Boy reading a book.

When your child receives a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, you may experience a feeling of great overwhelm. You’ll be provided with information, tools, and resources that are meant to make your life easier. Instead, you may find yourself in a sea of confusion and worry. You are certainly not the first, and you aren’t alone. Our team at Blossom Children’s Center believes in walking you through each step and sharing all options available to you and your child. From ABA therapy to speech therapy, we are available to help educate you on all the avenues you may have to explore when searching for the services that fit your child’s needs.

Alphabet letters

Speech-Language Pathology

While not all patients require the same areas of therapy, speech-language is a common area of need. Speech-language pathology (SLP) encompasses a broad range of concerns, including:

  • Swallowing
  • Voice issues
  • Semantics
  • Social communication skills
  • Cognitive impairments related to communication
  • Finding the appropriate words
  • Language impairments

In infants, this may include difficulties feeding, while young children may require speech-language pathology for an array of issues, including cleft palate and developmental verbal dyspraxia.

Speech-language pathology offers therapy that works towards addressing the various challenges one has with language and communication. It can be extremely beneficial for people with autism spectrum disorders. Speech-language pathology improves verbal, nonverbal, and social communication skills. SLP’s overall goal is to help each patient communicate in the most useful and functional way possible. While some individuals on the autism spectrum are unable to speak, others are verbal but have difficulties holding conversations or reading body language and facial cues expressed by others. Speech therapy can help provide the tools and skills your child needs to thrive. Commonly addressed concerns you may see are:

  • Humming or speaking in a song-like way
  • Parroting, or echolalia
  • Robotic-toned speech
  • Babbling
  • No speech
  • Grunting
  • Yelling or shrieking
  • Expressionless tone

Additional Concerns Addressed with Speech-Language Pathology

Children with autism may face other speech-language challenges that can be addressed during speech and ABA therapy. Among them are:

  • Difficulty with receptive language
  • Difficulty with memorization
  • Unable to comprehend the meaning of symbols
  • Relying on parroting as an acceptable form of communication

When Should Speech-Language Pathology Be Introduced?

Early intervention is always the key to success, so the earlier you can begin, the better. Autism spectrum disorder is generally evident before a child reaches the age of three. Various language delays and concerns can typically be recognized as early as eighteen months. ABA therapy and Speech-language therapy both offer the best results and long-term outcomes when implemented at a younger age. Your child will greatly benefit from intensive and individualized sessions to address concerns before too many undesirable behaviors become routine.

Early identification and intervention have shown that two out of three preschoolers who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have made tremendous improvements. By introducing services early on, such as ABA therapy and speech-language pathology, younger children have demonstrated improvement in their verbal and non-verbal communication skills and their ability to comprehend oral language. Research has even shown that children with autism who make the most gains are those who spend the most time in speech therapy sessions.

The Speech-Language Pathology Process

Your child’s introduction to speech therapy will begin with an evaluation by a certified speech-language pathologist. The pathologist will be assessing your child’s communication strengths and areas of concern. The evaluation process will help the speech therapist create your child’s goals and plan of action for therapy. She will then meet with your child’s ABA therapy team to devise an overall course of action.

Goals that may be included in your child’s plan include improvements in his spoken language and learning various nonverbal skills that will help him communicate more effectively. These skills may include:

  • Sign language
  • Basic gestures
  • Utilizing alternative methods like
    • Drawings
    • Photographs
    • iPads and other available technology

Strengthening Your Child’s Skills

Similar to the practices you are familiar with in your ABA therapy sessions, speech-language pathology aims to enhance the skills your child already exhibits while introducing new skills. The strengthening of skills may include:

  • Matching various emotions with the correct facial expressions shown
  • Understanding body language
  • Strengthening the muscles in his mouth as well as his jaw and neck
  • Developing clearer speech sounds
  • Responding to questions
  • Matching the various picture with their correct meaning
  • Using a variety of technology tools, such as a speech app on a phone or an iPad
  • Improving and strengthening the tone of his voice

The Potential Issues with Assessment

If your child is of school age, or you are planning ahead for school readiness, there are a few additional obstacles to be aware of. As a parent, you will need to decide to enroll your child in a school-based speech-language therapy environment or seek speech-language pathology therapy through a private practice.

Typically, a school speech pathologist will work with a team that includes your child’s teachers, social workers, and counselors in the school environment. What you’ll want to keep in mind is all school-based speech-language therapy programs are run under the rigid guidelines of your state. This creates strict rules regarding funding, the assessment process, and qualification eligibility. Currently, qualification for in-school speech-language pathology therapy requires a student to meet his state’s designated criteria on speech standardization and language testing. Unfortunately, many of these requirements result in students being assessed in a less than an adequate time frame. There are also concerns about a child’s needs being undermined by the state’s criteria.

If you do choose to take the school SLP path, be sure to become familiar with your child’s rights to services and the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. Your child may receive speech therapy services in school as part of their IEP. Speech therapy is added into your child’s IEP as a related service and is provided to your family as part of his plan and goals at no cost.

