When a child is diagnosed with autism, speech therapy is often one of the first treatments recommended by doctors. Speech Pathologist Hannah Pemberton explains how speech therapy can help a child with autism.
Speech therapy can play a key role in treating autism
Because communication impairments are common in children diagnosed with autism, speech pathologists often play a key role in their Early Intervention treatment.
Sometimes, speech pathologists help with the diagnosis of autism and by referring children and families to other specialists.
Once autism is diagnosed, speech pathologists work closely with the child’s family, preschool, school, and other professionals to find ways to improve communication and enhance their quality of life.
If a child with autism has little or no speech, the speech pathologist may introduce alternatives to speech, such as signing or the use of technology that supports communication.
How does speech therapy help children who have autism?
The whole purpose of speech therapy is to help a child to improve their communication. For children with autism, this is especially important because communication is a key component in their ability to form relationships and function in their world.
Often, speech therapy can help a child with autism to:
Develop the ability to express their wants and needs
This might be by using both verbal and non-verbal communication. Kids with autism need need to be taught how to exchange ideas with others. This is not only important within the family, but also when they move outside of the home and want to build relationships with their peers.
Understand what is being said to them
Speech therapy helps children with autism to comprehend the verbal and nonverbal communication that other people use. It helps them to recognise cues like body language and facial expressions. Speech therapy can also help a child with autism to understand how to initiate communication without prompting from others.
Communicate in order to develop friendships and interact with peers.
Some children with autism struggle with the spontaneity and unpredictability of casual conversations. Some children also have very specific interests and find it hard to talk about other things. Speech therapy can teach these children strategies for mixing with other kids so that they can make friends, play and experience social success.
Learn to communicate in a way that other people understand
Autism sometimes brings with it idiosyncratic learning patterns and unusual language processing. As a result, children who have autism commonly have problems developing spoken language. Sometimes, they learn spoken language in chunks without breaking what they hear down into individual words and sounds. They might repeat long ‘chunks’ of favourite stories or TV shows without really understanding what they’re saying or being able to use any of the words in the ‘chunk’ independently. This is called ‘echolalia’ and speech therapy helps children to find ways to overcome it and the other difficulties that children with autism have when talking with others.
Articulate words and sentences well
Like many neuro-typical children, kids with autism also struggle with the articulation of sounds and putting words into sentences. Many children with autism also have great difficulty with time concepts, abstract language and vocabulary that depends on context for meaning. Non- iteral language like idioms, hints and indirect instructions can also be tricky. These are areas that a speech pathologist can help a child with autism with.
When is the best time to start speech therapy for autism?
The short answer to this question is… the earlier, the better.
Autism is usually evident before age 3, and language delays can be recognised as early as 18 months of age.
In some cases, autism can be identified as early 10 to 12 months of age…but of course, as a parent, you may not be looking out for it when your child is that young.
It is very important to start speech therapy as early as possible, when it can have the greatest impact. Intensive, individualised treatment can help lessen the difficulties that may result from this social communication disability.
Does speech therapy for children with autism work?
Studies show that, with early identification and intervention, two out of three children with autism improve their communication skills and their grasp of spoken language when they receive speech therapy.
Research also shows that those who improve the most are often those who receive on-going speech therapy.
Ideally, this should be delivered by a speech pathologist experienced in working with children with disabilities and supported consistently at home.
© 2015 Kids First Children’s Services
Does your child with autism need speech therapy?
Kids First’s team of children’s speech pathologists are experienced Early Intervention therapists with years of experience supporting children diagnosed with autism. They work closely with our on-site team of occupational therapists, child psychologists and teachers to provide therapy that supports behaviour, communication and learning.
Kids First Children’s Services is located in Sydney’s northern beaches
To find out how we can help your child, contact us on (02) 9938 5419 or email us here