Speech Therapy for Non-Verbal Autism
With targeted Speech Therapy for Non-Verbal Autism, children, teens and adults alike can develop meaningful communication skills that support their quality of life.
In some cases, those with Non-Verbal Autism may even develop the ability to communicate verbally with the support of a Speech Therapy program.
At SpeechEase, we work with many clients who have Non-Verbal Autism and their families. We’ve seen first-hand the transformation that can take place when someone with Non-Verbal Autism is able to develop effective communication skills to support them in their day-to-day life.
Keep reading to learn more about what Speech Therapy for Non-Verbal Autism looks like here in Australia.
How Speech Therapy for Non-Verbal Autism Works
Your first Speech Therapy session with a Speech Pathologist will focus on getting to know you and conducting various assessments to determine the best therapy approach. It’s important to note here that just as we are all individuals, those with Non-Verbal Autism all have different strengths and potential underlying factors contributing to the absence of verbal communication. For example, some children with Non-Verbal Autism may have Childhood Apraxia of Speech. Children with AOS have difficulty coordinating the use of their tongue, lips, mouth, and jaw to produce clear and consistent speech sounds.
It’s important we mention that Non-Verbal Autism can also be referred to as Non-Speaking / nonspeaking Autism, and nonverbal Autism. When using any of these terms we are referring to an individual who isn’t using their articulators to produce speech sounds decodable by their communities. This does not mean that there is an absence of language or intent for individuals with this Autism diagnosis.
If the client has seen a Speech Pathologist before and has been taught a form of AAC like Key Word Sign or PODD, the clinician will assess the individual’s ability to use that AAC method during the first Speech Therapy session.
Once a Speech Therapy plan has been put in place, it’s likely that the individual with Non-Verbal Autism will focus on developing skills in the following areas during therapy:
Speech Therapy Focus Areas for Non-Verbal Autism
Developing foundational communication skills
In Speech Therapy for Non-Verbal Autism, a starting point (especially for young children) is to develop the skills required to communicate with others. This includes skills like joint attention, engagement, listening, turn taking, imitation, anticipation, cause and effect, and object permanence.
Understanding and receptive language
To successfully have a conversation with another person, one must first be able to understand. This is where receptive language skills come in! Receptive language is the “input” of language, the ability to understand and comprehend spoken language that you hear or read. In Speech Therapy for Non-Verbal Autism, you may focus on things like understanding verbs and location words, following both simple and complex instructions, and comprehending the names of objects.
Learning/Using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
Depending on the individual’s history with Speech Therapy, they may already have access to a form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). If they don’t, one of the first areas of focus for someone with Non-Verbal Autism in Speech Therapy will be to select an appropriate AAC method and learn to use it.
AAC is a big category of communication methods! Here are a few that are commonly used by those with Non-Verbal Autism:
- Key Word Sign / Sign Language
- Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
- Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD) Book or Digital Form
- LAMP Words for Life (Speech Generating Application)
- Speech Generating Device
- iPad or Tablet App (Usually PODD/Proloquo2go)
Expressing wants and needs
One of the fundamental reasons we communicate is to express our wants and needs to others, especially to our caregivers. For those with Non-Verbal Autism, focusing on building the skills required to successfully express wants and needs is an important part of Speech Therapy.
With the use of their chosen AAC method, many Speech Therapy sessions may focus on helping the individual to practice requesting objects, commenting on what they see, expressing feelings, making choices, and answering questions.
As you can imagine, the ability to do all of these things are crucial forms of communication that we all use on a day-to-day basis.
Developing play skills
This area is of particular importance for children with Non-Verbal Autism. Developing play skills (while fun for all involved!) are also incredibly important for both cognitive and social development. Play skills include everything from imaginative play skills, early play skills, and functional play skills. This area of focus is great for supporting engagement and interaction between child and parent and can support the child’s ability to develop friendships.
Speech clarity and sound production
Finally, one of the most fascinating areas of Speech Therapy for Non-Verbal Autism focuses on verbal speech production. For some, this may start with oral motor activities that strengthen the individual’s muscles around the jaw and mouth and improve placement of the tongue and mouth to elicit speech sounds. This oral motor activity ensures that they are building the form and function they need to produce different sounds verbally.
If there are already some sounds being produced, the focus may shift to improving speech clarity by reducing errors in speech sounds or phonological processes.
Now that you’ve made your way to the end of our article, we hope you’ve learned something useful to help you as you support your child or loved one with Non-Verbal Autism.
If you’re interested in booking an initial Speech Therapy session, and are based in Queensland, our friendly team at SpeechEase Speech Therapy would love to help you. Please get in touch with our team today to discuss your options.
We have Speech Pathology clinics in Townsville, Mackay, and Brisbane – we hope to see you soon! For more information on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) head on over to our ‘What is Non-Verbal Autism’ page now.
*Please note this information is general in nature.