or taste and may refuse certain foods. Others have a diminished awareness of
hunger and may only eat if told.

• Some avoid touching certain materials particularly sticky or wet substances.

• Some children seem to have a diminished awareness of pain. After a serious fall they’ll brush it off and only display distress
after observing blood.

Understanding Language:

Comprehension problems usually improve with speech therapy. They learn to express their wants and dislikes so that by the
age of four years, many of the children appear to be function very well. By the age of 5 communication becomes more natural.
Although these children continue to have problems with certain aspects of communication. Examples of difficulties is language
which require more than listening to the words. One needs to comprehend what the speaker is thinking and implying. They
need to understand non literal expression, jokes, and sarcasm. These children take in the details of speech and often this type
of communication makes them feel uncomfortable.


Children who are diagnosed as having semantic pragmatic disorder are more accurately described as high-functioning autistic.
Clinicians tend to give all autistic children who have good intelligence the label Asperger syndrome, even if a child actually has
very limited speech. Children with Aspergers’ are able to talk in sentences by the age of three, whereas Semantic Pragmatic
children develop their speech late. However, a child with semantic pragmatic difficulties in language eventually becomes a
fluent talker. Lastly, children with
SPD tend to have better socialization skills than those with Aspergers’. Many children
improve dramatically and diagnostic labels can change.

Until about 10 years ago, only the most handicapped children were diagnosed with Autism. Children were either Autistic or
they were not. This meant that many high functioning children on the spectrum with mild and specific learning difficulties
were excluded from receiving therapy. Many were dismissed as language disorders or as having behavior problems, leaving
parents with much unresolved worries. Today they have extended the boundaries to include those children with mild social
difficulties, some of whom may be able to extend their special interest and abilities to out perform their peers. Parents of
children with Semantic Pragmatic Disorder should feel optimistic.
Semantic - Pragmatic Disorder
Autism Diets     Autism Information     Developmental Disorders     Parenting Issues

Resource Home


Baby Tooth Decay

Behavioral Disorders

Child Safety Tips

Disorders Home

Early Intervention

FMLA for Parents

Learning Disability

Parenting Issue

Preschool Special Ed.

Parenting Help

Speech Disorders

Weight Concern


Asperger's Syndrome

Childhood Disintegrative

Early Signs of Autism

(Repetitive Speech)

Fragile X


Low Functioning Autism
(Classic Autism)

Pervasive Developmental

Rett Syndrome

Savant Syndrome

Semantic Pragmatic Disorder
For more information and articles on autism visit:
Choosing the Right Toy for :
Babies      Toddlers      Preschool
World of Autism

What is Autism?  Frequently asked questions on autism - What causes autism?  What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA
Therapy)?  Autism Diagnosis - What are the Types of Autism, What are the signs of Autism?  Medications used in
treatment of Autism - A Genetic Clue to Why Autism Affects Boys More - Autism and Vaccines - 1 in 68 Children
affected with Autism - Autism: To Cure or Not to Cure - Speech and Language Problems in Autism Spectrum Disorders -
Research Points to Genetic Link in Autism - Challenges Siblings of Children with Autism Face.

Autism Articles

Inspirational uplifting news articles on Autism / The Downside of Autism in the News
Mom Wins Fight for Autism Insurance
Bright Tots ~ Information on childhood developmental disorders, including autism, attention deficit disorder (ADHD),
behavior disorders, bipolar disorder, cerebral palsy, childhood disintegrative disorder, depression in children, diabetes in
children, down syndrome, emotional disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder , selective mutism, separation anxiety
disorder, speech and language disorders and spina bifida.

Resources, articles and information on autism including Asperger's syndrome, assessing autism, autism and tantrums,
autism in childhood, autism therapies, characteristics of autism, discipline strategies, early signs of autism, echolalia,
fragile x, hyperlexia / dyslexia, immunization worries, oral care and autism, pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), Rett
syndrome, savant syndrome, and more...

developmental disorders - Find Early Intervention in your area.

Information and articles on
autism therapy and autism treatment including: ABA therapy, autism diets, chelation therapy,
cognitive behavior therapy, key to learning, medications for treating autism, play therapy, occupational therapy, physical
therapy, sensory integration, signed speech, speech therapy, TEACCH Method and more...

What is a learning disability? What are developmental domains? Tips on teaching a child with autism, age appropriate
behavior (milestones), parenting rules, oral care and autism, baby tooth decay, is your child over weight? For those hard to
understand terms, visit our

Bright Tots - Helpful information for picking the right toy for Babies, Toddlers and Preschool kids
What to look for in developmental baby, toddler and preschool toys. Read on the importance of choosing the right
educational baby toys, educational toddler toys, educational preschool toys that will

"Make Learning Fun"

Choosing the right Baby Toys | Toddler Toys | Preschool Toys | Special Needs
Autism Resources

Autism Home

ABA Therapy

Assessing Autism

Autism Diets

Autism Treatments

Autistic Behaviors

Characteristics of

Cognitive Behavior

Early Intervention

Early Signs of Autism

Keys to Learning

Learning to Learn

Medication and Autism

Myths of Autism

Occupational Therapy

Parenting Rules

Physical Therapy

Sensory Integration

Teaching Play Skills

Shopping Tips:

Shopping Resources

Baby Toy Guide

Toddler Toy Guide

Preschool Toy Guide

Sp. Needs Toy Guide

*the links below will open in
a new browser*

About Us

Contact Us


Info Page

Privacy Policy

Link Partners

Link Exchange
Autism Diets     Autism Information     Developmental Disorders     Parenting Issues