What are the Speech and Language Difficulties faced by Autistic Children? | Speech and Language Therapy

Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD can be defined as a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. The word “spectrum” indicates the wide variation in the range and severity on how people are affected with Autism, and the difficulties they face. As the symptoms range in a wide-variety, this condition is called Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism is a neurological disorder that involves impaired communication, social interaction and cognitive skills. Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD involves a wide range of other behaviors such as repetitive actions, unusual responses to senses such as touch, inability to interact with environment around and showing extreme resistance to changes in daily routines. People with Autism have difficulties not only with speech but also with non verbal communications, which makes them tough to have social interactions. Hence, speech therapy has been the central focus of all the Autism therapies.

A Speech-Language Pathologist doing Speech therapy


Communication Difficulties

Communication includes semantics and pragmatics of language, where semantics means understanding the meaning of words and pragmatics refer to the social use of the language. The individuals with Autism face problem with these communication difficulties like understanding the meaning of words spoken by others and the usage of those words, appropriately. The Speech Language Therapist aka SLT will work with the individual and the immediate family members in promoting further language and skill development.

Symptoms

The main symptoms that indicate the necessity of speech therapy, for an Autistic child, include the following.

  • Not talking at all
  • Unable to express basic wants
  • Making unusual sounds like sudden grunts, shrieks, or cries
  • Talking, murmuring or just humming in a musical way
  • Using alien-speech like words or sounds
  • Not responding in a conversation or for a question
  • Repeating words or phrases said by anyone around
  • Babbling with word-like sounds
  • Difficulty in following instructions
  • Using words or phrases with a perfect-timing, but without an expressional tone

Though they try to communicate, their language will be too hard to understand. Behaviors like the above are more commonly observed in Autistic children and they need speech therapy for better communication skills.


Echolalia

They mostly try to repeat the words said by someone around or the speaker him/herself. Such a meaningless repetition of someone’s spoken words, as a part of a psychological disorder is called as Echolalia.

A Child in Speech therapy

Non-verbal difficulties

Children with Autism face communication challenges that keep them away from social interaction. The non-verbal difficulties they face include the following.

  • Having poor conversational skills like maintaining eye-contact or proper body language
  • Meaning of some words that are out of context, are not understandable
  • Unable to understand the meaning of what is said but can memorize the words
  • Using Echolalia is to communicate when unable to answer
  • Unable to understand the meaning of signs, symbols and some words
  • Ignoring or avoiding others
  • Preferring to play alone
  • Not being responsive to someone
  • Dislike being touched
  • Difficulty in expressing emotions
  • Lack of creative language

So, an Autism child has lot to do while coping with these difficulties, such as trying to understand what others say, learning how to use language, interpreting both verbal and non-verbal cues from others like facial expressions, tone of voice and body language.


Use of Speech Therapy

Speech therapy can address a wide range of communication problems for people with Autism. Speech therapists are the specialists who are trained in treating speech disorders and language problems. With early screening, therapists can help with the diagnosis of Autism and can refer to other specialists relating to their treatment. Speech therapists design the treatment plan according to their requirements and also work closely with their parents, other family members, friends and relatives who are associated with the person getting treated. Educating parents and training other important people in child’s life are pivotal in successful therapy. If the person is completely unable to speak, the speech therapists can suggest alternative ways to help them communicate.

A Girl practicing the blowing technique as a part of Speech therapy

The following are some of the few techniques that can be used to improve language comprehension and expression.

  • Matching: helps in understanding e.g. Object to object matching, picture to picture and picture to object matching etc.
  • Sorting: Classifying the items to respective categories helps child to improve comprehension
  • Imitation: Encourage the child to repeat the word after you.
  • Modeling: Modeling can be used before or after the child makes a comment. An adult offers more information to the child. The adult’s sentence structure is more elaborate.
  • Echoing: Repeat the child’s utterance back to him (electronic talkers can be used)
  • Binary choice: Provide with two or more choices and make the child choose and express the intended word.
  • Sentence expansion and completion: Elaborate the child’s utterance by providing more information
  • Demonstrating actions: Physically act out the information said.
  • Use the visual mode: it has been seen that children with autism understand better with the visual mode than any other modes. So, use the visual mode along with other modes. Using picture boards with words helps them understand the meaning of the word.
  • Repetition: Be ready to repeat the instructions again and again to the child. We must understand that the child finds difficult and may not understand what you say the first time. Pronouncing the words intended repeatedly with expressions will help them in understanding.

Such techniques help an Autistic child to improve the speech and language skills. These can be done at home with the support of a speech therapists and the child’s pediatrician.

Outcomes of a Speech Therapy

The goals of Speech therapy aim to help the individual with Autism to achieve the following

  • Communicating both verbally and non-verbally
  • Understanding other’s intentions well
  • Articulating words to match the scenario
  • Initiating a conversation
  • Exchanging ideas
  • Regulating oneself
  • Developing conversational skills
  • Enjoying communicating, interacting and playing with others
  • Knowing the proper time to greet others or to initiate conversations
Children trying to communicate


These are all can be achieved slowly with a regular practice of speech therapy under the guidance of professionals. Intensive and individual treatments can help lessen the affect of social communication disability.
Autism is a neurological disorder that can exhibit similar symptoms as mentioned. Having speech and language difficulties is one of them. Whenever you notice some difference of such sort in your child, consult a professional to diagnose the disorder. It is common that kids without Autism are also likely to have speech problems. Though the names differ, speech and language issues that are observed during childhood are to be treated as early as possible. Early intervention and correct diagnosis helps your child recover as soon as possible. Whether the child suffers from Autism or not, undergoing a speech therapy can help them to be on par with normal ones. In case, you observe any difference in your child, take a step forward and consult a professional speech therapist today to know the problem your child is facing. Book an appointment to meet a specialist, today.

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