Speech Therapy for Aspergers Children?

Many moms and dads of extremely verbal kids with Aspergers (high-functioning autism) are surprised when it is suggested that Speech Therapy may help their youngster with communication difficulties. The difficulties are not in how the youngster speaks or pronounces words, but rather in how the youngster perceives the meaning of other people's speech and how they respond to it.

There are many expressions we use that are confusing to a youngster with Aspergers. Until you listen closely to the kinds of questions your youngster asks about what other people say, this problem is an easy one to miss.

Here's an example reported by one parent:

The other night my husband was holding a wooden bowl in his hands. Our younger son said "Can I see that?" and put out his hands to hold it. Our older son with Aspergers immediately asked "Why do people always say what they don't mean?" This had us puzzled until we dug a little deeper and found out the reason for his confusion. My son stated, "Why do people say ‘can I see that’ when they really mean ‘can I hold that’?" There was no way in which my husband and I could explain to our son why people say something that isn't what they mean to our son's satisfaction. I suspect that this problem occurs daily in my son's life, contributing to his stress and anxiety in dealing with the school environment.

Speech therapy can assist this youngster with the understanding of what other people mean when they speak and do something completely different. Social skills can be incorporated into the speech therapy as well. 

The parent went on to say:

When I brought up speech therapy for my son, who is 12 and extremely verbal, at a recent school meeting, there were some rather skeptical looks pointed my way until I explained the theory that speech therapy is one way of helping kids with Aspergers extract the meaning of other people's speech. Using the incidence of the wooden bowl as an example of the difficulty my son has, the teachers understood and are now incorporating this into my son's IEP.

One of the main differences between a youngster with Aspergers and those with one of the other autism spectrum disorders is a lack of a clinically significant language delay. Per the DSM, if there is a clinically-significant language delay present (i.e., lack of communicative phrases by 3 years of age), then a diagnosis of Aspergers cannot be made. However, speech-language pathologists can assist kids with Aspergers in a variety of ways.

Social Skills Group—

One of the hallmark signs of an autism spectrum disorder, including Aspergers, is a lack of age-appropriate social skills. This may manifest in several ways including a lack of eye contact, the inability to merge into a group of peers or simply the lack of desire to participate in reciprocal communication.

Some social skills groups are facilitated by speech-language pathologists (SLP). The SLP, who understands the nuances of language and knowing that language is one of the main methods of communication, assists kids with Aspergers with acquiring social skills. Social skills in typically developing kids emerge as the youngster ages. In kids with Aspergers, these skills often have to be taught just as math facts are taught.

Pragmatic Language Instruction—

Pragmatic communication involves the use of language, changing the language based on a situation and following the basic rules of conversation. Some kids with Aspergers can be verbally gifted, yet it is not uncommon to find pragmatic language concerns in these kids.

Pragmatic language is basically the social use of language. Kids with Aspergers who also have pragmatic deficiencies may not understand how to take turns when engaged in a conversation with another youngster or even an adult. Other pragmatic language concerns include standing too close to a person while talking, coordinating facial expressions and eye contact in conversation and even understanding how to speak differently to a young youngster as opposed to an adult. SLPs can work with kids with Aspergers to help them understand the rules of social language.

Speech Articulation Concerns—

Some kids with Aspergers may present with speech articulation errors. This can be a result of low oral-motor muscle tone or perhaps a problem with the motor coordination required to make certain speech sounds. When a youngster with Aspergers doesn’t grow out of typical speech articulation errors, working with an SLP may help reduce these errors. As a result, the youngster is better understood by peers and adults which could possibly decrease social anxieties that the youngster has as a result of his articulation.

Speech therapy is a fixture among those with an autism spectrum disorder, including Aspergers. If you have a youngster with Aspergers and are concerned with one of the above issues, consider contacting your school’s SLP to request an assessment.

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