Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), often known colloquially as just “autism”, is a neurological condition present in kids from birth and usually detected in the first few years of life.
For a child with ASD, their development manifests in different ways. Some tend to struggle with communicating and interacting with people, and the development of cognitive skills is delayed.
While individual children with autism have varying degrees of these facets, any severity is unified by the connection to speech and linguistic understanding. With a team of professionals assisting, kids on the autistic spectrum can build communication skills and live with increased happiness and comfort. Speech therapy can be an invaluable asset for a child with ASD and their loved ones.
Signs that a child may need speech therapy
By the time a child with autism turns three, he/she typically starts to show some signs of struggling with his/her communication skills.
- Not speaking at all
- Humming or singing words and sentences for an extended period of time
- Echolalia (repeating what they hear)
- Choosing the correct words, but speaking in a monotone without any expressions or voice inflections
- Making a range of sounds to communication without using actual words: such as grunts, shrieks, and raspy noises
These speech challenges make it difficult for a child to express his/her needs. Navigating a world that’s set up to respond to certain language rules that are hard to follow or understand becomes frustrating to the child quickly. Parents whose child is exhibiting some or all of the behaviors above, might decide it’s time to consider autism speech therapy as early intervention can be beneficial.
Speech language therapists help with communication challenges
A child with autism might find it hard to pick up both oral and non-verbal communication abilities. Working with an expert speech pathologist can help them learn to communicate more effectively for a better quality of life.
When parent and child first meet with a licensed speech language pathologist, an evaluation is performed. By using age-appropriate conversation and games, the therapist gets a sense for the child’s current abilities. From there, it is possible to identify areas for improvement and formulate a strategy for assisting in the development of language and cognitive skills.
In cases where the child is unable to speak or has minimal speech abilities, speech therapy is still relevant. Therapists experienced with kids who have autism know a series of alternative communication methods that can make their client more comfortable and act as a bridge to new verbal skills.
Of course, spoken language is not the only type of communication for humans. These additional methods are not merely a stopgap measure, but add to the child’s overall ability to express themselves.
Click here to find out more
Speech therapy techniques for children with autism
A speech therapist working with an autistic child may use the following approaches during a session:
- Sign language and gestures
- Massaging and strengthening muscles in the jaw, throat, mouth, and lips to help develop the ability to speak
- Helping the kid to use digital apps that produce sounds
- A picture exchange communication system (PECS)
- Speech output devices
How speech therapy helps ASD kids
Speech therapy is critical for autistic children struggling with communication. It helps them better express themselves and form relationships with friends and family. Research suggests at least 65% of preschoolers with autism learn to communicate and pick up language skills if they start therapy early.
Speech therapy also pays off for children who are on the milder end of ASD. While they may use complex words and phrases, speech therapy can help them strengthen the areas that give them trouble, such as understanding tone and volume and incorporating nonverbal skills.
Training sessions can also help the child to build his/her overall confidence and lower the sense of isolation that can occur from difficulty with social interactions.
Here are some of the abilities kids pick up from speech therapy:
- Growing more aware of body language and situational context
- Identifying facial expressions
- Clear articulation
- Voice and tone modulation
- Connecting images with words
With these skills, it becomes easier to:
- Start a conversation instead of only replying when spoken to
- Understand questions and provide relevant responses
- Hold conversations, exchanging ideas and concepts
- Build relationships through face-to-face communication
Speech therapy is relevant across the spectrum
As mentioned earlier, ASD is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of ability levels. Many children who have autism are capable kids in many ways, yet struggle with their communication skills. Their challenges might include making eye contact and discerning expressions and body language. Some children with autism tend to speak in a flat, robotic tone and might avoid social interactions.
Speech therapy isn’t all about words – it can help teach autistic children how to connect words to other cues. A speech therapist guides their client toward growing more comfortable with eye contact and noticing the context of hand gestures.
A session might include practice using or noticing voice inflections. Or, getting more confident with two-way conversations by breaking down the details of listening, understanding, and responding.
Each child with autism is an exceptional individual with unique abilities and skills. Like any kid, their strengths can be best supported when they get the help they need in the parts of life that might not come as easily. It is advisable for parents to talk to their trusted doctor or therapist about what speech therapy can do to aid their child’s growth.