ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurotypical disorder that is characterised by a broad range of symptoms including, non-verbal communication and speech, repetitive behaviours, and inadequate social skills. Children diagnosed with Autism also have issues related to sensory integration. For instance, they can show sensitivity to bright light or high volumes. Although, these characteristics are generally found in those with the disorder. However, every individual having ASD is different than others diagnosed with the same.
To begin with, the severity of issues related to speech and communication may vary from person to person. Providing speech therapy to children with Autism can help address and deal with the issues related to speech and language.
Common communication and speech problems related to Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Inability to talk
- Utter throaty, harsh sound, shrieks, cries, and grunts
- Talk or hum musically
- Babble, even when children of their similar age have already started speaking words
- Use robotic speech or foreign-sounding words
- Echolalia, it is a symptom in which a person meaninglessly repeats what the other person is saying
- Using correct words and sentences but with an inexpressive pitch and voice tone
Other than these speech-related issues, challenges in communication are also experienced by those with Autism, like:
- Trouble in maintaining eye-contact or using gestures with communicating
- Difficulty in understanding word meaning when used out of context
- Memorizing things when heard, without actually understanding what’s been said
- Repeating what others say, as a way of communication
- Less understanding of symbols and word meanings
- Inability to use creative language
These issues vary from person to person. For instance, a child with ASD may be unable to speak at all. On the other hand, another child may love to communicate but may find it hard in holding and maintaining a conversation, understanding facial expressions and body language of the other person while talking. Along with speech, having effective communication and language skills are essential for any human being. The child needs to have a basic understanding and knowledge of at least one language using which he/she can communicate effectively with others.
Also, communication is much wider than language. A person can communicate through body language, like eye and hand gestures, for instance, pointing towards an object that they want or pulling down their pants, when they need to use the washroom. Till the time when a child with ASD can effectively use language, other communication mediums such as non-verbal (such as body language, finger point, rudimentary gestures), written, and visual communication skills of the child can be worked upon. A speech therapist handles all such issues and helps the child learn to communicate well with others.
Underdeveloped or missing language and communication skills are a major sign of Autism and this can be worked upon using a variety of techniques that help the child learn to effectively express themselves and understand others. Often parents of a child with ASD feel frustrated because of the absent or underdeveloped communication in their child. This further results in unintended stress and pressure on the child. With the help of a speech and language therapist, all of these challenges can be dealt with.
How does speech therapy play a role in dealing with these challenges?
Early screening of Autism and subsequent start of treatment plays a major role in encouraging the holistic development of a child, thus helping him/her live a better life. The speech therapist assesses the symptoms and their severity in a child and accordingly, creates a development plan that enhances their quality of life. Based on the child’s current developmental stage, the speech therapist may work on these skills-
- Non-verbal communication, which includes teaching alternate communication methods like use of gestural communication, like how to use electronic talking devices, picture exchange, story cards, and other communication tools that are used for non-verbal communication.
- A speech therapist helps the child understand how to perceive the body language of a person while talking. For instance, how to tell if the other person is serious or joking? The therapists teach how to understand specific subtle physical signals.
- Children diagnosed with ASD, may not be able to know how to ask or answer a question. A speech therapist can teach the child how he/she can formulate an answer or ask a question.
- The speech therapist also helps the child learn the speech pragmatics. For instance, the child may know how to say “goodnight” or “hello.” But the understanding of when to use such words and phrases might be missing. The speech therapist trains the child on the meaning of words, phrases, and idioms and their appropriate usage.
- Some children with Autism may speak without changing the tone and pitch, which makes their speech look flatter. This is one of the reasons why people believe that individuals with Autism lack emotions. A speech therapist can help deal with this change by building vocal skills in a child.
- Grammatical understanding, including correct use of the tenses, verb, etc is worked upon by a speech therapist. For instance, a child with Autism may refer themselves in 3rd person. Instead of saying, “I want food.” They may say, “Aman wants food.”
A speech therapist can also help encourage the development of conversational skills, ability to understand concepts, and social skills. Altogether, speech therapy is quite effective in the treatment of Autism Spectrum disorder. Additionally, children diagnosed with Autism may face issues related to sensory processing and social interaction.
A child therapist, occupational therapist, and special educator can together help deal with such issues. A special educator helps children with special needs get educated and make a better life for themselves, which is the right of every child. Special schools and inclusive schools have special educators and shadow teachers, who provide special education to children with special needs. Being a parent or caregiver of a special need’s child, one can consider opting for an experienced child psychologist, who can also recommend a good centre or school offering speech therapy and special education respectively.
Praveen Singh is a writer and blogger, and a professional interested in sharing interesting ideas with the world. His blogs give a peek into things that aim to inform, enrich and entertain the readers. He loves sharing views on anything that provides value to the readers and helps broaden their horizon. https://twitter.com/Praveen52609164