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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity

Free Communication Resources for Autistic Children

Autistic kids sometimes have complex communication needs that require support. Some, especially those who are nonspeaking, need alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) all the time.

Sometimes autistics may only occasionally use AAC, and others only use it until speech comes; for some it is the main source of communication throughout life.

Many Autistics begin to speak at a later stage than their peers, requiring support with the development of speech and language– this is where speech and language pathologists come in! (SLPs, for short)

SLPs are professionals who specialise in methods of communication, the development of language, and ways to assist communication. The first thing a speech and language therapist should do is fully evaluate your child’s current speech and language abilities.

Your child might be automatically referred to speech therapy, or you may need to find one yourself. Unfortunately, especially in rural areas or in regions where autism awareness is behind, there may be little (or indeed no) access to SLP services.

If you do have access, the best speech pathologists are those who fully respect neurodiversity and do not use harmful tactics in their therapeutic approach (for example, approaches that treat neurological differences as if they are bad behavior). Check out my other article for a checklist to see what makes a good or bad therapist!

aba-maskings
Image Credit to Autistics and Allies Against ABA -Ireland

SLP v/s ABA

Many Autistic people are against ABA. Other articles on the Aspergian will explain to you thoroughly why we don’t endorse ABA as a therapy for autism, and we hope you will read more up on this (a reading list of some articles on ABA can be found at the end of the article). Some ABA therapists or BCBA’s might try and convince you that they can help with your child’s speech and language, but the reality is they are not trained to do so.

The following chart is reproduced with permission from the SLP Neurodiversity Collective compares the educational requirements of SLPs to BCBAs (the people who train and manage ABA therapists). As you can see, SLPs are trained in a wide array of medical issues; however, behavioral analysts are mainly trained in managing behaviors. This chart is typed from a graphic to make it more accessible for those using screen readers.

SLP Speech-Language Pathologist BCBA – Board Certified Behavior Analyst
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) have a foundation in preventing, diagnosing, and treating communication disorders and swallowing disorders Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) have a foundation in behavior analysis
Required Courses Required Courses
•Voice Disorders
•Stuttering
•Assessment and intervention of language impairments in preschool and school-age children
•Motor speech disorders
•Neurogenic communication disorders
•Dysphagia
•Experimental Analysis of Behavior: Special Topics
•Learning Principles
•Conceptual Issues in Behavior Analysis
•Behavioral Assessment
•Applied Behavior Analysis
•Behavioral Interventions I & II
•Research and Practicum in Applied Behavior Analysis
•Ethics and Professional Issues in Behavior Analysis
•Research Methods in Behavior Analysis
•Verbal Behavior
23 semester credit hours from the following: 6 semester credit hours from the following:
•Articulation Disorders
•Augmentative Communication
•Autism Spectrum Disorder
•Audiology
•Anatomy & Physiology of Speech & Hearing
•Childhood Apraxia of Speech
•Dysphagia in Public Schools
•Research in Pediatric TBI
•Medical SLP
•Dementia
•Pulmonary Issues
•Tracheotomy and Mechanical Ventilation
•Pediatric Feeding
•Articulation and Mechanical Ventilation
•Pediatric Feeding
•Articulation and Phonological Disorders
•Counseling in Communication Disorders
•Bilingual Speech Assessment and Treatment
•Speech Science
•Language Acquisition
•Neurogenic Communication Disorders I & II
•Neurological Basis of Language Development
•Laryngectomy
•Craniofacial Disorders
•Advanced Topics in Adult Dysphagia
•Pediatric Dysphagia
•Birth-to-Three
•Preschool Intervention
•Therapy Strategies for School-Age Children
•Seminar in Aphasiology
•Communication and the Aging Brain
•Neural Correlates of Human Cognition: Lesion-Deficient Models
•Auditory-Verbal Methods
•Social Communication in Early Childhood Disorders
•Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury
•Current Research in Autism
•Language Disorders and Reading Disabilities
•Human Growth and Development
•Psychopathology of Childhood
•Psychoactive Drugs
•Advanced Social Psychology
•Behavioral Medicine
•Biological Basic of Behavior
•Behavioral-cognitive Therapies
•Advanced Cognitive and Affective Psychology


Apologies for the length of the chart, but it truly demonstrates the differences in approaches as SLP is certainly a complex area. This is why many autistics would endorse the help of a speech therapist for your child; however, we also know for many reasons this may not always be possible.

Therefore, I will leave you with some more free resources that I hope will help your child! Alternative communication should not be avoided in the beginning stages of speaking.

