A Speech Language Pathologist can help children with autism
by Cheryl D. Lindsay M.S. S-LP
The Autism Society of Canada website provides the following definition: “Autism Spectrum Disorder, also referred to as autism, is a neurological disorder which causes developmental disability. Autism affects the way the brain functions, resulting in difficulties with communication and social interaction, and unusual patterns of behaviour, activities and interests.”
Autism affects boys four times more often than girls and usually appears in the first three years of life.
In the term Autism Spectrum Disorder, (ASD), the word spectrum is used to show the uniqueness of each child with autism. There are milder forms of the disorder, sometimes called “higher functioning” autism, diagnosed using the term Aspergers. The other end of the spectrum includes children exhibiting more severe characteristics.
It is so important to realize that each child diagnosed with ASD has individual strengths and weaknesses. Children with autism find it difficult to interpret and then respond to information in their environment.
Some of the more common characteristics that are seen in children with autism include:
-may be verbal or nonverbal
-pronunciation variable; speech may be telegraphic, or robotic,
with a high pitched voice
-echolalic speech i.e. repeating what they have heard
-use of “canned phrases” or learned responses
-may be able to repeat entire scripts from movies but unable to answer simple questions.
-rely more on gestural communication, such as hand leading to
2. Motor Abilities:
-fine motor deficits
-depth perception deficit
3. Social Interaction:
-poor pragmatics or social language – i.e. may not show interest in
-poor processing of semantics or meaning- i.e. may take you
-may resist or be overly affectionate
-lpoor eye contact
-lining up toys
-inappropriate play with toys i.e. focused on a moving part vs. the
-may be overly sensitive to or seek stimuli such as noise, light,
-may be overly sensitive to or seek stimuli such as deep pressure
6. Safety issues:
-not aware of harmful situations, may self-injure
7. Health issues:
-Gastro-intestinal sensitivities and sleep disturbances
The cause of ASD is still unknown but research is flourishing. Early intervention is crucial. Your doctor, early intervention professionals and speech-language pathologist can be excellent resources.
ASD must be diagnosed by a developmental pediatrician. When parents bring their child to see an SLP because of a delay in speaking, the SLP may use an inventory or checklist to help in ruling out autism. An SLP also provides help with an individually tailored treatment plan, which may include elicitation of verbal responses, teaching gestures and sign language, a picture exchange communication system, (PECS) or other augmentative or alternative communication, (AAC). Building routines during interaction can be helpful when teaching language and new forms of communication.
Some children with autism benefit from IBI (intensive behaviour intervention). This is highly structured behaviour, cognitive and social skills therapy provided by specifically trained individuals.
Autism not only impacts the child, but their parents, family members, caregivers and professionals providing help. It may be overwhelming for families who must familiarize themselves with the many different disciplines and resources associated with supporting their child. Knowledge and awareness are crucial to understanding ASD and getting help.