Autism Spectrum Disorder
Speech Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that impacts every child or adult differently. It can have an effect on how one understands and relates to the world around them, and communicates with other people in their life. Since Autism is a spectrum condition, each child presents differently with regards to symptoms, strengths and weaknesses.
Some people with autism spectrum are more severe and cannot speak verbally, while others are very verbal and like to talk but have issues with the subtleties of interpersonal communication (social communication or pragmatics). In this type of situation, people with Autism may have difficulty understanding jokes, common colloquial phrases, metaphors, sarcasm, even nonverbal communication cues.
It is estimated that about 1 in 54 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and as of now, there is no cure. Yet speech therapy for autism has been researched and there are many evidence based treatments for people with various symptoms and levels of severity. Speech therapy for autism is very effective.
The speech therapists at Therapy Works Together have put together a guide for families to help them understand autism and its effect on a child’s communication skills. It includes typical signs and symptoms, how to proceed with speech therapy for autism, how a speech therapist would typically treat autism, and more.
- Some Facts About Autism
- General Signs and Symptoms of Autism
- Communication Signs of Autism
- Social Skills Issues in Autism
- Signs of Autism in Adults and Teens
- How Autism is Diagnosed
- Who Diagnoses Autism?
- How is Autism Treated?
- Can Speech Therapy For Autism Spectrum Disorder Help?
- How Parents Can Support Speech Therapy for Autism
- Can Online Speech Therapy for Autism Help?
- Parental Tips to Help Support Your Child with Autism
- What to Ask During Your First Speech Therapy Session
Some Facts About Autism
Some people with autism may be less severe and so the disorder has less of an impact on a person’s life. Or it can be very pervasive and requires everyday significant support from family and professionals.
Autism Speaks has reported some facts about autism that families should be aware of:
- Boys are diagnosed four times more than girls.
- Autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2 although children are most often diagnosed after age 4
- Early intervention is one of the best ways to provide a child with the best benefits over their lifetime
General Signs and Symptoms of Autism
Here are some signs that we should be looking for at any age:
- Avoiding or not making eye contact
- Losing speech skills, babbling or social skills that were used previously
- Preferring to be alone (this does not have to do with playing with other children at an early age)
- Having a hard time understanding the feelings of others (does not have to do with knowing the words to describe feelings)
- Delays in language development (this is also a symptom of other issues, not only autism)
- Persistently repeating words or phrases (echolalia) that others say or heard in a TV show
- Limited interests and difficulties becoming interested in novel things
- Repetitive behaviors (e.g., flapping arms/hands, spinning around, etc.)
- Resistance with minor changes in daily routine
- Atypical reactions to sensory stimuli ( e.g., sounds, smells, tastes, textures of clothing, lights, colors, being touched)
Communication Signs of Autism
There are also signs and symptoms of autism that have to do with communication. These are some of the issues that a speech therapist would help to treat when providing speech therapy for autism.
Some of those that are not listed above are listed here:
- As stated above, words that were used are lost
- be hard to understand;
- repeat words or phrases they just heard or that they heard days or weeks earlier (echolalia);
- Having a robotic/singsong voice when speaking and unnatural intonation
- Not speaking very often
- Having temper tantrums or crying often instead of attempting to use words
- Limited or no use of gestures like pointing, to communicate
- Not initiating a conversation (or any communication)
Social Skills Issues in Autism
Children and adults who have autism can have difficulty relating to other people in their life, whether they are close to them or not. They might seem as though they are not interested in socializing or being part of a group and from an early age they may prefer to be alone. Speech therapy for autism can help with these issues.
