Speech therapy helps people who struggle with their speech and with language. Children with autism benefit greatly from speech therapy because it helps improve their communication and interaction skills.
Understanding what speech therapy is and the skills taught during these sessions can help parents find the right therapy services for children with autism.
What is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy is part of the healthcare treatment options that help people develop their language skills. It also teaches children how to pronounce words and to speak clearly and fluently.
If your child is diagnosed with autism, speech therapy can help them overcome communication challenges. It can also help them improve their verbal and non-verbal communication and social skills.
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) will assess your child’s communication barriers and strengths. Once the SLP has compiled their assessment, they will create goals for your child to achieve during therapy.
These goals include learning several skills that help improve speech, body language, and appropriate facial expressions.
Skills Taught During Speech Therapy
Depending on the goals an SLP sets for your child, they may learn the following skills during speech therapy:
- Distinguishing between sounds and syllables.
- Strengthening exercises for the mouth, jaw, and neck to help with pronunciation and vocalization.
- Vocal exercises to make clear sounds when speaking and improve speech fluency.
- Matching different emotions with the corresponding facial expressions.
- Sign language and the use of communication cards to improve non-verbal communication.
- Picture card training, including matching pictures with their respective meanings.
- Responding to questions and understanding body language.
- Using speech applications to produce the correct words.
- Using the right tone of voice for different situations.
Sign language, picture cards, and speech apps are known as Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) methods. You may notice that your child prefers these methods over speaking during speech therapy sessions.
Alternative Augmentative Communication
While receiving speech therapy, your child may struggle to use or understand spoken language. AAC is an alternative communication system, and when implemented early, your child may be more likely to use it to communicate.
AAC communication is about matching actions, tasks, and objects with corresponding pictures or hand signals.
The system consists of aided and unaided methods. The unaided method does not require equipment and only uses hand signs and gestures for communication.
The aided method uses picture books and cards that help children understand what others are saying. It also helps them ask for items they need or answer questions.
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is the best approach for children with autism who have little to no communication abilities. The PECS system works in six phases to encompass an entire teaching course for your child:
Phase 1: Communication
Your child can learn which picture to use when they want an item or when they want to participate in an activity.
Phase 2: Distance and Persistence
This phase can teach your child to be persistent in their picture-card communication. It can also help them choose specific pictures to communicate with people in another location.
Phase 3: Picture Discrimination
Once your child is comfortable using pictures for communication, they can learn to select images that depict their favorite things. They will be using these pictures the most.
Phase 4: Sentences
Moving on from a picture-only system, your child can learn how to construct sentences to convey what they want, combined with a picture of the item they are asking for.
Phase 5: Questions
After learning how to build sentences, your child can learn how to answer questions using the PECS system.
Phase 6: Comments
Finally, the last phase can teach your child to comment on questions. For instance, if you ask your child what they are listening to, they can respond appropriately.
Aided AAC systems also incorporate technology like speech-generating apps, which help children develop their language and communication skills. Speech-generating devices, like the ones from Dynavox, are helpful for anyone with language and cognitive or physical impairments.
AAC, including all its components, is one of the best strategies for supporting adults and children with autism and improving their social skills.
Speech Therapy and Social Skills
Social skills are the connection between creating meaningful conversations. They teach children to take turns talking and stay on topic. Children with autism have difficulty adhering to social skills and need help learning these skills to build relationships with their peers and family.
If your child struggles to grasp social skills, an SLP can help them develop expressive language skills through speech therapy. The SLP may do this with the use of AAC methods.
Speech therapy to improve social skills also includes learning to interpret language and understand the communication of others. If your child is in preschool, they may learn nonverbal cues like a high five or a thumbs-up to help them in everyday social situations.
It may be comforting for your child to receive speech therapy lessons in different settings, such as in a group or as part of a community skills lesson.
Where are Speech Therapy Services Provided?
Speech therapy can take place anywhere your child prefers. Locations may include the SLP’s office or a nearby clinic.
Several schools offer programs that include speech therapy. If the school provides an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and your child wants to learn inside their classroom, the SLP can accommodate them.
Another option for speech therapy is an Early Intervention program, which offers home-based lessons for children younger than three.
Should you choose speech therapy for your child, you may need to have your doctor state that it is medically necessary to ensure your health insurance covers the cost.
Does Insurance Cover Speech Therapy?
While your health insurance plan may cover the initial SLP evaluation, there is no guarantee it will cover the cost of speech therapy sessions.
Before you start looking for an SLP, you should contact your insurance company to establish what the limits on your policy are. You may also want to check whether your insurance plan covers local and out-of-state speech therapists.
Once the evaluation is complete, you can ask the SLP to write a report with their assessment. The SLP will send the document to the insurance company as motivation for the speech therapy.
When deciding on whether to pay for speech therapy, your insurance company will consider the following aspects of the report:
- Test scores
The assessment would have to show a clear need for speech therapy, which means their scores must be low.
- The number of sessions
The insurance company will evaluate the recommended number of therapy sessions to determine how many it will cover.
- Consequences of not getting speech therapy
If the SLP notes on the report that your child may suffer harm due to not receiving speech therapy, this will weigh in on the insurance company’s decision.
If the insurance company decides not to pay, you may want to look into speech therapy services offered at your child’s school. IEP speech therapy services are usually available at no extra cost. Alternatively, you could consider using your health savings account if you have one.
It is essential to have all insurance questions answered before you contact a speech therapist.
What Questions Should I Ask?
When you have decided on an SLP, you may want to ask them the following questions to determine whether they will be a good fit for your child and your family:
- How many people will be working directly with my child?
- Can I be present during my child’s initial evaluation and therapy sessions?
- What does the initial assessment entail?
- How many years have you been working with children with autism?
- How many services will you provide as part of speech therapy?
- Can you start immediately, or will my child be on a waiting list?
- How many hours of speech therapy will my child need, and how long is each session?
- How many other current clients do you have, and will your caseload interfere with my child’s therapy?
- What does a speech therapy program look like?
- How will you determine goals for my child, and how can I help them practice their speech therapy exercises at home?
- Will the sessions be done at my home or your offices?
- When should I expect a progress report, and can I give my input?
The concept of speech therapy may be overwhelming at first. You may want to take a few days to think it over and come to terms with the unavoidable impact on your family.
However, the benefits of speech therapy for children with autism are immeasurable. Your child can learn how to express their wants and needs. They may be able to understand your verbal and nonverbal requests.
Speech therapy can even help your child form friendships with peers and communicate with them in a way that is easy and comfortable.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.