Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that results in significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. In particular, children with autism often have difficulty in communication. Researchers examined 391 young participants of the Children's Attention Project. They found that the risk of language problems in children with ADHD was nearly three times higher as they reached six years of age.
While some autistic children may be able to express their needs and wants, others may find that difficult to do so. Also, some children with autism have difficulty developing language skills, using verbal cues, and understanding them. In some children with autism, there is absolutely no language ability at all.
Challenges with communication can often make an autistic child frustrated and irritable. Some may develop adverse behaviors because of this issue. This is primarily because the ability to communicate offers benefits that go beyond expressing one's needs. The ability to communicate can help a child learn, socialize and develop appropriate behavior.
However, autistic children can also thrive and lead a better quality of life. They can learn and improve their communication skills with assistance from a speech therapist.
What is speech therapy?
Speech therapy is the art of evaluating and treating speech and communication disorders. Speech therapy is offered by professionals who are trained as speech-language pathologists or speech therapists. In general, speech therapists use several techniques, including language intervention techniques and articulation therapy to improve communication. They may use a broad range of interventions and tools, ranging from electronic talking devices, play, toys, music, images, video -like therapy to formal tests to enhance communication skills in autistic children.
Speech therapists need to complete a degree program and pass a national exam and state certification. Speech therapists need a license to practice in their state and must also obtain a Certificate of Clinical competency as well as a clinical fellowship under a certified speech therapist
How can speech therapists help an autistic child?
Autistic children have different ways of communication that may include:
● Non-verbal communication- by pointing at things, shifting gaze, or showing the item
● Communicate through behavior. The behavior may be temper tantrums, self-harming, aggression, throwing things around, crying, shouting, or just sitting silently in a corner
● Use of select words or inappropriate words
● Repeating or mimicking what others say or words acquired from watching TV. The child will often repeat these words without knowing the meaning or use the words in unusual tones, referred to as echolalia
● Making up a word or using the same word over and over
● Confusing the use of verbs, adjectives, and pronouns
Speech therapists usually work one on one with an autistic child. Before any treatment is started, the speech therapist will try and determine the specific communication problem the child suffers from to come up with the most effective treatment strategy. This is because there are different types of communication disorders that might be cause for concern. These include language disorder, speech sound disorder, articulation, phonological, childhood-onset fluency disorder, and social communication disorder. A speech therapist needs to identify the exact problem before treatment can begin. Activities and exercises used to support the autistic child usually depend on the child's age and their needs.
Speech therapists observe how the child tries to communicate. This helps the therapist determine the best level to start teaching. For example, if the child cries every time they want a particular toy, the therapist can model their behavior by pointing to the toy. Labels can also be used so that the child can point towards an object to communicate what they want or are referring to.
Some strategies speech therapists can use to help an autistic child include:
- The use of language intervention activities. The therapist will interact with the child by talking, playing, using images, objects and music to enhance language development. At the same time, the therapist will use repetition exercises to develop language skills.
- The use of articulation therapy. The therapist will interact through age-appropriate play activities to correct syllables and sounds used by the child.
Speech therapists can also advise parents and caregivers to practice and implement some strategies at home to further develop communication skills at home.
The key is to work gradually on the communication skills of the autistic child. These children often have very short attention spans, and it is important not to overburden the child with excessive new information.
Working with an autistic child to improve their communication skills may require several sessions spread over a few months. As the child learns to communicate, their social skills are also likely to improve and their ability to answer questions, ask questions, behave appropriately, and learn to play with others will be better. The best results are obtained when the speech therapist works one on one with the child. This will allow the child to gain trust and benefit more from the interaction. There is good evidence that early intervention with speech therapy in autistic children can lead to favorable outcomes in children between ages 6-12.