Children with autism have problems with social and communication skills. They usually face difficulties in relating to others. Speech therapy aims to improve the child’s language and communication skills. For example, children with autism may face difficulty understanding various facial expressions when speaking in different social situations. During speech therapy, children will learn to match emotions to the facial expressions in a social context.
Children with autism have varying abilities in communicating. Some children can talk incessantly, while others may talk with echolalia, which is the repetition in speech of another person. An assessment will be conducted by a speech-language therapist to evaluate the skills of the child before beginning the speech therapy program. The assessment will allow individual goals to be made, depending on the child’s profile.
Some children with autism may require Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) to supplement or be used as an alternative to communicate with others. These children usually have severe comprehension or speaking problems. Other forms of speech therapy that can be used include:
- Providing opportunities for children to speak in a conversation
- Decreasing the pressure to speak by asking the child ‘testing’ questions like “What colour is this?”
- Imitate the words and sounds the child makes so that they will learn how to imitate others
- Slowing down speech and exaggerating intonation
- Singing songs and reading books to facilitate the production in speech
Speech therapy is proven to be useful among young children when started early and practised at home with the involvement of parents or caregivers. In Singapore, speech therapy is provided in certain special education schools to support the learning of these children. Parents may also seek private practices to have a more intensive and individualised support for their children.
Some specific goals that speech therapy can help children with autism include:
- Articulation skills for improvement in speech intelligibility
- Controlling stuttering behaviours and increasing fluency in speech
- Taking part in conversations without being prompted
- Knowing when to use phrases such as “Good morning” and “Good evening” appropriately
- Enjoy communicating, playing and interacting with peers
- Using sign language or pictures to communicate
- Learning self-regulation
When these goals are met, the child with autism will be able to form relationships with their peers and integrate into society. This lessens the isolation children with autism may face in schools due to their social-communication challenges.