Speech and Language therapy is such a crucial part of helping most children on the spectrum. It seems crazy that it has taken me this long to write formally about the topic, but since it is so common, in some ways it feels almost redundant to talk about. There is probably not a parent out there with a child who has a speech delay that at a minimum has not heard about speech therapy. And to be honest, that is great. Speech and Language therapy is probably one of the most readily available, and easily accessible therapies out there for our kiddos. It’s offered through early intervention programs, at school, privately through almost any hospital, and a variety of stand-alone practices as well. But just like with every other means we have to help our children, there are things you can do to make sure you are getting the most out of your speech therapy services:
- Not all Providers are Created Equal
This is pretty much my standard line for most services. At the end of the day, some providers are just better than others. Finding a place that specializes in working with children is a great start, if they specialize working with autistic children, even better. Many children on the spectrum differ in their speech needs compared to neurotypical children who require speech therapy services. Both of my sons need a lot more help in the language side of speech therapy, particularly in pragmatic language. Find someone who specializes in what your child needs specifically, and don’t be afraid to switch providers if you don’t think one is the right fit for you. (P.S. If you are looking for a great provider and live in or around the Sidney, OH area, check out Seedlings Speech and Language Therapy. Hayley is one of the best out there for sure!)
2. Start at the Right Time
Damion’s first few months of speech therapy seemed like a total wash. Partly because we were using just a local hospital close to us who didn’t specialize in care for children (again hitting on the point above), but that was not the only problem. We went once a week for 30 minutes. It took the first 15 minutes to settle him down, then ten minutes of her saying basic words to Damion (still with his minimal attention), and the last 5 minutes for her to do her write up. Needless to say, this was a waste of our time and money at that point. His engagement just wasn’t where it needed to be to benefit from speech services like this. I am a big advocate for a therapy called Play Project (if you are unfamiliar with it, check it out here). The basis of play project is that your child moves through functional developmental levels (FDLs). If your child is still in a lower FDL, then introducing speech may be like putting the cart before the horse. Does that mean that if you starting too early, you will further inhibit your child’s speech? No. I simply mean that you may not get the most out of your sessions. And if you are paying out of pocket for private speech therapy, it may be in your family’s best interest to try and utilize programs that are of little to no cost to you (such as county and school services) and work to get your child in a place, or FDL, where they will benefit from more involved speech services.
3. Teach Yourself Speech Therapy
Please don’t take me out of context here in thinking that I mean that you can sit in on a few therapy sessions and instantly become a speech therapist. What I simply mean by this, is that if you sit in on the session and watch exactly how the speech therapist works with your child, then you can replicate those same techniques at home. If you can’t sit in on the sessions, then ask the therapist for things to work on at home. Private speech therapy services are generally about 30 minutes once a week. If this is the only place that these techniques are used, you will probably see a very slow progression. Practice makes perfect and the more you learn, the more you will be able to work on these skills and techniques with your child at home.
4. Supplement with Alternatives
Speech therapy services are not only found within a school building or a medical practice. There are apps, websites, and many other programs that you can work on speech and language as well. One that was really beneficial for us was the GEMIINI program which involves a website with engaging videos for your child to watch that is built specifically for children with autism. As the title above suggests, I would highly recommend that these be a supplement that you use IN ADDITION to regular speech therapy services, as I don’t think they replace the need for the therapy. Once again, it is just another way to help get your child exposed and working on speech as much as possible.
Struggles with speech and language are extremely common for kids on the spectrum, my boys included. Damion himself was essentially nonverbal at age three. Although I don’t believe that speech therapy was the only change we made that helped him become verbal, I of course believe it was one of the key factors. There are many services for autistic individuals that do not have the presence to support the need within the communities, but fortunately, speech therapy has never been one of those. With so many options for access, there is no reason why you can’t get the services you need to start helping your child with their speech and language delays. It is hard to even put a value on getting your child to be able to communicate with you, because it is truly priceless. They need this skill for success in nearly all aspects of their life. So, start now, start early, and use the tips above to get the most out of your speech therapy services.