Speech therapy is undeniably important in the treatment of autism. Speech therapies include cognitive and behavioral methods to increase the speech development of individuals with autism. It also includes alternative and supportive approaches. The therapy process is aimed to accelerate the acquisition of language and speech skills of the individual with autism. Communication skills are expanded. Activities for the use of these skills in daily life are designed and implemented.
In addition to activities for language development, it is very important to support oral motor skills with speech therapies. Activities are carried out to correct oral motor skills and articulation problems. In addition, activities on semantic and pragmatic activities, speaking rate, and using the tone of voice appropriately according to the context are carried out.
Speech therapy for individuals with autism goes beyond mere language and speech. It includes skills such as creating the motivation to communicate, gestures and facial expressions, making eye contact, initiating and maintaining a conversation, and more. In other words, communicative skills are targeted in the language development of an individual with autism with speech therapies.
The main goal of speech therapy is to develop the child’s comprehension and expression skills. In other words, with language therapy, the child learns to construct longer sentences, his vocabulary starts to develop and he starts to use suffixes correctly. With speech therapy, sounds and letters that the child cannot produce or say are targeted. The phonological processes that continue in the child’s speech are also among the goals of speech therapy.
The techniques used in speech therapy in children with autism differ according to the needs of the child. The therapist follows one of these methods or a combination of these methods, depending on the child’s needs.
Speech Therapy Activities for Children With Autism
Speech therapy activities are generally conducted by speech-language pathologists. And, parents can continue to follow them at home. There are studies show that autistic children who receive speech therapy early in life have more chances to overcome some communication and language problems when they get older. So, it is important to receive speech therapy and there are some activities down below to follow.
Making Animal Noises
It is a known fact that children with autism love animals. Their preferences may be different, but there may be animals that they love or even obsess over. That’s why they definitely respond to animal sounds. That’s why using animal sounds in speech therapy can be helpful. For example, a toy farm can be set up and the sound of each animal the child picks up can be imitated. At some point, children with autism also try to recreate these sounds. It is an activity that can be particularly helpful in creating sounds.
Teaching Essential Words
Learning basic and essential words for your child with autism will help them the most in the long run. These are words like help, stop, no, yes, less, or more. Even if children on the spectrum know these words, they may not be able to use them in the right context. That’s why it is important to teach how to use the right words in the right context. Although children with autism have a limited vocabulary and do not speak much, this does not mean that they cannot learn new words. Like their neurotypical peers, they can learn new words. That’s why we can teach a child with autism easy, simple, and essential words. At this point, we can adapt it to wider contexts, starting with familiar settings at first. It may take time for the child to learn these words and act accordingly. Patience and stability are very important at this point.
Using Favorite Toys or Snacks
This activity can be used for both neurotypical and children with autism. It may work a little differently in children with autism. You can stimulate the child’s speech by placing the child’s favorite toy or snack in a place that is not easily accessible but within sight. To get to that thing, your child will try pointing, moving, or even talking. You can help them say that word by saying the name of that favorite toy or snack when they first start pointing. Depending on the level of the spectrum, a child with autism can direct the adult to where the object is, point with his/her finger, make a different sound, or say the name of the object to achieve what he/she wants.
Children with autism respond positively to positive reinforcement. It can be observed more prominently, especially in children with mild or moderate autism. While positive reinforcement is used in therapies in general, it is an integral part of speech therapy. If you provide a reward for the child every time the child can repeat the word you want to teach or follow your instructions, you will provide positive reinforcement. Any reward can be offered according to your child with autism’s preference. The important thing should be something that the child likes and enjoys. It is used in speech therapy as a method to encourage positive reinforcement, especially in learning individuals with autism to respond to their own names.
Multiple Alternatives Presenting
It is a known fact that children with autism are obsessed with certain things. In order to change this situation a little bit, you can start offering alternatives when your autistic child is old enough to be able to talk. It is a condition that is considered one of the main activities of speech therapy. They are encouraged to make their own choices by offering different alternatives. Of course, making these decisions will not be easy for them. It is important to be patient at this point. These alternatives can be socks, toys, colors, etc. You can encourage them to speak by saying the name of the object while pointing at what they want.
Playing Sorting Games
Sorting, ordering, and arranging are frequently observed in individuals with autism. Therefore, such activities increase their interest. It is a functional activity in teaching the purpose of ordinary objects. Their own toys can be used as well as picture cards. All kinds of objects in the environment where the autistic child lives can be used for this activity, and it will even be more useful. Because in this way, they can learn the name, purpose, and use of the objects in their environment and group them. For children with autism, this activity can be quite fun and interesting in speech therapy. This activity will also support the development of independent thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.
Delayed speech or sign-based speech rather than verbal speech is a common speech disorder in children with autism. That’s why constantly talking to them or reading stories can be used in speech therapy as a way to encourage them to talk. Telling short stories, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, or even your daily routine can be stimulating to their speech. Supporting these stories or tales with photographs and making them more realistic can also make the speech more stimulating as it will make the activity more interactive. It will be useful to describe everything you read or see in detail. Depending on the autistic child’s age and level of autism, you can also ask your child to describe the pictures. You can try to chat about what you are talking about. You can ask questions about the characters. You can ask whether they like it or not. These questions can be short answer questions such as yes or no.
Including Sensory Activities
Sensory processing disorder is a condition found in every child with autism. It is about how they process and interpret the stimuli in their environment. These sensory activities can also be used to improve communication skills in speech therapy. Both sensory and speech skills can be developed. While teaching your child with autism what the stimulus is, it can be encouraged to talk. While experiencing different textures, tastes, smells, or sensations, they may be asked to describe this experience. It is important to be careful about the things that children on the spectrum strictly dislike.
