Autism & Speech therapy

By Stefanaki Evgenia, SLP, OM, Prompt Bridging Trained

All children with autism struggle with communication to some extent.  It’s a part of the very diagnosis of the disorder.  But what exactly do we do in speech therapy for children with autism?  I’m here to help!  Keep reading to find out more information about autism and what speech-language pathologists can do to help.

What is Autism?

Autism, also called Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a diagnosis that describes a group of children a common cluster of symptoms, though the degree of severity for each of those symptoms varies widely from child to child.  These symptoms include problems with social interactions and social communication.  They also often include repetitive behaviors and sensory concerns.  Other symptoms can be associated with autism but the social and communication impacts are the primary feature.

What Causes Autism?

Here is an explanation of the currently known causes of autism according to Autism Speaks:

“First and foremost, we now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A small number of these are sufficient to cause autism by themselves. Most cases of autism, however, appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development.”

Source: Autismspeaks organisation

Warning Signs of Autism

According to Autism Speaks, you should ask your child’s doctor about autism if you are concerned about any of these issues:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

The Speech Therapist's Role

To begin this section, let me first point out that a child is not defined by his diagnosis.  If a parent walked into my office  and said “my child has autism”, I would not automatically know what therapy to do or what problems to address.  Each child with autism is different and needs to be treated that way.  Although there are some therapies that have been found to be more or less effective for children with autism as a whole, each child’s specific needs will be different.  A licensed speech-language pathologist should be consulted to determine which types of therapies are best for each individual child and which speech and language problems should be addressed first.

In short, treat the child, not the disorder.

However, that being said, there are many speech and language problems that are common among children with autism.

Communication & Social skills:

  • Limited speech
  • Hard to express basic wants
  • Repeating speech (also known as echolalia)
  • Not responding in a conversation or not answering questions
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Different sounding speech (high pitched, different to the children around them.)
  • Reduced eye contact
  • Ignoring or avoiding others
  • Poor play skills or prefers playing alone
  • Not sharing
  • Expressing certain emotions at the wrong time/ difficulty expressing emotions
  • Dislike being touched

The Speech & Language therapist (SLP) plays an important role in your child’s treatment. She/he will work with your child on social skills and communication. These are the areas where your child will have the most trouble.

Your child might work with the SLP alone or in small groups. Small groups allow your child to practice skills with other children. At our centre we have small groups  for all the different cases.

The Speech & Language therapist will help your child understand and talk. The SLP will work with your child on social skills and behavior. They also work with children who do not talk at all.


Evgenia Stefanaki, SLP, OM, has the private practice "All for Speech Center" and is a nationally certified and licensed Speech & Language Pathologist. She is also PROMPT© trained and holds specialization in orofacial myofunctional therapy. She writes on the blog about speech & language disorders and orofacial disorders.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us!

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