In the wake of a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that states the incidence of autism has risen dramatically, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can play a critical role helping children with autism who have language and social communication difficulties.
"Given that early intervention is critical, it is important that parents are aware of the help that is available from our professionals," according to Shelly S. Chabon, PhD, CCC-SLP, President of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
One in 88 children in the United States has autism, according to the CDC—nearly a 78% increase in prevalence since 2002.
Because delayed language and limited social interaction often are the first symptoms of autism, SLPs play a key role in evaluating and diagnosing children who have the condition, and they should be involved in the evaluation process from the start. SLPs use tests and observational tools to determine communication and social skills and needs. They also rely on information from parents and caregivers.
Ultimately, SLPs develop intervention plans that meet the needs of children and families. Typically, those plans include activities designed to improve language and social communication. Additionally, they may call for the use of augmentative and alternative communication systems. Also, for children with limited speech, SLPs can develop individualized communication systems and strategies that use hand signals, picture/symbol recognition, and/or electronic devices.
Through intervention plans like these, SLP services help children develop and improve:
- Early communication skills, such as recognition of sounds, words, and gestures
- Comprehension, speech, and reading and writing skills
- Basic conversation skills such as turn-taking and staying on topic
- Nonverbal communication such as gestures and facial expressions
Research gathered from ASHA's National Outcomes Measurement System (NOMS) indicates that SLPs' early treatment of autism is likely to increase a child's chances for improved communication and, therefore, a higher quality of life.
"Early treatment truly is important," ASHA President Chabon says. "Our NOMS research shows that two-thirds of preschoolers with communication disorders associated with autism showed gains in their language skills, including comprehension and social communication, following speech-language pathology intervention."
For free information on autism, visit the ASHA website or call 800-638-TALK (8255). To find a certified SLP in your local area, visit ASHA's ProSearch.
About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for more than 150,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems including swallowing disorders.