Parents may worry that having access to AAC will cause their children to not feel the need or desire to speak. Remember, finding a communication method that works for your child that is of the utmost important, and verbal speech should not always be a priority.

Makaton

One method to encourage communication is Makaton, which is a simplified version of sign language. This isn’t for everyone, especially those with motor planning difficulties, but for many children, it is fantastic. Here is just one free resource, but there are many available that can be found through a YouTube search.  

Makaton Free Resources

Makaton will not stop your child’s speech development as you are speaking the words for them to hear while signing.

AAC

aac-colorful
Image credit to speakingofspeech.com
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can be a method to look into while speech is beginning to develop. It won’t hinder your child’s speech. Some people assume that for assisted communication you need specialised, insurancebased equipment, but sometimes it can simply be apps you can find on laptops, cell phones, or tablets. 
If you are on Facebook, a great resource is a group called Ask an AAC User.
You can also find many free resources on AAC.  This link is a good start. A good board-maker here will help your child optimise their ability to communicate effectively.
You may have heard of an option called Picture Exchange System (Commonly known as PECS); however, this method can be quite limiting as it uses reinforcement to make requests, which can limit communication. SCERTS recommends a system which works for all stages of learning.
Your child is taught three basic areas: to recognise the names of up to 20 different people that they see on a regular basis, the verb describing what they are doing, and then the noun. “Mum makes dinner,”  “Josh rides bike,” “Sarah wants apple.”  This can be a far more productive way of learning language.  
This is a great link of videos to help learn verbs: A google search of PECS will give you a great variety of free pictures and symbols you can use and print out. Although I don’t recommend the system, its always good to get the free stuff.  Remember to use the 3 parts above, person – verb – noun, for optimum effectiveness.
Some children can have issues, for a variety of reasons with moving muscles in their mouth. Here are some great exercises which will help with both the development of speech but also chewing skills, among other things.

Visual Schedules

A visual schedule uses pictures to chart out the steps or events that happen in a day. Many autistic people need to mentally prepare in advance for transitions and changes, so visual schedules can be essential to help child feel reassured of what is happening next in a world that is often confusing and stressful. 
Good schools will always endeavour to use them, and they can be very beneficial in the home, too. For more information on visual schedules and why they are helpful, click here.   

Language Comprehension

Some children can present with delays in language and comprehension. Here are some great activities to help! My friend’s website, FreeBirdSpeaks, has more information.

“Wh” Questions

As speech and language grow, many children need help with”wh” questions (what, where, who, why).  Home-speech-home offers a great to help them start developing questions-asking skills.  

Semantics

Integrated Treatment Services SLP has handy pictures to print out in semantic language development for explaining why words are related to us. For example, police, ambulance, and fire brigade would all be used as related when talking about emergency services and why they may be needed.

Extending and Expanding Language

Speech and language can be very basic when still learning. Its always good to extend and expand your child’s language when possible. Extending could be a child saying, “Go to zoo,” and your reply would be, “Yes, we are going to the zoo!” which helps them learn more language.  An example of expansion might be a child saying “eat cheese” and you might say “Yes, we are eating cheese and drinking milk.”

Grammar

Grammar is something everyone needs to learn which helps both speech and language and reading.  Here is a great free link from Speech And Language Kids with free grammar resources.  
A lot of NHS trusts (in the UK) have excellent free resources packs. You will find lots of great resources and activities in these, and all for free!

Narrative and Variety Packs

NARRATIVE ACTIVITY PACKS from Black Sheep Press ren’t free, but a great affordable resource. Another great free resource is “Free Language Stuff” 
Stuttering can be an issue for many kids, Autistic or not.  The good news is, there is so much help out there.  Stutterhelp.org has is a fantastic resource here for preschoolers.

Organizing Thoughts

For older children, text provider Holt, Rinehart, and Wilson has a great link full of printable organizers to help with your child in organising their thoughts and feelings and making plans for school, work, etc.
I would like to thank everyone who has helped me make this article, especially the Grow Salt and SLP Neurodiversity Collective pages on Facebook.

More Help 

Along with speech therapists,  please remember the best advisers to help your child are autistic people themselves, and well-informed parents can be an aid, too.  Please reach out and ask. A good starting place is the Aspergian Facebook support group, The Aspergian has an article for that, along with other autistic-led groups.
Finally, as mentioned before, one good alternative to ABA, is the SCERTS model, which I’m happy to promote here.
Try not to worry, your child will progress and find the right communication means, just like any other child.