Here are some signs of autism that impact social skills:
- They don’t share attention with others on another object/activity
- No interest to join other children when playing
- Don’t respond to other children when invited to play
- Difficulty understanding how others feel or what the needs of others are
- Limited turn taking during play
- Have a hard time making/keeping friends
Signs of Autism in Adults and Teens
Just like children, adults and teens with autism may have difficulty in social interactions and associated characteristics such as atypical communication or restricted mental flexibility. These are recognizable red flags that suggest the possibility of an undiagnosed condition. A diagnosis as an adult or a teen can help improve the quality of life of a person with autism. Speech therapy can help with the treatment of many of these issues.
These signs should be ignored:
- Anxiety in social situations
- Difficulty with empathy
- Difficulty understanding body language or gestures, people’s facial expressions
- Having a hard time forming or maintaining relationships
- Difficulty with social skills in conversation like chatting or making small talk
- A hard time with understanding double meanings, idioms, metaphors
- Anxiety in group situations
- Understanding information very literally
- Limited or inappropriate eye contact
- Limited interests
- Rigidity with routines
How Autism Is Diagnosed
As there is no medical test for autism that provides a quick and easy yes/no diagnosis. The ability to diagnose depends on a combination of parent interviews and professional observations and testing. There are also other disorders with signs and symptoms that are similar such as sensory processing disorder, apraxia of speech, and ADHD, which can co-occur and confuse a diagnosis.
A professional who will diagnose will check your child’s developmental stage in relation to their age group as well as language acquisition abilities. Therefore, an experienced and trained evaluator should be involved to observe and test developmental stage, language acquisition, imitative skills, and cognitive skills.
Who Diagnoses Autism?
As autism awareness has increased, the criteria for diagnosis has changed and become more specific, and the medical professionals who are trained to diagnose have become more specialized. Experience with the signs and symptoms as well as treatment of autism is crucial when deciding who to work with to diagnose autism.
Some general qualified professionals include:
- Developmental Pediatrician
- Pediatric Neurologist
- Child Psychiatrist
There are also other professionals like therapists who are involved in a multidisciplinary evaluation of a child. They might also be the first ones to notice some red flags as they may be working with your child on other issues like language or speech delay, sensory issues or motor delays. These therapists may not have the medical training that those listed above do, but they often know a lot about the signs and symptoms of autism, treat a lot of children with the disorder and therefore know what to look for.
These therapists include:
- Speech Therapist
- Occupational Therapist
- Physical Therapist
The most important criteria is to find an experienced and affordable professional in your area who is available so that you do not delay. Early intervention is very important in helping a child with autism make improvements so delaying is not recommended.
Here are some tips to find someone:
- Call your pediatrician: Make an appointment and discuss what you see. Ask for a recommendation for another professional if they cannot help with a specific diagnosis.
- Ask other parents: Do they know of any local support groups, listserves or other resources?
- Contact your school district: There are often free resources available through your district and you can call to get recommendations even if your child is not in school yet. There are also regional agencies that provide early intervention and they can help. Check with your school district and/or regional agencies.
- Search Online: You may have many results but a good online search will yield some results in your area that can help you start a search. Call a professional and ask for recommendations. For example, Autism Speaks provides a lot of information and services for people with autism and their families, as well as an online support group which may be a starting point for finding help.
How is Autism Treated?
Despite the lack of a cure for ASD, several interventions have been developed and studied to help young children with their symptoms. These treatments may improve cognitive ability in addition to daily living skills such as speaking more effectively, improving social interactions and other activities; they also maximize your child’s chances at functioning well enough so that they can participate fully as adults.
There are many possible treatments for children with autism and this can be overwhelming for parents. Treatments may also change over time as a child may show improvements in one area and need help in another. It is likely that a small team will assist you and your child throughout their journey to improving skills. A pediatrician, a speech therapist and others experienced in autism can help to put together a treatment plan and strategy for your child’s unique needs.
- Behavior Therapy: This includes Applied behavior analysis (ABA) which can help children improve their behavior and use the skills learned in everyday life. This therapy is based on rewards.
- Family Therapy: The whole family including parents can learn strategies to play and interact with a child to help decrease behavioral problems and teach skills for daily living.
