The signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder may be evident in a child before they turn three (3-years-old). Sometimes, it is possible to notice language delays and speech problems in children with autism as early as 18-months of age.
In such cases, early intervention is necessary. Speech therapy for autism can equip them with the skills necessary for communication and building social connections.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad term that may include varying degrees of problems with social interactions and communication. The challenges one child on the spectrum faces can vary significantly from another child or individual on the autism spectrum.
Why Is Speech Therapy Necessary For Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Consequently, it has no cure. Treatment includes intensive therapy such as speech therapy for ASD to make up for any communication deficits that the child has.
Someone with autism may face the following challenges –
- They may be non-verbal
- They may only communicate via cries, grunts, shrieks, or throaty sounds
- They may talk with an inexpressive tone or monotone
- They may use foreign-sounding words and produce robotic-sounding speech
- They may only speak in a sing-song voice or hum
- They may babble and produce word-like sounds
- They may have trouble with social interactions, and conversational skills (maintaining eye contact and using gestures)
- They may face problems understanding social and communication cues
- Trouble understanding the meaning of phrases
- They may not be able to understand the meaning of common words when used in a new context
Speech therapy is one of the most effective ways to improve communication skills, and it should begin as early as possible when it has the most impact.
Preschoolers on the spectrum show significant improvement in communication skills after attending autism speech therapy activities.
What Roles Do Speech-Language Pathologists Play In The Treatment Of Autism?
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) specialize in the treatment of speech and language disorders. Sometimes, SLPs assist in the diagnosis of autism in preschool-aged children and help make referrals to specialists.
SLPs aid in the early and timely identification of autism. Post diagnosis, speech therapists can assess the child’s ability to communicate. They also suggest speech therapy techniques for autism that may enhance their quality of life.
SLPs work closely with the client and their family, as well as the other professionals. It is their responsibility to inform and teach the parents and caregivers of the child by teaching them techniques of speech therapy for autism at home.
In case the child is entirely non-verbal, the therapist can introduce or suggest viable alternatives to speech. Speech therapy for non-verbal autism may include the use of alternative augmentative communication such as software or devices that convert text to speech.
What Are The Benefits Of Speech Therapy For Autism?
Speech therapy for autism can help improve the overall communication skills of the child. It may give the child the skills necessary to establish relationships, hold social interactions, and function in everyday life.
Speech therapists and SLPs can work with an individual on the spectrum to help them with the following –
Research shows that children on the autism spectrum are predisposed to stuttering.
Stuttering may involve repetitions, blocks, and prolongations in spoken language.
Speech therapy for autism can help an individual who stutters speak comparatively effortlessly and smoothly. It can enhance fluency with the help of easy fluency shaping techniques.
A child who suffers frequent blocks in speech may find relief after attending speech therapy. SLPs can help a child master speech modification techniques to improve their speech.
An SLP can help an individual gain an understanding of how their tongue, palate, jaw, and lips function to produce speech sounds. The control over the physical movement of the articulators decides how smooth one's speech is going to be.
If a child has trouble speaking due to a lack of coordination between their articulators, a therapist can help them learn new techniques to produce certain sounds or sound patterns. It can enable them to be more intelligible during conversations.
Expressive Language Skills
We use gestures to express ourselves. We wave our hands, shrug our shoulders and point at objects. These are part of the repertoire of expressive language skills that neurotypicals possess as well.
At the same time, facial expressions tell a lot about how a person is feeling. It is also a part of the expressive language skills that a child on the spectrum may not be able to understand or use.
An SLP can help them understand what these gestures and expressions mean. Speech therapy may help a child understand these gestures and facial expressions. It may make social interactions easier for the child in the future.
What Are The Goals Of Speech Therapy For Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Speech therapy from a qualified and experienced SLP can have a profound impact on the quality of life of someone living with autism. Learning new skills can help individuals communicate their needs, likes, and dislikes. They may even be able to form relationships and take part in social activities.
Speech therapy may have specific goals, including –
- Helping the individuals articulate better than before
- Adding to their verbal and non-verbal communication skills, including sign language
- Boosting their ability to initiate conversations without prompting
- Helping them understand verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as, social cues
- Helping them enjoy communication, playtime, and interactions with others
- Teaching them self-regulation
- Improving their ability to pay focused attention
Since autism is not a disease and it has no cure. One should focus on offering those living on the spectrum as much support as possible. This support can come in the form of speech therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and behavior management therapy.