One of the most common characteristics of a child on the autism spectrum is difficulty communicating. Therefore, a speech language pathologist is a necessary and vital part of the evaluation and treatment team for many families living with Autism. The speech pathology department at Empower is comprised of speech pathologists who are dedicated to providing evidence-based services for children with communication disabilities. Each nationally-certified and state-licensed speech-language pathologist provides evaluations and interventions for receptive and expressive language, as well as pragmatic language/social skills, play skills, articulation, fluency, voice, oral motor skills and eating/feeding skills deficits. Speech therapy sessions are conducted in a one-on-one setting, in the classroom, or in collaboration with other Empower staff such as occupational therapists, behavior analysts, and social workers.
Speech Therapy Treatment Plans
Because no two children with Autism are the same, no two treatment plans for speech therapy are the same. The Empower speech pathology department uses a variety of techniques to help children on the spectrum develop communication to their fullest potential. Each plan of treatment for every child will follow a developmentally-appropriate sequence so that children are being properly challenged without becoming frustrated.
Some children with Autism do not talk (non-verbal), others are able to use gestures or point (early communicators), while some repeat everything they hear (echoing), and others still are able to speak quite clearly but have difficulty with the social aspect of communication. A speech pathologist addresses all of these by utilizing a structured plan and principles of applied behavioral analysis.
Non-verbal and Verbal Communication
Empower’s speech pathology and speech therapy programs have years of experience with individuals who are non-verbal communicators. When a child is non-verbal, it is critical that they quickly learn a way to make their wants and needs known. By receiving speech therapy from a speech-language pathologist, the child will be taught an alternative form of communication. This communication may take the form of sign language, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) or a communication device. Through the use of this alternate form of communication, the child is able to focus on specific vocabulary, that can be used in many situations (go, want, play, me) and are important to the child and family, (cookie, ball, DVD, pet’s name) to express themselves. As the child learns to communicate, their frustration and any unwanted behaviors may decrease.
If children are able to gesture or point to communicate, the speech pathologist will build on those skills and trial different techniques to determine if the child is ready to work on verbal skills or alternate forms of communication. As with all children that receive speech pathology services, the goal is effective and functional communication – no matter the form.
In instances where a child repeats everything they hear or copies lines and scenes from a movie, the speech pathologist will use that behavior to shape what the child is saying into a meaningful statement. The best way to do this is through play. It is important to remember that play is a child’s work and children on the autism spectrum have a difficult time learning to play. The skill of playing goes hand-in-hand with communicating and is a great way to help children develop in all aspects of their development.
In addition to focusing on communication, a speech pathologist provides treatment for children whose speech may be difficult to understand. Additionally, the Empower’s speech therapy program will treat children with voice disorders (to loud, too soft, monotone), fluency disorders (stuttering) and feeding disorders – especially when parts of the mouth, teeth, tongue, and/or jaw are not moving correctly.
Our AAC Clinic serves individuals (children and adults) that need alternative methods of communication, otherwise known as AAC. For example: body language (i.e., posture, facial expressions, gestures), written communication, American Sign Language (ASL), Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)™, Go Talk™, Speech-generating devices, etc. After a speech-language evaluation, our Speech-Language Pathologist will determine which of these methods of AAC best fits the individual.
Another area of difficulty that is effectively addressed through speech therapy is social skills. Many children on the autism spectrum have excellent verbal skills but lack the knowledge of how to use those skills to make friends, voice frustration appropriately, or discuss topics other than those that are their favorites. In both one-on-one and group settings, the speech language pathologist can evaluate and develop the necessary skills in a child with social skills deficits.
The team of speech-language pathologists at Empower will work with each family to prioritize goals, explain needs, and incorporate activities for use at home in order for each child to be the most competent and successful communicator they can be.
Our Promise to You
The Speech-Language Pathology Team at Empower understand the needs of families living with autism and developmental disorders. Our promise to you as a partner in your child’s treatment is that we will ensure the standards of our profession and the expectations of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA, 2016) are upheld by:
- Providing information to individuals and groups known to be at risk for ASD, to their family members, and to individuals working with those at risk
- Educating other professionals on the needs of persons with ASD and the role of SLPs in diagnosing and managing ASD
- Screening individuals who present with language and communication difficulties and determining the need for further assessment and/or referral for other services
- Conducting a culturally and linguistically relevant comprehensive assessment of language and communication, including social communication skills
- Assessing the need for and requirements for using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices as a mode of communication
- Diagnosing the presence or absence of ASD (typically as part of a diagnostic team or in other multidisciplinary collaborations)
- Referring to other professionals to rule out other conditions, determine etiology, and facilitate access to comprehensive services
- Making decisions about the management of ASD
- Participating as a member of the planning team (e.g., whose members may include teachers, special educators, counselors, psychologists) to determine appropriate educational services
- Developing treatment plans for speech and language services, including social language goals and goals for literacy development and for assisting the student with self-regulatory and social interactive functions to allow him/her to participate in the mainstream curriculum to as great an extent as possible
- Providing treatment, documenting progress, and determining appropriate dismissal criteria
- Providing training in the use of AAC devices families, and caregivers, and educators
- Counseling individuals with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities and their families regarding communication-related issues and providing education aimed at preventing further complications related to ASD
- Consulting and collaborating with other professionals, family members, caregivers, and others to facilitate program development and to provide supervision, evaluation, and/or expert testimony, as appropriate
- Partnering with families in assessment and intervention with individuals with ASD
- Remaining informed of research in the area of ASD and helping advance the knowledge base related to the nature and treatment of ASD
- Advocating for individuals with ASD and their families at the local, state, and national levels
- Serving as an integral member of an interdisciplinary team working with individuals with ASD and their families/caregivers and, when appropriate, considering transition planning
- Providing quality control and risk management