- Speech Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Speech therapists are skilled professionals who can assist families to address issues with verbal, non-verbal and social communication for children who have autism. This helps decrease behavior issues like tantrums which occur in children who are speech delayed as well.
- Assistive Technology: This can include high-tech devices like electronic tablets that can help children with autism communicate and interact with others. Or low tech like Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) which teaches your child to use picture symbols to communicate. Use of assistive technology can be temporary until a child learns how to communicate verbally.
- Other Therapy: Each child is different and so there are a host of other therapies available depending on what they need. Occupational therapy can help teach activities of daily living, and physical therapy can help improve gross motor movements.
- Medication: There is no medication for curing autism, but some medications can help a child with their symptoms. Speaking with a medical professional is best to discuss medications.
Can Speech Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder Help?
Communication and speech issues are common in individuals who suffer from autism spectrum disorder. Some people may not be able to speak, while others enjoy talking but have difficulty with conversation skills or understanding nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions.
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can help with speech therapy for autism spectrum disorder by working with a child to improve verbal and nonverbal communication abilities. This helps families at home, helps a child at school and with friends, and helps set your child on the right course as they grow. A speech therapist can also help parents and their child evaluate speech and language skills and other communication strengths and weaknesses to create a personalized treatment plan that can help your child reach their goals.
Speech therapy for autism can focus on:
- Verbal Communication: A speech therapist can help your child improve their expressive language skills so that they can get their needs met and express their thoughts. This can help them improve interactions at school and at home so that others respond well to them. It includes asking and answering questions, making comments, telling stories and more. Speech therapy for autism can also help children with grammar. So that they use correct pronouns (e.g., not referring to themselves in the third person) or using the wrong tense.
- Social Skills and Pragmatics: Many children will know how to say phrases such as “good morning” and “thank you,” but they may have a hard time knowing when the right time is to use that type of language. Speech therapy for autism helps a child know when, how and to who they should say certain things.It helps them use language in an appropriate way for with other people.
- Conversation Skills: Children with autism have many challenges with holding a conversation. They may now know how to have a back-and-forth conversation and only make simple statements. Speech therapy for autism addresses how to naturally have an exchange of information with others, initiating and knowing when a conversation is unclear.
- Use Alternative/Augmentative Communication (AAC): Some children with autism are nonverbal and require assistive devices and technology to help them communicate. This can be temporary until they learn verbal communication or permanent. A speech therapist who is experienced in speech therapy for autism will know the right one for your child and will trial some different devices (low/high tech). These can be Picture exchange communication system (PECS), using tablets/iPads with communication applications, or speech output devices (like Dynavox)
How Parents Can Support Speech Therapy for Autism
Parents spend a lot of time thinking about their child’s future, what they could have done better and how they can support their child’s improvements. There are many things to consider beyond the medical care and therapies that may be lined up for a child because every little detail matters. Since parents know their child best, they are one of the most important members of a child’s team.
Parents can help their child improve their language skills. Yet on top of that, the speech therapists at Therapy Works Together have created a list of how parents can support their child who is getting speech therapy for autism:
Focus on the positive. Children with autism spectrum disorder often respond well to positive reinforcement. That means when you praise them for the behaviors they’re doing well, it will make them feel good and do even more of that behavior in the future.
You can give their rewards like praise, extra play time, a sticker to let them know they have behaved well or completed a task appropriately.
Make play a priority. Online speech therapy for autism often focuses on how to teach parents to use play to engage their child in learning language and communication. Following a child’s lead during play is very important to increase social engagement. So make playing something that you focus on together.
Be consistent and use a schedule. Children on the autism spectrum like routines and consistency. You can ask your speech therapist to help you make a visual schedule for your child so that they will understand what happens throughout their day. All kids need some help to adjust to a new transition.
