Autism is a life-long condition that affects the way that people interact with others around them. The main characteristics of Autism are difficulties with communication and social skills, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities (DSM 5). The condition is considered a spectrum so the severity of difficulties can range from mild to severe and children can all present very differently. Further information regarding Autism, signs, symptoms and the process for a diagnostic assessment can be found at the Australian Governments Raising Children Network.
One of the main areas of difficulties for children with Autism is with communication, which includes social interaction. As experts in communication, a speech pathologist is well-placed to assist children with social skills and development of communication. Well-researched early intervention for children with Autism has been shown to improve children’s functioning.
There are a lot of treatments and “cures” out there for Autism, and most parents are willing to try anything to assist their children. Speech Pathologists are ethically bound to provide evidence-based treatments and can assist parents in sifting through the pseudo-science and selecting treatments that have been proven to work.
Assessment for all very young children are play-based, with the assessment looking at a range of skills including receptive language (comprehension), expressive language (verbal and non-verbal), social interaction, and pretend play. The assessment session also includes discussions with parents around the child’s early history, behavioural challenges, and interests and dislikes, as well as discussion at the end of the assessment around therapy goals and an intervention plan.
All speech therapy sessions are tailored to the individual needs of the child based on their assessment results. Therapy sessions are often play-based and take into account the child’s interests and behaviour. Goals often focus on increasing a child’s ability to meet basic social functions such as asking for things that they want, joint attention, and commenting about things that interest them. Speech therapy sessions can also help parents understand their child’s behaviour and solve behavioural challenges.