Speech Therapy

What is Speech Therapy?

Speech-language therapy addresses challenges with language and communication. It can help people with autism improve their verbal, nonverbal, and social communication. The overall goal is to help the person communicate in more useful and functional ways.

Communication and speech-related challenges vary from person to person. Some individuals on the autism spectrum are not able to speak. Others love to talk, but have difficulty holding a conversation or understanding body language and facial expressions when talking with others.

A speech therapy program begins with an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to assess the person’s communication strengths and challenges. From this evaluation, the SLP creates individual goals for therapy.

Common goals may include improving spoken language, learning nonverbal skills such as signs or gestures, or learning to communicate using an alternative method (such as pictures or technology).

Examples of the skills that speech therapy may work on include:

  • Strengthening the muscles in the mouth, jaw and neck
  • Making clearer speech sounds
  • Matching emotions with the correct facial expression
  • Understanding body language
  • Responding to questions
  • Matching a picture with its meaning
  • Using a speech app on an iPad to produce the correct word
  • Modulating tone of voice

Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Some people with autism find that using pictures or technology to communicate is more effective than speaking. This is known as Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC). Examples of AAC methods include:

  • Sign language
  • Picture exchange communication system (PECS)
  • iPads
  • Speech output devices (such as Dynavox)

The speech-language pathologist can help to identify which AAC method (if any) is right for someone with autism and teach him/her how to use the method to communicate.

Learn more about AAC and autism.

You can also visit the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s AAC webpage for more information. 

Social Skills

Speech therapy can also help people work on goals related to social communication. Speech therapists sometimes offer social skills groups in addition to one-on-one therapy.

They may also work on coaching children and adults on communication in different settings. This can include how to communicate with friends, communicating in a relationship, appropriate behavior at work, and more.

Click here for more information on social skills.

Feeding Challenges

Some SLPs are specifically trained to address feeding and swallowing challenges in people with autism. They can evaluate the particular issue a person is dealing with and provide treatment plans for improving feeding-related challenges.

Click here for more information on feeding issues. 

Where are services provided?

Speech therapy can take place in a variety of settings:

  • Private clinic setting
  • At school, through an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • At home, as part of an Early Intervention program for children under 3
  • In the community, to practice new skills in a natural environment

Services can be provided one-on-one, or in a group setting depending on what skill is being practiced.

Who provides the services?

Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) provide speech therapy services. They have a master’s degree and are specially licensed to practice through the state.

You may notice that a speech therapist has the credentials “CCC-SLP” after their name. This stands for Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) and is a credential through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). It indicates that the speech therapist has achieved excellence in academic and professional standards. You can learn more on the ASHA website.

In some cases, a Speech Therapy Assistant provides direct speech therapy services. This is a person with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, who is trained and supervised by a certified speech-language pathologist. The assistant works directly with the person with autism to practice skills and work towards goals that are written by the SLP in the clinical treatment plan.

Is it covered by insurance?

Yes, speech therapy is often covered by health insurance. In some cases, a doctor must state that the therapy is medically necessary for health insurance to provide coverage. [Please see our insurance resources for more information about insurance and coverage for autism services.]

Students can get speech therapy as part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school. Speech therapy is often written into IEPs as a related service. Speech services as part of an IEP are provided at no cost to families.

Some young children receive speech therapy through their Early Intervention program. Early intervention is offered in each state to children under age 3 who are not growing and developing at the same rate as others. These services are free or low-cost based on your family income. 

Where do I find a speech therapist? 

What questions should I ask?

The following questions can help you learn more about speech therapy before you begin. It can also help you learn whether a particular speech therapist or clinic is a good fit for your family:

  1. Who will be working directly with my child?
  2. How many years have you been working with people with autism?
  3. Where will services be provided?
  4. What does the initial assessment involve?
  5. What type of insurance do you accept? Will my insurance cover your services?
  6. Do you have a waiting list? 
  7. How many hours of therapy per week?
  8. How long are therapy sessions?
  9. Can I observe my child’s sessions?
  10. What is a typical caseload for each therapist?
  11. How are goals determined? Can clients and parents provide input?
  12. What does a typical program look like?
  13. How do you measure progress?
  14. What are some of the typical milestones for speech and language?
  15. What can we do to practice at home? 
  16. What progress should we expect?