For children with autism, speech-language therapy can be a critical early tool in building communication skills. Here are five ways speech-language therapy can help someone with autism.
1. Learning to produce speech
Speech delays are common in children with autism, and speech-language pathologists (SLP) can help children learn to use spoken language. Producing spoken language is a complicated process, and speech-language therapy services can address the motor movements needed to make sounds, or articulate sounds and words more clearly.
2. Finding alternative ways to communicate
As many as a third of people with autism are nonverbal or produce minimal spoken language. But that doesn’t mean they can’t communicate or understand what others are saying. Speech-language pathologists can help children find the ways of communicating that work for them. For some, that may be sign language or gestures, while for others it may be a communication system that uses pictures. Some may use technology to communicate, such as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device.
3. Building language skills
Speech-language therapy does much more than help someone produce sounds and words. For some people, the challenge is less about producing the words themselves as it is about how to put words together to communicate a variety of wants, needs, and thoughts. The ability to combine two ideas – such as naming an object and an action – is a skill that can predict later success with language, and speech-language pathologists can help children develop this important skill.
4. Supporting understanding of language
Someone with autism may need support with specific types of social communication, such as the back-and-forth of a conversation with a classmate or understanding a coworker’s gestures or facial expressions. For others, speech-language therapy could focus on understanding that words have more than one meaning, such as the difference between “Send me the bill” and “The duck has a bill.” Idioms and figures of speech, like “It’s raining cats and dogs,” can be confusing for someone with receptive language challenges.
5. Improving social communication
Challenges in social (pragmatic) communication are one of the two groups of symptoms used to diagnose autism. (The other is restrictive and repetitive behavior.) A speech-language pathologist can help someone with autism learn how to use and interpret social communication, depending on what the person finds challenging. Someone may need support learning to match their language or nonverbal cues, like body language or facial expression, to different settings, such as at a social event or in the workplace.
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