Speech Therapy for Autism

Speech-language pathologists are amazingly creative and patient therapists who specialize in treating language problems and speech disorders. They are a key part of the autism treatment team.  Children struggling with autism have a wide range of developmental disabilities.  These can include speech and communication problems starting from early childhood.  Let’s look at some of the problems and solutions that speech therapists work on with autistic students on a daily basis.

Speech Behaviors –

Parents may first notice speech delays in a child who has been diagnosed with autism or one of the disorders on the autism spectrum at a very early age.  Toddlers may not speak at all or may only grunt, shriek, cry, hum or babble nonsensically. As a child develops they may begin parrot talk also called echolalia (repeating back what was said to them only) or speak in an unexpressive tone of voice (robot speak().  Still other young children may speak but not make eye contact or even have trouble understanding the meaning and purpose behind the words.  These are all challenges that face a speech and language pathologist when designing a therapy program specific to each child.

Treatment and goals for Speech Therapy

Because speech challenges for autistic children can range widely on the communication spectrum, speech therapists must find a way to not only teach a child to speak but also how to use the language effectively enough to hold a conversation and communicate with not only words but tone, eye contact, expression and body language.  This is no easy feat. Here are some of the ways that specialists attempt to improve communication and thus the quality of life for many children with this disorder.

Speech therapy techniques might include:

  • Electronic “talkers”
  • Signing or typing
  • Using picture boards with words, known as picture exchange communication systems that start out using pictures instead of words to help a child learn to communicate
  • Using sounds to which a person is over- or under-sensitive to expand and compress speech sounds
  • Improving articulation of speech by massaging or exercising lips or facial muscles
  • Having individuals sing songs composed to match the rhythm, stress, and flow of sentences