Speech Services For Children With Autism: 5 Strategies That Work

child receiving speech therapy for autism

Speech therapy gives children with autism a voice and equips them to communicate their needs and wants to parents, caregivers, and teachers. Because of speech therapy for autism, children can experience freedom, dignity, and a decrease in challenging behaviors in the classroom and at home.

Professional speech specialists use many methods and strategies during therapy sessions. Therapists first evaluate the child’s speech, development level, personal interests, and learning style. The therapist will then create a customized plan with speech therapy activities for autism that match the child’s needs and interests. 

While your child will receive customized therapy, here are five speech therapy for autism strategies that benefit many children.

1. Use Augmentative Alternative Communication 

Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) is a speech therapy for autism strategy that’s helpful when a child is unable to talk. Because each child with autism is unique, speech services may include one or more of these popular AAC methods.

Sign Language

Children can use their hands to express themselves through sign language. This tool may even prompt nonverbal children with autism to learn to speak with their mouths.

Picture Communication System

A Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is one tool that allows children to voice their needs and wants. Whether the PECS is simple or complex, it will be customized based on your child’s capabilities. 

Voice-Output AAC Device

A voice-output AAC device speaks a message that your child communicates through pushing buttons or hitting switches. These devices can range from a single button with one message to a touch-screen option with folders your child can activate via certain buttons on the screen.

2. Encourage Functional Communication

For children with autism who can talk, speech therapy encourages functional and spontaneous communication. This form of communication enables children to use words to express their basic needs and wants at school and home.

When children master functional communication, they do not require verbal prompts like “use your words” or “tell me what you want.” Instead, they can speak freely at all times, even when they’re excited, upset, or frustrated.

Functional communication therapy often begins with the words a child needs or uses most often. Or the therapist may capitalize on the child’s specific interests and introduce related words and phrases, a strategy that can motivate the child to participate fully in therapy.

3. Integrate Speech Therapy Activities Across Settings

In addition to individual speech therapy sessions with a speech-language pathologist, your child will benefit from using speech therapy strategies in various settings, including the classroom, cafeteria, and playground. Therapy in these settings allows your child to practice speech skills with teachers and peers and to learn socially acceptable behavior.

Often, integrated speech therapy can boost progress. That’s because children receive instruction, prompts, and modeling from multiple sources throughout the day instead of only during formal therapy sessions.

Integrated speech therapy can teach a child with autism how to:

  • Listen to teachers
  • Answer questions
  • Take turns
  • Follow directions
  • Play appropriately
  • Talk to peers individually and in a group
  • Manage conflict
  • Understand figurative language

To prepare a child for integrated speech therapy, therapists can use video modeling, social stories, and visual supports. Children can watch videos that model the expected behavior and read books or specially created stories that detail what they could expect in a classroom or on the playground. Visual supports include signs, pictures, and hand cues that prompt a child to remember how to act.

4. Address Common Speech Problems

Each child with autism has unique speech needs, which may include these three common speech problems. Articulation describes the difficulty a child has producing clear sounds and being understood by others. Fluency involves problems with speech patterns and stuttering. Resonance includes problems with pitch, volume, and other voice sound qualities.

To address these common problems, speech therapy for autism may utilize three techniques that incorporate play, instruction, modeling, and prompting. 

Articulation Therapy 

Articulation therapy teaches sounds and syllables through play and via video and audio recordings. The therapist can demonstrate the proper tongue and mouth positions as well as sounds for the child to imitate.

Language Intervention 

Language intervention encourages children to talk and develop language abilities. Play-based activities, role-playing, and telling stories prompt children to engage with this technique.

Oral Motor Therapy 

This therapy exercises the mouth muscles. Oral motor therapy may use massage, focus on the sound and facial shape, and introduce new textures. It’s particularly useful when children have speech problems related to a physical challenge rather than an underdeveloped skill challenge.

Combination Methods

As a child masters one communication strategy, the speech therapist may introduce a new method. For example, the therapist may slowly reduce verbal cues like “use your words” as the child learns to point to pictures. Also, the therapist can introduce more complex PECS over time.

This progression doesn’t end the child’s usage of the mastered method, though. Speech therapy activities for autism can combine all or some of the mastered strategies when they’re useful.

5. Promote Long-Term Improvements

The purpose of speech therapy for autism is to give children the ability to communicate functionally during academic, social, and leisure activities in all settings. Private education can help your child achieve this goal.

Speech therapists in a private school specialize in autism. They understand your child’s specific needs and create an individualized speech therapy plan that incorporates education and behavioral programming.

Receiving Speech Therapy For Autism

Private schools like the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism focus on engaging children completely in their school and community, too. 

Speech therapists, teachers, and counselors work together in all environments to reinforce therapy strategies. These professionals collect real-time data and insights into the specific skills your child needs for success each day. 

Additionally, staff members undergo regular training so that they know how to use PECS, sign language, and other speech therapy activities for autism effectively.

Speech therapy for autism can increase freedom and dignity and decrease challenging behaviors in the classroom and at home. As you help your child with autism learn to communicate better, consider including these five speech service strategies that work.

Learn More About Our Individual & Integrated Speech Services

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