For more information on ABA try the following articles:

Related Articles

7 Responses

  1. While your intent is to share information about communication strategies, accurate portrayals offers the best help to readers. Your comments about PECS being potentially “harmful” because reinforcement can limit communication do not correspond with abundant research. Two publications have shown that children can be taught to use PECS in a manner which encourages “Improvisation” or creative use of pictures- (Marckel, Neef & Ferreri, 2006; and Chaabane, Alber-Morgan & DeBar, 2009 with parents as teachers). A randomized control study involving very young children with ASD (2.5 yrs old) and using 10 or fewer spoken words showed 19 children who learned the PECS protocol averaged over 84 spoken words 6 months later and totaled over 120 words in 3 more months. It is not helpful to perpetuate the natural fear that people have when trying pictures as a communication modality but thankfully there are many unbiased sources available for parents and practitioners. I encourage your readers to visit http://www.pecs.com to find up-to-date information.

    1. Thank you for your response Andy Bondy. So much perpetuation of misinformation presented throughout this blog. So sad.

    2. The pictures aren’t the issue. The operant conditioning is.

      Operant conditioning has been debunked as an effective tool for teaching language in animal language research (and for good reason too – it can’t really teach genuine communication beyond requests, since requests are directly associated with obtaining a reward). PECS is behind the curve on that one. One does not need operant conditioning to use pictures as a communication modality.

      And yes, rewarding people for saying things associated with feelings IS harmful, since it teaches people to fake certain feelings for the reward and not to express genuine feelings. Especially when the things being rewarded are things like “I love you”. Or other positive sentiments they may not be feeling at the time.

      1. I can only imagine, L, what the reaction would be if I tried to compare teaching children to communicate with attempts to teach animals… When people study the motion of objects relative to each other they invariably discover gravity and then describe rules associated with those observations, including factors such as mass, distance, etc. When people study the relationship between behavior and consequences they invariably discover reinforcement and then describe rules associated with those observations, including factors such a timing, patterns, etc. One can chose to not believe in gravity but when one jumps off a building, gravity won’t care- it will influence what happens next. And one can chose to not believe in reinforcement but the laws of behavior won’t care either and still influence what happens next. We can discuss how to improve the application of these laws- including ethical issues- without denying they are part of reality. And of course one needs to use reinforcement to teach children how to “express their emotions”- and the modality has nothing to do with this lesson.

        1. Te reaction to compare teaching kids to teaching animals would be, and is, entirely impassive – enthusiastic, even. In my experience, ABA supporters do that all the time. They have in my animal behavior and cognition program. And twice I heard lectures from a person who champions TAGteach, which is literal clicker training for autistic kids. And let me tell you, the reception for that is WILDLY enthusiastic in these circles. Complete with accusations of denying that humans are animals if you say that this is a bad idea.

          And as for the “laws of reinforcement”? There is a world of difference between the natural outcomes of things we do nothing to enact, and literal carrot/stick control methods implemented by us. Neither are those laws entirely neutral – there can be devastating consequences you didn’t intend. And good things that come from within as well as without. Not to mention that the aspects of operant conditioning on’t need to be used more than they are in typical things – ABA, in all its forms, dials this up to 11, and that’s where the problems lie (and the debunking of operant conditioning used in animal language is operant conditioning in this context – not to mention that when they used intrinsic motivation, the only thing where operant conditioning can work on language, they didn’t deny the animals water and make them request their every food scrap, either).

          And there is another law which behaviorists ignore because it has nothing to do with operant conditioning – the law of learning information based on what was given. As in, kids hearing a series of words and demands, with none of the adult context, will take the things exactly as they heard them, no matter what YOU understood the directive to be. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov even addressed this law, in a short story called “Runaround”, which featured a robot who was given orders and had none of the context of a human to know how to follow , and so the robot ended up running around in circles nonstop as a result of a conflict between equally important directives.

          And while humans might have a better understanding of particular orders, note that many simple things adults understand (including how and when to know when to follow orders and take a break) can consist of hundreds, even thousands of multiple shades of imperatives and qualifiers, none of which a young child has – and given the sheer number of these, it is prohibitively complex to teach these nuances to children via operant conditioning alone. And language, containing as many words and sentences and shades of meaning as it has, is one of those things – and so you get kids who don’t really understand how to say things or will say things to mean “stop this” or “give me a reward” that have nothing to do with that meaning. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of consequences experienced when lessons that require nuance are spoon-fed to kids sans context.

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