The exact services your child requires is determined after evaluation by a speech-language pathologist, often called a speech therapist. Therapy itself may be done individually, in a small-group setting, or in a classroom. However, therapy is most effective when it involves everyone—teachers, support staff, families, and even the child’s peers—to encourage the child to use speech and language skills in a natural setting throughout the day.
Speech-Language Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
Because social communication difficulty is a core feature of ASD, most children with ASDs will benefit from some form of speech-language therapy to communicate more effectively in social situations. As stated earlier, some children with ASDs will have great difficulty communicating their wants and needs, while others may talk nearly constantly with advanced speech like “little professors.” Teaching children with ASDs to communicate with others in social situations involves comprehension and expression. The extent of therapy varies widely from one child to the next, but many children with ASDs can benefit from speech-language therapy.
It’s important to think of language as being more than speech. Because some children with ASDs become frustrated about not being able to verbally communicate their wants and needs, they may benefit from augmentative communication—using gestures, sign language, and picture communication programs. In particular, your child may benefit from the Picture Exchange Communication System, a method that uses ABA principles to teach children with less developed verbal abilities to communicate with pictures. With guidance from a therapist, teacher, or parent, the child learns how to exchange a picture for an object and eventually learns to use pictures to express thoughts and desires. Eventually, the child learns to create sentences using more than one picture and to answer questions.
Introducing augmentative communication to nonverbal children with ASDs does not keep them from learning to talk, and there is some evidence that they may be more stimulated to learn speech if they already understand something about symbolic communication. Augmentative communication may also include the use of electronic devices, some of which have synthesized speech output.