Autism and how it can affect a child

Autism (also referred to as autism spectrum disorder; ASD) is a condition that affects the overall development of an individual, typically signified by deficits and issues with social skills, communication and repetitive behaviours. It is believed that the development of the disorder is caused by both the person’s environment and genetic makeup, and as the severity and manifestation of symptoms can vary widely, how it is characterized in an individual is thought of in the context of the spectrum. Some individuals on the autism spectrum can have advanced learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities, while others may be critically below-average. Thus, the amount of supports and level of independence a person with autism may need can vary greatly. Literature suggests that people typically exhibit signs of autism by 2 or 3 years of age, although it can also appear earlier in life.

How autism affects communication skills

One of the most evident and common ways that autism can affect an individual is in the areas of communication and interpersonal skills. Children with autism commonly have problems with speech and verbal communication, may be non-verbal, or have difficulty effectively using language to express their thoughts. Individuals with autism routinely fail to comprehend that the process of communication is symbiotic in nature that involves more than just verbal communication, but also gestures, facial expressions, body language and eye contact. Children with ASD also often have difficulty understanding communication within social contexts and be unaware of expected social norms in terms of appropriate behaviors.

How speech therapy can help

As being able to adequately communicate and interact appropriately with others and one’s surroundings are essential for everyday functioning, children with autism can often be engaged in speech therapy to help improve their skills in these scopes. A speech language pathologist (commonly called a speech therapist) is a trained expert in communication and can help children to develop these abilities. Upon initial engagement, a speech therapist will usually garner a comprehensive history of the child’s medical, social and family background. Once the therapist has an idea of the child’s current communication level, their needs and overall functioning, they will work with the family (and often other important figures in the child’s life, such as teachers or other supports) to promote a plan for treatment.
Depending on the child’s individual needs and therapeutic goals, speech therapy can help in the following ways:
– Improve the child’s capacity to adequately express themselves, which may involve non-verbal and verbal communication.
– Help the child to better understand what others are saying to them
– Improving communication skills will advance overall social skills and assist them to better form relationships
– Develop articulation of words and sentences
– Help build social skills and understanding of social contexts, e.g. an appropriate way to speak to a stranger vs someone they know

Speech therapy at home

If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language abilities, perhaps the best thing to do initially is to share your concerns with your child’s school, which may be able to refer you to a local speech pathology service. You may also speak to your local doctor.
One option for service delivery is for your child to get the therapy at home. This can make it more convenient for your family as it negates the hassle of travelling, and the child may be more comfortable in their natural environment. Having therapy at home also allows the speech therapist to gain a more holistic overview of the child’s home life and functioning. This enables the speech therapist to put forward a therapy plan that is better catered to the child and family’s needs, also giving other family members opportunities to be more involved in therapy.