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Autism and Speech Therapy

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a range of conditions categorized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in 54 children in the United States are on the autism spectrum.

Young boy with speech language pathologistAutism spectrum disorder is usually diagnosed in early childhood as communication skills are developing. The condition makes it difficult for children to communicate to varying degrees. Some children may not be able to speak at all or may have limited speaking abilities while others may be able to talk about specific subjects in great detail.

Autism impacts an individual throughout the lifespan. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Speaks later than typical or not at all (nonverbal).
  • Repetition in language or movement.
  • Atypical nonverbal communication, including avoiding eye contact or giving few facial expressions.
  • Prefers solitary play rather than engaging in associative or cooperative play with other children.
  • Extremely distressed by changes, including new foods or changes in schedule.
  • Preference for predictable, structured play over spontaneous or make-believe play. 
  • Strong, persistent interest on a specific topic, part of a toy, or item.

young girl with speech-language pathologistHow Speech Therapy Helps Children with Autism

Speech therapy can help children with ASD refine their spoken language, improve non-verbal skills, or learn to use other communication methods. A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) can train parents in different approaches to improving their child’s communication that are tailored to the child’s abilities, communication contexts, and family needs. For individuals unable to speak, the SLP can design augmentative and alternative communication systems and devices.

In general, speech-language therapy for children with autism aims to address some of the following areas:

    • Attention and listening skills
    • Development of play skills
    • Understanding of language
young boy playing with toy car
  • Expressive communication skills
  • Social skills
  • Non-verbal communication - including means of expression and gestures
  • Communicative aids and devices if appropriate

The SLP will carry out a full assessment of the child’s speech, language and communication skills. An initial assessment will determine the types of difficulties the child has and the severity of these difficulties. An initial assessment will also help to decide the most appropriate therapy treatment. Each child will receive an individualized treatment plan, which will be tailored to their specific needs and abilities.

Teaching children with ASD to improve their communication skills is essential for helping them reach their full potential. Most children with ASD respond well to highly structured, specialized programs. Parents or primary caregivers, as well as other family members, should be involved in the treatment program so it becomes part of the child’s daily life.

At the Speech-Language Institute (SLI) of Salus University, SLPs work with children of all ages who are on the autism spectrum. For more information on SLI’s services or to schedule an appointment, call 215.780.3150.