Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) play a central role in the screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of persons with ASD. The professional roles and activities in speech-language pathology include clinical/educational services (diagnosis, assessment, planning, and treatment); prevention and advocacy; and education, administration, and research. See ASHA's Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology (ASHA, 2016b).
Appropriate roles for SLPs include the following:
- providing information to individuals and groups known to be at risk for ASD, to their family members, and to individuals working with those at risk
- educating other professionals on the needs of persons with ASD and the role of SLPs in diagnosing and managing ASD
- screening individuals who present with language and communication difficulties and determining the need for further assessment and/or referral for other services
- conducting a culturally and linguistically relevant comprehensive assessment of language and communication, including social communication skills
- assessing the need and requirements for using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices as a mode of communication
- assessing and treating feeding issues, if present (e.g., patterns of food acceptance or rejection based on food texture; consumption of a limited variety of foods)
- diagnosing the presence or absence of ASD (typically as part of a diagnostic team or in other interdisciplinary collaborations)
- referring to other professionals to rule out other conditions, determine etiology, and facilitate access to comprehensive services
- making decisions about the management of ASD
- participating as a member of the school planning team (e.g., a team whose members include teachers, special educators, counselors, psychologists) to determine appropriate educational services
- developing speech and language goals focused on social language and literacy, and assisting the student with self-regulatory and social interactive functions so that they can participate in the mainstream curriculum as much as possible
- providing treatment, documenting progress, and determining appropriate dismissal criteria
- providing training in the use of AAC devices to persons with ASD as well as their families, caregivers, and educators
- counseling persons with ASD and their families regarding communication-related issues and providing education aimed at preventing further complications related to ASD (see ASHA's Practice Portal page on
Counseling for Professional Service Delivery)
- consulting and collaborating with other professionals, family members, caregivers, and others to facilitate program development and to provide supervision, evaluation, and/or expert testimony, as appropriate (see ASHA's resources on
interprofessional education/interprofessional practice [IPE/IPP],
collaboration and teaming, and
person- and family-centered care)
- partnering with families in assessment and intervention with individuals who have ASD (see ASHA's resource on
person- and family-centered care)
- providing parent education so that families may continue to provide intervention beyond the sessions
- remaining informed of research in the area of ASD and helping advance the knowledge base related to the nature and treatment of ASD
- advocating for individuals with ASD and their families at the local, state, and national levels
- serving as an integral member of an interdisciplinary team working with individuals with ASD and their families and, when appropriate, considering transition planning (see ASHA's resources on
interprofessional education/interprofessional practice [IPE/IPP] and
collaboration and teaming)
- providing quality control and risk management
As indicated in the
Code of Ethics (ASHA, 2016a), SLPs who serve this population should be specifically educated and appropriately trained to do so.
Interdisciplinary collaboration in assessing and diagnosing ASD is important due to the complexity of the disorder, the varied aspects of functioning affected, and the need to distinguish ASD from other disorders or medical conditions.
Ideally, the SLP is a key member of an interdisciplinary team with expertise in diagnosing ASD. When there is no appropriate team available, an SLP—who has been trained in the clinical criteria for ASD and who is experienced in diagnosing developmental disorders—may be qualified to diagnose these disorders as an independent professional (Filipek et al., 1999).
Some state laws or regulations may restrict a licensee's scope of practice and may prohibit the SLP from providing such diagnoses. SLPs should check with their state licensure boards and/or state departments of education for specific requirements.