Autism Impairs Communication
Nearly half of the children with autism have communication impairments as well, including challenges with functional speech, and nonverbal communication. While many autistic children are capable kids in other important ways, these communication problems take a heavy toll on their academic performance and social interactions. The problems can be divided into two groups: speech and language or communication.
Speech and Language Problems
These are some of the ways that autism can affect speech and language development:
- Rarely vocalize
- Utter grunts, cries, shrieks, or throaty, harsh sounds
- Hum or talk in a musical way
- Babble with word-like sounds
- Use foreign-sounding “words” or robotic-like speech
- Parrot or often repeat what another person says (called echolalia)
- Use the right phrases and sentences, but with an unexpressive tone of voice
It is estimated that one out of three people with autism has difficulty enunciating speech sounds to effectively communicate with others. So even when the autistic person’s language is present, it can nevertheless be unintelligible.
An autistic person may have one or more of these communication challenges:
- Trouble with conversational skills, including eye contact and gestures
- Difficulty grasping word meanings beyond the context where they were learned
- Discerning body language and expressions
- Reliance on echolalia as a primary way to communicate
- Little understanding of the meanings of words or symbols
- Lacking the capacity to be creative with language
Due to these multiple challenges, an autistic child needs to go beyond merely learning how to speak. He/she must also learn to use language to communicate. This includes knowing how to hold a conversation and tuning into both verbal and nonverbal cues from other people — such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.
How Speech Therapy Transforms Autistic Children
Speech therapy offered in elementary schools is often critical for autistic children struggling with communication. It helps them to be successful academically, better express themselves, and form relationships with friends and family. In fact, without the benefit of such therapy, the autistic child is often relegated to a childhood filled with failure and isolation.
Research suggests that a high percentage of preschoolers with autism learn to communicate and pick up language skills when they begin therapy early and continue upon entering school. Speech Therapy provided in elementary schools can also help the child to build his/her overall confidence and reduce the sense of isolation that can occur from unsuccessful social interactions.
Some benefits speech therapy in elementary schools provides:
1. Verbal Communication
Sometimes the autistic child may have a more complex idea, and experience the frustration of being unable to express it. A speech therapist can help this child express himself/herself by articulating the idea in longer sentences that include more information and details. Aside from helping the child to become more articulate, this helps to relieve pent-up frustration as well.
But knowing how to articulate a statement and carrying on a conversation is not the same thing. Speech therapists help autistic children develop conversational skills as well so that the child can have the pleasure of exchanging ideas with a teacher or another child.
2. Non-Verbal Communication
Some of us may be unaware as to how much of our communication is non-verbal. Perhaps during COVID, with our interactions becoming virtual, this became clearer. Either way, if a child is to develop the capacity to maximize communication, the non-verbal dimension which includes body language must be developed.
How can you tell if another person is joking or serious? When is it okay to join a conversation and when is the conversation private? Speech therapists helping children in elementary schools can teach children how to recognize subtle physical signals.
3. Asking and Answering Questions
Children with autism often don’t develop the ability to ask and answer questions independently. A speech therapist can teach your child how to recognize a question and provide appropriate answers. What’s more, she can also help autistic children formulate, ask, and understand the answers to their own questions.
4. Speech Pragmatics
It isn’t enough to know how to say, “good morning.” A child needs to know when, how, and to whom she should say it. Speech pragmatics also trains the older autistic child to understand idioms, what they are, and how to use them.
“Prosody” refers to the melodic sound of a person’s voice as it rises and falls in conversation. For many people with autism, their prosody is flat. This causes other people to believe they are unemotional. Speech therapists in elementary schools can help these children improve their prosody so that they both communicate better and are seen for who they really are.
6. Social skills
Perhaps the most well-known challenge for children with autism is their struggle to behave appropriately in different situations. Oftentimes they don’t clearly understand how they should behave in a manner that is socially acceptable. And closely related to this is their challenge with peer interactions.
Speech therapists teach these children strategies as to how to behave appropriately depending on the context, and peer-interaction skills so that these children can make friends.
Another dimension of the social skills arena where speech therapists are critical is in helping children with autism to build social communication skills. Such skills include standing at an appropriate distance from a conversational partner, knowing how to appropriately take their turn to talk, talking with people with whom they have varying intimacy levels, and assessing the “mood” of a room (or a person), and more.
In the area of social skills, the contributions of the speech therapist are varied and crucial. If a child learns how to navigate social situations, he stands a much better chance of living a successful life.
Every child with autism is an exceptional individual with unique abilities and skills. Oftentimes the communication-related deficits they exhibit mask their true abilities. Through the successful intervention of speech therapy in elementary schools many of these children can be helped to develop their true potential and live a satisfying and happy life.