Speech and Language Therapy: How It Benefits Children With Autism

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

June 1, 2022

Speech and language therapy is an important component of the treatment of autism. Impaired verbal and nonverbal communication abilities are some of the key signs of autism. Individual functioning levels vary; some children are able to communicate successfully, while others may be unable to talk at all or have difficulty making eye contact, expressing facial expressions, or using gestures. 

In some cases, a child may be able to communicate and even possess an impressive vocabulary but experience monotone speech patterns. Other symptoms include difficulty understanding the meaning of words and sentences, intonation issues, and difficulty starting or maintaining a conversation.

What is speech and language therapy?

A common treatment for children with autism is speech-language therapy. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), often known as speech therapists, are professionals who specialize in the study of human communication, including its development and abnormalities. Children and adults with communication, eating, drinking, and swallowing complications benefit from speech and language therapy. Speech-language pathologists evaluate speech, language, cognitive-communication, and oral/feeding/swallowing abilities to identify problem areas and determine the best course of action.

Speech therapy has a wide range of applications. From teaching children to vocal verbally communicate, to understanding body language, and advanced social communication. 

Speech and language pathologists are frequently involved in early intervention therapy of children diagnosed with autism, as communication needs are common among those with autism. 

When a child is formally diagnosed with autism, speech pathologists collaborate with the family, school staff, and other professionals to improve the child's quality of life.

How speech and language therapists help children with autism

Speech and language therapists are important in evaluating and managing children with autism, and providing therapies to help with communication obstacles. They can address speech challenges, as well as semantic and pragmatic issues. The therapist can even design augmentative and alternative communication methods (AAC) and technologies for people who cannot speak. This may include teaching American Sign Language (ASL) or Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), amongst others.

Speech and language therapy for autism seeks to address the following areas:

  • Attention and listening skills
  • Social communication interactions
  • Expressions and gestures as methods of nonverbal communication
  • Conversational skills and body language
  • Communicative aids and devices, if necessary

The therapist assesses the individual's speech, language, and communication abilities in detail. After initial examination,  they will evaluate the types of issues that the person experiences and the severity of those challenges to determine the most appropriate therapeutic approach.

Each person’s individualized treatment plan is tailored to their specific needs and abilities. Caregiver input is also taken into consideration to maximize family engagement and improve outcomes.

What does speech and language therapy involve?

A child must first be evaluated before receiving a speech and language care plan for autism. The speech and language therapist will evaluate the patient's current level of communication, then they will establish therapy goals and implement a plan to address the child’s needs. Speech-language therapy can be done individually or in a group setting, depending on the child’s needs and the location of the therapy provider. 

Many children with autism struggle with nonverbal communication and thus benefit from training on this during speech and language treatment. An SLP will work with the child to teach various facial expressions, body language cues, etc., with the goal of assisting the child in understanding and demonstrating various forms of body language. 

A care plan may employ various strategies to address language needs, depending on the individual child. For example, a therapist may determine that play-based learning is the best option for a particular child.

Speech therapy goals may include:

  • Strengthening the muscles in the mouth, jaw and neck
  • Making clearer speech enunciations
  • Matching facial expressions with corresponding emotions
  • Understanding body language
  • Responding to and initiating questions
  • Modulating voice tone and volume

When should children with autism begin speech and language therapy?

Starting early allows a child with autism to attain their full potential while also providing caregivers with essential support to aid their child from an early age. According to current research, treatment should begin before the child turns three years old. This allows professionals to assist the child while the brain is still in a highly malleable phase and easily receptive to change. This time frame allows the greatest improvement rate; however, it is never too late to support the child.

Conclusion

Children with autism, their parents, and anyone involved in their care can benefit greatly from speech and language therapy. A speech and language therapist works with parents, caregivers, and other professionals involved in the child’s care to improve the child’s quality of life through assistance with effective communication at home, school, and during social situations. 

Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them. technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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