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The goal of speech language therapy for autism should be to improve useful communication. No one treatment, including this type of therapy, has been found to successfully improve communication in all individuals who have autism. For some children, verbal communication is a realistic goal of language therapy.
Autism Speech Language Therapy: An Overview
If autism or some other developmental disability is suspected, the child’s physician will usually refer the child to a variety of specialists, including a speech-language pathologist, who performs a comprehensive evaluation of the child’s ability to communicate and designs and administers treatment.
No one autism treatment, including speech language therapy, has been found to successfully improve communication in all individuals who have autism. The best treatment:
- Begins early (during the preschool years)
- Is individually tailored
- Targets both behavior and communication
- Involves parents or primary caregivers.
What Are the Goals?
The goal of speech language therapy should be to improve useful communication. For some children, verbal communication is a realistic goal. For others, the goal may be gestured communication. Still other children may have the goal of communicating by means of a symbol system such as picture boards.
Treatment should include periodic in-depth evaluations provided by an individual with special training in the evaluation and treatment of speech and language disorders, such as a speech-language pathologist.
Using Speech Language Therapy With Other Autism Therapies
Occupational and physical therapists may also work with the individual to reduce unwanted behaviors that may interfere with the development of communication skills.
Some individuals respond well to highly structured behavior modification programs; others respond better to in-home therapy that uses real situations as the basis for training. Other approaches such as music therapy and sensory integration therapy (which strives to improve the child’s ability to respond to information from the senses) appear to have helped some autistic children, although research on the efficacy of these approaches is largely lacking.
Medications may improve an individual’s attention span or reduce unwanted behaviors such as hand-flapping, but long-term use of these kinds of medications is often difficult or undesirable because of their side effects. No medications have been found to specifically help communication in autistic individuals. Mineral and vitamin supplements, special diets, and psychotherapy have also been used, but research has not documented their effectiveness.