Autism is a developmental disability which typically manifests before age 3 in children and can persist through adulthood. It is part of a group of neurological disorders which may involve faulty communication as well as impaired cognitive skills and social interaction.
This condition is termed as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). It includes traits like:
- Repetitive activities
- Severe resistance to changes in daily routine
- Unusual response to stimulate like touch
- Incapacity to react suitably to the environment
Children with ASD have major problems with both non-verbal communication and speech. They may also find it tough to conduct social interaction. Autistic children will have compromised or limited speech. They require help in forming words and sentences.
Therefore, speech therapy for children’s needs regarding autism is a crucial part of treatment. Almost anyone diagnosed with ASD will be recommended for speech therapy.
What is speech therapy?
This therapy consists of treating disorders of communication and speech, which implies that it is a wide-ranging field. This therapy can aid children with lisps or stutters to correctly pronounce words. It can also aid kids with developmental disorders for understanding and using spoken language in a social scenario.
Qualified Speech-Language Therapists typically have a master’s degree in the field and are experts in communication. They may work in a clinic, a private setting, a hospital or a school, often as a member of an educational team. They make use of an extensive variety of interventions and tools ranging from play therapy and toys to formal speech curricula and tests.
The nature of ASD differs from one child to another, so there are no fit-all solutions for speech therapy. But one can deal with ASD within the following frameworks of children’s speech therapy:
Set up spontaneous and functional communication
The first goal of any therapist is to help the child communicate spontaneously and functionally. This implies that the child must be able to communicate his basic wants without any prompting from others.
In case a child falls short of this ability, the therapist may use various kinds of AAC (Augmentative-Alternative Communication) for speech therapy. These include the following options:
- AA device with voice output
This device will emit a message when a child clicks a button. This may be simple with a single button or complex with several buttons.
- Communicating with pictures
Some kids can communicate with the help of pictures. The therapists may use a simple communication board where child points to items he likes or a complex PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System.
- Sign language
Many kids use body language to communicate. It has been found that kids are better at communication when they use sign language. Children must be trained in spontaneous and functional communication without the use of prompts. This can start by fading use of prompts by gradually training the autistic child to communicate while the prompts are progressively reduced.
Social instruction in varied settings
The next task is to train the child through social instruction. Most children with autism lack the knowledge of socially acceptable behaviour. They can struggle in school, which is a big social setting. This can be done through direct instruction.
It is vital to teach an autistic child what behaviour is suitable for what setting. This includes what the child should do or say in social situations. These may be basic skills like to listen to a teacher, answer questions and follow directions. Older children can be trained to engage in conversations.
This can be accomplished by Visual Supports (visual remainders in the room), Social stories (books to teach expected behaviour) and Video modelling (watching videos demonstrating expected behaviours). The concern is to help children with autism and speech disorders.
Target peer interactions
Children with autism find it tough to conduct peer interactions, so they must be trained in these skills. One must target different skills based on development level and age.
The following are some skills for kids who begin their peer interaction training:
- Play skills/learn to play with other children
- Responding to their name
- Set up joint attention- tune to those around them
Skills for older children include:
- Develop skills for engaging in conversations
- Teach perspective judgment: Help the kid to understand things from a different perspective.
Autistic children have problems generalising what they learn. So, they cannot apply what they learned in the classroom to other situations outside. Therefore, parents who are bent upon seeking more hours of therapy for their child must instead be trained in taking care of their wards at home for providing suitable training even in the home setting. Thus, the child will learn to communicate in varied settings.
Autistic children can be treated in other ways as well as per speech therapy:
- Speech pragmatics
Children are taught when and where to say something like Good Morning. This training helps children understand the use of idioms with regard to autism and speech skills.
This refers to the melodic sound of voice during a conversation. Children with autism often suffer from flat prosody, which causes others to think that they have no emotions. Speech therapists can help kids to develop their vocal skills.
This may be an issue with ASD. Speech therapists often work with kids with autism to improve their grammar.