All children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty with social communication. One in three children with autism has difficulty producing understandable speech sounds. Speech-language pathologists, also known as SLPs or speech therapists, can help children with autism address these challenges with a customized program that may include exercises, individual and small group therapy, and assistive devices.
What does it involve?
When choosing a speech therapist, make sure to find one who has experience working with children with autism spectrum disorders.
Autism can affect children’s communication abilities in many different ways, including language development, the ability to produce understandable speech, and social (also referred to as pragmatic) communication. Since each child with autism faces different challenges, the speech therapist will begin by assessing your child’s specific needs and challenges. The SLP may perform tests or complete observations to evaluate your child’s abilities. The input of parents or caregivers is also vital to the speech therapist’s understanding of the child’s behavior and communication.
There are many different approaches to speech therapy. For children who are nonverbal or have trouble producing understandable speech, the SLP may use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). AAC is a nonverbal approach to communication by using sign language, visual cues such as photos or videos, written words, or devices like computers and tablets. AAC can give children confidence in their ability to communicate, avoid the frustration of failed communication, and may even help them learn to talk. Speech therapists can also help children with reading and writing.
Speech therapists can also help with pragmatic, or social, aspects of communication. For example, the SLP can help children develop joint attention, learn how to begin and end conversations, and take turns talking. The speech therapist may also improve the flow of a child’s communication by having him sing songs designed to mimic the rhythm of conversation.
Speech therapy can also improve physical aspects of communication. For instance, the SLP may help children improve their articulation of words by massaging or exercising the muscles of the mouth and face.
Some SLPs can also work with children to improve social behavior and accept new foods.
In order for your child to receive the maximum benefit from speech therapy, you must utilize the strategies your child learns from the SLP at home and on outings.
The goal of speech therapy is to help people with autism communicate more effectively with others.
Research has shown that two-thirds of preschool children with autism spectrum disorder showed significant gains in functional language ability after working with an SLP. Children who received the most SLP intervention also showed improvement in areas of spoken-language comprehension and pragmatics.
Researchers agree that in order to receive the maximum benefit from speech therapy intervention, children with autism should begin therapy as early as possible.
Depending on which state you live in and what type of health insurance plan you have, speech therapy may or may not be covered. Speech therapy may also be provided by your local school system. Paid out of pocket, speech therapy can be expensive.
Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to travel to speech therapy appointments.