SHREVEPORT, La. -- All human beings have an innate desire to communicate. It's done in multiple ways, whether it is verbally, through facial expressions or hand gestures, or through writing. But some have a more difficult time communicating than others.
Many children with autism have communication challenges. That is where speech language pathologists come in.
A speech therapist’s job is to help people functionally and effectively communicate. In the school setting, speech therapists might help correct a child’s articulation errors, like the pronunciation of R’s or S’s. They also help children with autism with a variety of communication challenges.
“We can help them build up their communication or their social pragmatic skills in a variety of social settings -- at home, at school, at work. And again, it depends on the child's needs,” said Emily Hilton, a speech language pathologist. “So, I could be helping, or a therapist could be helping to build up their social skills -- having conversational speech, maintaining a topic of conversation, initiating topics of conversation, establishing eye contact with their communication partner.”
One tool used by speech therapists is called an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (or AAC) device. It helps a child with autism to convey his wants and needs, even if he is non-verbal.
AAC devices can be anything from a low tech piece of paper with pictures to a high tech iPad app that says words out loud. These devices create a means for non-verbal or communication-challenged children to express their needs.
“Some children get so frustrated that they're not able to communicate what they need, that they have some challenging behaviors that come along with those frustrations, whether that's self harm, whether that's hitting or throwing,” said Hilton. “Another one of a speech therapist’s jobs is to help them become less frustrated, and help those challenging behaviors to decrease, again, helping them to communicate, because a lot of those behaviors come with not being able to communicate.”
Hilton says all children communicate in different ways, and that includes children with autism. She says the job of a speech therapist is to find the ways each individual child can best communicate and build up those skills.