Children with autism not only may have trouble communicating socially, but may also have problems behaving. The goal of speech therapy is to improve all aspects of communication. Speech therapy sessions will vary greatly depending upon the child.
Many scientific studies demonstrate that speech therapy is able to improve the communication skills of children with autism and consequently many autism centers offer speech therapy. For example, the Marian Hope Center in Missouri, offers many therapies with a focus is on individual goals for each child. The center, open since 2007, offers play groups, play classes, and pre-kindergarten classes. Special education teachers work with children with autism on skills that will allow them to mainstream and/or become a part of the community. There is an emphasis on integrative therapy that combines treatments such as speech therapy and nutrition therapy.
Older Nonverbal Children
Speech therapy has also been found to be beneficial to older nonverbal children. Some professionals thought that if children did not speak by age 5, then they would not be able to speak. A review of speech therapy studies in older children found that some children were able to speak their first words between the ages of 5 and 13. There were no reports in the speech literature of anyone older than 13 years starting to speak. Even in the 5-13 year old age group, however, it was relatively rare for children to start speaking. For example, out of 183 nonverbal children in two studies, 11 spoke their first words between 5-13 years of age. Speech therapy was helpful for some children, and worked after other therapy options did not work. Other helpful therapies included behavioral therapy (ABA) techniques (reinforcement, shaping, fading), sign language use, special education programs, and computer-assisted learning were also helpful.
Receiving Speech Therapy
Autism is a condition covered under the United States’ Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004. The cost of this therapy is often covered by the government through this act. Unfortunately, sometimes there are lengthy delays before the government is able to supply the therapy that a child needs. A recent study examined the fate of the 14,623 children in 2004 who were under the age of three, lived in New York City, and who had developmental delays that required therapy services. In New York City, children with developmental delays are given an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) to define the services that are needed for that child. Ideally the child would start therapy services within 21 days of getting their IFSP. The authors of the study found that some children had to wait longer than 21 days to get therapies. The percentage of children who had to wait varied for different therapy services. The highest was 13% for speech therapy, and the lowest was 4% for physical therapy. People in this study who lived in low-income or Spanish-speaking neighborhoods had more service delays than people who live elsewhere.
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