Monday, April 15, 2019

Healthy Habits: Autism and Speech-Language Pathologists

 The Autism Awareness toolkit provides a look at how SLPs can work to help with proper assessment as well as aid in improving communications skills.

Please feel free to post the toolkit or any content you find helpful from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association

Additionally, here are a few stats on Autism, courtesy of Autism Speaks:

  • 1 in 59 children in the US are affected by Autism 
  • The average age of diagnosis is 4 years old, but low income, minority children are often diagnosed with autism significantly later, at 8 years old.
  • Indicators of Autism typically show in a child as early as 2 or 3
  • Autism is about 4 times more common in boys than girls

I had a chance to interview ASHA Fellow, Diane Paul, PhD, CCC-SLP to learn more.

What role can speech-language pathologists play in an autism assessment?
Speech-language pathologists can evaluate a child for—and diagnose a child with—autism, either on their own or as typically part of a team.

Why are SLPs an important part of working with children who have autism?
Speech-language pathologists provide invaluable treatment for children with autism. These professionals are experts in social communication. Social communication involves using verbal and nonverbal language to interact with others. Social communication problems are one of the two hallmarks of autism (the other being the presence of repetitive, restrictive behaviors such as spinning, flapping arms, and repeating words or sounds), so all children with autism have social communication difficulties. Speech-language pathologists can help children with 1) their communication skills (understanding others, expressing ideas, reading and writing); 2) social skills (sharing a common focus with another person, playing with others, understanding others’ feelings, and making and keeping friends); and 3) even eating problems, because speech-language pathologists also treat feeding and swallowing disorders, and many children with autism have issues related to their diet (e.g., food sensitivities). They also work with children who don’t talk at all or have limited verbal skills, including finding other ways to communicate (called augmentative and alternative communication)—which may involve technology devices, sign language, and other options (e.g., picture boards).

Why is early diagnosis important?
Early diagnosis is truly transformative and can alter the course of a child’s life. Autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 to 24 months, but it is routinely not diagnosed until age 4 or later. During the first three years of life, a child’s brain is still developing rapidly—and this is the time when you can actually do some re-wiring of a child’s brain. Even before a formal autism diagnosis, a speech-language pathologist can work with a child who is showing communication and social delays. Given that one of the first signs that parents often notice is a speech or language delay, a speech-language pathologist is often the first specialist to see and diagnose a child with autism.

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