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!
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|
•Assessment and intervention of language impairments in preschool and school-age children
•Motor speech disorders
•Neurogenic communication disorders
|•Experimental Analysis of Behavior: Special Topics
•Conceptual Issues in Behavior Analysis
•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
|23 semester credit hours from the following:||6 semester credit hours from the following:|
•Autism Spectrum Disorder
•Anatomy & Physiology of Speech & Hearing
•Childhood Apraxia of Speech
•Dysphagia in Public Schools
•Research in Pediatric TBI
•Tracheotomy and Mechanical Ventilation
•Articulation and Mechanical Ventilation
•Articulation and Phonological Disorders
•Counseling in Communication Disorders
•Bilingual Speech Assessment and Treatment
•Neurogenic Communication Disorders I & II
•Neurological Basis of Language Development
•Advanced Topics in Adult Dysphagia
•Therapy Strategies for School-Age Children
•Seminar in Aphasiology
•Communication and the Aging Brain
•Neural Correlates of Human Cognition: Lesion-Deficient Models
•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
•Advanced Social Psychology
•Biological Basic of Behavior
•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.
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 will not stop your child’s speech development as you are speaking the words for them to hear while signing.
Extending and Expanding Language
Narrative and Variety Packs
Organizing ThoughtsFor 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.
For more information on ABA try the following articles:
- Free Communication Resources for Autistic Children — February 1, 2020
- How to Spot a Good– or Bad– Therapist for Your Autistic Child — August 31, 2019
- Angry, Mean Autistics Invading Autism Groups, Upsetting Parents — July 3, 2019