So, if you have to deviate from the schedule, have your speech therapist help you learn how to communicate that to your child during speech therapy sessions. You can also use a consistent set of strategies learned during speech therapy for autism so that the methods used help improve behaviors, communication and socialization.
Be patient. This is easier said than done. We know parents will try a lot of different strategies and treatments as they attempt to figure out what works for their child. It will be an up and down journey but parents should try to stay positive and not to get discouraged if they see progress immediately.
Get support and take care of yourself: Accept offers to have another person take care of your child so that you can get the break that you need. This will help you restore your own health and do things that you enjoy so that you can return to your child recharged and ready to help. Family and friends can help, support groups are available, and local religious communities offer solutions for care for children with special needs. You can get some more ideas on coping strategies here.
Can Online Speech Therapy For Autism Spectrum Disorder Help?
Face to face speech therapy for autism might not be the best way to deliver services and parents should speak to a speech therapist to determine if speech therapy online is the best way to deliver therapy. It can help but there are several reasons that online speech therapy for autism may be a better option.
Here are some reasons families have decided to use online services for their child with autism:
- Online speech therapy for autism from home gets the whole family involved in using strategies the speech therapist teaches
- Strategies are learned in the child’s natural environment and are used all day (not just for an hour in the clinic)
- Children with sensory issues don’t need to travel to a clinic where they feel less comfortable
- Speech therapists can observe the child in their natural environment and see how to make improvements
What to Ask During Your First Speech Therapy Session
- What makes you suspect autism? What are the red flags you observe?
- What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
- How can we confirm a diagnosis after this meeting?
- Is there a way to know the severity of autism in my child?
- How might autism affect my child’s academic future?
- What type of other therapies do you recommend for my child?
- Do you know of any support groups for my child or me?
- How can I learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder?
How Can Therapy Works Together Evaluate and Treat All Ages Online?
Therapy Works Together helps families connect online with a licensed and certified speech therapist that is a trained expert in diagnosing and treating a variety of speech, language and communication issues. Speech therapy is delivered online at home with video conferencing applications.
The age of our clients as well as their diagnosis and goals is important in determining how speech therapy online will be delivered.
Speech therapy for babies and toddlers: For kids age 0-3, we usually work on early communication skills like joint attention, social communication, or increasing language skills in late talking toddlers.
Parents work with their assigned speech language pathologist, usually in a parent coaching model, to learn tips and strategies that speech therapists use so they can be adept at practicing teaching their child after the session is over and at home. You can read more here about how important it is for parents to be involved in their child’s speech therapy at home.
Speech therapy for preschoolers: For kids age 3-6, speech therapists target age appropriate articulation, language delays, reading readiness and more. Parents join in for online video sessions with the child so that both learn the speech strategies and skills from the speech therapist. Learning how to use these skills after the session helps kids improve.
A team of certified speech therapists online who are experts in your needs.
Our licensed and certified speech therapists can help with speech or language issues for kids and adults, stuttering, social skills, articulation issues and more. With Therapy Works Together, you get the same high quality and expertise in online speech therapy as with face to face therapy, but with the convenience and affordability you want.
How it Works
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The Benefits of Therapy Works Together
|Therapy Works Together||Traditional & Other Online Services|
As high as $250/Session
|Licensed expert speech therapists|
|Convenient to attend|
Online sessions from home, office, school
Usually 9-5, commute required
|Scheduling is easy & flexible|
Easy, flexible scheduling online
Rescheduling may require a fee
|Communicate Easily Online with Your Therapist Online|
Text and communicate online with your therapist securely online
Not usually available
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We bill for sessions only after completed
Memberships and subscriptions; You may be charged for sessions not attended
|Traditional & Other Online Services|
|More Affordable||$59/Session||Up to $250/Session up to|
|Licensed experts speech therapists|
|Convenient to attend|
|Scheduling is easy & flelxible|
|Communicate Easily Online with Yout Therapist Online|
|Hassle Free & Honest Billing|