As we continue to focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as part of Autism Awareness Month, let’s take a look at what role speech pathologists have in working with children with ASD.

In our previous blog, we talked about some of the main signs we see in young children with ASD, which includes difficulties with social skills and communication. Because of this, speech pathologists (SPs) often play a key role in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of children with ASD.

Role of Speech Pathologists in Working with Children with ASD

Here are some examples of how the roles our team members play in this process:

  • Screening children with communication difficulties to determine the need for further assessment
  • Conducting assessment of language and social communication skills
  • Developing a treatment plan with goals focusing on social communication and language skills
  • Providing training in the use of communication devices to children with ASD, their families and educators
  • Educating parents and educators to help them support children with ASD outside of the speech therapy room
  • Advocating for children with ASD and their families including in accessing the NDIS

Do Speech Pathologists have a role in assessment and diagnosis of ASD?

The short answer is yes! Although assessing a child to determine the presence of ASD also involves collaboration among an interdisciplinary team and a child’s family. This team can include SPs, paediatricians, clinical psychologists, and occupational therapists.

As part of an assessment for children suspected of having ASD, an SP might include the following:

  • Obtaining relevant case history
  • Conducting formal and informal assessments, including
    • Assessment of spoken and written language skills
    • Assessment of social skills, such as joint attention, conversation skills, play behaviours, etc.
    • Speech sound assessment
    • Augmentative and Alternative Communication assessment, as needed

If an SP is assessing a child for communication difficulties who has not previously been suspected of having ASD, the SLP can refer on to other professionals for any areas that require further screening or assessment.

SP’s role in Treatment of Children with ASD

When working with children with ASD, the goal is to improve social communication and other language skills so that the child with ASD is able to actively participate in everyday life, which includes developing relationships and functioning with confidence in social settings.

While a SP can work with a child with ASD on many goals, an SP might target the following goals, based on the child’s needs:

  • Improving conversation skills to develop friendships and interact with peers
  • Developing the child’s ability to express wants and needs
  • Helping the child to understand what is being said to them
  • Improving articulation of speech sounds
  • Understanding nonverbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, tone of voice
  • Using alternative communication methods, such as picture boards or communication devices, as needed
  • Learning to communicate in a way that others will understand.

When working with a child with ASD, an SP will work with the family to create a partnership so that the family is fully involved in helping their child be successful. By helping the family to support their child at home, the SP is able to ensure that the child is given opportunities to use skills practised in speech therapy while going about their daily life.