Speech Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder
The month of May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. While I was not able to get this blog out last month, the information is relevant all year round. Our speech therapists work with a wide variety of clients/patients, and this blog is intended to focus mainly on children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We will cover other types of conditions speech therapists work with in another article.
Autism Spectrum Disorder has gotten a lot of press in recent years, and thankfully, more and more research is being done to help us better understand both the disorder and how to help. Latest statistics, according to the Centers for Disease Control, say that 1 in 68 children has been diagnosed with ASD, and you will find ASD across all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups. Males are about 4 ½ times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls. So, let’s examine speech therapy’s role with this special population.
Speech therapists are involved in the screening process to help identify a child who needs further testing, and they also perform assessments that are crucial in the diagnostic phase. Speech therapists devise treatment plans to help these kids gain and improve speech and language skills, working directly with the children and the families. They work with other professionals as well such as occupational therapists, psychologists, pediatricians and school personnel. Children on the Autism Spectrum often do best with a team approach, and the speech therapist is an integral part of any team. The disorder is often characterized by delays in social communication, language, cognitive skills and behavior and emotional regulation, all areas that speech therapists address.
Some of the areas that speech therapists address with children on the spectrum include encouraging speech in non- or low-verbal kids, promoting identification and comprehension of the simple nuances we take for granted in social interactions, and learning how to actively and effectively participate in a conversation. They are treated in one-on-one sessions or in group sessions, and both situations have their advantages. Therapists work with families to ensure carryover of skills across environments. For example, if the therapist is working on “Wh” questions (where, when, why) during sessions, but no one else is asking this of the child, they will learn at a much slower pace. The more practice the child has with new skills and language, the easier it will go for him. The therapist will continually assess the child’s level and determine when it is time to move onto new skills and also when it is time for discharge from treatment.
As a part of their ongoing education, speech therapists take classes to learn about the latest research and techniques to help them be more successful with their clients. There is a lot out there now about how best to work with children with ASD, and you can be sure that your speech therapist is informed about the latest cutting edge treatments. If you have any questions at all about how we work with children on the autism spectrum at The Children’s Therapy Center, Inc., please feel free to call our office for more information.
Nancy E.A. Weiss, MOT, OTR/L