Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term that includes autism as well as the disorders commonly known as pervasive developmental delay – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s Syndrome. ASD is characterized by three main areas of deficit: difficulties with social interaction, restrictive and repetitive behaviors, and communication challenges. Individuals on the autism spectrum may experience a variety of problems with learning, expressing themselves, and “fitting in” socially. Many struggle with interpreting others’ facial expressions or seeing things from another’s perspective. Eye contact is often absent or fleeting. Nonliteral language, including metaphors and idioms, can present additional challenges. Speech and language delays are common in these individuals. Some individuals with ASD never learn to speak, but many develop average or above average language skills – often as the result of targeted therapy.
How speech therapy helps:
People with autism can benefit from speech therapy aimed at developing language skills and/or social skills. The SLP designs a targeted treatment plan to improve receptive language (receiving and understanding messages from others), expressive language (communicating one’s wants, needs, and ideas to others), and pragmatic language (social skills). Vocabulary and articulation/phonology (clear and precise pronunciation) can also be addressed if necessary.
One of my former clients was a 9-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism. His mother expressed concerns about his ability to respond to others’ questions and take turns in conversation. Specifically, he struggled to comprehend the difference between “what” and “where” questions and had difficulty maintaining conversation, often leaving abruptly in the middle of an interaction. After a few months of targeted speech therapy, he was able to stand still and maintain eye contact while engaging another person in conversation. He also learned to answer questions accurately and respond with a related comment or question to sustain the conversation.