Almost anyone diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder will be recommended for speech therapy. This may seem odd, as many autistic people are either non-verbal (at the lower end of the spectrum) or extremely verbal (at the upper end of the spectrum). But even very verbal people with Asperger Syndrome are likely to misuse and misunderstand language on a regular basis. And even non-verbal people can certainly develop communication skills - and may even develop spoken language skills over time.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A SPEECH THERAPIST?
Speech therapy involves the treatment of speech and communication disorders - which means it's a very wide-ranging field.. That person may work in a private setting, a clinic, a school or an institution, and may well work as part of an educational team. They use a wide range of tools and interventions, ranging from toys and play-like therapy to formal tests and speech curricula.
What Does a Speech Therapist Do for People with Autism?
Speech therapy involves much more than than simply teaching a child to correctly pronounce words. In fact, a speech therapist working with an autistic child or adult may work on a wide range of skills including:
Non-verbal communication. This may include teaching gestural communication, or training with PECS, electronic talking devices, and other non-verbal communication tools.
Speech pragmatics. It's all well and good to know how to say "good morning." But it's just as important to know when, how and to whom you should say it.
Conversation skills. Knowing how to make statements is not the same thing as carrying on conversations. Speech therapists may work on back-and-forth exchange, sometimes known as "joint attention."
Concept skills. A person's ability to state abstract concepts doesn't always reflect their ability to understand them. Autistic people often have a tough time with ideas like "few," "justice," and "liberty." Speech therapists may work on building concept skills.
The good news is that there is no window of opportunity for improvement that will slam shut when your child reaches nursery age. That means that early intervention can lead smoothly into a school-age program -- and your child will continue to grow, develop, and gain new skills.
So why the push for earlier and earlier intervention? The purpose behind early intervention, explains Terri Duncan, a speech language pathologist at Children's Autism Services of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, is to help your child establish a solid, functional communication system as early as possible. Children with autism may use speech to communicate, or they may use picture cards PECS, signs MAKATON, or assistive technology. The key is NOT that your child learn to talk per se, but that back-and-forth communication is possible.
Communication, of course, is the key to learning -- and a great deal of research has established that very young children are best able to learn communication skills. But functional communication does more than simply establish a pathway through which your child can learn. It also provides your child with a way to let others know what she needs. Once a child has the tools to manage his world -- even in the simplest way -- frustration levels drop, negative behaviors lessen and new opportunities arise to connect, engage and grow.
PICTURE EXCHANGE COMMUNICATION SYSTEM (PECS)
PECS begins with teaching a child to exchange a picture of a desired item with an adult, who immediately honours the request. For example, if they want a drink, they will give a picture of 'drink' to an adult who directly hands them a drink. The system goes on to teach discrimination of symbols and how to construct simple "sentences." Ideas for teaching commenting and other language structures such as asking and answering questions are also incorporated. It has been reported that both pre-school and older students have begun to develop speech when using PECS. The system has been successful with adolescents and adults who have a wide array of communicative, cognitive and physical difficulties.
Teaches students to initiate communication right from the start by exchanging a single picture for a highly desired item
Teaches students to be persistent communicators- to actively seek out their pictures and to travel to someone to make a request
Teaches students to discriminate pictures and to select the picture that represents the item they want
Teaches students to use sentence structure to make a request in the form of “I want ____.”
Teaches students to respond to the question “What do you want?”
Teaches students to comment about things in their environment both spontaneously and in response to a question
Picture-based communication is very nearly free. All you need is a magazine full of pictures, a pair of scissors, a looseleaf notebook and some velcro. PECS, on the other hand, can be quite pricey: several hundred dollars for the initial training, hundreds more for ongoing consultations, and so forth. Is it worth it?
According to Pyramid Products, the difference between the PECS approach and simple picture-based communication is considerable. Most importantly, the difference lies in providing the learner with the tools to communicate spontaneously and independently. In addition to simply making communication smoother, the process can also:
~ Decrease negative behaviors that were caused by frustrations;
~ Increase availability for learning and interaction;
~ Increase relatedness and emotional closeness;
Build spoken language skills (this is not a direct outcome of PECS, but seems to occur as PECS skills increase).
Makaton is a very simple language based on a list of simple everyday words, which uses speech, gesture, facial expression, eye contact, body language, signs, symbols and words to aid communication.
For example if you wanted to ask a child if you would like a drink - you would sign the word drink, asking the question at the same time, raising you eye brows in a questioning look,- or alternatively you could show a simple picture (a symbol of a drink) and ask the question. If you had a child who couldn't express what he/she would like to do, perhaps they could choose a symbol to show what they wanted, from a limited choice. These same symbols could be displayed around the setting - to reinforce their meaning.
The easiest way to learn is at a Makaton Workshop, as with all Sign Language the only way to really learn it is through being taught first hand, and by being demonstrated and then reinforcing your knowledge with regular use.
Victor Quigley is the registered Makaton Trainer for the Derry area and details to add your name to the central waiting list for the next training sessions are at the bottom of the Makaton links section.
To add your name to the Central Waiting List to learn
Makaton stages 1-4 contact -
Joanne Feeney / 028 71864345
Speech & Language Therapy
There are also products available from The Makaton Charity webshop such as pocket books and learning tools.
For more information about Makaton, click on our link for The Makaton Charity.
This website is owned, designed, updated and maintained by Carrie Coyle.
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