Autism and Speech Therapy

There are many different types of developmental disorder autism, and children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have all sorts of symptoms. Common symptoms include repeating activities, not being able to make eye contact and having trouble communicating. Also, children with ASD may find it difficult to speak – for example, they may have limited speech or they may speak in a robotic way.

There isn’t a cure for autism, but children with an autism-related speech disorder can partake in speech therapy to help. A speech-language pathologist will evaluate the child to determine what they need based on their social and communication skills, and the therapies used will vary based on the specific child.

We’ll go into common speech therapy strategies for autistic children with different disorders and at specific times in their life.

Early Childhood

Autism is often detected early on, and language skills can be helped along during early childhood. Here are a few ways to help your child develop communication skills:

• Animal noises can be used to encourage young children to respond, and toys with animals can help you to communicate with your child. If your child isn’t yet ready to speak, either because of their age or ASD, encourage them to make animal noises.

• To encourage your child to ask for more of something, engage them in an activity that you know they enjoy. After just a few minutes, stop the activity. This will eventually help your child to communicate when they want more of something. You can also prompt requests by putting something just out of reach of your child, like their favorite food or a toy they want to play with. Explain that they can have the food or toy, so long as they verbally ask for it.

• Often, children with autism don’t respond to their name. From a very young age, it’s a good idea to give your child a big reward when they respond to their name. The reward can sometimes be praise.

There are several ways to encourage communication and speech skills in a child with ASD, especially if you have them diagnosed early.

Asperger’s Syndrome

This is a kind of high-functioning autistic disorder, and therapy can be a great help to children with Asperger’s. Children with this disorder don’t usually have speech delays, and they find it possible to hold a normal conversation. Sometimes, though, those conversations can be a bit awkward, with the child speaking too fast or in a monotonous tone.

Speech therapy can teach a child with Asperger’s how to communicate in a more socially acceptable way. For example, they may learn how far to stand from someone when speaking with them, and which facial expressions to use during conversation. The child will also be taught how to make eye contact in order to improve their overall communication skills.

Low-Functioning ASD

Children who have a more severe ASD may find it difficult to answer questions or to communicate their basic feelings, needs or wants. Their vocabulary may be worse than other children their age, and some children may not speak at all, or at least speak very little.

Children with this type of autism may find a variety of speech therapies helpful. The pathologist may begin to engage the child using nonverbal communication, such as gestures. Other strategies include communicating with the child via typing or electronic talking technology.

The picture card strategy may also be beneficial to a child with autism. The pathologist will use cards that have pictures on them, usually of items that a child will recognize, like toys. First, the child will learn that if he hands the card to the pathologist, he will receive what’s on the card. Then, the pathologist will slowly add language to treatment.

More Speech Training Ideas

• Create a routine that involves speech. For example, you can ready your child for their favorite activity, then say, “Ready, set…” Your child will learn that the activity only begins when they respond with “go.” If you’re playing a game where you have to take turns, set up a “rule” where your child has to say “my turn” in order to go.

• Engage in role-playing games with your child, preferably those that will feel familiar to them. For example, have your child pretend they’re dining in a restaurant or going to a grocery store – anything they’ve seen you do regularly.

• The next time you read a book to your child, ask them how the people or animals in the pictures are feeling. Having them label feelings in cartoons or drawings will encourage them to speak and it will also help them learn how to read nonverbal cues.

When it comes to treating children with more severe types of autism, the process can take a long time, and parents are often encouraged to continue working with their children at home in between sessions.


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