Speech Therapy For Autism Spectrum Disorder: How It Works And How To Get Started

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As parents, we all have expectations or maybe an idea in our mind of what our child and their life ahead may be like.

If you or someone else notices some clues/signs that your child may have some characteristics of autism this might bring up emotions including sadness, disappointment and, for some people, even relief.

If you had already noticed some clues but weren’t sure what to do, it can be a relief to know that you now have some answers and support to help your child be the best they can be.

Spot Speech Pathologists are trained to assist autistic people succeed in everyday life. From social communication to literacy development and everything in between, Speech Therapy for Autism is just one of our special interest areas.

In this blog post, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions, including:
    • What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
    • How do I know if my child has Autism?
    • How does Autism affect communication?
    • What happens in Speech Therapy for Autism?
    • And what to do if you think your child may be autistic.
Speech Therapy for Autism

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as ASD or Autism, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects how a person feels, thinks, experiences their environment, and interacts with others.

This condition starts with a person when they are born and stays with them into old age. In Australia, approximately 1 in 88 children meet the criteria for an ASD diagnosis.

The causes of Autism are often attributed to differences in brain functioning and development.

For some, these neurological differences reflect changes in one or more identified genes and for others, it appears that environmental factors are combined with genetic factors. For others, the cause is unknown. There is ongoing research being completed to learn more about the causes of ASD.

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How Do I Know If My Child Has Autism?

As the name suggests, autism is a spectrummeaning it can look and be experienced very differently from one person to the next.

As a parent, grandparent, teacher or friend, you may notice little clues that your child’s brain works differently compared to others.

Sometimes, however, these can be BIG clues. These may be noticed from a very young age — as young as 6 months — or these clues may not become obvious until the child is older and in a different environment, such as the first year of school or kindergarten.

Types of clues may include:
  • Social Communication — for example, they may not look at people when they speak to them, or they may not point to things to get your attention. They may not babble or be using many words at the typical age.
  • Restricted, repetitive, and sensory behaviour or interests — for example, they may avoid certain textures such as the feeling of crawling on the grass, they may enjoy repeating certain movements or they may really not enjoy certain noises or loud, busy environments.

To be formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, children must experience difficulties in both of the areas listed above.

It’s important to remember that just because your child may or may not tick certain boxes or act like another autistic, child does not mean they are or are not autistic.
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How Does Autism Affect Communication?

Communication encompasses talking, understanding, reading and writing.

Autistic individuals may speak fluently or they might use sounds, signs, gestures or pictures to talk instead of spoken words (non-verbal communication).

Most autistic people have significant difficulties with social aspects of language, such as:

  • maintaining and initiating conversation
  • understanding facial expressions, body language and gestures
  • creating and maintaining friendships
  • taking turns
  • participating in imaginative play
  • understanding humour, sarcasm and jokes
  • emotional regulation
  • expressive communication
  • following directions
  • learning to read or write. Some autistic children may read earlier than neurotypical children, but may not understand what they read (called hyperlexia).
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Speech Therapy For Autism

Speech Pathologists (or Speech Therapists) are allied health professionals who are involved in the assessment, diagnosis and intervention of ASD.

But they’re not the only ones — it’s very common to have a multidisciplinary team in the assessment, diagnosis and ongoing management of ASD. This often involves a GP, Psychologist and Occupational Therapist.

What Happens In Speech Therapy For Autism?

We use evidence-based treatment approaches and work with children, their parents and teachers, as well as our adult clients, to enable speech and language development.

Speech Therapy for ASD is used to support all individuals and their families across the lifespan to develop skills and strategies to target difficulties that they feel are most important.

As every autistic person is different, speech therapy for autism does not have a time limit. We work on a tailored, case-by-case basis with each client to ensure their needs are met and their goals are achieved, despite the unique challenges they face.

Speech Therapy for autism in children is managed differently to speech therapy for autistic adults. Keep reading to find out more.
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Speech Therapy For Children With Autism

For children at school, speech therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder involves interventions that support academic and social communication development.

For example, a child with ASD starting primary school may face challenges with participating in play activities in the playground at school, because the child does not intuitively learn the unspoken ‘social rules’ that other children use to talk and play together.

However, with support from a Speech Pathologist, the child can learn these rules to help overcome these difficulties.

Speech Therapy For Adults With Autism

Speech therapy for autism in adults involves supporting their participation in daily life activities at work, home and the community and increasing their quality of life.

For example, an adult with ASD who does not use speech to communicate can be supported by a Speech Pathologist to implement and learn to use alternative or augmentative communication (e.g. communication boards, Key Word Sign, etc.).

A Speech Therapist can also assist adults with autism that are transitioning to work by helping them write cover letters, practice interview skills and learn strategies to communicate better at work.
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What To Do If You Think Your Child May Be Autistic

Seeking help can feel like a big, scary first step. For many families, it’s a process of accepting that your child may be ‘different’. But remember, we’re all different!

Seeking help isn’t about labelling your child or saying that there is something wrong with them. It’s about finding out more about their strengths, weaknesses and the way they learn best so that they can be supported to reach their full potential.

The sooner you start the process, the sooner your child will have a team around them to support them to be their best.

Some families choose not to have a diagnosis, but this does not mean that you can’t have a team to support your child including Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and a Paediatrician and your GP.

If you know an autistic person that might benefit from Speech Therapy, book in your Free Consultation with one of our Speechies today to ask all your burning questions and receive advice on the best next steps for your family.

References and Further Reading

  • 2022. Autism Spectrum Disorder. [ebook] Australia: Speech Pathology Australia, pp.1-2. Available at: <https://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/SPAweb/Resources_for_the_Public/Fact_Sheets/SPAweb/Resources_for_the_Public/Fact_Sheets/Fact_Sheets.aspx?hkey=e0ad33fb-f640-45b1-8a06-11ed2b73f293> [Accessed 14 January 2022].
  • Hodges, H., Fealko, C. and Soares, N., 2020. Autism spectrum disorder: definition, epidemiology, causes, and clinical evaluation. Translational Pediatrics, [online] 9(S1), pp.S55-S65. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7082249/> [Accessed 13 January 2022].
  • Autism Spectrum Australia. 2022. What is autism?. [online] Available at: <https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/about-autism/what-is-autism> [Accessed 13 January 2022].

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