Communication boards are an integral part of speech therapy. Depending on which format your child likes best, smartphones, iPad or old-fashioned boards can be used as communication boards. It is a communication device that children with autism often prefer to communicate. It is very useful both in therapy sessions and at home. Communication boards consist of set cards related to a plot. In particular, it can be used to create a daily routine activities chart. These cards are accompanied by emotions. In this way, your child will also learn how to react. These communication boards with simple messages are one of the simplest ways you can teach your child to choose. In this way, communication skills are also developed.
Understanding facial expressions is a very challenging situation for individuals with autism. Usually, they don’t understand facial expressions. But it is possible to teach them what these facial expressions mean and in what contexts they are used. Teaching these expressions is also very important. Picture communication cards or communication boards can be used. Each emotion is described and shown with facial expressions. When your child reaches a certain age, learning can be supported by playing games with multiple-choice questions.
You should encourage your child with autism to ask questions, just as you ask questions. Gaining the habit of asking questions will also provide the autistic child with the skills to ask questions and initiate conversations in a social context. You can create a list of questions that you can practice at home with your child’s therapist.
Utilize Their Interest
More or less every autistic individual typically has an intense interest in a specific object. You can use these objects, which vary according to the child’s interest, to encourage the child to talk. By making use of their intense interest, their speaking skills can be improved and their communication skills can be supported. You can ask questions about this object of interest, encourage them to ask questions and communicate verbally and nonverbally.
At this point, support groups or student groups will be one of your biggest supports. Having children with autism with individuals like themselves will make them feel safe. It is also helpful to create an environment where they feel comfortable, even if they are not ready to talk. As time passes, individuals with autism will begin to communicate actively with their peers.
Sensory overload is also an unavoidable condition. It is inevitable that individuals with autism, who pay attention to more than we are aware of, give unnatural reactions to this situation. You can start by identifying what is causing the sensory overload. After finding this trigger, activities can be arranged accordingly. The child with autism should be taught in which situations or contexts these triggers will occur, and the objects or activities they need to cope with.
Just as each individual with autism is different and unique, their behavior or intervention styles are also different and unique. Appropriate interaction and behavior can be taught differently according to the child. Although it is difficult to understand and teach the rules of social interaction necessary to adapt to society, they must be taught to a certain level. This is why it is very important to practice the activities that therapists will initiate in speech therapy sessions at home.
Doing handicrafts is one of the most preferred activities in speech therapy. It is a nice way to introduce new words or to repeat existing words in the vocabulary. For example, if you are talking about Thanksgiving, you can talk about it by making a turkey and repeating certain words. You can tell short stories and have simple conversations to keep the topic going. In this way, you can encourage the child with autism to ask questions. The topics started in speech therapy sessions can be carried home and reinforced in this way.
Matching games are both easy to use and highly reinforcing activities. Existing games can be used as well as new ones can be created according to the interests of the child with autism. Each time a match is found, voices related to that match can be created, and questions can be asked or encouraged to ask questions. If there is a certain subject or group of objects to be worked on, it will be beneficial to create games in that direction.
Movement activities are activities that both motivate and engage children with autism. While they help them avoid real life, they also help develop their language skills. This type of activity can be preferred for each target to be taught. For example, if trying to teach the theme of snow, snowballs can be made, balls can be made from cotton, or styrofoam balls can be used. With each ball thrown into the basket, a different word or phrase can be taught. The child’s speech is also encouraged each time a ball is thrown. Bowling is also one of the most frequently preferred movement games.
Using the mystery bag also adds fun to the activity as it has an exciting aspect. It is a versatile activity. It can be used to teach many different contexts. Your child is asked to explain the different items put in a bag by touching them. By asking leading questions, your child can be able to describe and talk about the object for a longer period of time. The important thing is to start with basic items and all the items in the bag are in a certain context. In fact, the conversation can be reinforced by discussing what the missing items are. Finally, the child can be encouraged to create and tell a story by combining all the items in the bag.
When Is the Best Time to Start Speech Therapy?
Diagnosing autism in children younger than 3 years old can be difficult. However, since language development begins earlier, whether the child has autism or not, from the 18th month onwards, if there is a delay, it can be noticed. Every child who has completed physical development should be able to form their first words and even their first sentences before they reach the age of 3. If retardation is observed at this point, a psychologist and speech therapist should be consulted immediately. Although communication problems are a life-long condition, social skills improve to a certain point with the right intervention.
Which Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms Are Indicators of the Need for Speech Therapy?
- Speech development can be observed as very slow and late. In the early stages, they may have problems such as crying, babbling, and making sounds if there is delayed speech.
- Even if they say their first words between 12-18 months, they lose it in a short time.
- Their vocabulary may be similar to that of their neurotypical peers, but they may have significant problems understanding these words or using them in the right context. For example, the child has acquired the word water, but may not use it contextually as “give water” when thirsty.
- Echolalia is observed in the vast majority. This is one of the most defining features of autism. Echolalia is accepted as communicative behavior and is not dysfunctional for individuals with autism. It is thought that children with autism do echolalia because they do not understand what is being said and cannot find an appropriate answer. Echolalia is a condition that facilitates the acquisition of grammar, but while it ends at an earlier age in children with typical development, it continues for many years in individuals with autism and loses its pragmatic functionality.
- Unlike their neurotypical peers, they communicate in a limited way only to express their wants and needs, not to attract attention and share interest.
- They speak in a monotone voice when they speak.
- They have serious problems with the use of pronouns. They can describe themselves in the third person singular.
- They have difficulty forming complex sentences.
- They may give inappropriate answers to the questions asked.
- They may ask too many and very detailed questions.
- They use very limited gestures and facial expressions, or they may not use them at all.
- They have significant problems in understanding speech, especially in mutual conversation, and they cannot continue the conversation.
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