Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders are one of our most vulnerable clients. Not only is each individual uniquely different in their strengths and needs, complicating how we approach therapy, but each person is at higher risk for additional diagnoses such as seizures, allergies, GI disorders, apraxia of speech or the body, dysarthria, generalized weakness, sensory disorders, feeding disorders, etc.. In speech therapy, children with autism often need assistance with communication, pragmatics, and feeding.
Communication is such an important part of enjoying living and becoming a functional member of society. It is no wonder that it can be the difference in improving quality of life for so many people of all ages. Whether it is a 2 year old who wants to communicate wanting to go to a playground or a 89 year old who wants to call their daughter on the phone, communication is the lifeline of our society. Those with autism who struggle with various aspects of communication may feel barriers to communicating with family, friends, employment, and their general community.
These barriers for communication may come in many forms. Some may have difficulty at the physical level in the mouth and voice demonstrating weakness or apraxia that may make verbalization difficult to understand. Some may struggle to understand how to react and respond to different social situations. And some may have difficulty putting words together into sentences or understanding spoken language. Often, it can be *all* of these areas of communication affected.
When parents come to our clinic, it may be for their child who has not verbalized any words yet. As speech pathologists, we find the best way to communicate with this child, which may or may not be verbal initially. It may start with building rapport and joint attention, then quickly moving to alternative communication such as a Picture Exchange Communication System, or a high-tech iPad-based AAC communication board, or even some basic sign language. Each child responds differently and has different sensory needs that may impact this choice.
For those coming to our clinic who are already verbal, social interactions may be the most challenging. With so much communication happening "behind the scenes" of an interaction between two people, those with autism may have a more difficult time decoding these clues. A speech pathologist can help with recognizing, understanding, and reacting appropriately to various social interactions with practice, some creative role playing and maybe even some video modeling.
Those with autism may be one of the most vulnerable populations of people; however, with the right team and a speech pathologist, it is possible to live a productive, social, and fulfilling life.