Speech and Language Therapy and Autism

Speech and language therapy can play a vital role in the identification of autism and is often part of a collaboration of services providing treatment to autistic persons. Let’s take a look at what speech therapy is and how this service is extremely beneficial for those diagnosed with autism.

What is Speech therapy?

 According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) , speech and language therapy is the assessment and treatment of speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders.

These services are provided by a speech-language pathologist, also referred to as a speech therapist. Treatment can be provided for both children as well as adults and can occur in a variety of settings such as a clinic, a school, in the home, or in a rehabilitation center.

The benefits of speech therapy for autism

An autism diagnosis identifies that the person has persistent impairments in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts. Autistic individuals may also have other diagnoses of communication and language delays and/or disorders. There are many skills that can be addressed with speech therapy services:

  • Functional communication- These communication skills allow the client to effectively get their needs and wants met.
  • Shaping verbal approximations- This is a focus on articulation–focusing on syllable shapes and sound production
  • Expressive communication- Helps with improving syllable shapes and verbal approximations, grammar in words or sentence structure, vocabulary, and expansion of words, to phrases, to sentences
  • Receptive communication- These skills support the understanding of language. Some examples are: following directions, responding to questions, and understanding words and concepts
  • Initiating and maintaining communication- These skills involve gaining attention and persistence in communication
  • Repairing communication breakdowns- It’s important to be able to notice a communication break down and repair it by asking questions, responding with requested information and seeking clarification
  • Pragmatic skills- This is communication for social situations. Some examples of pragmatic skills are: greetings, noticing and responding to facial expressions and body language and conversational skills
  • Problem solving: These skills are identifying problems and solutions and can involve perspective taking and “flexible thinking” skills.
  • Development of play skills- All types of play can be supported such as symbolic play, constructive play, pretend play, social play, etc.

Other areas of need may also be addressed with speech therapy:

  • Swallowing
  • Oral motor difficulties related to feeding
  • Fluency/stuttering
  • Articulation/phonological speech disorders
  • Voice disorders
  • Language delays
  • Language disorders

What does Speech and Language Therapy look like?

SLPs look at the “big picture” of functional communication for their clients. Often a total communication approach is taken. This means that the therapist uses the modality or type of communication that is easiest for that learner and meets them where they are at.

Some Modalities of Communication

  • Verbal Communication
  • Gestures and Signs
  • AAC Devices/Speech Generating Devices
  • Picture Exchange Communication

Therapy sessions with children are play based and child led to meet language goals within activities that motivate the client. Speech and language goals can be met in a variety of games, stories and play activities. Our own speech therapist, Hannah Ritchie, gives her favorite activities in this interview.

If you would like more information about speech therapy or would like to schedule an assessment, please contact us.