If your child is not yet school-aged, he may be eligible to receive speech-language pathology services through your area’s Early Intervention program. Early intervention is available in your state to children under the age of three. Children who do not display the typical signs of growth and development as other children their age may be referred for assessments and services. Early intervention services are either free or offered at a low cost based on your family’s size and income.

Often, parents look into the option of private speech therapy to meet their needs. With a private therapy option, students are much more likely to qualify for speech-language pathology services. A private pathologist offers a broader array of availability, as it is a paid service.

A Deeper Look Into SLP

Speech-language pathology is often thought to be an area of services provided to those who need help with pronunciation or stuttering. A closer look will give a bigger picture of all the areas that are encompassed.

Strengthening Social Skills

The strengthening of social skills through speech-language therapy is a primary area of focus for many children with autism. Autism typically impairs social communication, general communication skills, and cognitive skills. Social skills therapy sessions focus on learning and strengthening your child’s social communication and desirable interactions. This is a wonderful opportunity to implement ABA therapy practices to enhance these wanted interactions. Your child may work with a therapist in a one-on-one environment or participate in social group therapy sessions.

Social skills groups allow your child to learn and strengthen the ability to read the gestures, expressions, and body language of his peers. It encourages social interaction and cooperative play. Through group therapy sessions, your child will learn to form relationships, strengthen eye contact, work through conflict, and form appropriate and acceptable social behaviors. Your child’s ABA therapy skills are utilized often, helping to reinforce the use of new and relevant skills and behaviors.

Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Many young children with autism have found great success using pictures, photos, and drawings, or incorporating technology to communicate. This is often a very successful alternative to verbal language. Known as Alternative Augmentative Communication, or AAC, therapists, may introduce a variety of tools, including PECS, or Picture exchange communication system, speech output devices, and sign language. Alternative Augmentative Communication may be considered for your child after the assessment stage. The speech-language pathology therapist will help you and your child become familiar with the device and methods that seem most beneficial to your child’s goals. AAC can help your child:

  • Broaden his communication skills and options
  • Develop or increase independence
  • Increase and strengthen social interactions

The Role of Your Speech Pathologist

A speech-language pathologist is an essential member of your child’s team of therapists. Working closely with his ABA therapy team and additional therapists, they may be the central member on the team. A speech pathologist specializes in treating a variety of language and communication issues and speech disorders. Speech pathologists are often the first to recognize a child with autism and help implement the process of early intervention, diagnosis, proper referrals, and treatment plans. After your child has been officially diagnosed with autism, a plan to enhance your child’s communication skills and quality of life will be made and implemented by your therapist.

Just as with your child’s ABA therapy team, the speech-language pathologist will work closely with your family, his additional caregivers, school, and other professionals.

Child talking on the phone.

General Goals During Speech Therapy

While each child with autism has a unique set of strengths and areas of concern, there are also very general goals that may be addressed during your child’s therapy. To provide your child with the tools he needs to communicate successfully, his therapist may put a focus on areas such as:

  • The ability to articulate words well
  • Communicate effectively, both verbally and nonverbally
  • Comprehend both verbal and nonverbal communication
  • An understanding of others in a variety of settings with limited cues needed
  • The ability to initiate communication without the need for prompting from others
  • Knowing the appropriate time and place to use verbal communication
  • The development of proper conversational skills that are understood by others
  • The ability to exchange thoughts, feelings, and ideas
  • Able to communicate in various and meaningful ways to form relationships with others
  • Learn to enjoy communicating, playing, and interacting with others in their environment
  • Learn the importance of and how to self-regulate

20 Questions You May Want to Ask

Are you still feeling a bit overwhelmed? Our team has compiled a list of their top twenty questions you may wish to ask when visiting speech therapy offices and evaluating options. This helpful list will guide you and help you determine your needs, priorities, and how well your family may fit with the therapist, you are considering.

  1. How many people will be working directly with my child, and who will they be?
  2. How many patients does each therapist typically handle at one time?
  3. What is your experience with working with children with autism spectrum disorder?
  4. Where do you offer SLP services for children?
  5. Will I be able to watch my child’s sessions?
  6. How are my child’s goals determined?
  7. How involved can parents be in the SLP process?
  8. What will a typical session look like for my child?
  9. How do you measure progress?
  10. How often is progress measured?
  11. How often are goals changed?
  12. What can we do to practice at home?
  13. Will a speech pathologist train parents?
  14. Will my insurance cover your services?
  15. Do you have a waiting list?
  16. How often will my child’s session take place?
  17. How is school readiness incorporated into his therapy?
  18. How do we transition our child when he is school-aged?
  19. How often will he participate in group social skills therapy?
  20. Will his ABA therapy skills play a role in his speech therapy?

Understanding the critical role speech-language pathology plays in your child’s treatment is essential. Through early intervention, persistence, and plenty of parent involvement, your child will soon thrive with the language tools he is given. For more information on Blossom Children’s Center, our ABA therapy and Speech therapy services, contact us today.

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