Language & Social Skills
Autism often affects language development, social communication and speech in a variety of ways. In fact, nearly one third of those with autism find it difficult to effectively communicate with others as they cannot properly form some speech sounds. At times, the person’s language may be too hard to understand (speech problem).
Along with a speech problem, many with autism have difficulty communicating. They must learn how to use language to communicate properly, such as understanding the process of holding a conversation, verbal cues, and nonverbal cues – such as body language, facial expresses, and tone of voice (communication problem).
Either way, entering a speech-language therapy program will help a child to gain the confidence needed to speak when spoken to, or help the overzealous speakers learn when it is and is not appropriate to speak.
What is Speech-Language Therapy?
A speech-language therapy program is designed to work on the mechanics of speech combined with language’s social use. The child will meet with a speech-language therapist (pathologist) who works to understand, asses, treat, help prevent, and diagnose speech and/or communication disorders. The initial meeting will evaluate the child’s verbal aptitudes and other challenges and allow the pathologist to set a distinct set of goals unique to each child, such as spoken language mastery or understanding of nonverbal communication. Nevertheless, the therapy works to help the individual learn useful and functional methods of communication.
Enrollment in a speech-language therapy begins during infancy, or as soon as the ASD diagnosis is given, and continues until late adolescence, and sometimes even into adulthood.
Most speech-language therapists work either part-time or full-time with a school district, allowing them to work with the child in a real setting where they can immediately apply what they have been learning during their therapy sessions.
Benefits and Types of Speech-Language Therapy for Autistic Children
Speech therapy helps those with autism improve relationships, communication, and daily living. Specific goals may include:
- Improved articulation of words
- Use and understand nonverbal and verbal methods of communication
- Begin a conversation without being prompted
- Know when and where to use phrases, such as ‘good morning’
- Use and develop appropriate conversational skills
- Be able to exchange ideas
- Use communication to develop relationships
- Learn to self-regulate while speaking
- Enjoy the process of playing, interacting, or communicating with peers
Some therapies may be combined for a high functioning autistic child to advance more quickly, or at individual times depending on the child’s needs and goals. The many benefits offered by speech-language therapy have encouraged families to begin therapy as early as possible for the greatest improvements.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
When someone has severe speech or language problems, they will rely on an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device to supplement existing speech, or replace speech altogether. AAC’s can be electronic, or may involve a picture and symbol communication board. Either device allows those who struggle to speak to express their needs and desires.
What is Applied Behavior Analysis?
Unwanted behaviors, such as head-banging or slapping, often accompany a diagnosis of autism or other related disorders. Attempting to reduce said behaviors can become difficult for parents and caregivers, which is why 32 of the 50 states in the U.S. have accepted ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis.
Endorsed as an autism treatment by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. Surgeon General, ABA is becoming one of the most popular treatment methods.
Considering each autistic child has specific and unique learning needs, ABA encourages the creation of individualized programs to help each child develop a necessary set of skills while also reducing the likelihood of any problematic behaviors.
How does it benefit those with an ASD?
An ABA program benefits children because it will concentrate on all behaviors, such as reading, listening, conversing appropriately, seating mannerly, remaining quiet, and other socially acceptable behaviors. Each child’s program should be designed and supervised by a qualified professional, such as a board certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and licensed clinical psychologist. A typical program will include working towards skill sets in learning, reasons, communication, and adaptability.
In addition to seeking a trained ABA professional, parents may consider obtaining ABA training themselves to further therapy and hopefully see greater improvements. Furthermore, children gain the most benefit from applied behavior analysis through several hours of extensive one-on-one therapy each week.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Speech-Language Pathologists.
Madeline Vann, MPA, Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD. (2010). Speech-Language Therapy for Autistic Children.
WebMD. (2015). Benefits of Speech Therapy for Autism.