Autism Therapy At Home: Ideas from a Speech Therapist

Autism Therapy At Home: Ideas from a Speech Therapist



You know your child best. So you know that even if they have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or have red flags for ASD, they are completely unique and cannot be compared to another child with the same diagnosis. They will have different strengths and weaknesses. So their needs, if you would like to provide autism therapy at home, may be different.


Yet parents might want to keep a few concepts from speech therapy in mind when they are considering providing autism therapy at home to their child.


A Side Note on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)


ABA is often at the top of the list of therapies that parents request for a child with autism. This is because ABA therapists establish highly clear, quantifiable goals and typically succeed in teaching a child these skills.


The skills that ABA is very successful at include activities of daily living like brushing teeth or getting dressed. Or activities your child needs to repeat in the same way every day like getting ready for school in the morning.


Yet when it comes to communication with others, ABA may fall short. Why? ABA teaches a child to go through a set of specific steps to completing a task, and communication is a spontaneous back and forth between people that cannot always be known in advance and structured. We do not want a child to use scripted speech when communicating with others. We are not suggesting that ABA isn’t effective, but instead want to say that each therapy type has its role when providing treatment for a child with autism.


1. Spontaneous and Functional Communication is the Most Important Step.


A parent’s first priority with any child who has autism is to ensure that they are able to communicate effectively and spontaneously. This means that the child must be able to express their basic needs and requirements to people in their life without being prompted. Meaning, for example, the adult should not have to say, “what do you want?” or “say give me juice.”


There are several ways to help a child with autism learn functional communication, and most will require some additional training from a speech therapist. The following is a list of evidence based strategies and techniques that can work with a child with autism. Read on and discuss these with your child’s SLP:


  • Picture Communication System (PECS): Some children find it easier to communicate when they use images. For them, this makes communication much more concrete. You might begin by having their child point to what they want on a simple communication board. Research has shown that teaching a child to communicate with pictures is effective even in non-verbal children.
  • Sign Language: Some children benefit from using their body to communicate by using sign language. This has been used very successfully with children with autism and has even been shown to get kids talking faster than they would have without using sign language.

Help Your Child Speak Spontaneously


Children with autism may have a hard time expressing themselves naturally. They may speak when asked or in answer to particular questions, but they will not speak independently when they want to request something or if they are feeling frustrated.


For kids to learn to speak on their own, it’s important to gradually reduce the number of cues so that they can speak more and more independently each time.


At first you may need to tell your child what to say exactly. Then you can give them prompts or cues such as “use your words” or “remember what to say?” These cues might be paired with visual signs (e.g., one that shows someone talking) or hand gestures (e.g., like pointing to your mouth) that will prompt the child to say what they have learned is correct for the situation.


For example, at first you may have to tell the child exactly what to say in each situation. Then, you can fade back to a prompt like “use your words”. Then, you can fade back to a visual cue like a picture that says “use your words” or shows someone talking. There are many ways to fade cues so that is just an example.


It may also be beneficial to begin by teaching your child simple but very motivating requests (e.g., “I want water”) and then on to other sorts of communication types like commenting (e.g., “daddy’s home”) or greeting (e.g., “bye grandma”).


2. Socialize In Various Situations Throughout the Day


Autism therapy at home should also include social teaching to some extent. Autism affects children’s ability to grasp socially appropriate behavior and communication.  They don’t always know what to do or how to respond in different social settings. Parents should work with their child to learn how to socialize in a variety of situations because each scenario will require slightly different behaviors or skills.


Parents can provide direct instruction. That means they can be explicit in modeling steps to their child for how to socialize and what should and should not be said. It is critical to educate your child on what is socially acceptable conduct in various situations. This covers how they should listen and pay attention (and what to pay attention to e.g., facial cues and body language). Basic abilities such as listening to a teacher, answering questions, and following directions are important for young children. Learning how to talk about a variety of topics and talking in a group might be important for older kids.


The strategies below are evidence based and are used by speech therapists as they are very effective in providing autism therapy at home, school or clinic. They are both visual and may be great at engaging a child with limited speech or language abilities:


  • Social Stories: These books are often made by speech therapists to teach a child a specific and expected behavior in a situation (e.g., how to ask for help).
  • Video Modeling: You can use video to model behaviors that your child should use. The student watches videos that demonstrate the expected behaviors. This is also a strategy that has good evidence for working with kids with autism. You can make your own or watch this example for tying shoes. Notice this is a point of view video model which means it is filmed from the viewpoint of the child’s perspective adding to your child’s understanding of what to do.


RELATED: Improving Language Skills In Kids With Autism Spectrum Disorder


When to Start Speech Therapy for Autism? 


It might be difficult to diagnose autism in children under the age of three. Yet parents and professionals can detect speech and language deficits in children as young as 18 months of age in some situations.

Parents should make a note if they observe red flags for ASD in young children including:

  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Echolalia
  • Resistance to changes in routines
  • Difficulty  interacting socially with others

If parents observe signs in their child or get a formal diagnosis, they can begin speech therapy for autism. While ASD cannot be cured, symptoms and weaknesses can be managed and skills can greatly improve, especially when intervention begins early. In addition, children whose parents are involved in their therapy show better outcomes.


Therapy Works Together – Online Speech Therapy for Children and Adults


We care about every child and adult achieving their speech, language and communication goals. You can start speech therapy online now with a certified speech language therapist. We’ll discuss your personal needs, develop an individualized treatment plan, and schedule affordable online therapy sessions online at your convenience.

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