Speech therapy ideas for a child with autism can help the child develop language and communication skills. If the child is not good enough in nonverbal communication, I suggest that you improve this as a priority. If his/her sharing experiences with you are not developed enough, if your nonverbal communication is not good enough, it will be more useful to focus on this issue.
Some individuals with autism may have limited speech, while others might exhibit repetitive or atypical language patterns. Understanding these challenges is the first step in providing effective speech therapy. Some speech therapy methods have been proven to be successful, which we will talk about in this post. Those methods generally have their grounds set on non-verbal forms of communication methods which encourage an individual with Autism to engage in the conversation. These include methods such as reading books together, an engagement in sensory activities, using pictures and symbols to make the communication more visual rather than verbal, or turning the conversation into a game rather than presenting it as a social norm. These social communication interventions enhance understanding of non-verbal cues and encourage engaging conversations. By integrating these and other speech therapy ideas into individualized therapy plans, you can provide good speech therapy for those on the Autism spectrum who have a hard time with verbal communication and social interactions.
Before anything, you should remember that Autism is a spectrum. This means that every individual stands in a different position regarding their individual needs and strengths. When considering a speech therapy plan for someone on the autism spectrum, you should carefully determine what it is that you are trying to accomplish regarding the individual and their communication skills. What works for some individuals may not work for others. For example, some autistic may have problems with verbal communication while others may struggle in forming social relationships. Therefore, it is important to make an assessment before starting your plans for speech therapy.
Here are some ideas to implement first;
- Playing games with the child that he/she is interested in and naming these objects.
- Using declarative language, naming daily routines, and giving explanations according to the child’s language level.
- Singing favorite songs together
- Using visual objects, and cards and naming them.
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
- Playing games: In the first stage the most important thing is to find a game that the child is motivated and enjoys spending time with us. When we do this, it is good to make sure that there are no other distractions around us. Otherwise, the child’s attention can quickly wander. Autistic children are very susceptible to this. We try to be connected with the child through a game that they like and are motivated by. In this way, we can name the objects in the game by spotlighting them and using exaggerated language. We can also explain the things in the game, congratulate and name the achievements of the game exaggeratedly.
- Explaining routines using declarative language contributes significantly to the child’s vocabulary. In addition to this vocabulary contribution, visual and word matching helps the child to connect events with words and sentences. In addition, since the routines are done regularly, we increase the likelihood of learning and using these words. In this case, we should avoid using imperative sentences. For example, when our grandmother leaves the house, instead of saying bye-bye to grandma, we can make a sentence saying that grandma is going home now and we can wave to her together. Using imperative language will put pressure on the child. So I suggest you stay away from it.
- Favorite songs again increase children’s motivation, making it easier for them to focus and share with us. In these settings, it is easier to give some simple rhythms and melodies as audio output for children who do not have word output. In addition, it is easier to make animal sounds and imitations, sounds of certain objects. When we get some verbal output from the child, saying motivating things and making them feel that they have succeeded supports us in this process. We should pay attention to choosing songs appropriate to our child’s speech level. For example, for a child who does not speak at all, there may be songs containing simple sounds such as animal sounds, or object sounds. For children with word output, songs that are simple and do not contain long sentences should be preferred.
- Using certain visual cards, we can be role models for the child by making objects, animals, and sounds. Then, if the child has developed imitation skills, he/she can start making these sounds by imitating us. Again, the important point here is for the child to enjoy and focus. In addition, if we match the objects in these visuals with real-life examples and continue to give verbal outputs, we will contribute to the child’s language development.
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): For individuals with limited verbal communication, AAC devices or apps can be life-changing. These systems enable individuals to communicate using symbols, pictures, or text. Although this method doesn’t focus on enhancing verbal communication skills, it opens a new space for the individual to express themselves. Ultimately, it plays an important role in supporting the person with autism to engage in communication and social interaction.
I don’t recommend using imperative language with the child constantly and expecting sound output from him/her. It can create stress and pressure on the child and cause him/her to react to us, to run away from us, to avoid us, and sometimes not to react at all. So we should not give children imperative sentences like say this word, do this action.
Some examples of imperative and declarative language
Imperative: Sit down.
Declarative: Here is your chair.
Imperative: Pick up your coat.
Declarative: Your coat is on the floor.
Imperative: Get the ball.
Declarative: The ball rolled over there.
Imperative: Turn the page.
Declarative: I’m ready for the next page when you are.
Remember that this is a process and it is better to focus on the process rather than the result. Speaking skills will develop over time and we should not despair but patiently move forward.
It takes a process for us to implement the ideas that are right for the child. We need to make some behavioral changes and adapt them to our lives, and this may take time to happen. We have to be fair to ourselves and remember that over time this behavior will settle down and we will help the child. Patience is one of the most important issues for this work.
As family members, we should keep our motivation high and put ourselves first. If we lack motivation and focus, we will not help our children.
To benefit from speech therapies, we need to pay special attention to one issue. We as adults are very fast in our daily lives, both in our speech and in our actions. For our child to understand and process what we say, we need to slow down and give our child time to process the information and respond to us. For this, we as family members need to slow down with our children. If we slow down the flow of data to the children, they can process it efficiently and respond to us. Practically, we can make it a habit to wait about 10 seconds after saying something to our children.
Once declarative language is in our lives, it won’t work all the time, all the time, all the time. If it is to become the new normal for everyone, it will take some time. It will take time for us to change our speaking styles and get used to it. It will also take time for our child’s brain to get used to it.
Let’s not forget that children will give us fight/flight/freeze reactions when they don’t want to and are not competent. When we use Imperative language, we are likely to get one of these three reactions. First, the change will come from us and then it will be reflected on the child.
The first place we will see development and progress is when our child starts to refer more visually. When we use descriptive language and wait, the child will start to observe us, the environment, and other people around them more. This is different from eye contact. He is looking around not because someone is asking him to make eye contact, but because he is aware that he needs to gather information from the environment. After this, our child will start to solve more problems. He will be more active in problem-solving. For example, in the past, we used to tell the child to take a towel and clean it, but now it will be enough to just say that it has spilled. In the past, we used to communicate with the child with imperative language, now we communicate with declarative language and in this way, the child starts to problem solve and we give him/her a chance to think and process the information and respond.
We can evaluate ourselves under the following headings to move forward with the developments and benefits.
1- I am more patient with my child
2- My child makes better visual references to me and his/her environment.
3 – My child solves more problems
4- I remember better the shared memories of the past with my child
5 – I can read my child better and better understand the clues coming from him/her.
6 – I feel more confident.
7- Communication gaps between me and my child have decreased.
While doing these practices, we should not forget to motivate and praise our children. The most important issue is that the child is motivated and wants to spend time with us with pleasure. Once this is achieved, the next steps will progress more easily. The basis of communication is sharing experiences, being present, and establishing a joint focus of attention.
One of the issues that we will pay attention to in therapies is the involvement of the family and the environment and the application of the gains obtained in this therapy to daily life. Let’s not forget that our children spend the most time with us and we can support our children in terms of speech and facilitate their learning. We can also know in which subjects their motivation is high and in which subjects it is low, and we can prepare appropriate environments accordingly.
In addition to these, we can shape the work we will do depending on the level of our child. Each child should act according to an individual work plan. We should work according to their level and we should determine our level of speech and the words and sentences we choose according to our child’s level. Otherwise, we may get one of the fight/flight/freeze reactions.
Opportunities should be created and supported in places such as homes, schools, parks, and supermarkets where the child can communicate.