Every child is unique, and not all children with autism will display the same symptoms. However, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often affects a child’s speech and language development. Some children may never speak, while others may communicate differently. Echolalia is common, which refers to the parroting of words and phrases in inappropriate contexts. For example, your child might repeat a catchphrase from a commercial when he has no apparent reason to do so.
Autistic children frequently have trouble applying language skills, as well. That is, they have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, body language, and nuances of conversation (i.e. sarcasm and idioms). You might notice that your child speaks at an atypical rate, has trouble taking turns in a conversation, or fails to make eye contact. A speech-language pathologist (SLP), or speech therapist, can help your child with all of these issues.
How Can a Speech Therapist Help?
If your child is nonverbal, he can still learn to communicate effectively in other ways. A speech therapist can teach your child to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. An AAC device is any tool that facilitates nonverbal communication. It can be tangible, like flashcards or an electronic reader device, or intangible, like sign language. The SLP can help you figure out the best method of communication for your child. Using AAC devices can greatly reduce your child’s frustration.
How to Find a Speech Therapist
Private speech therapists work in hospitals, clinics, and private practices. Compile a list of local SLPs. You will also need to find out what your insurance will and will not cover. Private SLPs can be quite expensive. Consider looking into college clinics, as well.
Ideally, look for a speech therapist with extensive experience working with autistic children. Network with other parents of autistic children and ask for recommendations. Shop around. Talk to several speech therapists before choosing one. Ask about their education, credentials, and experience. Introduce your child to each SLP and observe how they interact. Your child should feel comfortable working with his SLP.