How Speech Language Therapy Can Help Your Child with Autism
In many cases, children suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cannot effectively convey their needs to their parents. From the Speech Therapy Centres of Canada, Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) Carolyn Davidson gives us some insight on what parents can do to help their child improve their social and communication skills.
The focus in speech language therapy is to help develop communication amongst autistic children. However, communication is limited to speech. As an SLP, Davidson focuses on language but also teaches non-verbal communication as well, such as gesturing and taking turns. “Unfortunately, there are some kids who are non-verbal,” she explains, “and even with the best therapy, they’re really at the severe end and verbal communication may not come.” But just because a child does not speak does not mean they are not communicating.
ASD patients are case-by-case and no two children suffering from the disorder are alike. That’s why before parents take their child into a speech language clinic, they need to come to terms with the fact that their child will not progress like the other cases they heard or read about. Since every case varies, each child’s therapy plan is different and techniques would vary as well.
One thing Davidson constantly stresses is the importance of parental involvement. Since parents are the ones who are spending the most time with their children and therapy has its time constraints, it’s crucial that the parents are involved in the therapy. Parents know their children best and can help therapists develop activities that their children enjoy most. “We train parents how to engage their child and make their child want to communicate with them,” Davidson says. Since children who have been diagnosed with autism may prefer to play by themselves, the first goal is to “get them into therapy and doing things they find really fun, and motivating activities just to have them understand that it’s really fun to interact with somebody else.” This is especially important with younger children.
Some things to consider while searching for a therapy centre is research and, of course, communication. Check how speech therapy can benefit your child and contact a speech pathologist to set up an appointment so they can do their own assessment. The pathologists are trained to look for specific details in speech and language that your family doctor may not be. This would help therapists tailor their sessions so they are more suitable for your child’s needs. Discuss techniques, what your child will be working on, and what you want your child to work on. Talk openly and honestly to the therapist. However, Davidson cautions parents on their expectations for therapy and their child’s progress.
Some do’s and don’ts when practicing at home:
- Be consistent! Autistic children thrive on structure and routine so maintaining a consistent routine in daily tasks would help children predict and pick up language and routine.
- Be realistic about your expectations. Progress varies from child to child.
- Be patient. New skills are being introduced to your child and though these may seem like easy tasks, it is a struggle for kids with autism and we can’t expect changes to happen overnight.
- Celebrate the small milestones. If your child has just successfully replicated a gesture or word, or even made an attempt at it, compliment and encourage them. Recognize their efforts.
- Use a variety of specific phrases for encouragement and compliments.
- Avoid using the same phrases all the time. Kids with autism will often echo phrases back without understanding the true meaning or use so using a variety of specific phrases or instructions will help them better understand language.
- Avoid sarcasm, slang, and colloquial terms when you are first starting out. For example, most people will understand when you are saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs” to mean that it’s pouring hard outside. However, kids with autism will think it’s actually raining cats and dogs.
- Don’t rush your child. It’s important to give them time to develop the skills on their own. Get to know your child and their likes and dislikes.
- Don’t focus on the negative aspects or failed attempts.
- Don’t assume anything. Children suffering with autism may not understand what you are hinting or suggesting, which is why it is important to develop set routines so they can learn to predict what happens next. Be as direct or straightforward as possible.
Also, consider some of the following questions when searching for an SLP and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
- What kind of experience does the SLP have in this area?
- Do they have any additional training?
- What type of patients are they seeing regularly?
- Is their focus predominantly in another area?
“Like buying a car,” Davidson says, “you’re going to ask a lot of questions. Test drive the car out and don’t be scared to do a few sessions. If you’re not happy, try and find somebody else.”
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